The 5-sided Lifeshape is a tool for discovering the role God has created you for within his Church, and helping us to work through the dynamics – both positive and negative – that result from the fact that we each have different roles to play. Within Lifeshapes language, we refer to this as five-fold ministry. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost have also written extensively on this (see The Shaping Of Things To Come): they use the term APEPT.
Ephesians 4:4-16 presents us with a gift list that is qualitatively different from other gift lists in the New Testament. Romans 12 is concerned with gifts that God gives to people, and the main principle being brought out here is that we should exercise those gifts not in accordance with the measure of our gifting or our experience but according to how much faith we have. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is primarily concerned with how gifts (whether those gifts are people or abilities) are exercised in the gathered church, with the main principle being that love for one another, as opposed to competition amongst each other, is the key. But Ephesians 4 is concerned not with gifts given people but with people given as gifts.
Ephesians 4 identifies five types of people: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Verse 7 – “grace was given to each one of us” – suggests that this is not merely illustrative examples from a wider list. Some have argued that the New Testament uses other metaphors for role, such as builders or farmers; but I would contend that the types in Ephesians 4 are not metaphors (even if ‘pastor’ derives from ‘shepherd’...which makes shepherd a suitable metaphor for the pastor).
Verses 8-9 present us with the image of Jesus, having broken out of hell, leading a procession of freed captives, who are given as gifts. This image strongly suggests to me that these types are of the creation order, rather than the redemption order. That is, God does not confer upon you the state of being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher at the point of conversion; but that we are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers held captive until we are set free to find the fullest expression of these roles within the Church.
That means that these words are not religious words, as such; and that we can identify signs of this creation order gifting in those who would not identify themselves as Christian. And helping people to understand more fully how they have been made has incredible potential for discipling such people towards faith. It also means that we would be wise to help Christians to identify how God has made them in this regard, in order to equip them to fulfil that role within God’s mission in the world, in its widest sense. What follows is a summary introduction to each potential people gift.
Apostle means one who is sent out. Apostles are pioneers of the new frontier, created to move into uncharted waters. They are not made to sustain the status quo. Apostles would include entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, who goes into new areas of business; who puts others in place to populate and settle the ground; and who is not afraid to sometimes surrender the past in order to achieve the future. Apostles would include those who are brought in to ‘turn around’ a failing school or institution; but for whom it would not be appropriate to stay there long-term. So apostles need to work with others. Because the Church has undervalued the role of apostle, it has found it hard to take ground lost by previous generations: pastors and teachers aren’t best designed for that. But apostles tend to see the world in very black-and-white terms, which can result in massive personal fall-out (see Paul and Barnabas; Paul and Peter).
Prophets imagine a world which is different from that in which we find ourselves (in this regard, they differ from teachers, who explain the world as it is). This might be expressed in terms of the creative arts. It might also manifest itself in relation to social justice or environmental action. The Church has always had a prophetic voice (both the arts and the justice), but has not always known how the prophets relate to the body. As a result, many prophets have found their community outside of the Church, often in prophetic movements, such as the Green movement. While prophets may be concerned with social justice they differ from pastors in that prophets have a big-picture view, which is too big a burden for the pastor, concerned for individuals, to carry. But the individual can be lost in the big picture, so prophets need to work with pastors...and simply having a big picture is not the same as being able to bring change about, so prophets need to work with apostles...Many prophets experience marginalisation (outside the Church as well as within it), and prophets often have a significant measure of brokenness in their past, of which they may or may not have experienced healing.
Evangelists are passionate connectors. A friend of mine is an evangelist, and because he knows Jesus, he wants to connect people to Jesus, to Jesus’ body, to the Church. But the reason I know he is an evangelist is that he is passionate about bird-watching; he wants me to share his passion, and to connect me to those who share that passion. As it happens, I’m not interested, not open, and so he doesn’t waste his time and energy seeking to persuade me. But I am interested in photography, would like to get into a local photographic society, and am finding that difficult because I have not yet found an evangelist who can help get me connected into an existing community. With regards to the workplace, evangelists would include those in marketing roles and also (of increasing significance) networking roles. Tragically, because the Church has not really known how to invest in evangelists, and because evangelists have often found it easier to be with non-Christians than with Christians, evangelists are themselves often not sufficiently connected to connect people...
I’ve often heard it said that whereas evangelists default towards non-Christians (i.e. are outward looking), pastors default towards Christians (i.e. are inward looking). Personally, I think that is incorrect, and unhelpful. Pastors are people people. Pastors care about people, and especially hurting people, regardless of their faith. Pastors want to see the individual, and are easily overwhelmed or ground down by the bigger picture. So, for example, we might expect to find pastors in the caring professions; but they may well struggle with the institutional scale (which is why it would be disastrous for the NHS if everyone in the caring professions was a pastor). As those, with teachers, who settle territory, pastors can feel undervalued by the more pioneering apostles, prophets and evangelists. The Church has selected pastors and teachers (and selected out APEs) for its clergy for generations, with the resulting irony: pastor leaders have not released APEs because they are threatening; but struggle with the burden of having to fulfil APE roles...
Teachers love to communicate ideas, to pass on learning. And so we might expect to find teachers in the teaching profession – although, again, it would be disastrous if every teacher was a teacher in this sense (the teacher who impacted me most was an evangelist for his subject; schools also need apostles, prophets and pastors). Our overly academic teaching culture has (mis-)shaped the function of teacher within the Church, resulting in cognitive knowledge as opposed to active belief. The exclusion of APE roles has only served to exacerbate this dilemma. We need teachers; but only in the context of a more rounded understanding of the people God has given as gifts to his Church, for the world. We need teachers who won’t shape those they lead into a teacher mould.
As a leader, we will be called upon at various times and seasons to function in a role other than the role God has made us to primarily be. In Lifeshapes language, we refer to this as base ministry and phase ministry. So Paul puts Timothy into a situation where a teacher is what is needed, because that is Timothy’s role; but reminds him, in the context of a specific time, not to neglect the work of an evangelist: something which does not come naturally to him. This connects the Pentagon to the Semi-circle. Times when God leads us out of our comfort-zone are times when we grow – not just in a new area, but as a person, so that the zone from which we can operate with confidence grows. But if we find ourselves having to operate in another role for too prolonged a season, this is not good for us. We need to discover and go with the rhythm of God’s grace, leading us out and back again in due season...