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February 20, 2014

Discovering Our God-Given Gifts For Ministry


What I missed in the passage

Nine years ago, when I was the candidate for the pastor position at Indian River Presbyterian Church, I preached on Ephesians 4:11-16. I’ve always seen this passage the closest thing we can find in Scripture for a pastor’s job description. In fact, it is the only time the word pastor is used in the Bible and, even then, it is often translated as shepherd.

I preached the message that day using verses 13-16 as the picture of a healthy church. The church is to be a mature body joined and knit together and each member of the body is supposed to do the work God appointed. I went on to say that the way we become the church God desires is to do what verses 11 and 12 say. In the NRSV, these verses read,

“The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

But now, looking back on that day, there were two mistakes I made in preaching this passage that I believe stunted the health of the church.

Each of us are given a gift for ministry

First, I did what most Presbyterians and Reformed people do: I wrote off the first three roles of the apostle, prophet, and evangelist. I think we have seen abuses in certain Christian circles with the use of those roles, and so our response is often to discard them all together. We also assume the evangelists are few and far between—the Billy Grahams of our day—so we discard this gift as unattainable. However, there is nothing within the text or its context to indicate these roles no longer exist.

We need to understand that the apostolic amongst us are really those who push the church out into unchartered territories for Christ. The prophets are the ones who call people back to the heart of God and don’t get caught up with the status quo. These are certainly simplified definitions, but if we can see the roles with this understanding, then we can identify the ways people operate in these capacities.

The second mistake I made in preaching this text was assuming that Paul in our day would only have been talking to the paid professional leaders within the church. However, Paul says back in verse 7 that each of us are given gifts for ministry. The gifts He gives are:

  • Apostle
  • Prophet
  • Evangelist
  • Shepherd
  • Teacher

So the context would lead us to believe that each member of the body of Christ is to play one of these roles (APEST). There will certainly be variation on how well-equipped the members are to play these roles, but they are to play the roles nonetheless.

How can these gifts change our churches?

Alan Hirsch writes about APEST in his work. APEST isn’t the only typology to understand gifts and roles, just like the Myers-Briggs profile isn’t the only personality temperament instrument. However, Paul does indicate that a correct implementation of Ephesians 4:11-12 will lead to the type of church God desires in verses 13-16.

When I finally did see a different way of reading Ephesians 4:11-12 —and I am thankful to Alan Hirsh’s book Permanent Revolution for helping to articulate this for me—it significantly changed the way I saw leadership in group settings. At my church, we started structuring communities around people’s APEST typology. Rather than having one leader for a missional community, people with the different APEST roles and appropriate maturity took leadership in different ways. As a result, these groups became stronger, healthier, and better at leading people to Christ. The individuals in the groups grew in their own level of discipleship to a greater extent.

We applied APEST with our staff as well. We began to allow the different typologies within our staff to mold and shape our leadership. Up to this point, the staff was shaped by my particular APEST typology.

When I travel and speak about ECO, one of the frequently asked questions is how does ECO live out the priesthood of all believers and shared ministry? There are many ways in which we are doing this, but one way to see it lived out in our local congregations is find ways to release the APEST typologies in our own congregation.

If you’re curious to learn more, I encourage you to read Alan Hirsch’s Permanent Revolution. And plan now to join us at the 2014 National Gathering, where we’ll hear from Alan Hirsch and the process of leveraging everyone’s gifts to grow missional communities in our churches.

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Dana Allin

Rev. Dr. Dana Allin is the Synod Executive for ECO. He previously served as ECO President before accepting the call to be Synod Executive. Dana's passion to encourage and inspire leaders have led him to develop both the Missional Leader Training program and the Coach Certification Process.

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Dana Allin

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