When the ministry gifts of Christ listed in Ephesians 4:11 operate effectively, they begin to activate and energise the body of Christ. That is why it is necessary for every Christian to come under the ministry of all five of these gifts. When these gifts are not recognised or released, the body of Christ suffers and fails to reach its potential – both on an individual and a corporate level.
The body of Christ can only grow and be built up as every single part is operating effectively according to its own unique capability. This can only happen when all the ministry gifts of Christ function according to God’s purpose. The fivefold ministry is not ultimately about the ‘prominent’ ministries: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It is about releasing ‘ordinary’ members of the body of Christ into their ministry. The task of the Ephesians 4:11 ministries is to ensure that every member of the church is trained, equipped and released into effective service for Christ.
Five capacities of the ascended Christ
After the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven to take his place at the right hand of God. He became the executive Ruler of the universe and the glorious Head of the church. When Jesus took up this position, he released the gift of his perfect ministry, dividing it up into the five great capacities he himself possessed on the earth. When he ascended into heaven, he passed his ministry on to the church, beginning with these five areas of leadership gifting. That is why the fivefold ministry gifts are also called the Ascension Gifts of Christ.
Effective Christian service can only happen through these supernaturally endowed gifts of Christ. The gifts and enablings Christ imparts are not mere natural abilities (though he enhances our natural gifts also). Rather, they are the result of his gracious endowments that come through his death, resurrection and exaltation at the Father’s right hand.
Jesus defeated death, hell and the grave! He has power over all things. Now, his ascension is ‘higher than all the heavens’, and his presence fills the whole universe. And it is this same Jesus who has given gifts to the church. These are men and women with a life calling to one or more of the fivefold ministry gifts. They are functions not ‘offices’, that is, they are God-given abilities rather than positions. The words ‘apostle’, ‘prophet’, ‘evangelist’, ‘pastor’ and ‘teacher’ are descriptions of a person’s ministry gift. They are not titles we place before our name. Having a title does not guarantee that a person has the gifting to match the title. The emphasis in the New Testament ministry is on function and activity. A ministry is recognised by its fruit.
Some argue that these gifts are distributed equally throughout the entire body of Christ so that everybody is gifted as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or a teacher. But, it is clear that these are special ministries given to some and not all in the church. However, we can view these ministries as ‘umbrella’ ministries under which different members cluster according to the basic nature of their calling. They are, also, ‘enabling’ ministries that equip and prepare God’s people for the ministry.
This helps us understand the concept of equality in the body of Christ. We are all equal in dignity, worth and value, but we do not all have the same function. There are distinctions of ministry in the body. God has separated some for the specific activities mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. They are leadership functions and are clearly not given to everyone. But, on the other hand, they are given for everyone.
Equipping you for your ministry
There is only one ministry – the ministry of Jesus. It is the work that Jesus Christ performs through his body. The fivefold ministry prepares us for his ministry. So, if we want to see the body of Christ function properly, we must make sure the fivefold ministry of Christ is operating. When these ministries are released the body of Christ is equipped and built up; it becomes strong and mature. It can then fulfil its divine purpose – to bring God glory and be God’s agent in a lost and hurting world.
Jesus exercised all the five ministries while he was on the earth. Now, he continues these ministries through those whom he has chosen and anointed to carry them out. These gifts distributed to his body the church, make up the full complement of the ministry of Christ. The fivefold ministry gifts are a permanent part of the church’s ministry on earth. They are valid and necessary in every generation, and will be in operation,
…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. Ephesians 4:13
Certain Bible teachers hold that some of these ministries were only temporarily given. Dispensationalists, for example, teach that once the apostolic age had passed there was no longer any need for apostles in the church. The Cessasionists, who believe that the ‘supernatural gifts’ have ceased, reject both the apostolic and prophetic ministries today. In some cases, even the ministry of the evangelist is said to belong only to New Testament times.
Stay within your calling
All these gifts are needed until the church, both individually and corporately, grows into the full maturity of Christ. Only then will the church be equipped to be God’s agent in the world and complete the mandate of God.
Often, one ministry is stressed to the detriment of the others. The only ministry recognised in many churches today is that of the pastor. This is perhaps the most abused ministry title in the church. Many Bible colleges graduate their students through a pastor-shaped door, and those who make it through, come out squeezed into a mould that is not necessarily of God’s making.
Think of the consequences of having an evangelist as a pastor. He or she wants the congregation saved every week! The people in the church are never properly cared for pastorally and they never mature through teaching, but they know how to raise their hand during the time of the appeal for salvation!
Imagine what it would be like if a prophet was forced to be a pastor. The prophet is the last one to lead the people like a shepherd to green pastures and beside still waters! The symbol of the prophet is a wooden spoon. The pastor says, “Keep the lid on the pot, let it simmer.” The prophet says, “Take the lid off, and give it a stir!” But, the body of Christ needs both – each in its proper time.
A balanced ministry
In order to bring the full complement of Christ’s ministry to the body all the five ministries must operate together. The teacher needs to be inspired by the prophet and the prophet needs to be tempered by the pastor. The evangelist needs the discipline of the teacher and the apostle needs the partnership of all the rest to fulfil the total call of apostleship.
Churches can get over-developed in one area and remain under-developed in another area. The result is lack of balance. One church can be known for its teaching and another for its evangelism, but God’s plan is for us to be strong in every area. Otherwise, the body will not be released to function properly. It will remain weak and ineffective.
What is the point of a church being taught the gospel well if it never goes and evangelises with it? And, what is the point of a church that is enthusiastic in evangelism without ever stopping to learn what the gospel is and how to teach new converts to live? Each ministry has its place and its special purpose so that every aspect of the ministry is covered.
God’s grace gifts
Every ministry gift or ability comes by the grace of God. They result from the work of Christ in us and not from human choice or effort. You have to be called by God to a ministry before you can function in it.
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Corinthians 12:28
You cannot choose your own calling. You must be called by Christ. It is he who gives some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and some to be teachers.
Set apart for special service
In every case in the Bible where God used people to serve him, they were called by God and set apart for that special service to him.
Speaking of the High Priestly ministry of Jesus, the writer to the book of Hebrews says, No one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Hebrews 5:4-5
Paul knew God’s clear call to apostleship. His Damascus Road experience and the revelation through Ananias brought him face to face with Christ and the call of God. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man. Galatians 1:15-16
Timothy knew God’s call to service. Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight. 1 Timothy 1:18
Jesus, Paul and Timothy each knew their call and moved in the direction of that call. It was not accomplished overnight. A ministry may take a lifetime for every aspect of it to bloom and flourish. It first must be cultivated and brought to maturity before it can bear fruit. However, the potential is there all along.
You are called to the ministry
God can activate the call through human agents. This was the case with Timothy. It is also a general principle of ministry. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong (Romans 1:11). The word translated ‘spiritual gift’ here, is pneumatikos, which means ‘that which belongs to, or is activated by, the Holy Spirit’. God gave Paul the ability to impart a spiritual gift in order to confirm and establish the believers at Rome.
From this scripture we can discern three dimensions to the activation of ministry in the New Testament. The presbytery – this is the role of the eldership in recognising and confirming a ministry. The prophetic ministry – this is the supernatural identification and release of the gift of ministry. The apostolic ministry – the apostles provided the authority, the structure and the spiritual climate that facilitated this process.
Prepare for your ministry
You must be willing to submit your ministry to others in spiritual authority over you. There must be an external call that matches the internal call of the Spirit. One comes from the Lord working in your heart, and the other involves the body of Christ that recognises the call of God in you.
Alongside these things, there must also be: Responsive obedience – the only way to respond to the call of God is by loving, servant-hearted obedience. God expects you to respond to his call and to fulfil the ministry he has given to you.
Dedication and consecration – the Ephesians 4:11 ministries are life callings. There must be a whole-hearted dedication and total consecration to your calling. Never lose sight of the call of God and his purpose for your life. Discipleship and training – in order to develop your ministry to its fullest potential, you must be willing to learn and to take correction. You must be trained in the ministry. This happens best alongside others who are skilled and experienced in the ministry God has given you. That is why the discipleship principle as expressed in the cell ministry is so helpful to you as you discover your ministry and grow in the gifts God has given you. Discipline involves remaining within your calling. Learn to be who you are in your gifting. Never move outside that anointing, but always work in partnership with the other ministries that complement your call. Remember that you are not a ‘one man band’. We all need each other to fully express the ministry of Christ.