So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13
In the passage, Paul is writing to all believers (not just the church leaders) and states that Christ has gifted His body with people equipped to function in different roles. Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways, thinks all the roles identified in Ephesians 4 will need to be in play for a real multiplication movement of God to occur in our day. Alan suggests that while each of us probably live out all these roles at some level we will tend to gravitate toward some more than others. He points out that in creation itself–not just the church–these functions exist, but that God’s intention in making us this way was to equip “his people for works of service.” Here are his definitions of the five ministry roles:
APOSTLES extend the gospel. As the “sent ones,” they ensure that the faith is transmitted from one context to another and from one generation to the next. They are always thinking about the future, bridging barriers, establishing the church in new contexts, developing leaders, networking trans-locally. Yes, if you focus solely on initiating new ideas and rapid expansion, you can leave people and organizations wounded. The shepherding and teaching functions are needed to ensure people are cared for rather than simply used.
PROPHETS know God’s will. They are particularly attuned to God and his truth for today. They bring correction and challenge the dominant assumptions we inherit from the culture. They insist that the community obey what God has commanded. They question the status quo. Without the other types of leaders in place, prophets can become belligerent activists or, paradoxically, disengage from the imperfection of reality and become other-worldly.
EVANGELISTS recruit. These infectious communicators of the gospel message recruit others to the cause. They call for a personal response to God’s redemption in Christ, and also draw believers to engage the wider mission, growing the church. Evangelists can be so focused on reaching those outside the church that maturing and strengthening those inside is neglected.
SHEPHERDS nurture and protect. Caregivers of the community, they focus on the protection and spiritual maturity of God’s flock, cultivating a loving and spiritually mature network of relationships, making and developing disciples. Shepherds can value stability to the detriment of the mission. They may also foster an unhealthy dependence between the church and themselves.
TEACHERS understand and explain. Communicators of God’s truth and wisdom, they help others remain biblically grounded to better discern God’s will, guiding others toward wisdom, helping the community remain faithful to Christ’s word, and constructing a transferable doctrine. Without the input of the other functions, teachers can fall into dogmatism or dry intellectualism. They may fail to see the personal or missional aspects of the church’s ministry.
Any organization that does not utilize all five will be lacking. The church without these five will not be able to gain the maturity God intends. Sadly, in my view, our American church culture misunderstands “apostles,” “prophets,” and “evangelists” in a variety of ways. We do encourage “pastors” (or shepherds) and the “teachers,” yet my experience is that the other functions are often marginalized. (Certainly, I have realized that I have marginalized them within my own heart.)
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that many see the church today as a place to go for bible teaching (to be “fed”) and to be cared for–both of which are good and important. However, what if Jesus was serious about this idea of all of the functions being important for “unity” and “maturity” and “attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?” Could that explain some of the frustration and problems found in the church today? What would happen if we were to elevate the status of apostles, prophets, and evangelists to that of the pastor and the teacher?
Perhaps you might like to visit Hirsh’s site and take the “APEST test” and see how God has wired you to help the body. Perhaps you can know by simply reading these descriptions. For me, I have realized that my order of leaning is: A-E-P-T-S. This has been extremely helpful for me and has helped me to better understand how God has wired me. It helps to explain why I cringe at the title “Pastor Gavin”–for I’m not really wired to be a pastor. It explains why I’ve often struggled to see how I fit into the traditional church that often has a place for a teacher or pastor–but not necessarily an apostle. The fact that the “APEs” are missing from our western church paradigm helps me to understand why this is so challenging and probably why up until this point in my life I’ve felt more at home serving with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Personally, this also allows me to think about areas of my life I need to be more intentional in care giving. It also helps me to think about the kind of people to pray for when it comes to our simple church community. For example, If we have no evangelists in our group, then we perhaps we should find an evangelist within the Simple Church Alliance network to help equip us for “works of service” related to calling others to repentance and faith in Christ. Perhaps God would lead us to pray for an evangelist to join our simple church community.
How does considering the APEST roles encourage you? How does it challenge you?
UPDATE: Information about a free online “Five Fold” survey HERE.
Watch videos below to hear Alan Hirsch teach this concept: