Last week, I wrote about God’s design for His church, specifically in terms of the leadership structure. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. In today’s article, I want to describe briefly the function of each role mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13. Another Scripture passage that mentions some of these roles is 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” The following are very brief and simplified descriptions – entire books have been written on each individual role.
The first role mentioned is apostle. Interestingly, the word was not used in religious circles until the New Testament; it was a secular word meaning, “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” Their key role is authority, as seen in the life of Paul and other apostles, who operated in supernatural power, performing miracles of healing, deliverance from demons, and raising the dead, among other acts. Paul was commissioned by Jesus Himself and sent as an apostle to the Gentiles after supernaturally receiving the gospel through direct encounters with the Lord. Peter was appointed an apostle to the Jews. Other apostles mentioned were Barnabas, Timothy, and Silvanus, in addition to the original twelve. Within the Church, modern day apostles serve the body by equipping them in apostolic ministry and overseeing the other ministries of the church. They receive regular revelation from heaven that they bring to the other leaders who also use it to equip the body. They use their gifts to bring the body to maturity and unity.
Prophets work closely with apostles, as both roles receive supernatural revelation for the purpose of training and equipping the body. A prophet’s key role is to train the body to hear from God for themselves, and to properly discern, interpret, and deliver His personal words with increasing accuracy, love, and grace. In the Old Testament, there were “schools of the prophets” which trained those called to that office. Many believe that if one is called as a prophet, they will instinctively know how to prophesy, but that is not true. All the gifts start as a seed and must be developed, nurtured, and exercised in a safe community where mistakes can be made without judgment. We don’t believe it is odd to train pastors and teachers, and the same is true for all the other gifts. Both apostles and prophets are more Kingdom-minded than Church-minded; as visionaries, they see the big picture and live with an eternal perspective.
Evangelists are given to the Church to train and equip the people to share their faith every day as a way of life. Their key role is reproducing witnesses.They are not there to “do” the work of evangelizing the lost. All God’s people are called to be witnesses, but many do not, out of fear or insecurity, because they’ve never been trained. A true evangelist will enlist an army of believers to go out and win the lost wherever they go. This will result in a great harvest coming into the Kingdom!
Pastors are called to guide and protect God’s people. With the revelation given by the apostles and prophets, they help people to see the bigger picture of the Kingdom and eternity, rather than focusing on the present with its trials and struggles. They provide counsel at times, but also want to help the people become responsible for their own spirituality and walk with God. They provide assistance, within reason, to enable them to navigate the process of growing up in Christ. Their key role is to protect and prepare the people.
Teachers are provided to teach the people how to personally appropriate the revelation and information given by the other four leadership roles. Their key role is education, and they believe everyone’s issues center around needing more of it. They love to teach classes and recommend courses, books, videos, conferences, and anything else that will help God’s people learn.
These five leadership roles are very different and unique from one another. In order to properly equip and bring God’s people to maturity and unity, it requires great humility and submission to each other and the Holy Spirit. Jesus will build His Church as His appointed leaders do their part by building up the people. It cannot, and will not happen any other way but His. All five of these gifts are critical to successful preparation of the bride.
Historically, we have almost exclusively seen only pastors, teachers, and evangelists recognized and accepted within the local church. Without the supernatural aspect of apostles and prophets, our churches have been largely powerless to affect the real change we need. Only transformed people can transform cities and nations. Until we come into alignment with God’s chosen design and structure, we will likely continue to see more of the same.