The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders
40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant
Eph 4:11,12 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
1 Cor 12:27,28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 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.
Lk 6:12,13 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:
A Focus & A Question: I am going to divide this subject of ‘ministries’ into those that initiate or establish new local churches and those who maintain and continue to build the local church. Thus in this first part I am going to focus on apostles and evangelists and to a lesser measure, prophets. Perhaps we should first of all deal with a question in some minds, does the church need these ministries? I doubt if there is anyone who would question the need for evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church and we may wonder why therefore the doubts about apostles and prophets? They are, after all, in the same verses where Paul speaks of Christ’s gifts of these men with the specific role of equipping the people of God, and they are still needed to build up the church and bring it to maturity and fulness in Christ. I’m not sure we can ever say that task is completed. I suspect queries against these ministries arise either out of ignorance of their functions, or possibly experience of those who, living out their gifting, fail in some way to maintain grace and humility. A shame in both cases.
Apostles: Very well, first some basics. The word simply means ‘a sent one’ and we see the distinction between a disciple and an apostle in Lk 6:12,13 above where Jesus, “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” In the New Testament we first see ‘the Twelve’ who Jesus had with him and one of their roles was, in Peter’s words, to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22). From observing them and particularly watching how Peter and John continued after Jesus’ ascension, we see the apostles taking the lead in the church, preaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. There is authority and Holy Spirit anointing. I have had the privilege of knowing a number of apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, not by mere word but by deed.
Observing Paul & Barnabas: In the previous study we noted how Paul came to the Lord, preached, grew in faith, taught in the local church and was then sent out by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and, watching how that developed, moved from Jews to Gentiles and clearly established groups of believers who became local churches, and then appointed elders (leaders) in each local church. This created a long-term sense of care and responsibility in Paul, seen in how he wanted to go back and check out those churches (Acts 15:36) and so subsequently went back through the area they had been to before, “strengthening the churches”, (Acts 15:41) with the result that, “the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5). He and those with him (note, “and his companions” Acts 16:6) were clearly directed – limited as well as being led on – by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6-10). It would be foolish to suggest that an apostle need not be filled with the Holy Spirit! Studying both Paul and Barnabas we see them as men growing in faith, being sent, and then being used as they preach with power and authority.
Characteristics? So, from what we have observed of the narratives of the New Testament, the apostles – first the twelve, then others (e.g. Paul & Barnabas seen in Acts 14:14, Andronicus and Junia, mentioned in Rom 16:7, and it may be that those who simply travelled with Paul were generally termed apostles, sent ones, sent to be missionaries, bringing people to Christ, and then establishing them with leaders in the local context) – were people who grew in faith, received vision and would have had to have moved in wisdom, with a strong sense of the Lord’s presence with them on occasion as they moved in authority with power with signs and wonders. These are the things that distinguished them. Are they needed in the Church today? Very much so!
Well, first, perhaps something that distinguishes them from present day bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals etc. was that they were ‘hands on’ out there doing the stuff, not managers or even just good examples for the faithful, but people operating with power as well as authority (and their authority did not come from their position in an institutional structure but from the working of the Holy Spirit in and through them), who were out there ‘doing the stuff’ extending the kingdom. Does a small town say, with a dozen or more local churches today, need the ministry of an apostle coming in? Well the one thing I have observed in the past, being part of a network in which apostles and prophets operated, is that apostles never simply accept the status quo. They are constantly asking, “What next Lord?” and so they energise and motivate the local church on, releasing faith and vision and enabling and equipping and empowering new leaders and new ministries. They are, if you like, God’s catalysts.
Prophets: We all know what prophets are, for we see their writings and activities in the Old Testament, mostly men, but don’t forget Deborah (Judg 4:4), with that popular image of a man standing on the hillside overlooking Israel declaring the word of God to a disobedient nation. In the New Testament we find Agabus who came and prophesied over Paul (Acts 21:10) but there are other references to prophets – at Antioch (Acts 13:1), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). We know about the gift of prophecy because there is much about it in 1 Cor 12 -14 especially, but little about ‘prophets’ except prophets come with God’s heart and with vision, and like apostles are God’s motivators. The prophet tends not to be just concerned with one or two people for whom he has a word, but for the glory of the Lord in the greater church. I mention prophets here in that they come second in Paul’s listings in Eph 4:11,12 and 1 Cor 12:27,28. In my life, although I have known many people with the gift of prophecy, I have only known personally three men who were clearly prophets (there may of course have been more).
Evangelists: Mentioned in the Ephesian verses but not in the 1 Cor 12 verses, the only one specifically mentioned in the New Testament as an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8) and we see him in action earlier in Acts 8:4 onwards, both preaching and operating in signs and wonders and seeing many turn to Christ. Paul also exhorted Timothy, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). Now it has to be said that the apostles clearly operated as evangelists – bringing the gospel resulting in salvation – as they went out proclaiming Christ. At which point we have to wonder that perhaps evangelists are apostles without the wisdom, vision and authority, a simpler and more straight forward ministry of being more fruitful than most in drawing people to Christ. They also appear to have the ability to impart faith to God’s people to likewise reach out with the gospel.
And So? These appear to be the primary instruments that God has used and continues to use in establishing His Church. So often, across the Church, if we are honest, we see an administrative hierarchy that are more known for their committees and the controlling influences, and simply maintaining the status quo rather than their pioneering energy that continues to ensure the gospel is brought to places where it would otherwise appear to be absent and, even more, it is brought to places where the gospel has come in the past but the life of the church has turned moribund, as continuing surveys of denominational numbers so often reveal. The truth is that where apostles, prophets and evangelists function, life flows, and church grows. Where they are absent, so often stagnation sets in and committees rule and the church resorts to social events to attract the starving crowds, rather than seeking God for the Christ appointed and Christ-anointed ministries that he has chosen, “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.”
The unity that is absent across the breadth of the Church, brought through history by men who were insecure and so divided off from others, is a sign of the absence of these ministries which were replaced in the early few centuries by men and institutions that were not Christ appointed and Christ-anointed. The tolerance of a powerless form of religion (1 Cor 4:20 “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” and 2 Tim 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” ) in so many places, is a similar sign, of the absence of such ministries moving under the power and direction of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand. Let’s pray for the Lord of the Church to send a resurgence of Eph 4:11,12 ministries. We need him and we need his power and we need his ministries – desperately!