My father was ordained as an evangelist. At least that is the term that was used then. If he were serving today, he would be called a commissioned pastor. A few years ago he would have been known as a ministry associate. Whatever the title, the work he did is not that much different from what I do as a minister of the Word.
There are differences. For one, my father did not have a seminary education. That was true of a number of evangelists in his day. Some, like my father, had gone back to school as mature students. The office of evangelist opened a door for people like him whose educational opportunities were limited for that or other reasons. But, education is not always the difference. I know a number of commissioned pastors who do have a seminary education. Some have been ordained pastors in other denominations. Besides, his Bible college degree meant that my father had received more education than many ministers of the Word who had been ordained via Church Order article 7.
If degree of training does not fully explain the distinction, there are also differences of privilege. My father’s ordination was limited to the context in which he was serving. When he left an emerging congregation to become a missionary, he could not simply transfer his credentials. When he returned from the mission field and retired, his ordination ceased. He also learned that he had to periodically apply to have his license to exhort renewed, even though he had been preaching for over fifteen years by that time.
In addition, my father’s service was entirely outside of the denominational pension plan. I imagine that is also true of the more than 270 commissioned pastors listed in the 2015 CRC Yearbook. Some of them have served the CRC (under different titles) since the 1970's -- often in circumstances ordained pastors would be reluctant to accept. If, as I recently heard suggested, the number of commissioned pastors is growing in part because churches find that it is a “cheaper option,” we have created a de-facto two tiered system where people who do substantially the same work do not enjoy the same privileges.
My father once told me that though he’d always been called an evangelist, he never really felt especially gifted in outreach. Whether he was pastoring an emerging congregation or mentoring local pastors as a missionary, I think he just wanted to preach the Word.