According to the fourth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church, Christ gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. While there are traditions which seek to remove certain roles and gifts from the Church, I’m going to bypass that debate to speak directly to the biblical concept of balance within the Body.
From Ephesians 4:11-14 in particular, we read that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (alternatively, pastor-teachers as a possible “four-fold ministry”) were called to:
1) Perfect the saints;
2) Minister to the world;
3) Build up the Body;
4) Attain unity of faith;
5) Attain complete knowledge of Jesus;
6) Attain the full measure of the stature of Jesus.
When we see spiritual offices at work to accomplish those things, it is then that we see the Body increase its inner workings of love, a balance where every member does their part, and Christ is actually followed rather than mentioned. The question is not whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers ought to still exist, but rather what they ought to look like and whether or not the Body is in a place to utilize all five.
Before we can really get into what a fully utilized fivefold ministry looks like, we’ll have to look into church structure. Ecclesiology is the study of church structure, from the Greek ekklesia for “church.” The structure of Christianity has undergone a number of transitions over the centuries from underground community leaders to priestly cathedral caretakers and modern motivational speakers.
The original blueprint was actually pretty simple. In the New Testament books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, known collectively as the Pastoral Epistles, Paul identifies a handful of key positions in church structure, but not once does he refer to either apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers—not once, save to refer to himself as an apostle, but more on that later.
Paul referred to, at most, only three positions of church structure: the daikonos, the episkopos, the presbyteros, known today as the deacon, the overseer/bishop, and the elder. A “daikonos,” or deacon, is literally a servant, and the position was instituted by the apostles in the book of Acts as servants within the larger community as opposed to officers within a building structure.
“Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables.
Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
But we will continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch;
whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people.”
Deacons were needed in the first church in Jerusalem because the apostles were so busy with charitable administration that they were not able to spread the Good News very effectively. The solution was to select seven men of faith and character to administer charity to The Body so the apostles could commit themselves to prayer and preaching.
What is often not emphasized is that Stephen, a “mere deacon,” was noted for being full of grace and power, and was known for working great wonders and signs among the people—not small wonders, but great ones (Acts 6:7).
Although Paul advised elders to be in charge of teaching (in fact, being apt to teach was one of his requirements for elders), ministry was not restricted to them. Deacons were clearly used by God in ways other than the physical duties of their church/community positions (and ought to be so today).
This opens up a clear distinction between somebody’s spiritual calling and their church position. Therefore, just because somebody has the title of “pastor” does not mean they are actually spiritually gifted or called as a pastor. “Pastor” is simply a nominal title used for a bishop/overseer/head elder in most American Protestant traditions. Whether one says bishop, pastor, reverend, or father, the meaning is one of church structure—a physical position—rather than a spiritual office or gift—a spiritual position. The confusion between a “physical pastor” who leads an American 501(c)3 notforprofit religious organization and a spiritual Pastor gifted with the office of spiritually mentoring young believers has lead to confusion in spiritual offices and an imbalance in how they’re perceived and accepted.
The results are some rather distressful circumstances for Christian leaders who attempt to fit an ecclesiastical mold that was not fashioned with them in mind.
Picture this: a young believer who feels called to the ministry is pigeonholed into the role of a pastor when they are spiritually gifted as an evangelist, so they attend and graduate from a biblical seminary; the only path known to them. The calling to spread the Good News in new places becomes forcibly leashed to a pulpit week after week. This creates disparity in his ministry and in his discipleship, as a gifting for the frontier is domesticated, and as he is not able to relate effective experience to others, when the time comes for him to pass the torch, he is likely burned out.
A more controversial example is someone who is called as a prophet or apostle, but they are part of a church tradition which does not recognize either of those gifts and ministries as valid, and therefore he commits himself to a life of pastoring in order to serve God and the church. This means that someone who is called by God to the unique position of prophecy is instead prompted to mentor young believers in spiritual living—something likely within his ability but not necessarily within his range of gifts. Many such “pastors” grow frustrated and burn out because they’ve danced to the beat of the wrong drum of a church tradition that only recognizes certain instruments.
There is, of course, the terrible possibility that somebody who is called to a certain gifting in the Church gets snatched by the Enemy and enters service to the kingdom of darkness.
When considering these things, we must remember that every believer has the ability to evangelize, mentor others, and hear from God. It might be buried, but it’s there as part of their spiritual birthright. What I am saying is that when the ability is supernaturally enhanced, it’s advanced to the level of a gift from God: I am exercising my ability to evangelize when I give my testimony, but when the word of that testimony is regularly enhanced by the witness of the Holy Spirit, it becomes recognized as a gift. A particularly powerful gift may lead a person to a spiritual office or commission.
As a result, church positions and spiritual offices each have a different spectrum. This means that somebody can be a Pastor without having a church position of “pastor,” while someone with the title of “pastor” isn’t necessarily called as one.
In point of fact, Burt, a good friend of mine, is a terrific example: he “pastored” a Baptist church for many years until he suffered a moral failure and agreed to resign. Several years later, he works a secular job with a spiritual approach. Everybody who crosses his path is warmly greeted, sincerely loved, and loyally befriended. Burt spreads the love of Christ to all he meets whether or not he names it as such; Burt is a Pastor to believers and unbelievers alike, pointing them all to the Good News of Jesus Christ, with each one being in different places in their journey toward grace. Many of them find their way into his home group.
Even though Burt does not have a church position to speak of, his gift of Pastor still shines. As a mere attendee of a regular church, Burt continues to spiritually pastor multitudes outside the four walls of the building.
This principle is demonstrated biblically by Paul introducing himself by a spiritual office and not a physical position—an apostle has a spiritual realm of authority, whereas an elder/overseer/bishop has a specific leadership role in a community. Paul had authority in churches that he founded, but whenever he attempted to minister in Jerusalem, he was stymied— he was veering away from his realm of spiritual authority by meddling in an area outside of his spiritual calling to Gentiles.
When not writing to individual people, like Timothy, Paul made no distinction between ranks and positions—in fact, he often encouraged people not to think in such terms. When Paul refers to a ‘congregation,’ there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he sees anything other than a church body comprised of fullfledged and fully devoted apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in various roles of deacons and elders/overseers.
That is to say, regardless of one’s position in a church body, a believer ought to be pursuing their personal calling in Christ and living out their spiritual destiny. Remember, Stephen was chosen as a deacon because of the grace and power on his life; grace and power did not come as a result of his position. If one’s spiritual destiny is not being revealed, developed, or in any way activated, then there is an imbalance that can only be corrected by a fivefold calibration. In other words, God will never force a square peg into a round hole.
Regardless of how a church is structured in terms of leadership (deacon boards, elder boards, leadership committees, pastoral teams, et al.), the actual spiritual growth of the Body depends on the balance of the fivefold ministry. A church which overemphasizes evangelism to the detriment of discipleship is going to marginalize the potential pastors in their midst; a church which overemphasizes teaching to the detriment of the prophetic is going to alienate potential prophets (and possibly lose them to Occult influences). In both instances, calibration would be in order. Calibrating the fivefold within a church body is the first step toward effective ministry; otherwise, a church will face a spiritual disability in one way or another.
I believe the time is coming when titles, ranks, and positions will become meaningless, as the entire church structure will be shaken along with the world around it. Many will be alarmed, as people tend to get whenever the status quo is shattered. The building might come down, but in that day it will be time for The Body to rise. If the believer understands that spiritual offices supersede church positions, then there will be nothing to fear: just as there is still a congregation even if there is not a building, there are still apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers whether or not there are elders and deacons in position to administrate their communities in official public gatherings.
Since there will always be the fivefold ministry (or fourfold, if you combine pastor and teacher) until we reach the full stature of Christ, then that means no amount of neglect or denial will make it truly disappear. In the days between the Romanization of Christianity and the Reformation, the office of Pastor undoubtedly suffered at the hands of priesthood and biblical suppression—yet the office of Pastor made a resurgence when the balance was restored. We’ve arguably seen similar restorations among other gifts and offices within the past century. Therefore, even if those called to a prophetic life get sucked away into the Occult, or one called to evangelism instead gets taken in the ambition of Corporate America, these gifts and offices will still exist. It depends upon the church to identify and mentor those whom God has called.
Some are apostolic. Some are prophetic. Some are evangelistic. Some are mentoring. Some are instructive: To deny any of these in the Church is ultimately to deny one’s own senses. The Kingdom will advance regardless of the Church’s fivefold balance or lack thereof. The difference will lie in whether or not the Body limps along in neglect or denial of its members, or runs with perseverance the race that is set before Her.