“It was he [Jesus] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Let’s dive in and start with apostle. The Greek word for this gift means “one sent with a commission.” When Jesus prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples He said, “Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” (John 17:18) One of the last things He told them was “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” (John 20:21) He was assigning them a momentous job – completing the work of God’s Kingdom. They were being commissioned to do great things. So, in a figurative sense, all Christians should consider themselves “apostles.” The same Greek term is used to connote “messengers of the churches.” Paul presented both Titus and Epaphroditus as examples of people whose task is church-establishing or missionary in nature. (It’s also employed to designate the exclusive cadre of men chosen to be “apostles of Christ,” the select few who were eyewitnesses to His ministry and His glorious return from the dead.) Since the word obviously encompasses a variety of Gospel-spreading aspects it’s safe to say that everyone who’s accepted Jesus as their Savior has, to one extent or another, been given the spiritual gift of apostleship.
Next is prophet. The English word prophecy comes from the Greek, meaning “public expounder.” One side of being a prophet involves communicating divine messages from God to human beings. The other side, according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, emphasizes exhortation: “…the one who prophesizes speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.” The former aspect, that of accurately predicting events yet to come, no longer applies. At least not in the extraordinary way it did in the Old Testament or in the first century after Christ. Now, having said that, I’ll never rule out the fact that with God all things are possible and there are exceptions but they’re rare, indeed, and not the norm. Billy Graham wrote, “God no longer directly reveals ‘new truth’; there’s now a back cover to the Bible. The canon of Scripture is closed.” Keep in mind there’s a difference between doctrine and direction. Christian doctrine has long been established and firmly cemented in place. But God does present His children new directions to explore that will help deepen their understanding of His Word. Consider writers like Brennan Manning, Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Larry Crabb and Timothy Keller (to name but a few). They provide new angles I find useful in comprehending fundamental Biblical truths. I believe they’re inspired by the Holy Spirit to use their gifts in a way that benefits all believers. Therefore I don’t think it incorrect or misleading to call them modern-day prophets.
We must be careful with that term, however. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit has endowed us with a valuable ability to discern truth because of the many attractive false prophets that are bound to pop up from time to time. Jesus Himself warned us about them more than once. He said they’d be like blood-thirsty wolves masquerading as gentle sheep and, sadly, they’ll fool many Christians into straying off on dangerous tangents. Paul saw this happening in the early church and wasn’t pleased. He sternly wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “…if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough!” In verses 13-14 he added that these conniving types are “…false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” The best defense against falling prey to the lure of false prophets is to remain firmly rooted in the Bible. Be cognizant of exactly what it teaches and always follow the leading of the Holy Ghost in all spiritual matters. If any person’s opinion veers even for a moment from what you know is the truth of the Scriptures red flags should go up in your heart and mind. Pay them heed.
Evangelist follows. The term is derived from the Greek word meaning “one who announces good news.” You might be surprised to learn that evangelist shows up only three times in the New Testament. In Acts 21:8 Luke referred to Philip as one. In this essay’s featured verse Paul implied that Christ gave evangelists to the churches and in 2 Timothy 4:5 he urged his protégé to “do an evangelist’s work.” Simply put, the gift of evangelism is possessing a special acumen for delivering the gospel. For conveying with urgency the importance of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. That He’s coming again soon and all of mankind needs to repent and believe before that day arrives. The evangelist is an effective proclaimer of the redeeming message that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. A pastor can be one but more often than not an evangelist has to pursue their calling outside the traditional church. Now, has the perception of what an “evangelist” is been soiled by unscrupulous TV hucksters over the last few decades? Do dogs bark? Tragically, though, even some small town ministers have been guilty of committing the same kind of despicable larceny. Preaching that elicits only emotional responses but doesn’t stimulate the intellect isn’t true evangelism. That’s why most evangelists also have a knack for teaching. For making people think. These five spiritual gifts don’t necessarily have cut-and-dried demarcations. There’s an amount of bleed-over involved.
The most dangerous pothole an evangelist can stumble into is when he/she starts studying the stats. It’s natural to want to see positive results of one’s labors but the gift itself is no guarantee they’ll be immediately recognizable. The Bible never says to make a big deal out of results and you’ll never find where an evangelist got criticized for not hitting some kind of quota. They’re seed-sowers who have no control over where the pods might happen to land. Their listeners’ decision to accept or reject Jesus is out of their control. It’s no stretch to imagine that Noah was an evangelist who, for 120 years, proclaimed the coming flood to his neighbors to no avail. Nonetheless, he was ever-faithful to his calling. Conversely, some have been given the gift of evangelism but have suppressed it out of fear of having accusations of closed-mindedness or of being a self-righteous prude thrown at them. The devil knows precisely how to attack that kind of person and keep them intimidated.
One can be an evangelist without having to make a career out of it. Dr. Graham said, “In some sense every Christian who is not called to the vocation of evangelism is still called upon to do the work of an evangelist.” There are varying methods of getting the vital message about salvation out to the masses but it’s crucial we understand what we, as evangelists, can’t do. We can’t bring about conviction of sin. We can’t instill a hunger for righteousness. We can’t generate an inner awareness of divine judgment. We can’t change people’s hearts. Only the Holy Ghost can do those things. What we can do is to invite men and women to receive Christ and ask Him for forgiveness of their sins. The rest is up to the Spirit as He works on the minds, hearts and wills of the unsaved. We’re to concentrate on what we know is possible and let God handle what appears to be impossible. In order to be effective evangelists we must live fruit-producing lives and trust our Lord without reservation. In Mark 1:17 Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of men.” God, through the Holy Spirit, will provide all we need in order to bait our hooks. If you’re a follower of Christ evangelism is not an option – it’s an order. In Matthew 28:19-20 we’re instructed, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The term pastor doesn’t come up much in the Bible. In the Old Testament it appears in conjunction with the Hebrew word for “shepherd” and it makes its only New Testament appearance in Ephesians 4:11. It’s also closely associated with the Greek word for “teacher.” Yet despite its scarcity in Scripture it’s one of the most common title designations for ordained clergy. Since Jesus often referred to Himself as being a shepherd who watches over His flock it’s a fitting moniker. In John 10:11 He said, “I am the good shepherd.” In Hebrews 13:20 Christ is called “the great shepherd of the sheep.” Peter labeled Him the “Chief Shepherd” and, as such, it implies there are those we might say are “assistant shepherds” who serve under Him. This would include ministers of the Gospel and un-ordained leaders in the congregation who possess gifts of counseling and instruction or who are capable of guarding the flock. Some of the most influential and inspiring Christians who’ve assisted me immensely in my walk with the Lord are ordinary laypeople. Youth counselors, CR leaders and home Bible study hosts are, in their own way, pastors. Both 1 & 2 Timothy as well as the Book of Titus are known as the “pastoral epistles” because they’re focused on how to best watch over the flock. In the Celebrate Recovery ministry the first thing we train those who opt to be leaders to do is how to be a reliable sponsor (or shepherd, if you will) who’ll be attentive to the needs of a newcomer who’s struggling with a debilitating hurt, habit or hang-up. In other words, you don’t have to be a pastor in order to perform the duties of one or to assist your church’s pastor in his work. I’m sure he’d be grateful for the help.
Last but certainly not the least on the list is teacher. The Greek equivalent means, not surprisingly, “instructor.” Once a soul has been won to Christ he/she has to be brought up to speed and educated in the ways of the Lord. The final part of Jesus’ “great commission” I cited earlier reads, “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It goes without saying that perhaps the most pressing need in our churches is for more qualified teachers of the Bible. However, like everything else, it’s in the hands of the Heavenly Father. The ability to teach is a God-given aptitude not every believer receives. A proclivity for imparting to Christians a practical knowledge of the Holy Word in such a way as to profoundly affect their conduct and thought patterns is a spiritual gift. The goal of such teaching is the conformity of believers to the likeness of Jesus and it should be administered lovingly with patience and compassion. It’s not unusual for an excellent Bible teacher to get so caught up in delivering a lesson they get choked up or even shed tears. Oftentimes it’s a literal manifestation of the Holy Spirit flowing out of them into their students.
Yet don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to earn a degree in ancient Hebrew or even possess a formal education to own the gift of teaching. Each of us has been in a classroom led by somebody who graduated from college or maybe even held a Ph.D. in a particular subject but couldn’t teach worth a flip. On the other hand, it’s been my experience that some of the best instructors I ever had were not necessarily revered brainiacs but people who were able to make learning an exciting adventure for me. A lack of technical qualifications understandably should prevent someone from being allowed to teach, say, quantum physics in a university but a seminary shouldn’t restrict itself by insisting on the same rigid criteria. They should acknowledge that the ability to teach is a gift from God. I’m just sayin’. I’m not implying God doesn’t fully utilize someone’s superb intellectual abilities when they’re fully committed to Him, but spiritual teaching is a supernatural talent the Holy Spirit has anointed an individual with, not something a man-made diploma has bequeathed to them. While the lack of engaging, inspiring teachers is a problem in today’s church it’s not the fault of the great I AM. Truth be known, the Holy Spirit has no doubt given the gift of teaching to hundreds and perhaps thousands of believers who either don’t know they have it or who are stubbornly refusing to use it. And I’m not talking about only on the theological seminary or Bible school level. That’s important, to be sure, but what’s even more essential is the teaching done on the Sunday school or private home front. That’s where the rubber meets the road and where the average Joe or Jane gets their foundational info about what God’s Word is saying to us. They don’t need a scholar, necessarily. They just need a well-versed teacher.
A poignant but often overlooked passage is 2 Timothy 2:1-2. It reads, “So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” It’s kind of a mathematical formula for expanding the influence of the church and spreading the Gospel around the world. Paul taught Timothy. Timothy then shared what he’d learned with faithful people. In turn those faithful people were expected to pass the knowledge on to other folks, expanding this beneficial cycle exponentially. Think of it as a soul-saving pyramid scheme. If every Christian adhered to and participated in this pattern the entire planet would know about Jesus in the span of a single generation! Mega churches and well-attended seminars are spectacular and exciting but they and nothing else can match or even come close to generating the limitless power of one-on-one witnessing performed consistently by the children of God.
These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit presented by Paul in Ephesians chapter 4. Apostle. Prophet. Evangelist. Pastor. Teacher. I hear you saying, “I don’t really feel that I’m any of those. Maybe somebody else got one or more of those gifts but I didn’t. I can’t relate to much of this stuff you’re talking about so maybe it just doesn’t apply to me.” Sorry, but I beg to differ. You’re wrong. It does apply to you. Number one, consider for a moment that maybe God has given you one of these spiritual talents and you’re ignoring it. Perhaps He’s calling you to be a pastor, an evangelist or a teacher of the Holy Word but you don’t want to hear that because it’ll interfere with your plans. You may be a young person whom God needs for missionary work in another country. You might be in your “golden years” and the Lord wants you to lead a Bible study group in your living room. You need to stop and tune in to hear if God is calling on you to step out of your comfort zone and serve Him His way. Number two, the Scriptures say God expects His children to support those He’s placed in positions of leadership in your church. The best way to do that is through tithing and consistent, heartfelt prayer for your pastor, for his staff members and for anyone involved who’s sincerely trying to do God’s work on earth. In Ephesians 6:19 Paul asked the church congregation, “Pray for me…” Let those you’re praying for know you support their efforts and that you’re grateful for the sacrifices they make. And number three, perk up your ears and learn from those God installed as leaders. Humble yourself. You don’t know everything there is to know. Not yet, anyway. Not by a long shot. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.” Verse 17 succinctly states, “Obey your leaders…” We can all absorb a lot more data on the subject of God’s perfect will so we need to have an attitude of gratitude for the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to these leaders to, as Ephesians 4:12 states, “…equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ.”