The resurrected Christ who sits at the right hand of God and is exalted on high has bestowed His grace on every member of his body and calls every member to serve. But Christ has gifted some believers within the church body for a very specific purpose: to establish churches, to minister the Word of God, and to equip others for service and ministry. These gifted leaders are given to the church by Christ to help prepare every member to actively serve in the ways Christ has gifted them:

7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)” 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:7-12; emphasis added)

Paul details five leadership gifts because they are foundational to the establishment of local churches and are the principal ministers responsible for the proclamation and application of the Word to people’s lives. These five gifts of leadership that Christ has given to his church are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Let’s look at each of the five in more detail.

Firstly, apostles. The word apostle has different meanings in the New Testament, which means there are differing views as to who these apostles are. The Greek word for apostle, “apostolos” (pronounced ap-os’-tol-os), when used as a verb means “to send”. So in a sense, every believer is an apostle, because every believer is sent out in the world by Christ to proclaim the Gospel and continue Christ’s mission of glorifying God. But this isn’t how “apostle” is being used in this passage, because Paul uses the word ‘some’ to describe the apostles which indicates a select few, not all believers. Also, in biblical times there were apostles of the churches who were messengers sent out as missionaries. This view is widely accepted by many in contemporary churches today where they view apostles as being church planters or church planting missionaries. The third option would be that these apostles are the apostles of Christ, which consists of the twelve disciples; Paul and a few others such as James the brother of Jesus. Paul is referring to the apostles of Christ in this passage because it fits within the context of what Paul is teaching in Chapter 2: 

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22; emphasis added).

Secondly, prophets. A prophet was a person who stood in the council of God, who heard and even saw his word, and who consequently spoke from the mouth of the Lord and spoke His word faithfully. Following in the footsteps of the apostles, the gift of prophecy is hotly debated today. Many people believe there are still prophets and apostles today. But if we use Ephesians 2:20-22, we will find the idea Paul is intending. Paul puts apostles and prophets together as the foundation of the church with Christ being the cornerstone. Upon this foundation the rest of the church is being built up; therefore, the apostles and prophets have no successors today because the foundation was laid and finished years ago. But if the gifts of apostles and prophets have ceased, why are they listed in the gifts of leadership to the church when they are no longer helping to build up the body? The answer is quite simple: they still are building up the body even though they are no longer alive. Christ’s gift of the apostles and prophets lives on today through the Word of God. The apostles and prophets wrote the New Testament through divine inspiration, and it is this truth that the church today uses as its foundation:

16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

It is through the Word of God that we are saved, and it is through the Word of God that we are being built up and equipped to serve and minister.

Thirdly, evangelists. “Evangelist” is only used twice in the New Testament, and both instances refer to people (Phillip in Acts 21, and Timothy in 2 Timothy 4). When used as a verb, evangelize means the spreading of the gospel. Because there are very few references to this, and the fact that all Christians are commissioned to proclaim the good news of Christ, the gift of an evangelist can be a challenge for many Christians to try and understand. But looking at the Greek word euaggelistés (pronounced yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace’), we can get a general idea of the role of the gift of evangelism in the church today. “Euaggelistés” can describe an evangelist as a bearer of good tidings or as a missionary. It is the third description which I believe Paul is referring to here when he speaks of the gift of evangelism: a missionary or a church planter. A missionary or church planter is someone who brings the gospel to a new city, region, or country with the intent to establish a new local church. 

Fourthly, pastors. The word in Greek in this verse is “poimén” (pronounced poy-mane’), and it actually translates as shepherd. However, we know “shepherd” and “pastor” are two names for the same role. A pastor feeds, protects, and leads the flock of God. A great deal of godly leadership, care, and concern for the sheep is required. The pastor must also teach sound biblical doctrine so that the flock is able to discern and avoid the dangerous lies and false teachings of the world. The Apostle Paul described the role of the pastor/shepherd best in Acts 20:28-30 :

28Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

Finally, teachers. To “teach” not only means to pass along information and content, but to explain it as well. Teaching the Word of God also requires exhortation, which helps us to live in conformity with what the Word of God is teaching us. The spiritual gift of teaching is not only important for the leadership of the church – it is required. All leaders in the church, whether it’s the pastor or the elders, must be able to teach God’s Word to his church.

The commentator John Stott summarizes this list of gifts very well:

“We observe that all five gifts relate in some way to the ministry of teaching. Although there are neither apostles nor prophets in the original sense today, there are evangelists to preach the gospel, pastors to tend the flock, and teachers to expound the word. Indeed, they are urgently needed. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of God’s church in every age than an ample supply of God-gifted teachers.”