Copyright © 2005 Jeremy Myers
Once upon a time, in a local church, there were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Then Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody's job. But since Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it, it ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place. Right about this time, a fifth person visited the church. This person's name was Confused. He looked around, saw what was happening, and never came back.
All too often, that describes life in the church. It is unclear who is supposed to do what. But church is not supposed to be that way. God never intended for church growth to be so confusing. God has laid out in his Word who is to oversee the building of the church, and who is supposed to do the work. Ephesians 4:11 tells us about who oversees the building site. We are going to call these individuals the Foremen.
Every construction site has Foremen. They make sure that everybody knows what they need to know, does what they are supposed to do, and does it in unison so that that the task gets done right. They make sure that the foundation is laid correctly, the walls go up square, and that the wiring and plumbing goes in correctly. They also make sure that things get done in the right order – the sheet rock goes on after the plumbing and the electrical work – and that the right people do the right job – don't have the plumber do the roofing. Without Foremen, the construction site would be chaos.
The same is true for the church. There are four specific spiritual gifts God has given to various Elders (see chapter 4) so that they can better shepherd the church. Ephesians 4:11 provides us with the list of four gifts.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
From English, it appears that there are five gifts mentioned here: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But from the Greek, it is much more likely that there are only four gifts in this verse. The last two, pastors and teachers, are very likely combined in the Greek to form one gift known as pastor/teacher.
In chapter 4, we learned about the qualifications for Elders. In addition to these necessary qualifications, Ephesians 4:11 now tells us that the spiritual leaders of the church must also have at least one of these four spiritual gifts. Taking one at a time, we come to a clear and Biblical understanding of what each of these four gifts are, and how they are to be understood in the context of church leadership.
The first of the Foremen are apostles. We know the apostles were the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus in John 6. Judas, who never believed in Jesus for eternal life, and later betrayed Christ, was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1).
But the number of apostles in the early church was not limited to just twelve. Paul was an apostle (Gal. 1:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:8) as was Barnabas (Acts 14:14). Two members of the church in Rome were also called apostles (Romans 16:7). So with these four, and Matthias, there were at least 16 apostles. We can assume, however, that there were more than sixteen when we discover what makes an apostle and what an apostle was supposed to do.
What Makes an Apostle?
The Roman Catholic Church teaches what is known as apostolic succession. They believe that the apostles – particularly the apostle Peter – were able to pass on their position of apostle to other people. In accordance with this, they teach that the Pope is the successor of Peter.
The logical consequence of this is the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Catholics teach that since apostles have the ability to speak and write the Word of God, and since the Pope is the successor of the apostle Peter, then anything the Pope says or writes is without error and is equal to the Bible! This has gotten the Catholic church into many problems over the years, and it all stems back to the belief that there are still apostles today.
But they aren't the only ones. Many towns in America have "Apostolic" churches. These and other groups believe that there are apostles in our midst today. Several years ago, Robert Duvall starred in a movie called "The Apostle" in which he was portrayed as a modern day apostle. So the question is, "How do we know whether or not there are apostles today?"
The answer, as always, is, "What does the Bible say?" The Bible indicates that the spiritual office of apostleship is no longer in use. The reason is due to the conditions that must be met to be an apostle. There were three main requirements. First of all, the Bible tells us that an apostle must have had personal contact with Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8, 21-23). That immediately eliminates everyone born after 33 A.D. Although we do not know if Paul had any physical contact with Jesus (some speculate that he was the Rich Young Ruler in Matt. 19 and Luke 18), he did have personal contact with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9, 15-16). This is why Paul refers to himself as one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:8). The first requirement is to have had personal contact with Jesus Christ.
Yet there were thousands who had personal contact with Jesus during His 33 years on earth, but not all of them are apostles because of a second qualification. This second qualification is that an apostle must have personally seen Christ in His resurrected form (Acts 1:21-22; Luke 24:48; 1 Cor. 9:1-2). This narrows the number of people down to just a couple hundred (1 Cor. 15:5-8).
The third qualification narrows it down to a select few. The final element in becoming an apostle is that a person must also have a direct appointment to the office by Jesus Christ Himself (Luke 6:13-16; 1 Cor. 15:8-9). Jesus Christ handpicked His apostles (John 6:70).
These three requirements reveal that there can no longer be apostles because nobody alive today can fulfil all three. But aside from this, we also know that there can no longer be apostles because of what they were supposed to do.
What Apostles Do
The word "apostle" is a transliteration from the Greek word apostolos. It means "sent out" with the implication of being sent with a message or to accomplish a task. When translating it, we could use words like "messenger" or "delegate." This is how it used in Scripture. The apostles were a special class of believers who were chosen by God to carry out a specific task, which was to deliver the Gospel message to the world. They were to lay the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20).
Which is exactly what the apostles did in the book of Acts. They set out to declare salvation to the world. But as they aged, they realized that the task would require more than their lifetimes. And so they set out to record with pen and paper the message they had been given so that it could continue to go into all the world. These writings are what we now know as the New Testament. So it was the apostles who received, declared and recorded God's Word (John 14:26; Acts 11:28; 21:10-11; Eph. 3:5).
Of course, there were always false teachers and false apostles around, so God provided a way for people to determine who really was an apostle and who was not. He gave to the apostles the ability to verify their words through signs, wonders and miracles (Acts 8:6-7; 2 Cor. 12:12; Php. 2:25). This was the means by which the early believers could discern who was right and who was wrong. Today, we do not need signs and wonders and miracles to verify the truthfulness of one teacher over another because we have the written Word of God to help us do that. The primary task of the apostles in first century Christianity was to lay a good foundation for the church by speaking and writing the Word of God.
Every building needs a good foundation because a building is only as strong as its foundation. I (Jeremy) spend a few weeks every summer volunteering at a Bible camp near where I live. It is located on a lake, and about 30 years ago, when they built the kitchen and dining hall, they thought it would be nice to situate the building on the lakeshore so that people could look at God's glorious creation while cooking or eating.
But the plan did not account for erosion. Over the years, the shore of the lake has slowly eroded away from underneath the foundation. As a result, the foundation is crumbling. But the lakeshore is not all to blame. Part of this problem is due to a poor foundation. Over the years, very large cracks have developed on the foundation until two years ago, a crack appeared about three inches wide in one corner. One of these years, the building will fall into the lake because a good foundation had not been laid.
If the apostles had not laid a good foundation, the church would not have lasted. Similarly, if individual churches today decide not to build upon the foundation which has been laid, these local churches too will fall. The apostles were the first of the Foremen, and they have completed their task of giving us the Foundational truths of the New Testament. But there was another Foreman which came before them upon which they built. These were the prophets.
The prophets are the second of the Foremen. The term "prophets" refers specifically to the writing of the prophets as found in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Pet. 3:2). The term "apostles" referred to the writings of the New Testament, the term prophets refers to those in the Old. To refer to the Old Testament as the writings of the prophets is consistent with Scripture. Jesus refers to the Old Testament frequently as the Law and the prophets (Mt. 5:17; 7:12; 11:13, etc.). The Law was written by Moses, who was one of the greatest of prophets (Dt. 34:10; Acts 7:37).
The reason Paul lists apostles before prophets in Ephesians 4:11 is because of his topic. For the church, the New Testament is more important than the Old. The Old is important also as we saw in chapter 6. But its importance is chiefly found in that it lays the foundation for the New Testament. Since the New contains the life of Christ and the specific instructions for the church it is slightly more important.
When we talk about prophecy, there are two facets of prophecy to keep in mind. Most people, when they think of prophecy, think of predicting the future. They think of foretelling what will happen. But this is only part of what prophecy is. Some prophecy is foretelling the future, but the majority of Old Testament prophecy is forthtelling the Word of God. Prophecy can refer to telling the future, but it most frequently means telling the truth. The Old Testament, written by the prophets, contains much more truth being proclaimed than it does future events being predicted.
Paul, by mentioning the apostles and prophets, has revealed his conviction about the centrality of the Word of God for the church. No work that the church does can be successful in the eyes of God if not built on the foundation as laid by the apostles and prophets. That is why every church should place a large emphasis on preaching and teaching the Word of God. By doing so, the church is building on a good foundation laid by the first two Foremen.
But a building is not done with just a foundation. A foundation is just a concrete slab. A building also needs walls and a roof. But what is it that makes the walls and the roof on God’s church? God’s church is not a building made of wood or concrete, glass windows, paint, carpet and shingles. These things are the physical building materials for where part of God’s church meets.
According to the Biblical definition, the church consists of the local and universal body of believers. The church is made up of people who have believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life and are seeking to live like Christ in this world. That is the church. So in keeping with the symbolism, it is people who make up the walls and roof of the church. But God needed a way to get unsaved people into the church. It doesn't just happen automatically. To accomplish this, God provided the third Foreman – the evangelist.
God gave evangelists the ability to share the Gospel with power, conviction and effectiveness. Evangelists are vitally important for the survival of the church, because without evangelists, very few people would be getting saved, and so very few people would be coming into the body of Christ.
The importance and necessity of evangelism is making a comeback in modern Christianity. People are discovering that while not everyone has the gift of evangelism as Paul uses it here, we can all "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5) by being a witness in whatever sphere of influence God has placed us. Also, people are discovering that confrontational evangelism is neither the only way to be a witness nor the most effective. There is the intellectual, apologetic style, the testimonial style, the interpersonal, relationship development style, the invitational style, and the serving style. Every Christians can and should be a witness in at least one of these ways.
But despite all of this newfound enthusiasm for evangelism and personal witnessing, there is a caution. Some individuals and groups are becoming so creative in sharing the Gospel, that the creativity has eclipsed the Gospel. Those who are witnessing must remember to remain upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets if their efforts are going to bear lasting fruit.
What good is getting thousands of unsaved people to come to a music concert if all they think when they leave is "Christians have pretty good music"? What good is it to mow lawns, wash cars and bake cookies if the people on the receiving end never hear that Christ loves them and wants to deliver them from eternal punishment? What good is it to get hundreds of people to raise a hand, sign a card, or come forward at a meeting if they don't really understand that all they have to do is believe in Jesus for eternal life in order to be saved?
The truth is that evangelism without the Word of God is nothing more than religious entertainment. If we want people to believe in Christ, we must give them the Word. Romans 10:17 says that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." In other words, if a person does not hear the Word of God, they will not have faith. The Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and it is through the Word that the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces (John 16:8-11). Creativity in the fire of evangelism is good, but we must not forget the fuel of the Word lest the fire die.
So the apostles and prophets laid the foundation by writing the Word of God. The evangelists share the written Word with the unsaved so that they will believe in Jesus for eternal life and become the structure of the church. But the building is not done yet. If the church is going to be complete and effective, it needs to have light and heat. If we only bring people into the church but nothing more, we leave them starving and cold in the dark. So God provided a fourth foreman - the pastor/teacher.
As was previously indicated, these two terms should be understood as complimentary to one another. They are not two separate titles. The main reason we know this is a linguistic reason. The Greek indicates that they must at least be complimentary if not synonymous with each other.
The Greek scholar and teacher Daniel Wallace, in a very detailed and thorough analysis of this Greek construct, says that although the Greek does not demand these two terms being synonymous, neither does it imply their separation. Ultimately, he comes to the following conclusion:
"In light of the fact that elders and pastors had similar functions in the NT, since elders were to be teachers, the pastors were also to be teachers. Conversely, not all teachers were said to be pastors. This evidence seems to suggest that the [pastors] were a part of the [teachers] in Eph 4:11…all pastors are to be teachers, though not all teachers are to be pastors."
Paul is saying that a pastor should first and foremost be a teacher. There is a separate spiritual gift of teaching that should not be confused with the spiritual gift of pastor/teacher. Those with the gift of teaching will have a secular job, but also teach in the church as their ministry. Those with the gift of pastor/teacher should devote the majority of their time to prayer and the teaching of the Word in and through the local church (Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:17).
As we saw back in chapter 4, the terms "pastor," "shepherd," "elder" and "bishop" are all interchangeable, and are distinct from the role of deacon. The primary distinguishing characteristic between elders and deacons is that the elders must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). As Wallace pointed out, not all teachers will be elders (or pastors), but all elders (or pastors) must be able to teach.
The rest of Scripture bears this out. Paul's list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 begins with the apostles, prophets and teachers. In context, Paul is primarily concerned with the mutual edification of believers in the church at Corinth. Since the purpose of the gift of evangelism is not primarily edification, he leaves it out. Edification happens when the Word that was written by the apostles and prophets is taught by the teachers, whether they are pastor/teachers or lay teachers.
Furthermore, almost every time the New Testament talks about the roles and responsibilities of the spiritual leaders of the church, teaching the Word of God is at the top of the list (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; Titus 1:3; 2:1; 1 Pet. 5:2). In fact, the Greek word for pastor is poimenos, which can also be translated "shepherd." A pastor is to the shepherd of the flock of God's people under his care. As Philip Keller so poignantly reveals in his book, one of the primary tasks of a shepherd is providing proper nourishment and protection for his sheep.
"He will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter feed, and clean water. He will spare Himself no pains to provide shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible."
For the spiritual shepherd, this feeding and protecting is best accomplished through teaching the Word of God. It is impossible to be a good shepherd without feeding the flock of God with the Word of God.
Aside from the linguistic reasons for understanding the two terms as complimentary, there are also practical reasons. Much harm comes to the church when pastors neglect the teaching of the Word of God in favor of other pastoral priorities. But as Paul so clearly reminds Timothy, a pastors first priority is the preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:2)!
If it is the evangelist's job to bring people into the church, it is the pastor/teachers job to raise them up in the church. The evangelist brings a person to faith, the pastor/teacher trains a person about the faith. The evangelist increases the quantity of people in the church. The pastor/teacher increases the quality.
If the pastor/teacher fails to instruct the Christians in his church about the Word of God, those Christians will never grow into maturity. They will forever be baby Christians. If a pastor does not faithfully and systematically teach the Word to the Christians in his church, they will always be bottle fed Christians who want only milk, and who base their decisions, not on the Word of God, but on however they feel at the moment. Every pastor should want the people in his church to become mature Christians, and the only way to do that is to spend a lot of time preparing and serving up all-you-can-eat-steak-and-potato messages from the Word of God.
I believe that nearly all of the blame for the sickly condition of Christianity today can be laid at the feet of those who call themselves pastors. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book The 7 Laws of the Learner, states that if the students of a teacher or the congregation of a pastor are failing to learn, it is because the teacher or pastor is failing to teach. This is where the modern church has failed the most. The church is weak because it has failed to understand that the primary role of a pastor is to teach, and to teach effectively.
The problem is that most pastors separate the two terms Paul lists in Ephesians 4:11. When separated, we get the idea that there are some leaders in the church called "pastors" and there are others who do the teaching. In other words, some think that pastors are not primarily teachers. But when Ephesians 4:11 is properly understood, we see that the two are intimately related.
Now there are warnings to remember when saying that the primary task of a pastor is teaching. Some have gone to the extreme of believing that the only task of a pastor is teaching. It is tragic when a pastor says, "I am called to preach, not to pastor." It is probably true that all who love to teach God's Word have fallen into this trap at times. But we must remember that the two are inseparable. A true pastor/teacher is one who knows the primary way of feeding and tending his flock is through faithful and systematic teaching of the Word of God. At the same time, however, the best sermons do not come from spending all of our time in the books.
There is no room in the Bible for the unapproachable, ivory tower personality who stands on a pedestal to deliver a message from God, and then retreats back to his chambers in order to avoid mingling with the masses. While it is a wonderful idea to have times set aside for the uninterrupted study of God's Word, every pastor should also have times where people can drop in for a visit, or where the pastor goes out to visit the people where they are at.
Richard Baxter, a great preacher himself, wrote a whole book on this subject called The Reformed Pastor. In it, he says the following:
"That work which is our great end must be done, whatever be left undone. It is a very desirable thing for a physician to be thoroughly studied in his art; and to be able to see the reason of his practice, and to resolve such difficult controversies as are before him. But if he had the charge of a hospital, or lived in a city where the pestilence was raging, if he would be studying fermentation, the circulation of the blood, blisters, and the like, and such like excellent points, when he should be visiting his patients, and saving men's lives; if he should even turn them away, and let them perish, and tell them that he has not time to give them advice, because he must follow his own studies, I would consider that man as a most preposterous student, who preferred the remote means before the end itself of his studies: indeed, I would think him but a civil kind of murderer."
Although Baxter first published this in 1656, the truths are the same now as they were then.
George Herbert lived about the same time. When he became a pastor, he set down for himself rules to live by. His book, called The Country Parson, is filled with sound, practical advice for every pastor. He says at one point that "the Country Parson upon the afternoons in the weekdays takes occasion sometimes to visit in person, now one quarter of his Parish, now another. For there he shall find his flock most naturally as they are, wallowing in the midst of their affairs…"
More recently, in a popular journal on leadership related issues, Warren Wiersbe gave advice on how to preach practical sermons. "The experiences we preachers go through are not accidents; they are appointments. They do not interrupt our studies; they are an essential part of our studies…It is difficult to preach to people you do not know."
All of this is simply to reinforce that a pastor is primarily a preacher of the Word of God, but whose teaching is fed by personal encounters with the people under his care. It's an issue of balance. It would be safe to say that the majority of the pastor's time should be spent in study of the Word of God, so that he is an expert of the Bible before he meets with people. If a pastor has a firm grasp on what God says, he will always be prepared to given an answer to those who have questions, needs or worries (1 Pet. 3:15). But in order to answer these questions, the pastor/teacher must have adequate time among the people.
Ephesians 4:11 lists the four Foremen: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. Before any church can grow, it needs to have a firm grasp on the identity and tasks of these Foremen, and be committed to following them where they lead. The apostles and prophets wrote the Word of God, the evangelists share the Word of God with the unsaved in order to bring them into the church, and the pastor/teachers disciple these new Christians with the Word of God. With these leaders in place, the church is ready to understand who does the actual work of the ministry.