Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with a friend on Ephesians 4 – specifically Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he [Jesus Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV)
While I’ve written several posts about the list in Ephesians 4:11. For example, one of my most read posts of all time deals with whether Paul intended to list four or five different types of gifted individuals in the list. Also, I’ve written posts about whether this post in simply a sample of gifted individuals (like all of the other spiritual gift lists) or whether this list in exhaustive.
But, in this post, I want to focus on something else: the purpose of the spiritually gifted individuals listed in Ephesians 4:11. Paul tells us why Jesus Christ gives spiritual gifted individuals to the church in verse 12: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV)
Thus, the work of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, and shepherd-teacher includes equipping (preparing) the church for works of service. While these gifted individuals will naturally work within their giftings, they are also supposed to equip the saints to carry out those same functions.
This is best seen in the spiritually gifted evangelist. From the name “evangelist,” it seems clear that this individually is somehow spiritually gifted to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, evangelism is not “equipping the saints for the work of service.” The evangelist does not carry out this function until he or she is almost helping other believers to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The evangelist, then, is not carrying out the evangelist’s function ONLY by sharing the gospel. Instead, the work of the evangelist includes teaching and showing others how to share the gospel.
Now, take this same idea into the realm of the apostle, prophet, and shepherd/teacher. Again, these individuals should function within the realm of their particular gifting (by being sent, prophesying, or caring/teaching), but their functions do not end there. They are also to help others understand and live as being sent, to help others listen to God and prophesy, and to help others care and teach.
An apostle who is always going but is never helping others to go is not doing the work of an apostle. A prophet who is always prophesying but is never helping others to prophesy is not doing the work of a prophet. An evangelist who is always sharing the gospel but is never helping others to share the gospel is not doing the work of an evangelist. A shepherd/teacher who is always caring/teaching but it never helping others care/teach is not doing the work of a shepherd/teacher.
The spiritually gifted individuals listed in Ephesians 4:11 are given to the church both to function within their own giftings AND to help others function within those giftings as well. (I would argue this is true for other spiritual gifts also.)
So, how can we tell if we are equipping others? Well, we could start by asking if we are always doing the work that we are gifted at doing, or are we showing others how and giving them opportunities to do the same work.
By the way, if we continue reading in this same passage, we see why it is so important for these individuals to equip the church to do works of service. In Ephesians 4:16, Paul says that the church grows only when the whole church is working together. The church does not grow when only those listed in Ephesians 4:11 are working.
It’s time for equippers to stop doing all the work and start equipping others to work. This means that at times the equippers needs to step out of the way so others can function as God has gifted and prepared them. (If we never feel others are ready, it’s because WE are not equipping them.)