Please note, however, that I am not writing everything I would like to say about this, but just the highlights about how I understand the five gifts to function. Please note, too, that I am much indebted to many others, especially in the house/simple church world for what I have learned.
The first thing we notice about these gifts are that they are gifts to God's people, not people who receive gifts from God's people. I'll just let that one sit there and let you reflect on its many implications.
But how do apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers equip (repair to prepare) God's people for ministry, intimacy with Him, unity with one another and life in the fullness of Christ? I gently suggest the following.
The first and most obvious function of each of these people gifts relates to their own, personal ministry. Apostles are sent-out servants (slaves) who prepare for their Master's coming; Prophets build up, encourage and comfort God's people through revelation gifts; Evangelists announce the Gospel of the King; Pastors care for God's people with compassion and skill; teachers enable people to understand by experience God's nature and character as revealed in His word and through the Spirit, etc.
A second function of these gifts is to help discover and develop others who are called to be gifts in the same way: apostles identify and help develop apostles, etc.
It's the third area of their function that I want to concentrate on most today, though, because it's the one that has most changed for me and seems to be freshest when I share it. So how to these five gifts function in the repair and prepare role? Consider the following.
Apostles "equip the saints" by training them
- to be Sent in their own spheres of influence according to their uniqueness.
- to Serve others. A true apostle is marked by how well s/he serves others. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5, "We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." (NRSV)
- to Suffer well. Paul seems to list suffering as one of the primary marks of apostleship. See, for example, his list of struggles and how he thrived in them in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18!
- to do miraculous Signs as part of the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Every believer can and should make the miraculous part of their presentation of the Gospel to folks (Mark 16:17--18), and they are equipped in this by apostles (Paul stated that signs and wonders are part of what marks an apostle as an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12).
- to hear God well, by helping them learn how God speaks to them (see, sense, hear, know, nudge, etc.). Prophecy is far more about hearing that talking, as you know.
- And New Testament prophets also teach God's people how to strengthen, encourage and comfort others (1 Corinthians 14:3).
Evangelists "equip the saints" by training them
- how to share the Good News in their own spheres of influence in a way that is natural to them. There is no cookie cutter approach to evangelism, and a true evangelist, for example, will help the quiet, behind-the-scenes persons share their faith in a way that fits who they are and how they live.
Pastors "equip the saints" by training them
- how to "shepherd" their families
- how to care without creating dependence
- how to care for others with compassion and consistency
- You get the picture, I think!
Teachers "equip the saints" by training them
- how to learn! This is one of the more important corrections I want to make. People tend to think that a person is a "good teacher" if they are eloquent, easy to follow and understand, etc. But such a person is simply a good talker unless s/he also teaches others how to learn on their own. A good teacher is marked less by eloquence and more by extreme passion for others to learn and by a noticeable orientation not towards truth but towards others. (Think about it and you will get it! Jesus was the best Teacher ever, and Truth flowed from Him continually, but above all else what marked Him was love and compassion.).
That's what I have discovered, at least so far. What do you think?
Tom, one of Abba's little children