Over twenty years ago God gave me a burden for the state of the Church. It began at a three-day fasting and prayer conference I attended in Los Angeles back in 1995. I knew nothing about fasting and not much more about prayer, but my life was marked forever at that conference. At the end, a call was made for two million believers to fast and pray for forty days, for revival to come to His people. I heard the call, as one of those two million, but after I returned home, I let friends and family talk me out of it. Yet God did not give up. I attended the next year and again the call came, but this time I heeded His word.
I didn’t grow up in church, my parents were unsaved until my teenage years after my sister and I began attending and were saved. But I have been in churches long enough at this point in my life to see many things that have troubled my spirit. While attending Bible college around the same time I went to the conference, I noticed that what I learned about the early church was nothing like the churches I had been in or ever even heard of. I had many questions that no one I knew seemed to have answers for. So I prayed and studied and read many books about the church for years.
About thirteen years ago I began reading about a very small number of churches that had a very different structure than the traditional churches with which I was familar. Based on Ephesians 4:11-13, these churches had a group of leaders rather than one or two, and each leader played a very specific and unique role. Scripture outlines the structure very clearly, “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.”
As I read and studied more on this structure, it began to make more sense why the Church, especially in the West, has been so dysfunctional. Of course, some of our dysfunction comes because there are so many wounded and bound believers among God’s people, but even that is evidence that we are doing something wrong. It is understandable for new believers to come into the body like that, but to continue in that condition for years is inexcusable.
One striking difference seen is that the role of these leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service (ministry). Most traditional churches have a pastor or assistant pastor that do the majority of, if not all of the ministry. This could easily explain why so many pastors are burning out, walking away from ministry, falling into scandalous sin, and even taking their own lives. The ministry the believers are to be equipped for is not just “church” ministry like working in the nursery, greeting, ushering, etc. I’m not saying those things aren’t unnecessary. I’m saying Jesus didn’t die and fill us with His Spirit so we could usher or greet people on Sundays.
God’s designed structure is meant to equip His people to minister to each other so that we might be built up, both individually and corporately. The word used there for “built” literally means, “edifying; edification; the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.” In other words, God has gifted certain individuals within His Church to equip the body to minister to the body – “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.”
The fact that He designed 5 unique roles to do that confirms that no one leader or minister can do the job alone, for no one person has all the gifts needed. It takes five – and five is the number of grace. Jesus embodied all of these gifts in Himself and His ministry, and now He has given five different roles to specific members of His body to bring His bride into maturity and unity. They are critical to the success of His Church and His plan to have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish. I will describe each role and its purpose more in my next article.