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The Five-Fingered Ministry


"He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry." (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Any of the passages from the epistles, where Paul uses titles to identify various positions within the church, need to be taken with a grain of salt, i.e. we should not be too rigid about interpreting them as absolute formulas for the structure of a religious organisation. Paul seemed more interested in describing what people were do-ing, rather than just giving them titles. You will notice, for example, that Paul seems to use different terms each time he brings up the subject of roles within the church. Sometimes he talks about elders and deacons, sometimes about bishops, sometimes about "gifts", such as helps, prophecy, tongues, healing, or the performing of miracles. And then we have this bit about evangelists and pastors, etc. So what do they all mean?

There is a fair bit of room for differences of opinion on this; but I would like to share my own understanding of this passage, based as much on experience as anything else.

Before focusing on the various terms used in the first half of the verse, let us look at the second half of the verse, which tells us why these various people exist in the body of Christ. They exist for the purpose of training the rest of the body of Christ to become "ministers". In other words, everyone in the church should either be a minister, or be training to be a minister. "Minister", mind you, is a very broad term that just means "one who serves". There are different ways that we serve, and some of us will lean more toward one ministry than toward another; but we should all be working toward something.

The Christians were first called "disciples", which literally means "students". We should all be studying the teachings of Jesus, as part of our preparation for ministry. Jesus had many disciples (at least 70), but only some of them reached the level of being called apostles. Nevertheless, that is the direction toward which we should all be moving, i.e. from disciples to apostles.

There are five titles given in the passage of scripture from Ephesians 4. They are: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. These words describe the various aspects of Christian ministry.

Let us picture them as five fingers on the hand. The apostle is like the thumb. The thumb is able to reach over and touch each one of the other fingers. And so, an apostle must be capable of filling the role of all the other four ministries if called upon to do this.

The reason for this is because the apostle is more or less a "pioneer", taking the Christian message into new lands. In such circumstances, an apostle may often find himself or herself in a situation where a particular ministry is needed, but where there is no one else to turn to.

In the past, missionaries were more or less apostles. However, today, many so-called missionaries are just employees of large organisations who happen to have overseas placements. The real pioneering has already been done in most countries on behalf of most churches, so there is little real need in those churches for one person to be able to perform all four ministries.

Nevertheless, there are areas of the world where genuine apostles are still needed, to pioneer new works. This is particularly true with regard to our own situation, where we are trying to bring in teaching which is not going to receive the support of the existing churches. We can find ourselves doing the work of apostles even in Western countries, because we will become totally isolated from other professing Christians when they hear that we are preaching obedience to the teachings of Jesus.

Some apostles succeed in establishing a network of new communities. In such situations, the apostles become overseers or supervisors of the various works that they have established. The Apostle Paul and his ministry have become the classic pattern for this picture of what it means to be an apostle.

But don't forget that the title in itself proves nothing. The primary thing is just to do the job. If you start something, and you take a genuine interest in the welfare of the people involved, you can call yourself a president, a facilitator, the managing director, an apostle, or nothing at all. It doesn't really make much difference, so long as you do the job.

The other four ministries represent the qualities which must go together to make up an apostle. Some people will find themselves naturally inclined toward one more than others; however, the more we can develop an understanding of the benefits of all four approaches, the better leaders we will be.

Two ministries (prophet and evangelist) are mainly directed toward people outside the community; and two (pastor and teacher) are mainly directed toward people inside the community. But these are not strict job descriptions. In our own community, for example, we have been able to successfully distribute teaching on many different subjects to people outside of our community; and occasionally someone has had to act as a prophet to the rest of us within the community itself.

Another way to look at the four ministries is to think of two of them (prophet and teacher) as being "crunchies" and two of them (evangelist and pastor) as being "smoothies". An apostle should be capable of taking a hard line or a soft line, and be able to deal with people inside the community, or with people outside the community. When you have that down, then all you need is the wisdom to know when to be hard, and when to be soft.

The prophet is the critic, or the crunchy, usually with regard to people outside the community. A prophet must be capable of seeing things that others cannot see. The prophet must have the courage to speak up when he or she sees that something is not right. The prophet takes initiative, and risks expulsion (if he or she is a member of the group being criticised) in order to set things straight. The prophet is not overly concerned about what people think. What matters most is what God thinks.

In his discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul said that we should seek the best gifts, and in particular, that we should seek the gift of prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1) Most people think this means predicting the future. However, that is but a small part of what the prophet may need to do. Certainly, if a prophet wants to be more than just a critic, he or she must be capable of seeing the bigger picture, and recognising the direction in which people are heading. A prophet gets the eternal picture, and calls people back to eternal values rather than the short-sighted, organisational obsessions that so often lead groups astray. The prophet usually speaks from outside the establishment being criticised.

As a community, we have spoken collectively as prophets to the established churches, calling them to repentance and obedience to Jesus.

While the prophet's message often comes across as harsh and judgmental, the message of an evangelist is much more positive. An evangelist is one who tells the "good news" to those outside the church. The evangelist is very much like a salesperson, because he or she is able to persuade people to make a decision to change or "convert" based on the benefits to be received personally through such a conversion.

A pastor is similar to the evangelist, in that the pastor also has a soft approach. The pastor continues to comfort and care for the converts after they have become part of the Christian community. The word "pastor" literally means "shepherd".

Most people today think of the pastor as being more like a priest or an apostle, because in traditional Protestant churches, the pastor is the professional full-time minister while the rest of the congregation just pays his salary.

This is not the way it was in the early church, and it is not the picture that we get from the passage in Ephesians 4. The particular emphasis of the pastor is on unity and administration. In a Christian community, pastoral duties would include housekeeping, cooking, working out the budget, and counselling and encouraging members. A pastor is part administrator and part counsellor. The pastor, like the evangelist, is able to inspire people to change and to grow spiritually.

The teacher's primary emphasis is a rational, unemotional consideration of the facts, in an effort to arrive at the truth. Good teaching should not be based on emotional issues so much as they should be based on justice, logic, and fair play. Because of this, teachers may seem more crunchy than pastors. A pastor can use a song or a game to inspire change or encourage unity; but the teacher can only rely on the truth. A true teacher cannot compromise the truth in order to make it more comfortable.

Of course, people can blend aspects of both ministries, and in that way make it easier for disciples to accept truths which require them to change. When criticisms are difficult to take, most of us are encouraged to accept the truth in the criticisms at least partly because we do not want to lose the blessings that come from being part of such a close fellowship.

A further observation with regard to our own ministry is that we have probably excelled in a type of teaching ministry which extends beyond the boundaries of our own organisation. Some of our teachings are truly prophetic, in that they challenge and convict the religious establishment. But other teachings may be far less threatening, and even inspirational. This study in itself would not be considered prophetic, nor would it be considered evangelistic, and yet through such things as the Internet, we have been able to make it available to the general public. Our tracts differ from traditional Christian tracts as well, in that they usually include a lot of teaching, and they do not restrict themselves to John 3:16 type messages.

Of course, because we include so much teaching in our message, we do not necessarily make many converts. We are pretty crunchy in the things that we say, and so people must be strongly motivated to find the truth before they will make a choice to actually join with us in our mission. We have chosen to do it this way, because we have felt that people won through too much of a soft line (or smoothy) approach, are more inclined to fall away when they discover the costs of discipleship.

Hopefully this study has made it clear that there is more than one way to get the job done... and there is more than one job to be done. Whether we are working out the budget, denouncing hypocrisy in the church, listening to someone pour their heart out about problems they have been going through, or leading a class on seven ways to know God's will, all of this is part of building the kingdom of heaven. You should be able to see natural tendencies for yourself and others. For example, the tendency for Robin to be a pastor, Ross an evangelist, Roland a prophet, Fran a teacher, and Dave an apostle.

It is good to memorise the four different approaches to Christian ministry. Remember that two of them are generally directed toward people outside the group, two are generally directed toward people inside; two generally apply a hard line, and two generally apply a soft line. If you can keep this picture in your mind, you will be more likely to consider the entire range of options when trying to make a wise decision as to what approach to take toward a person or situation.

(See also In Spirit and in Truth.)

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