The apostle Paul described his relationship with the Philippian church and its elders as a “partnership” (Phil 1:5,7), and it’s clear from the New Testament that this kind of partnership was integral to the “advancement of the gospel” (Phil 1:12), enabling the mission to flourish and the churches to grow daily in number, so that the world of that day was “turned upside down” (Ac 17:6)! Jesus had risen, ascended, poured-out His Spirit and sent-forth His church, and this Spirit-filled church – inspired and thrust forward by her apostles, guided and cared-for by her elders – began to impact and transform every society into which she was planted!…
Now, in a world in greater need than ever, and with a gospel as powerful as ever, it’s the great destiny of the church to once again turn the world upside down and make way for the return of Christ. Led by her apostles and elders, and with every other precious part fully functioning, the church is the hope of the world! And in a time of such abundant harvest, we must be so missional and so well-built that multitudes can be rapidly added, discipled and sent-out. This paper seeks to lift our vision of the church, the apostles and the elders, and considers how their powerful partnership can best be outworked today…
After His ascension, Jesus began giving precious gifts to his church, as expressions of his grace – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:7-11). As we have written elsewhere, these ‘fivefold’ gifts equip the church for its ministry and are essential if the church is to be built-up and to reach unity, maturity and fulness (Ephesians 4:12-13).
But there is a unique and particular pairing between apostles and prophets: they are foundations upon which the church is built (Ephesians 2:20), being distinguished from the other gifts by their particular revelation (Ephesians 3:5), hence we refer to them as ‘revelatory gifts’. The Chief Apostle and Prophet continues to manifest himself by giving apostles and prophets to his Body.
This downloadable paper considers the role and function of these important foundational ministries and the context in which they might function most fruitfully. It includes a range of questions that eldership and leadership teams may find helpful in evaluating their own relationships with apostles and prophets.
Ephesians chapter 4 makes clear to us that the ‘fivefold’ ministries of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers are Gifts given by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ to His church, and that all of them are essential if the church is to be built-up and to come to unity and maturity; they are vital parts of the church “until” that time (Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus is still giving His Gifts to His church. They are divinely-given, not humanly-appointed.
If this is so, then it’s essential that the church knows how to recognise the Gifts Jesus is giving to us; we must know how to test and approve authentic ministry (Revelation 2:2). This will mean listening carefully to the Spirit and the Word, which will never be in conflict – the Holy Spirit won’t ask us to recognise a person who does not fulfil the biblical criteria…
So, what criteria do we find in the Word to help us test and approve these ministries? Although more of the New Testament evidence concerns apostles (there is much less information about the other ministries) and most of that concerns Paul (the pre-eminent post-ascension apostle), the Spirit has – of course – given us all we need to make the necessary judgments about each of the gifts, in their various expressions. The following brief points are by no means exhaustive (other posts explore some of these things in much more detail), but I hope they provide a helpful starting-point…
The Gifts of Christ
- These ministries are people: those gifted by Christ, and given to the church – men and women themselves, not just what they do (note that in 1Co 12:28-30 Paul asks “are all” apostles, prophets or teachers? But in relation to the other gifts listed: “do all” work miracles, have gifts of healing, speak in tongues or interpret?) They are all expressions of God’s grace to His Church (Eph 4:7).
- They’re given by the Chief Apostle (Heb 3:1), Prophet (Mt 13:57, 21:11, Lk 13:33), Evangelist (Lk 4:18-19, 19:10), Shepherd (Jn 10:11, Heb 13:20, 1Pe 5:4) and Teacher (Mt 23:10) and each is an aspect (portion) of Christ’s own nature and ministry. Each is needed (in its many expressions) for the church to have as full a measure of Christ as possible (Eph 4:7).
- All five are essential for the church to come to maturity and fullness (Eph 4:12f); their shared focus and task is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (4:12). They exercise their ministry in such a way that the whole church is empowered to exercise theirs. An absence of any of them will mean a lack in the church.
- This equipping will continue “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” (4:13) – when He returns.
- There are different types and measures of each Gift; all apostles are not all the same; neither prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers. Their differences are ordained by God (cf. 1Co 12:18). Therefore we may not see all of the following characteristics in each of the ministries. We expect to see different “measures” of faith (Ro 12:3) and grace-gift (Ro 12:6, Eph 4:7, 1Co 15:10). .
- Gifting may overlap within the same person: Paul and Barnabas were numbered amongst the prophets and teachers (Ac 13:1) before being recognised as apostles (Ac 14:4,14, cf 1Ti 2:7, 2Ti 1:11); Philip was one of the Seven (Ac 6:5) and an evangelist (Ac 21:8), etc.
- Apóstolos – one ‘sent-out’ with a commission and authorisation to represent the Sender.
- Set apart by the Spirit for ‘the work’, which is wider than the local church (Ac 13:1-2, 14:26).
- Commissioned, authorised and sent-out by Christ Himself (1Co 1:1, Gal 1:1,15).
- A deep sense of servanthood (Ro 1:1, 1Co 3:5) and entrustment (1Co 4:1-2, Gal 2:7-8).
- Devoting time to being with Jesus in prayer and Word (Mk 3:13, Ac 6:1-7).
- Their commissions will vary – eg: “planting”, “watering” or “building” (1Co 3:5ff); or to a particular people (Gal 2:7-8) – and they may outwork their apostleship through another ‘underlying’ gift (pastor, teacher, etc) (Ac 13:1-2).
- Grace and authority for founding and building-up churches (Ro 1:5, 1Co 3:10, 2Co 10:8, 13:10, Gal 1:15), which are the “seal” of their ministry (1Co 9:1-2).
- Functionally “first” (1Co 12:28), the apostle is a ‘foundational’ ministry (Eph 2:20); laying a foundation of Christ-centred doctrine (1Co 3:10, Ac 2:46), based on his revelation (Eph 3:5).
- Spiritual ‘architects’ (seeing the big picture) and master-builders (1Co 3:10).
- Functioning as fathers toward churches and their leaders (1Co 4:15, 1Th 2:11).
- Developing a sphere of ministry and churches under his care (2Co 10:13-17, 11:28).
- Appoints elders to extend his fatherly care and government in each locality (Ac 14:23, Tit 1:5).
- Concerned for the practical needs of the poor and needy (Gal 2:10).
- Working in partnership with churches (Phil 1:5) and fellow-apostles (1Co 3:5ff); he may be a ‘hub’ for a team of ministries working together (Ac 13:13, Ro 16:3, Gal 1:2, 1Th 3:2, etc).
- Enduring and persevering through hardships and trials (2Co 4:7ff, 6:4ff, 12:12).
- Motivated by his vision of the Bride; Christ’s fulness in His church (Eph 4:13, Col 1:28f, 2Co 11:2).
- Equipping the Body to be apostolic (‘sent-out’) (Eph 4:12).
- Prophḗtēs –‘one who proclaims’ or ‘one who predicts’; a ‘proclaimer of a divinely inspired message’.
- Brings a revelation of what God wants to do or accomplish (Amos 3:7, Nu 12:6, 1Co 14:29-30).
- Functionally “second” (1Co 12:28), the prophet works alongside the apostle in laying foundations in the churches and carrying foundational revelation (Eph 2:20, 3:5; 2Pe 3:2).
- Bringing clarity and order; making things plain (1Co 14:25); never brings confusion or disorder (1Co 14:32-33).
- Their spirits are pure and they will always exalt Christ (1Jn 4:1-2).
- Strengthening, encouraging and comforting the churches (1Co 14:3, Ac 15:32).
- Function in plurality, with others prophets in the local church (Ac 13:1, 1Co 14:29).
- Equipping the Body to be prophetic (Eph 4:12).
- Euaggelistés – ‘bearer of good tidings’.
- Proclaims Christ and Kingdom; his message is never man-centred (Ac 8:5, 12).
- Filled with the Spirit (Ac 6:3 cf. Ac 21:8) and led by the Spirit (Ac 8:26, 29, 39).
- Seeking signs and wonders to authenticate his message (Ac 8:6, 13).
- Willing to serve in order to release other ministries (Ac 6:4).
- Works as part of a team; draws upon the apostle and others to ensure all the foundations are properly laid (Ac 8:12ff).
- Asks probing questions and takes time to sit alongside unbelievers and explain the gospel to them (Ac 8:30ff).
- Handles the Scriptures well and shares the gospel with ease (Ac 8:35).
- Imparts faith to believe and call on the Lord (Ro 10:14-15).
- Equipping the Body to be evangelistic (Eph 4:12).
- Poimén – shepherd
- Expressing God’s heart of care and compassion for His people, so that none are like “sheep without shepherds” (Mt 9:36, Mk 6:34).
- An integral aspect of Eldership (Ac 20:28, 1Pe 5:1-2).
- Gatekeepers in the church, watching over the flock (Jn 10:2, 1Pe 5:2).
- Works towards a flock established by the Spirit (Ac 20:28).
- Having a voice that is heard and recognised by the flock (Jn 10:14).
- Laying down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).
- Equipping the Body to be pastoral (Eph 4:12).
- Didáskalos – ‘an instructor acknowledged for their mastery in their field; one who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man’.
- Functionally “third” (1Co 12:28), the teacher unfolds the apostolic doctrine, with authority (Tit 2:1, 15) and a deep sense of awe and responsibility (Jas 3:1).
- Reliable, suitably-qualified and entrusted with the apostolic revelation and doctrines (2Ti 2:2).
- Devoted to sound teaching and refuting error (1Ti 4:13, Tit 2:1).
- Teaching God’s Word, not secondary sources (2Ti 3:16).
- Teaching by the Spirit (1Jn 2:27, 5:6).
- They will never teach for personal gain (cf. 2Pe 2:3).
- Equipping the Body to handle the Word and teach one another (Eph 4:12).
How blessed we are that Jesus is still giving these Gifts to His church! May we be diligent in our evaluation of ministries and in giving proper recognition as they function and bear fruit amongst us…