Over the past several years I have become convinced of the importance of incorporating APEST thinking in to all church planting efforts. I think it is particularly significant when discussing church planting teams. However, most conversations on team development default to recruiting ministry positions such as a worship leader, children’s minister, youth pastor, etc. But, I believe planting a healthy, multiplying church that is effectively engaging its context must involve team dynamics that are informed by the five-fold typology of Ephesians 4; Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher (APEST). I will usually frame the conversation by sharing four sequential points:

  1. The planter needs to understand their own gifts in light of APEST.
  2. The planter needs to understand the make-up of their planting team and recognize what gifts may be missing.
  3. The planter will need to determine how each gift will have equal input in to the mission and ministry of the church plant?
  4. The team will need to determine how to ensure the equipping of the saints? In other words, how will the church encourage and empower those with the gift of teaching to equip other teachers? How will those who have an apostolic calling fan the flames of other “sent ones”? How will the gifted evangelist equip others who have the evangelistic calling?
Church Planters spend a lot of time filling necessary roles in ministry, but is that the best way to use time? APEST is critical to moving beyond roles to unleash calling in the Church! (via @bradleybrisco) Click To Tweet

However, in the midst of these conversations I will occasionally receive questions on the significance of APEST. People will sometimes ask a question like; “aren’t we putting too much emphasis on the idea or concept of APEST, especially when it seems to be based on one single passage of Scripture?” A second question that is often raised has to do with the other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians and Romans 12. People ask why should the “gifts” in Ephesians 4 be given greater prominence than the gifts mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament?

I think all of those are good questions, that deserve a response. Here are a few initial thoughts that I hope will help to reduce concerns you may have when considering the importance of APEST.

First, the biblical commentators have long-held Ephesians as something of the constitutional document of the church. Like all constitutions, it is meant to guide all subsequent thinking and action in the organization. The book represents the best thinking about the church—at least how Paul understood it.

Second, Ephesians 4:1-16 presents a promise that no other passage of Scripture claims, that is maturity and fullness of Christ (11-16). In other words, if we desire unity (1-6) and strive for maturity (11-16) it is extremely difficult to discount the significance of the connection point between unity and maturity with the diversity of gifts given by Jesus in verses 7-11.

Third, Ephesians 4 is not the only passage APEST is mentioned.

Apostle (“sent one”) is used over 80 times in the New Testament.

Prophet is used nearly 800 times in Scripture, over 150 times in the New Testament.

Evangelist is also used in Acts and 2 Timothy.

Shepherd is used 23 times in the New Testament.

Teacher is used 129 times in the New Testament.

Compare that with the use of the word Pastor (which we have no problem using as the catch all word for leadership) is used once, and it is in this Ephesians 4 passage.

Apostle is used 80+ times in the NT. Prophet - nearly 800, 150+ times in the NT. Evangelist - Acts and 2 Timothy. Shepherd - 23 times in the NT. Teacher - 129 times. Pastor is used once. @bradleybrisco Click To Tweet

Fourth, if you have an issue with thinking about these gifts as personal callings, or vocations, (also note they are certainly not roles or offices) then at least consider them as functions of the church. Ask is the church to be apostolic? Is the church to be prophetic? Evangelistic? Is the church to be a shepherding and teaching community? Of course, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes!

Fifth, the gifts of 1 Corinthians are “manifestations” or gifts of the Spirit, and the gifts in Romans are more skill based, while Ephesians 4 are callings/vocations that are actually given to the body by Jesus. The “gifts” in Ephesians 4 are actually the people (the body of Christ). They are not a gift given to a person.

Further, it is very significant to recognize the gifts are given to the church at Jesus’ ascension. Why, in his ascension, did Jesus bestow the fivefold on the church? The ascension (APEST) gifts are given so that:

  • the Body of Christ might be equipped, perfected, or completed (v.12)
  • the Body of Christ might grow into maturity (vv.13,15)
  • we might “attain to the fullness of Christ” (v.13)
  • we may in an embodied way live out the unity described in vv.1–6 (v.13)
  • we might not be given to theological faddishness or deception (v.14)
  • we might grow up into Christ our Head (v.15)
  • we will be rightly ordered in our relationship to our Head and therefore to each other as his Body (vv.15–16)
The gifts of Ephesians 4 are not given to a person. They are gifts to the Church and jammed packed with purpose! Discover seven aspects in this post by @bradleybrisco. Click To Tweet

Lastly, consider the representation (or existence) of the APEST gifts to be broader than Ephesian 4. Alan Hirsch makes a strong case that we can actually see APEST in the created order—the fivefold pattern can be discerned in and throughout all of God’s creation, and not just the church. In other words, APEST is laced by God throughout His creation. Further, and this is incredibly significant, APEST is incorporated fully into the life of Jesus. He is the perfect archetype of each of the gifts.

If you want to learn more about APEST and how it should inform the ways we think about the body of Christ I would suggest the following resources.

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch (chapter 8)

5Q by Alan Hirsch

Primal Fire by Neil Cole

Creating a Missional Culture by JR Woodward

Church Zero by Peyton Jones

The Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim (this book deals specifically with the Apostolic gift)


Church leaders, let us hear from you. How has today’s post confirmed or challenged the way you are building your ministry?

Brad Brisco
Brad is currently the Director of Bivocational Church Planting for the North American Mission Board. He holds a doctorate in the area of missional ecclesiology; his doctoral thesis was on assisting existing congregations in transitioning in a missional direction. Brad is the co-author of Missional Essentials, a twelve-week small group study guide, The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run, Next Door As It Is In Heaven, ReThink and Covocational Church Planting. He and his wife have three children and have been foster parents to more than fifty other kids. He blogs regularly at missionalchurchnetwork.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.