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“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Ephesians 4:11).
As you probably read, the purpose for all of these roles in the church is in the verse that follows, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (vs 12). While each role is unique, they are one in purpose. The function for each role is as follows:
Apostles- the Bible states the twelve disciples of Christ were appointed as apostles (Luke 6:13). An apostle is defined as one who is on a mission and one who initiates moral reform. In the church today, most Christians do not use the word apostle to describe leaders in the church. This is likely because many only consider the twelve apostles and Paul true apostles because they had direct contact with Jesus (Acts 5:29, 32). The Bible does not lay out the exact role of an apostle, however, it is understood by the example of the apostles that they were to be leaders in the church, spreading the gospel, baptizing new members and demonstrating what it is to follow Christ (Acts 2:37-38, 4:33, 5:29-32, 15:5-7). Paul writes, “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:” (Romans 1:5). The Bible also notes that there are false apostles and they are described as false because they desire attention to themselves rather than to glorify God (2 Corinthians 11:12-13). While most churches might not call someone an apostle, perhaps out of humility, there is still a role for missionaries to go into all the world, preach the good news and show them what it means to follow Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).
Evangelists- An evangelist is anyone who preaches the gospel in order to convert people to Christianity. Paul is known as being a great evangelist, as he traveled the world to preach the gospel to everyone in every opportunity (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). This role is to plant seeds and begin the initial conversion of people, while a teacher or pastor would afterward help those who accepted Christ to grow in their walk. Paul describes how this works with him as the evangelist and Apollos as a teacher, “ I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul states that being an evangelist is more than just preaching, their lives must demonstrate fruits of their high calling. “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
Pastors- God says, “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). The role of a pastor is to feed the sheep of God. It is an important work for the care of God’s church to have pastors who will nurture God’s children until they will become mature in their walk with Christ. A pastor should not only teach but help encourage God’s people on their journey by fellowship and visitation. God also gives warning to pastors who are not faithful in their roles. “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1-2). It is a high calling to be a pastor, as the care for the salvation of others is most precious to God.
Teachers- The function of a teacher is fairly straightforward, in that they are to teach the deep truths in the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). A teacher should begin with simple truths, compared to as milk (1 Peter 2:2), and then work up to more complicated doctrines, described as strong meat. In essence, a teacher will train a student to eventually become a teacher. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). The work of a teacher can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit who will guide into all truth (John 16:13).
It should be noted that those who are called to serve Christ might bear more than one of these roles. This is seen in the life of Peter whom Christ chose as an apostle and then later called to feed His sheep (John 21:16), which is the role of a pastor. An evangelist might also do the work of a teacher or pastor depending on the need or opportunity. What is most important is that the work of God’s church is being fulfilled for the blessing of others. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:13).
In His service,