The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 1)

Ephesians 4:11-12 is about one of the most misunderstood Scripture. Misunderstanding and misapplying it do not muddy-up our doctrinal beliefs but they certainly impede our effectiveness in building the church.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of  service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Whether there are four or five gifted-persons (I am being gender-sensitive) is not the concern of this post. Whatever your interpretation, you still have God’s gifted servants functioning as pastors and teachers; as a combo or separately.

The first misunderstanding I want to raise concerns their role. What do they do? What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?

Many would say, the job of the apostle is to plant, organise and oversee churches. It includes laying a Biblical-strong foundation for these churches, and also to raise, train and appoint leaders who will eventually take leadership of these churches.

As for the prophet, his (or her) job is to bring a now word of the Lord to the church and to the world. The evangelist is to preach the Gospel and win the lost to Christ. And the pastor-teacher, is to provide spiritual nurture to the converted, which includes teaching them the Word of God.

It is simply logical to expect a particular spiritual gift to naturally lend itself to a corresponding ministry. However, to say that the above descriptions are then their jobs is to miss the point of Ephesians 4:11-12. If we asked the second question, “What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?”, we will get a totally different answer.

Verse 12 states that the job of these gifted-persons are “to prepare God’s people”. To put it succinctly, in the context of your local church: The job of the pastor-teacher is to equip and empower the members. Does the pastor provide spiritual nurture and teach the Word of God? Of course, he does. But that is not his primary role. His primary role is to equip and empower the members.

To what end? “…for works of service.” The gifted-person’s primary job (or ministry) is not to do ministry but to prepare God’s people to do ministry. Unfortunately in too many churches they expect the pastor or the hired-hand to do all the work! From preaching, counselling and visitation to driving the van, printing the bulletin and being the key-man (literally).

If that is the culture of a church then what we have is just one man serving the rest of the body. Or, a bunch of paid staff serving the church. This is certainly not the body-ministry envisaged by the New Testament, where all the members of body builds up the whole body. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others also”, is not going to happen. Multiplication is not going to take place.

Now, part of the problem is the gifted-persons themselves. Unfortunately, many among them also have a misunderstanding of their own role. They believe, like so many others in the church, that they are the ones to do the ministry. “That’s my job!” “I’m the one with the spiritual gift; so, I’m to do the ministry!” In fact, for many, their identity is so tied up with their ministry that they cannot give it away—by empowering others to do “their ministry”.  They can’t see themselves doing “less” by empowering others to do “more”.

The awesome truth is that the body of Christ, the church, is only going to be built up when every member does ministry. It’s the kind of ministry ethos that says, ministry is not to be left to just the specially gifted-persons, but to be expected of all. The former is to focus on empowering the members—so that the latter can do ministry. In turn, the gifted-person is freed up to from having to do a lot of hands-on service and give more time to equipping, guiding and mentoring their mentees. Hence, effectively, multiplying themselves. That’s the import and genius of Ephesians 4:11-12 which both the pastor and members must heed if we are ever to see the church built up.

We now know what these gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. But what are they to empower them with? The answer will surprise you. That’s the other misunderstood item about Ephesians 4:11-12. Click here for Part 2. 

3 thoughts on “The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 1)

  1. Great point illustrating the enigmatic comma found in older KJV of Eoh 4:12. You might want
    To consider publishing the 2 part article in Asian Beacon.

  2. Yes, very true that Church situation is what is described nowadays. Is it because people in this age of technology are becoming more impersonal and going for specialization e. g. Fast food-Eating out, home delivery.

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