Church Leaders Identity

Functioning Leaders of the Church

Ephesians 4:11


In Ephesians 4:7-11 we learn something about leaders in the church.


If we are familiar with Matt 16:18, this is not news. The church was actually built on men like Peter! What was Christ thinking? (Peter = get thee behind me Satan; disciples = disappeared at crucifixion; Augustine = fornicator; Luther = coarse drinker; John Newton = slave trader)

A. The “gift” nature of these leaders 11a

I have noticed that many commentators point out that the emphasis here is on the fact that Christ Himself gave these individuals to the church. It is thus Christ’s chosen way of doing business in His church.

An overview is helpful in framing the picture…

First Thought: Because these leaders are divine gifts to the church, they should be objects of special care by the church. The emphasis here is not on the authority of an office, but rather that these office bearers are gifts designed to enable the church of efficiently function according to God’s plan. This explains why 1 Tim 5:17 is in the pastoral epistles (“let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching”)


Second Thought: These leaders are given to enhance the welfare of the church not to build their own careers. That I would even address this is a sad commentary on the state of ministry today!

Richard Halverson the former chaplain to the U.S. Senate wrote, “Whether a man likes it or not—if he’s in a place of leadership—he will be influencing others. He has no right just to consider himself. He must think in terms of his influence. This is part of the price of leadership! Not just the man himself—but what happens to those who follow in his footsteps—is the serious responsibility of the leader….” Jerry Fenter

Third Thought: Christ recognized various needs in various places with various people at various times and therefore gave a variety of leaders to the church. This is a custom made operation! Not all men whom he gave as gifts were apostles (1 Cor 12:29). A literal translation is helpful, “And on the one hand he gave the apostles, and on the other hand the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” And, we no longer need revelation (we have the Scriptures) so he no longer gives apostles and prophets to the church.

Fourth Thought: As a group, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are essential to the formation and ongoing life of the church. As the chronological history of the church is played out in Acts and the Epistles, it is readily apparent that the church’s identity, direction, and authority is tied closely to these individuals (1 Cor 12:28).

 Fifth Thought: Strength for ministry has been given to each individual believer and some of these believers have been given to the entire church as office bearers. Each individual believer is given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gifts (v7). These graces can be almost anything (ability to encourage others; penchant to organize; skill in listening; compassion for children) However, the individuals in this textd are those who have received graces and have been put into office in the church. The focus here is not on the special or unique infusion of grace into these individuals; the focus is on these individuals as the gifts to the churches.


B. The identity of these leaders 11b

Remember, the individuals are the gifts. 

Apostles. Generally, the term refers to “one sent out on a mission” as commissioned representatives of another (apostoloj). Interestingly, Christ is called an apostle (Heb 3:1-2) because he was “faithful to Him who appointed Him….” We are also sent by Christ on a mission (as my father has sent me even so send I you, John 20:21)

However, apostles possessed unique powers to perform miracles as confirmation of their authority and message. 2 Cor 12:12-12 states that the marks of an apostle were signs, wonders, and miracles. They were the authority in the first century church. The apostles were the group of men on which the church was built.

Technically, the term is reserved for the Twelve plus Matthias and Paul. Apparently, an apostle was chosen by Christ and was a witness of the resurrection (Mk 3:13-14, Acts 1:22-24, 1 Cor 9:1-2).

Thus, there are no apostles today. An apostle was not replaced when he died. Even those who were generally (non-technical) called apostles of the church (such as Barnabas, Silas, Timothy in Acts 14:14, 2 Thess 2:6) were not replaced.

Prophets. These were a group of individuals in the NT who, like their OT counterparts, were God’s spokesmen. However, we are not exactly sure what their precise function was other than serving in the foundation era of the church as God’s spokesmen in the absence of the written NT. Some believe that they ministered primarily in local congregations, while apostles had a broader ministry.

Though there is debate on the subject, these persons both gave revelation and explained revelation (Acts 11:27-28 Agabus and others; Acts 13:1). Even though they too spoke for God, they were under the authority of the apostles (1 Cor 14:37).

At the close of the first century and the completion of the NT, this office also ceased.

So apostles and prophets were essential in the foundation era of the church prior to the existence of the written NT. These persons were indispensable gifts to the church given for a specific purpose and a specific time-period (Eph 2:20 the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets).

One commentator summarizes (Expositors Bible Commentary), Christians today do not get their spiritual knowledge immediately from the Holy Spirit, but mediately through the Spirit teaching the Word.

After the last apostle and prophet died, the evangelists and pastor-teachers continued to play key roles in the life of the churches. However, it is important to realize that they did not replace the apostles and prophets.

Evangelists. Generally these individuals proclaimed the truth of the gospel. It is clear that new believers engaged in the general ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus (NAS Acts 8:4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.) Jesus himself proclaimed the gospel (Lk 20:1). The family of words is quite common in the NT (euaggelion = the good news 76x; euaggelizw = to proclaim the good news 54x).

However this particular noun is only used 3x (euaggelisthj = one who proclaims the good news) – here and Acts 21:8 where Phillip is called an evangelist and 2 Tim 4:5 where Timothy is exhorted to do the work of an evangelist. It is used in a special sense.

So, an evangelist was one who formally declared the gospel to the unbeliever. It is difficult to find an exact equation of this function in today’s church. Most definitely this person is not the same as our contemporary revivalists, televangelists, crusaders, or itinerate evangelists. More likely, these individuals were church planters who established a church and then moved on. Timothy, for example, spent months in one location winning and initially establishing converts in the church. Perhaps the closest we have today are missionary church planters.

The church needs these people today – both those sent out from local churches and perhaps those who remain in a church and mobilize the church to the work of planting churches (a staff evangelist?).

Pastor-teachers. First it is important to understand that one position is described rather than two. It is one article governing two nouns with a connective (“the pastors and teachers” {ou.j de. poime,naj kai. didaska,louj} as opposed to “the pastors and the teachers”). Thus we rightly render Pastor-teachers.

These individuals take over where the evangelist leaves off. His is a settled ministry rather than a pioneer one. He has the responsibility for the welfare and the equipping of the church. He is to protect or shepherd. As his title indicates, the primary way he accomplishes this is through the teaching of the Word. Thus some strong statements have been made such as that by Vincent, “no man is fit to be a pastor who cannot also teach…”

Just as the church is the sole institution God has promised to bless in our present culture, so pastor-teachers are crucial to God’ plan for the current era. That’s why the NT lays out a rather detailed list of qualifications for those who aspire to lead a church. It is thus critical that local churches give close attention to those they choose as pastor teachers.


A “lame duck” President met with his successor in the Oval Office. Near the end of the orientation, he presented the incoming leader three numbered envelopes, with specific instructions to open them, in order, when great difficulties arose. After the new President completed his “honeymoon” period with the media and the public, the nation experienced an economic downturn. He opened the first envelope. Inside was a card that read: “Blame me.” So he did, criticizing the former administration. After a while, social upheaval brought about a critical domestic crisis. The President opened the second envelope. Inside was a card that read: “Blame my party.” He did so, in an overt display of partisan politics. About a year later, foreign policy resulted in serious problems and the President opened the third envelope. Inside, the card read: “Prepare three envelopes.” Robert Leroe


Leadership and service is risky. But, in Christ’s church, we have no choice. He determines the structure and function of the church. We all have ideas about leaders but God has the last word when it comes to the church.

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.