Ephesians 4:11-16 NLT
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ….
In our series about the Big Five we have not yet talked about the meaning of each of these gifts Christ gives the Church. Who are the Big Five – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? What do each of these gifts do for the Church?
First, I want you to understand that these gifts are not necessarily connected to a particular role or job. In other words, having a pastoral gift doesn’t mean you have the job of pastor of a church and being gifted as a teacher does not mean that you will teach in front of a classroom. These gifts are about abilities and character that God forms in you to serve in his power.
What do teachers do for the Church? Teachers are leaders who Instruct others. They develop others to live in the fullness of Christ. The best teachers in life are those who not only tell us how to live but show us how to live. They are models who inspire and mentor others. Jesus called disciples to follow him (Matt 4:19; John 1:43; Mark 2:14). The Apostle Paul was conscious of this when he called on others to follow his example (Philippians 3:17-21). When the Moses gave instruction in how to raise up children to know the law of God, he did not tell families to send their kids to a class. He told them to talk about God’s will in the midst of life where it could be modeled and applied (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
What will the Church lack without teachers who model and mentor others in the faith? The Church will lack the knowledge and the desire to apply the Word of God in life. If we tell people how to live or point out what they are doing wrong but don’t authentically model that life, following God will lose value. The end result is that we just stop wondering what God would direct and do what we think best.
What do pastors do for the Church? Pastors build and maintain community. They shepherd the flock. Shepherd is probably one of the best translations of pastor. They are the collies of the church family. They are forever gathering and caring for the flock. Key to their heart is to keep everyone together so that no one gets lost or left behind. The 23rd Psalm raises this beautiful image of the Lord’s care. Jesus also adopted this image for himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10) who knows, leads and cares for his flock, even laying down his life for them. Jesus emphasized the work of the shepherd to keep everyone on board with the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep. When one went astray, he left all the others in the field to find and recover the missing one (Luke 15:4-7). In any group of friends or family you will recognize the pastor gift in the one who is always caring for the one who is left out, the peacemaker between those who are in conflict and the one who always tries to give everyone a chance to be heard. Their concern is to bring and keep the group together in a supportive way. During the church gathering on Sunday morning, they are the one who will seek to connect new persons with the Church, to help them to belong.
Without people with a pastoral heart, we can be a group of people who simply show up at the same time and place each week without any depth of love and compassion for one another. Also, new people will just be left on the sidelines. As the Church moves forward on its mission, those who don’t move with it would just be left behind. People who fall out of touch will just be forgotten and ignored.
What do evangelists do for the Church? Evangelists are leaders who are constantly seeking to reach new people. They are the search and rescue arm of the Church. The word, evangelist, is made up of two parts, the prefix eu (good) and angel (messenger). Evangelist means a messenger of good news. Those gifted as evangelist are focused on the good news of our savior, Jesus, which in turn focuses them on those who have not heard or received that message. Jesus said that he came to seek and save those who are lost from God (Luke 19:10). These are the hunting dogs of the Church. They constantly have the nose to the ground seeking for that one who needs Jesus. They are like a bird dog on point for the Church. They continually point the church to see the many people in need of Jesus and motivate us to seek after them (Matthew 9:35-38).
Without the influence of evangelists, the Church can become focused on pastoring those already a part of the flock and virtually ignore those not part of the Church. The result is a church that stops growing. So much of the Church in America show this condition. Many congregations that were founded hundreds of years ago, are shrinking out of existence. The average age in many churches is over the age of retirement. Without the evangelistic focus the church dies out slowly, but surely.
What do prophets do for the church? Prophets are leaders who reveal truth underlying action. Or to put it more simply, they tell it like it is (or will be). Throughout the Bible, prophets play an important role. They tell it like it is when they call out God’s people for their misconduct and call them to get right with God (Acts 28:24-28). They tell it like it will be as they warn about dangers ahead for those straying from God. They gave advanced announcement of the savior who would come and gave ques to recognize his coming (Isaiah 53; Acts 28:23). They also offer specific instruction to individuals to direct them in faithfully following God (Acts 15:32, 21:10; I Timothy 1:18-20).
In Ephesians 4:15 speaking the truth in love is recognized as crucial to our growth and development as the body of Christ. Truth revealed by God is the source of clarity and unity. Without the prophetic power of God’s word spoken into our lives we fragment in confusion and are prey to deception. In our present culture in America we are experiencing a huge division that is often violent and hateful. Issues like sexuality and marriage have become so divisive and pit people in condemning opposition to one another. This is true both generally and within the church. Many would now predict that the United Methodist Church will divide in some fashion in the near future just as numerous other denominations have done. Prophetic truth is not mere opinion, it is revelation of the word of God. We desperately need to hear, that is adhere to the Word of God. That must always lead us to biblical faith and lives surrendered to know and do the will of God. Without this proclamation and without our response embracing it, unity will never come.
Finally, what do apostles do for the church? Apostles are leaders on a mission. They keep the Church always moving forward, never standing still. In the gospels, the twelve are at first, commonly referred to as disciples then later as apostles. What is the difference? Disciple means that one is a follower or student. Apostle describes one who is sent on a mission, to act in the sender’s authority, as their representative, and to accomplish what they are sent to do. An apostle does not cease to be a disciple. In fact, being an apostle intensifies one’s discipleship. If you are sent as an apostle, you are not sent to fulfill your own purpose and mission, no, you are sent to fulfill God’s mission. That means you are all the more bound to follow God’s lead. (Luke 6:12-13; Mark 6:6-13, 30-31; Matt 10:1-5)
Before Jesus ascended to heaven he asserted a general mission that he passed to the apostles. The Great Commission, as it is called, is a powerful calling to Go, make disciples. Mark tells us that we are to preach the gospel throughout the earth. Jesus put the keys of the kingdom of God into the apostles’ hands and sent them to open the way into it. The book of Acts starts on the ground of Jesus sending forth the apostles into every part of the world as his witnesses. The apostolic gift is a gift of mission focus. It is a gift like the work of a lead dog on a sled team. What happens to the Church if we lack the missional leadership? Well, we may just stall out. We may become a group that simply maintains traditions religiously. Sadly, this may translate to being a lifeless religion, a form of godliness, without power. Many organizations that lose sight of their original mission try to maintain their existence by adopting a new mission. The problem for us as the Church is that we didn’t form ourselves or choose our mission. The apostolic gift presses us to maintain the mission assigned by our savior, Jesus.
Take a few minutes to read the following questions and reflect on them or discuss them with a friend or a small group.
- Look at the Big Five spiritual gifts one by one. Are there people you could identify with each one? Who are teachers who have guided you into faith and inspired you? Are their leaders that you see leading with vision who motivate you and others to keep moving forward to complete the mission Christ gave us? Has anyone ever said something to you that made you feel like God had just spoken to you?
- Think about your pastor. Which of these gifts do you see in him/her? (hint: When I take the fivefold survey, pastor is not my highest score) Why would pastors have gifts other than pastor?
- Do you see any of these gifts in yourself? Which one(s)? I encourage you to use the fivefoldsurvey.com to help you identify the strengths God has given you.
- In what ways are you using the gift(s) God has given you?