Good leadership is needed in every area of life so it should be clear that good leaders are in constant demand in the church. It is much easier for a church to find and set aside leaders than it is for leaders to work together as they should and for them to maintain the high purpose to which they are called. In Ephesians 4 Paul confronts the lack of unity in the church by declaring to them the attitude one needs to have unity, which is humility and bearing with one other. He noted that unity of the Spirit was something you work for and that it is always based on fundamental teachings of the Bible. He listed seven “ones” that are absolutely necessary for Biblical unity. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all.
Then Paul tells how Christ ascended on high leading captivity as a captive and gave gifts to people in the church. Jesus is always the head of the church so that all authority goes back to him (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22-23). But there are also human leaders that he has gifted for their mission in the church. In verse 11 he said, “He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some shepherds and teachers.” These may have all been miraculously gifted people at that time. But the need for such leaders was not a temporary one, having to do only with that time.
The word “apostles” is commonly used of those twelve men chosen by Jesus as apostles who walked with him and to whom he turned over his mission when he ascended. But there are others referred to as apostles besides just those twelve. Paul himself was chosen for that job when he didn’t meet the qualifications given for an apostle in Acts 1. But James the Lord’s brother is referred to as an apostle and so is Barnabas. The longer I study this segment of Scripture the more convinced I become that it wasn’t the twelve that Paul was thinking of here but people in all ages and times that are gifted by God for carrying his message around the world. An apostle is “one sent”, an ambassador that goes as his representative to the world. We usually refer to these people as missionaries. In truth everyone is a missionary to the people who surround them each day. But some are especially gifted for this work and do well at launching new churches in different areas.
He gave some to be prophets. This word also refers most often to those who spoke for God when given a revelation from the Lord. In Acts 11:27-30 a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem and told the church that a famine was coming on the land. We see this same man throughout the book of Acts prophesying. Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters that prophesied. Paul recommended in Corinth that more of them serve as prophets instead of tongue speakers. The word prophet in the Bible doesn’t mean to “foretell” so much as it means to “forthtell”. It is to speak forth God’s revelation to people. He may have to take stands against what everyone else there thinks should be done. A prophet will usually ruffle some feathers along the way.
Some were gifted as evangelist. This isn’t a word often found in the Bible. Philip was called “the evangelist”. Timothy was told to do the work of an evangelist and preach the word when it was accepted and when it wasn’t. The word means to be a carrier of the good news. When Jesus gave the great commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, he was challenging us all to be evangelist. People have used this word to say that it is one who preaches or teaches where the church has not existed before. None of the uses of the word in the Bible indicate such an interpretation. Philip the evangelist was preaching in Caesarea and had been there for about twenty years when he was called by the name evangelist. Timothy was told he would be a good evangelist if he reminded the brethren of these things. Here in Ephesians four the challenge to the evangelist was to help in equipping the saints for ministry to build up the body of Christ. This word isn’t about where we carrying the good news, but that we do carry it.
He gave some to be shepherds and teachers. The fact that there is no “the” in front of the word “teachers” likely indicates he is talking about those who are shepherds or elders and noting that much of their work centers around teaching. Paul in writing to Timothy and Titus about the qualities and service of the shepherds, used both the word “managers” and “leaders”. They manage the flock of God keeping everything on the right track headed in the right direction. As leaders they set the course in the local church of how God’s work is to be done there. When Paul gave the qualities for a shepherd he said they must be “able to teach”. He told Titus there were false teachers out there whose mouths must be stopped.
Not every Christian is gifted in anyone of these areas and certainly not many Christians are gifted in all of them. If you looked at your abilities and opportunities what would you say is most likely the area that fits you the best?
Notice all these leaders are to work together to equip the saints, for the work of ministry or service, so the body of Christ can be built up. To do a good job of building a church means that all these kinds of servants are needed in every church and that they must work together with love and respect for the body to grow. When antagonism arises between the evangelist and the shepherds it hurts them, the church and the influence of the church in the area.
Being such a leader isn’t about us. The job of leadership is about building up the people for greater service in the kingdom. Those who become members of the church but never get involved in any kind of work, don’t usually last for very long. Involvement in service will bless the lives of those we serve and will bless us as the servers even more.
Paul said these were there to build up and so the members would no longer be children tossed about by the wind, by the cunning, craftiness of the devil. You don’t grow up just be sitting and watching or listening. Each member needs to find their place to serve and give it all they have.
In verses 15-16 Paul applies all that he has been saying. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each does its work.” Maturity in Christ always leads to one speaking his truth to other and the challenge is to do so in love. We may not become formal teachers or preachers. But everyone has influence over someone who needs to hear the message of truth.
The church grows and becomes stranger only when each member of the body is doing their own part. Every bone, muscle, gland, works together with the other parts to build up the body. No one person or even team of persons can do the job God meant for the whole church to be part of. What is your area of giftedness by God? Where are you serving for the building up of the body of Christ? It is time to find the place and begin being part of the ministry rather than always being the one ministered to.