It is an unfortunate truth the most Christians today read the Bible in words and not in word pictures and concepts. Writers and speakers speak from the pictures that God puts in our minds. The words are the colors that the authors paint to reform the pictures and concepts in their heads so that others might see in their minds what the authors and speakers are seeing. It is not easy to do. We understand best when we hear and read in principles and concepts or in stories by setting the scene up in our minds eye. The misinformation comes when people read in merely words. Words can mean different things to different people. And words can be rearranged in the hearers and readers minds like building blocks taken apart and reformed into a new building.
When we rightly divide the words of Scripture, instead of rebuilding them into our desires or the answers we seek, we seek the purpose of the authors who wrote them, taking into consideration the era they lived in, the cultures, the idiosyncrasies of the time, word meanings, grammar and the subject matter or story spoken about.
Thus we come to the fivefold ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13. This bit of insight Paul was sharing about starts out in verses 1-5 where Paul is drawing our attention to the Body of Christ as one whole. We all as one united family have the same Holy Spirit, the same Savior, faith and birth through belief and baptism. We are united to God as our father (generator, parent) through Christ. And to this one body of people Christ apportioned grace among us, and gave gifts. In this discussion the gifts that were given (and are still being given today) are people, not the spiritual manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned elsewhere. These are people that Christ has chosen to send us with specific callings upon their lives. You see the words in verse 11 “so Christ Himself gave”. And then in verse 12 the purpose of calling, sending and equipping these individuals was to build up this one Body into maturity. Mature believers help keep the Body united together in compassion for each other, and attached to Christ as our Lord and Savior.
These individuals as gifts are not called by churches but by Christ Himself for God’s purposes. And generally these anointed people have lifelong callings and Christ sends them where He wants them. Sometimes they stay in one place as some of the apostles did. Sometimes they move around as several of the apostles did. But whatever they do they are beholden to follow the call of God our Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Now the type of callings they had on their lives Paul outlines in five general themes: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The first thing to understand is that these individuals do not live or relate in a hierarchy. The apostle does not direct the prophet, the prophet does not direct the evangelist, the evangelist does not direct the pastor/shepherd, the pastor does not direct the teacher. They are a team of people that work together to serve the purposes and plans of God. They do have different areas of activities. Often they will work together to address similar goals, but coming from different angles. One other thing they have in common is that they all teach.
Apostles teach to draw, organize and keep people together. Apostles often start different types of ministries as God leads them. They will often travel frequently to find believers and organize them into groups to mature together as a church/ecclesia. Prophets teach the mind and purposes of God (in past and present) as well as reveal the Scriptures and present/future predictions. Prophets reveal God’s heart and purposes as the Holy Spirit gives them timely relevant words, visions, dreams, etc. Evangelists teach to reveal our need of God and help new believers stay in Christ. Evangelists have a sense of explaining God’s work of salvation that is easy for non believers and new believers to comprehend and follow. Shepherds teach to draw people deeper in their relationship with the Lord. Shepherds are like guardians who keep watch, go after us when we are suffering, supporting and encouraging as a parent. Teachers are like scholars who are in love with the Truth and search the Scriptures daily in order to share the wonders of the truths that God shares therein. They teach us how to rightly divide the Word of God, and point us always back to Scripture as God’s help to keep us walking towards Him.
It is also important to note that some individuals are combination ministries. An apostle could also be anointed in any other of the called ministries, such as an apostle/prophet. We could have an evangelist/pastor. Any of the called ministries could also be an anointed teacher. Often today we have shepherd/teachers either as a pastor or as a teacher (teacher/shepherd). Being a called shepherd actually doesn't mean that such a person is a modern pastor of a church. He or she could start, organize and manage any number of service ministries in the world. In the same way that todays missionaries do a wide variety of services, so can an anointed individual in one or several of the fivefold ministries be led of God to do a variety of services in churches and around the world.
This team of anointed and called believers should be working together all over the world. In fact, that is something that Loren Cunningham sought to encourage in his establishment of Youth With A Mission. They minister in many varied capacities all over the world. But the ideal is that God's anointed individuals should work together first in their own churches, then in cooperating churches and ministries in the same city or town, and then all over the world as God leads. Some stay local and some roam abroad. But the main thing is that we should work together because we are indeed in God's eyes, One Body in Christ our Lord and Savior.