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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What is a church?

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT)

Ever wonder why God didn't just give us pastors or teachers? Why are there prophets, evangelists, and apostles? Couldn't God get all the work done in the church with just a couple of "ministers"? Believe it or not, all these "offices" fill a particular 'function' in the Body of Christ. Understanding the function of each is important to seeing how it is God intends for the church to grow, become one with each other, and be a safe haven for those with hurts and hang-ups until they desire to say "yes" to Jesus themselves.

The apostle. like Paul, is responsible for laying the foundation upon which the church will build - not the literal one formed from concrete and rebar, but the foundation of truth upon which the church will be built. It is quite possible the most "agile" of these "offices" is that of the apostle, for the apostle many times will be a pastor for a short season until the church takes root and has others within it who may step into the role. He will function as a teacher, evangelist, and even prophet, based on the needs of the church and the place in which he finds his service is required. You would think of the apostle as a church "pioneer" - setting up a work in a new place, or perhaps with a new purpose than others around the community.

The prophet is probably the most misunderstood of offices, perhaps because we think they must always be the one giving some "utterance" of profound knowledge, insight, etc. Oftentimes, the office of prophet is simply to point the way - to guide into truth - even correct us on occasion when we are getting a little too lax in our faith or off-course in our zeal. At this point, I should tell you these offices don't necessarily represent AN individual, but are "roles" often fulfilled by individuals within the Body of Christ. It is quite possible the apostle and prophet may be one, or the prophet and teacher. They don't need to operate as "singular offices".

The pastor has probably one of the hardest jobs because he is literally there day in and day out FOR the church - it is more than a hobby for him - it is his life's work. He is there to shepherd those who gather to learn together, become healthy by Christ's power working in their lives, and to give welcome to those who are seekers of truth. Usually the pastor has a unique gift of being able to teach those he leads - making the function of pastor and teacher a twofold role. I have heard it said that almost all pastors also fill the role of teacher, but it isn't quite the other way around with teachers. Not all teachers are called, or capable of being pastors - they aren't called to shepherd.

The teacher helps those seeking and those who have already entered into relationship with Christ to begin to understand how the truth of his Word applies in their daily walk. I'd have to say this role is one of being able to rightly divide the Word, taking all contained within the pages of our Bible and dividing it into "bite-sized" pieces that we can easily chew upon until we get all the "nourishment" from it we are capable of taking at that time. This role is definitely part of the pastor's role, but it can also be filled by someone with a strong passion for the Word, a tender heart for God, and a gift of teaching (the skill to divide truth up into understandable and manageable portions).

Lastly, the evangelist is added to this mix. Most of us associate this role to that of the one who makes there way into places where the truth is not yet known and brings a message of hope into dark places. Yep, they are indeed "soul winners" - introducing others to Christ - but they aren't the ones to stick around, helping those who have come to Christ to grow up in him. This role belongs to the pastor and teacher - as the evangelist moves into new areas and brings truth to light in new ways within the communities into which they are called.

These "roles" are all necessary - sometimes fulfilled by one individual having more than one role, but rarely do we see one fulfilling all five. What Paul is saying to us is that we need them all - for they serve to help us grow up in Christ - from the point of introducing us to him, to the point of keeping us on track, and helping us to have all we need in order to grow. Their purpose is to help grow us up in unity - keeping us tightly connected to each other, but also helping us not become so tightly "woven together" that others cannot join our ranks. The church isn't a building - it is a well-founded gathering of individuals all seeking truth and growing in Christ together - reaching others for Christ as a result of the evidence of the vibrant relationship they have with him. Just sayin!