And Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:8-16
We have a system in our house. When Diane cooks, I try to do the dishes. Sometimes I have to leave for a meeting, and sometimes I cook. But it seems to fall to her to cook and me to clean up. Whether it’s our personal emotional wiring, or years of marital imprinting, is not as important as the tasks that need to get done seem to get done. It works for us.
In the church the division of duties are a bit less fluid, although in my experience there can be some ebb and flow of gifts given and people using them. Sometimes a leader must exhibit particular pastoral (shepherding) skills and qualities. He must be a good listener. She must offer comfort and kind guidance. These can sometimes be somewhat fluid.
Paul’s thoughts here, however, suggest a more direct and particular gifting. Some are apostles. Paul was one without a doubt. He would even defend his status and calling when needed. For the apostles were not only the “sent ones” – which is the root meaning of the word apostle – they also served to norm the church’s teaching and practice. They lended credibility to the new converts and churches in the gentile world.
God also gave prophets. These men and women speak God’s word to people in compelling ways. Sometimes they call people to repentance, pointing out their waywardness. Other times they proclaim that which God is doing, pointing people to Jesus, and God’s salvation. Anna, for example, is called a prophetess in Luke 2:36, where she tells all people about the birth of the Savior. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Prophets don’t so much predict the future as they call people to repentance and faith.
God also gives evangelists: people who bring the good news to people wherever they go. In the church in Kenya, for example, before a man can serve as a pastor, he must first serve as an evangelist. These young men range far and wide doing many of the roles of the pastor, but under a supervising pastor. They bless many for they do not have the shepherd’s yoke of care. They typically do not get as deeply involved in people’s lives. They are often on the move.
Shepherds, on the other hand, tend toward a deeper involvement in people’s lives. I have been called an apostolic shepherd, or a pastoral apostle. I am often sent (formally or informally) to teach and train pastors and church leaders through PLI. I often see the need to move forward, and more often hold the big picture in mind. But, I care deeply about people.
That’s the difficult part. To care for people sometimes weighs my soul. I can lose sleep because I care about how people are or are not living out their faith. It would be much easier to push on, not caring. This was often the attitude of St. Paul. He even said in one of his letters, that he cared little about what others thought of him…” (1 Corinthians 4:3). That’s an apostle’s heart. Barnabas (whose name means son of encouragement) did care. He cared deeply for people, and sought to bring people along in the faith.
There are also teachers: gifts of God who open the word and insights of the faith to people. We’ll look more closely at these tomorrow. For now, however, we may thank God for the apostles, evangelists, prophets, shepherds, and teachers who are God’s gifts to build up the body of Christ and further the cause of Christ’s kingdom.