The Ephesian Episodes: A Tale for our Times

The Ephesian Episodes: A Tale for our Times

From very small beginnings, the church in Ephesus grew in such size and significance that within just three years its impact was felt not only in that city but across the entire region of Asia (modern-day Turkey)!… Fortunately, the New Testament provides us with more detail about this church than any other, so that we can learn from their success and take heed of the dangers they faced. The story of this church – told in a series of short dramatic episodes – is ‘a tale for our times’, and as we read it afresh, dig deeper and look behind the scenes we discover the heart of God for our churches, our cities and our regions…

Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

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…

Apostles & Prophets

Apostles & Prophets

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.

Ministry Recognition: What should we be looking for?

Ministry Recognition: What should we be looking for?

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.

Apostles

  • 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).

Prophets

  • 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).

Evangelists

  • 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).

Pastors

  • 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).

Teachers

  • 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…

Eldership: A Dynamic, Noble Task!

Eldership: A Dynamic, Noble Task!

Any familiarity we may have with the New Testament pictures of elders as overseers and shepherds must not allow us to miss the important details of this “noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1) or to become detached in any way from the dynamic realities of the NT.  This article is written especially for elders and their wives, and for all who aspire to serve the church in this way, and takes a fresh look at some vital aspects of eldership and their implications for you as couples together…

1: Firstly, your “appointment” was or will be by the Spirit (Acts 20:28, where the word is etheto meaning ‘to put, place, lay, set, fix, establish’).  Your eldership – an outcome of your lives and marriages – has been determined (indeed ‘pre-determined’) by God.  It may have come about through the agency of others – affirmed by the Body, preceded by prayers and fasting, confirmed by the laying-on of apostolic hands (Acts 14:23) – but the appointment of every elder was established, fixed, arranged and set by the Spirit!  That’s why we first know in our spirit those to whom we’re shepherds.  That’s why at the end of your tenure you must give an account to a Higher Court (Hebrews 13:17).  From start to finish, every aspect of this “noble work” (1 Timothy 3:1) is spiritual and is to be by the Spirit; elders function in a spiritual realm and dynamic.  The ‘natural’ and the ‘spiritual’ are contradictions (Romans 8:4-8, 1 Corinthians 15:46, Galatians 3:3, Jude 1:19), and only spiritual leadership befits God’s House (Ephesians 2:22, 1Peter 2:5).  Our natural leadership will never be enough, and will usually contradict God’s thoughts and plans!  Elders must see and observe spiritually, think spiritually, make spiritual choices, selections and judgments (1 Samuel 16:7, 2 Corinthians 5:16, James 2:4)…

2: Elders are not just as an extension of apostolic government, but of the apostolic heart and mind – appointed by apostles (Acts 14:23) or their delegates (Titus 1:5) to lead the church in its ‘apostolic’ life and mission: being sent into all the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:18f).  Elderships must not stop at seeing the flock well fed, well cared for and well physically; the goal must be healthy people mobilised for the mission.  Therefore, elders will will turn the Body outwards; they will see beyond their locality and serve a greater, wider purpose – releasing people and resources to serve the apostolic vision (cf. Acts 16:1-3).

3: Eldership is a precious stewardship – “managing” or “taking care of God’s household/church” (1 Timothy 3:5).   Elders are to “guard” themselves and the flock (Acts 20:28), which requires that they first guard their own hearts and lives (Proverbs 4:23), then guard one other to save any of us from falling or causing division (Acts 20:30), and then guard the church, which is God’s flock entrusted to us (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:3) – never ours.  Elders are appointed by God’s Spirit for God’s people (Acts 14:23); they serve the flock, never the other way round and their ministry is on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, who alone will reward them for a job well done (1 Peter 5:4).  However, whilst elders will be very close and connected with the church, very personal and available, their time and priorities will be dominated by the demands from ‘above’ not ‘below’.  Elders are not ultimately answerable to those they serve and they cannot allow themselves to be distracted, diverted or diluted.  Likewise, they ought to be unaffected by human praise (or criticism); what matters is the Master’s feedback! 

4: A particular aspect of this will be the eldership’s care and guarding of God’s Word.  As today, the issue in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-4) and Crete (Titus 1:10-11) was false doctrine which threatened to derail the advance of the gospel – and the primary weapon against it was the appointment of elders “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) and “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).  The antidote to false doctrine was and is elderships embodying sound doctrine.  Elders cannot ‘contract-out’ their study of Scripture or their awareness of what’s being falsely taught in the church or the world.  Not all elders will have primary responsibility for preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17), but all must be competent in handling God’s Word.  This is at the heart of an elder’s’ ‘work’ and ‘craft’, and they must take time to become more proficient in it: to go deeper, dig-down, see and understand more… 

5: Elders function as part of a team.  The NT picture is exclusively one of ‘plurality’ and teamwork (eg, see Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18, 1 Timothy 4:14, Titus 1:5, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1); the elders are always seen together, never alone – indeed, they cannot function effectively alone.  Their togetherness is an integral part of God’s ‘setting-in’ and must give rise to vital attributes: they’re never divisive or divide-able, always honouring, and appreciating on another.  They embrace differences in their respective gifts and measures, but esteem their equality as elders.  They need each other – for encouragement, correction, confidence-building, provocation security, common sense, perspective….  And the dynamics of their teamwork must go further, for they also work in harmony with the fivefold Gifts.  They have different concerns (the eldership for the health of the flock; the Gifts for the equipping and maturing of the Body) – but these belong together!  And since the fulness of the church depends on the input and deposit of the Gifts (Ephesians 4:11ff.), then to the extent such gifting is not present within an eldership, elders will draw from beyond themselves to ensure the church has all it needs (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 cf. 3 John 1:9-10).

6: Eldership involves powerful impartation!  They may lay their hands on emerging leaders to impart something to them (1 Timothy 4:14) just as they will pray for the sick and see them raised up (Jas 5:13ff).  The laying on of hands is no less essential or “foundational” than repentance, faith or baptisms (Hebrews 6:1-2)!   Impartation demands that the elders are ‘always ready’: to intercede at any time; to draw heavenly realities down to earth (Matthew 16:19, 18:18).  This dynamic of their task may well mean they use fewer words but see greater works – less instruction and more impartation!  And this impartation will be vital to the development of others; elderships must impart something to emerging leaders without fear of being overtaken, eclipsed or surpassed. 

7: Finally, elders are tasked with setting an example for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1-3, Hebrews 13:7) and this must have depth and breadth; not just an example in worship and prayer, but also in friendliness, openness, humility, winsomeness, missionary zeal; an example – in every respect – of those appointed by the Spirit according to God’s choice and arrangement…  Their example is to be the very opposite of “lording it over” the church (1 Peter 5:3).  They have authority, but we lead with a ‘light touch’; their authority and example builds-up and never tears-down (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10); it releases, liberates and sets free.  Elders are to be catalysts, not controllers.  And of course they should also set an example in devotion: elders worship and fall down before King Jesus (Revelation 4:10, 5:8, 5:14, 7:11, 11:16, 19:4).  They are in awe of the One they serve and represent; they are in love; with Jesus, they are passionate and zealous and they make no apology!…

This noble” task” is “work” (1 Timothy 3:1); the word is ergon meaning ‘work, task, employment; that which is wrought or made; work that accomplishes something; a deed (action) that carries out (completes) an inner desire (intension, purpose)’.  It is often hard work, but it is work alongside friends, by which something is built and created (cf. Nehemiah 3).  And it is work undertaken in the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, who appoints and enables us to succeed in all we do!

In light of these dynamics, eldership teams may wish to consider: (1) Does your eldership fall short of the New Testament picture in any way(s)? If so, what adjustments are required? (2) How can you increase your impact and impartation? (3) As you develop emerging leaders in your church, what can you give them? (4) What do you dream of creating together?…