The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)
One thing that is lost in the English language is the relationship between the words Gospel, Good News and evangelist, evangelize or evangelism. In Greek the words are clearly related but in English there is no easy way to change these words from verbs to nouns or vice versa. Gospel (evangelion) means Good News proclaimed or announced and the person who proclaims the Gospel is an evangelist. To evangelize is to proclaim or spread the Gospel/Good News. Evangelize is the verb form of Gospel or Good News. Because we have to use different words in English to move between the verb and noun forms, we can lose sight of the fact that the words are related (they are the same word). Additionally, the Gospel is not only of Jesus Christ, Jesus is the content of the proclamation, so the Good News turns out to be the Christ, Jesus.
Doing the work of an evangelist means presenting (proclaiming, announcing) Good News to people as Jesus did – we are to love one another as Jesus loves us (John 13:34). It doesn’t mean avoiding people who live sinful lives or who have no interest in following commandments, nor does it mean judging them as unworthy of listening to the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-10). Evangelists proclaim the Good News whether others care about it or not. Christian evangelists are to live the Good News and be examples of it, not just annoy others with proclamations. From the desert fathers, we encounter the following story as recorded by John Moschos (d. ca 619AD):
“Two elders set off from Aegion to Tarsos in Cilicia. By the providence of God, they came to an inn where they could rest, for the heat was intense. There they found three younger men who had a harlot with them going to Aegion. The three elders sat discreetly apart; one of them took the holy gospel out of his travelling-bag and began to read <aloud>. When the harlot who was with the youths saw the elder begin to read, she came and sat down near him, forsaking the youths. The elder drove her off, saying to her: ‘Wretched woman, you seem very indecent. Are you not ashamed to come and sit near us?’
[At this point in the narrative, the elder is either forgetting the love that Christ commands us to have for others, or he is discerning the woman’s intentions by rebuking her to test her. In any case the woman gives a very wise reply which might be interpreted as shaming the elder for his unchristian and uncharitable behavior or perhaps showing she is embracing the Christian Gospel by her own change of heart. See a similar story in Christ’s own life from Matthew 15:21-28, the Canaanite woman who is seeking a healing miracle for her daughter. Perhaps Moschos has that Gospel lesson in mind as he compares or perhaps contrasts the elder to Christ. In both stories the woman answers wisely and with Christian virtue. The stories of the desert fathers and mothers often has criticism of the monks for wrong behavior, which we also see in the Gospels where Christ rebukes His disciples at times.]
In reply she answered: ‘Oh father, please do not treat me with loathing. Even if I am filled with every kind of sin, the master of all, our Lord and God, did not send away the harlot who came to him.’ The elder answered her: ‘But that harlot remained a harlot no longer.’ She said to him: ‘My hope is in the Son of the living God that from this day forward neither will I continue in this sin.’ Forsaking the youths and everything she had, she followed the elders. They placed her in a <woman’s> monastery called Nakkiba, near Aegion. I saw her as an old woman of great experience. It was from her that I heard all this and her name was Mary.” (THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW, pp 22-23)
Moschos claims to have heard the story directly from the repentant prostitute, Mary, who became a monastic. It is a tale to remind us not to be hypercritical of sinners without giving them a chance to hear the Gospel and embrace it. The work of the evangelist is to plant the seeds and to let God give those seeds growth.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. (1 Corinthians 3:6-10)