Scot and Kris McKnight and I collaborated to create a title for these weekly musings. Kris suggested “From the Shepherd’s Nook.” I like it. If you are new to this column, please read the previous posts to get in touch with my purpose. I am writing with the hope of creating renewed motivation for pastoral ministry in the North American context, that is, to inspire young leaders to believe in and respond to the call of God to vocational pastoral work.
Dawne, an aspiring pastor, made this comment on the last post: “… it brought to mind the idea of the five-fold ministry, something I am hearing a lot about in my local church. I wonder how this might relate?” Dawne has raised a significant question.
I have had the opportunity to teach a seminary course on church and culture focusing on the missional church. Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church was on the course reading list. Alan has offered, IMO, the most thorough, operative description of the “five-fold ministry” concept under the acronym APEPT, i.e., Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher (see Ephesians 4:11).
Because there is no one “pure” early church or historical template on how to do church at the pastoral leadership level, I have no problem with those who want to learn about and implement the five-fold ministry model. I cannot say that there is anything wrong with it. Hirsch offers very stimulating and pragmatic ideas around APEPT. Yet, I do push back on that model or any other model that allegedly trumps or replaces the traditional view of pastor. Why?
First, Ephesians 4:11 in context is descriptive, not prescriptive. If some take the text as prescriptive, they do so against Paul’s intent. There is no exegetical basis or hermeneutical reason to make the Ephesian text prescriptive. We read nowhere else in the New Testament about this particular gift configuration, i.e., we don’t read that Paul appointed or exhorted Timothy and Titus to appoint “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” in every church. Apparently no one in the early church or in church history read Ephesians 4:11 as prescriptive until the Pentecostal movement prompted the model in the middle 1800’s. [Ray Stedman put his own twist on this passage.]
Secondly, the five-fold ministry model is novel. Novelty in itself is not a reason to reject a concept. I think there are merits in the APEPT idea as explained by Hirsch. The issue is the recognition of the relatively newness of the APEPT model and its origins in 1800’s as a Pentecostal push back against cessationist views of some of the spiritual gifts. More pertinently, anyone who reads Alan’s descriptions of the APEPT model will see that he is seriously trying to make culturally-relevant the five-fold giftings, but without the attendant Pentecostal issues. That is well and good. But Alan is not exegeting and interpreting the text at this point. Hirsch is seeking to apply the text in an innovative, pragmatic manner in the 21st century. He does so in order for the church to recapture its missional DNA. This is commendable.
Thirdly, the assumption that pushes against the traditional view of the pastor is that a solo pastor limits the church’s missional impact. The more cynical assumption is that a church with a vocational pastor is just a “one man/woman show.” Sadly, that may the case in some local churches, but not in the vast majority. Vocational pastors know the value of team ministry and if they serve well as pastors, the people will discover, develop, and deploy their spiritual gifts as in any multiple staff church or church operating with the APEPT model.
Here’s my observation. When I was the “teaching pastor” on a multiple staff team of a large church, I did my part to equip the people for works of ministry. Yet, we, the staff team, lamented the low percentage of people who actually had defined and were using their spiritual gifts in missional ways. The mentality of that large church seemed to be: “We pay all of you as staff to do the ministry. Just give us what we want.” We were an attractional, vender-model church. For me things have changed. As the one pastor of a smaller congregation, I celebrate that over 75% of the church members are regularly active in missional endeavors.
Men and women who desire to serve as pastor of a local church in the enduring, traditional model need not feel obsolete. Any pastor can and should celebrate ministry innovations without feeling like she has to mimic them “to do church right.” Local church ministry is profoundly and fiercely contextual.