Listening for God's Voice
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
Sermon on the Mount
10. Preparation, Ministry, and Maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16)
"11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until 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.
Paul's call to be an apostle was sudden and decisive. He was struck from his horse and called by Christ. Caravaggio, "The Conversion on the Way to Damascus" (1600), oil on canvas, 230 x 175 cm, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Larger image.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Our passage speaks about
- The purpose of pastors and leaders: to develop ministry
- The purpose of ministry: to develop maturity
- The purpose of maturity: unity with Christ and his church
What are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?
First we need to define some terms:
Defining an Apostle (4:11a)
Apostle (Greek apostolos) is compounded from two words, apo, "off, away" + stello, "to send." It designates one who has been sent with a commission and can mean a "delegate, envoy, messenger."1 In the NT it is used as a technical term to refer to Christ-designated messengers given authority to speak for him and to establish his church.
The first apostles were the Twelve. "When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles" (Luke 6:13). Notice the first thing he did after appointing them: "These twelve Jesus sent out (apostellō) with the following instructions...." They were to go to the Jews only, to preach the Kingdom is at hand, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to exorcise demons (Matthew 10:5-8). These first apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, as was Matthias, selected to take Judas' place (Acts 1:22-26).
The apostles were the first teachers (Acts 2:42) and administrators (Acts 6:1-6) of the church, but these responsibilities were soon spread among others. The apostles performed miraculous signs (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12), conveyed the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17-18), and generally established the church both in Jerusalem and as far as Corinth, Macedonia, and Rome. Thomas is said to have gone to Parthia and as far as India establishing churches. The Didache seems to recognize the ministry of apostles and prophets in the late first century.2
Do apostles exist today? If so, how does one define modern-day apostles? This is hotly debated. If they do exist, they differ some from the original apostles. For example, they are not eyewitnesses to the resurrection (Acts 1:22). I find C. Peter Wagner's working definition helpful:
"The gift of apostle is the special ability ... which enables them to assume and exercise general leadership over a number of churches with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters that is spontaneously recognized and appreciated by those churches."3
Examples of apostles might be John Wesley, founder of Methodism, in the past, and perhaps Paul (David) Yonggi Cho, pastor of the largest church in the world in Seoul, Korea, and John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I would guess that Pope John Paul II probably fits this category, too, since his ministry extended far beyond administering the Vatican, He exerted an influential teaching ministry throughout the world. (Note: Apostleship is a gift endowed by the Spirit, not bestowed by churches. I do not expect all present-day apostles to see eye-to-eye with each other on doctrine. Nevertheless, they can still be gifted and empowered by the Spirit to build His Church.)
When I was in college I met an American missionary who worked in the highlands of Mexico. His main role was visiting and teaching in a circuit of about fifty congregations over which he had responsibility. That seems to me an apostolic ministry, akin to the function of St. Paul in Philippi, Galatia, Corinth, and Ephesus and, later, St. John in the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.
Q1. (Ephesians 4:11) If there were apostles today, why kind of function might they have? What needs do our congregations and regional groupings of churches have that an apostle might meet? How might we detect false apostles? (2 Corinthians 11:13; Revelation 2:2)
Defining Prophets (4:11b)
Prophets in the Old Testament seemed to be lone spokesmen for God such as Elijah, Moses, Samuel, and Malachi, often very unpopular for speaking God's word. Jesus and John the Baptist both functioned as prophets. In the early church, however, the prophets seemed be spread among some of the other leadership roles. We read about prophets who came from Jerusalem to Antioch, among them Agabus who prophesied of future events (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). Prophets and teachers gathered in Antioch to worship and fast and seek God's guidance, and out of that gathering came the prophecy: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" -- i.e. their missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3).
There is little other mention of those who held the office of prophet beyond Philip the Evangelist's four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9) and Agabus, a prophet in Antioch. An early Christian document, The Didache, instructs congregations how to relate to itinerant and resident prophets in the last years of the first century.4
Paul encouraged all to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:5), that is, to speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit the immediate and upbuilding Word of God. I believe this goes beyond anointed preaching to something else entirely.5 It is one thing to win someone to Christ, it is another to be an Evangelist. It is one thing to teach a lesson, it is another to be a Teacher. In the same way, while many Christians may prophesy occasionally, few of these will have the ministry of being a Prophet.
Defining Evangelists (4:11c)
Next Paul speaks of evangelists. This role isn't spelled out very well in the New Testament, though clearly it has to do with proclaiming the Good News and comes from the Greek word euangelizo, to proclaim good news. The noun is used twice, in a technical ministry sense referring to Philip (Acts 21:8), and in a functional sense referring to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).
Philip's ministry involved preaching to the Samaritans and winning them to Christ (mass evangelism, Acts 8:4-13) as well as witnessing to and winning the treasurer of Ethiopia, whom he saw riding in a chariot (one-to-one evangelism, Acts 8:26-40).
In the early church evangelists were probably itinerant preachers of the Gospel, perhaps similar to tent-evangelists of our day. In areas of India, Africa, and elsewhere today, evangelists and evangelistic teams will travel to non-Christian villages to share the Gospel with them. While all Christians have an obligation to share Christ where they are, Pete Wagner once estimated that 10% of the people in churches have the gift of evangelism. Oh, that the gift of evangelism would be stirred up in our churches (2 Timothy 1:6; 4:5)! Instead, in some congregations it is shamefully denigrated as proselytism.
Q2. (Ephesians 4:11) How can we stir up the gift of evangelism among members of our congregations? What might be the earmarks of a person with this gift? How can we encourage and stimulate the Spirit-gifted evangelists in our midst?
Defining Pastors (4:11d)
Because of the Greek syntax of vs. 11, some scholars see pastors and teachers to be combined into one ministry of pastor-teacher.6 More likely they are overlapping roles.7
Our word "pastor" (with the related word "pasture") means, literally, "shepherd." In fact, in Spanish, El Pastor can refer to either a herder of sheep or a religious leader. A pastor/shepherd (poimēn) led the flock, protected it, guided it to places where there was grass to eat and water to drink. He healed the sheep that were hurt, assisted in birth, and with tenderness cared for the flock. This describes pretty well what a resident spiritual leader does for a group or congregation, which is sometimes referred to as a "flock" (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3). The larger the church is, the more pastors are needed. In fact, in the largest churches, the so-called "senior pastor" may well not have actual gift of pastor so much as of faith, leadership, teaching, or administration.
Often the functional pastors in a Christian community are not the official leaders, but adult Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, house church leaders, etc. You can have a pastoral gift of caring for the spiritual needs of a group of people without having received any official title. Recognition is nice, but not necessary to carrying out this important role. God knows, and it is to him that you serve in this gift.
In the New Testament church, the words "elder" (presbyteros), pastor (poimēn), and bishop or overseer (episcopos) are used synonymously. You can observe this by comparing 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; and Titus 1:5-9.
Defining Teachers (4:11e)
The teacher (didaskalos) has a role closely related to the pastoral function, but somewhat specialized. The pastor is more a leader of and carer for people, while the teacher grounds people in truth and helps them to understand the implications of truth as it pertains to their everyday lives.
Of course, none of these lines can be drawn with heavy black markers; they often fade into one another. Timothy was a pastor and teacher, told to do the work of an evangelist. Paul was an apostle, but clearly he functioned as a pastor during part of his ministry, as well as a teacher by his letters when there were no people close by he could pastor. He was an evangelist, and you might argue that he was also a prophet. Jesus, too, took on all these roles in his ministry. Let's recognize people's ministries from God, but let's not prevent them from combining roles in order to fit our doctrines. God's giftings often don't follow our rules and man-made position descriptions. Moreover, we may transition from one core ministry to another over our lifetimes.
Q3. (Ephesians 4:11) How could a person have the spiritual gift of pastor or teacher without having an official position in a church? What must a church do if
its "senior pastor" doesn't have the spiritual gift of pastor? Who gives these gifts?
Purpose of the Ministry (4:12)
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...." (4:11-12)
One problem that afflicts modern churches is a strong clergy-laity distinction. Clergy are to do the work of ministry and the laity are to pay their salaries, benefit from the worship they conduct and the sermons which they give, and generally go away encouraged. Wrong!
Look carefully at verse 12 which tells what apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to do:
"for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (KJV)
Good. Just what we suspected. Pastors are to perfect, work, and edify. But look again. Is that what it is saying? What if you removed the commas from the sentence? Then it reads:
"to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up" (NIV)
This is entirely different. It makes the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to be equippers and trainers, rather than the bottom-line ministers.
The word translated "perfecting" (KJV), "prepare" (NIV), "equipment" (RSV), and "equipping" (NASB) is Greek katartismos, from kata, "towards" + artios, "fit, sound, complete." In classical Greek the verb meant "to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, equip."8
The reason we know that the commas in the KJV convey the wrong meaning is that the Greek does not have three parallel clauses each beginning with the word "for." Rather, the phrase "to prepare God's people for (eis) works of service" uses the preposition eis which indicates the goal9 of this equipping, that is, carrying out works of ministry. The next clause also uses the preposition eis, indicating a second goal, "so that the body of Christ may be built up."
Just to clarify the structure here:
Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers
In order to(pros) prepare and equip God's people (12a)
For(eis) works of service (diakonia), (12b)
and for (eis) building up the body of Christ (12c)
So thatwe may reach unity in the faith (13a) and grow into the full maturity of Christ (13b - 16)
In other words, the job of pastors, teachers, and other ministers is to equip, prepare, and train the believers so they can learn to function in their own ministries. This is the way that the church will be built up; not by the leaders doing everything themselves, but by the leaders equipping the rest of the people to function in their own ministries. A church in which only the leaders are working to build the church is weak, it is sick. A healthy congregation is one in which the leaders succeed in motivating, training, and deploying the people in a variety of ministries according to the gifts of each member, all of whom bring strength and depth to the ministry of the Body as a whole, and which bring about the maturity of the Body.
We've spent quite a bit of time on this point because this is one of the chief failings of the organized Church. If we can get this right, we'll be well on our way to effectiveness of ministry and maturity.
Q4. (Ephesians 4:12) What's wrong with the old model of the minister or pastor being the main worker in the Church? How does it hinder people in the congregation? How does it hurt the community? What is the purpose of pastors and teachers?
The Nature of a Mature Church (4:13-16)
"... 13Until 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.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (4:13-16)
Look at the description of the healthy, mature church:
- Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus (13a)
- Attaining to the fullness of Christ (13b)
- Speaking the truth in love (15a)
- Growing up into (eis) Christ, the Head of the Body (15b)
- An infrastructure of joined and supporting bones, ligaments, and muscles, which can then support (16a)
- Sustained bodily growth (16b)
- Sustained development of increased strength and new infrastructure as needed (16c)
- Each part of the body doing its work (16d)
When this begins to take shape, we and our churches won't be "infants" which are tossed and blown and manipulated (4:14). People won't be deceiving each other with surface level niceties or "tell it like it is" bluntness which blows the other person away. Instead, we'll be "speaking the truth," but also speaking it "with love." Honesty with tenderness and compassion will build Christ's church in a way that won't require it to be dismantled and rebuilt properly.
I'm impressed by the last phrase of this passage: "as each part does its work" (vs. 16d). This brings us back to where we started. The job of the leaders is to equip each part to do its work. But ultimately each member must commit himself or herself to giving time and energy to the gifts and ministries God has given.
The purpose of all this is found in two places:
vs. 13b "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
vs. 15b "we shall in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
This sounds very much like the overarching theme of the whole letter found in 1:10 "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.
What does this mean in practice?
- It requires pastors and teachers to concentrate on their primary role of equipping, and to cease doing everyone else's work.
- It requires members of the congregation to discover their own ministries and begin to practice them effectively ("so that the body of Christ may be built up") and diligently ("as each part does its work")
It requires leaders to lead and church members to follow their leaders into the exciting task of seeing before our eyes the Church of Jesus Christ begin more and more to feel and sound and act and love like Jesus Christ himself in this world. Amen.
Jesus, your Church on earth sometimes seems like it has a long way to go. Help us not to give up on it, but to equip your saints for the work of their ministry and see the mission completed through the help of many gifted, consecrated hands. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...." (Ephesians 4:12-13)
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)
- Apostolos , BDAG 122.
- Didache 11.4-9.
- C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (G/L Regal Books, 1976), p. 208.
- Didache 11:10-21; 13:1-8.
- I have written further on the gift of prophecy (http://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/).
- Barth, pp. 438-439.
- O'Brien, p. 300.
- Reinier Schippers, "Right, artios," NIDNTT 3:349-351; BDAG 526.
- Eis , BDAG 290, 4.
In-depth Bible study books
You can purchase one of Dr. Wilson's complete Bible studies in PDF, Kindle, or paperback format.
- Listening for God's Voice
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- David, Life of
- Glorious Kingdom, The
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- John's Gospel
- Lamb of God
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ