It is well established that I am of the opinion that Ephesians 4:1-16 is key to the reimagining of our ecclesiology – what church is and does, both gathered and sent – that is needed as we move into a future of increased economic, political and social instability as the times God has called us to live in.
Ephesians 4:1-6 is concerned with unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:12-16 is concerned with maturity: with the community of faith growing, more and more, into what it would look like if Jesus was present in and through us...I know of no Christian tradition or denomination or indeed persons who would argue that these verses are anything other than enduring, of as much relevance to us today as to the believers to whom they were first written.
Ephesians 4:7-11 present for us the Jesus-given means of growing from unity to maturity. And yet, for a host of reasons, the Church has largely come to believe that these verses – unlike those that form their immediate context – are provisional; that they no longer apply; and that we can somehow expect to reach maturity while by-passing the process...
The context to which I am sent is the Church of England. As a tradition, along with other traditions, we have made a number of moves. We have claimed that apostles and prophets are discontinued, serving a limited role in the birthing of the Church, not an ongoing role in her maturing. Their legacy is seen as contained in a body of writing handed-down and interpreted (controlled) by pastors and teachers, not the authentic reproducing of apostles and prophets. We have also reapplied the role of pastors and teachers as being oversight positions, whereas the text itself speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as encompassing everyone: it does not address oversight at all. These are paradigm shifts away from the insight of Paul’s reflection on the body of Christ.
In practice, we have elevated a two-fold ministry model as our model of oversight, our criteria for selection and for job description. Moreover, my observation (and I think I have observed enough over many years to offer this insight) is that we view the local on-the-ground in-the-parish role as that of the pastor, and the trans-local role (the apostolic and prophetic roles?) as that of the teacher (conference speaker, author).
[I recognise that there are linguistic grounds to combine pastor and teacher together in this text; but I do not think that there are theological grounds or phenomenological (observation of the church today) grounds to do so, and that linguistic grounds on their own are insufficient. I would suggest that the majority of parish priests are not especially gifted teachers (whether in formal delivery, such as preaching, or informal settings, such as group discussion) and that a majority of clergy with well-developed teaching ministries are not especially gifted in pastoral care. Where we do see the two together, I would want to speak of pastors with well-developed teaching skills (a good thing!) and teachers with well-developed pastoral skills (likewise, a good thing!), rather than pastor-teacher as something that comes as a given combined unit.]
So, I would suggest, the majority of our local church leaders are pastors. And pastors are people-people. That is, their particular and God-given focus is people. As opposed to apostles, whose focus is shaping environments; prophets, whose focus is God’s voice, and the gap between God’s intentions for human society and our present structures and experience (as such, prophets are often considered idealists rather than realists); and teachers, whose focus is God’s written Word. Pastors are focussed on people (and in particular their healing and nurturing)...and so are evangelists. Evangelists are people-people too: that is, their passion is gathering and distributing good news, not for the news’ sake but for the benefit that it might bring to people.
Here, then, is what happens when a local church leader seeks to encourage their congregation to engage in mission to their parish:
As people-people, they most naturally look to that other people-person gift, the role of the evangelist (at any rate, apostles and prophets are ruled-out; and teaching has come to be seen as a technical role requiring years of training). They may even see pastor and evangelist as two sides of the same coin – an inward and outward expression – though if they do, they are wrong: you can be a pastor to Christians and non-Christians alike; and an evangelist – someone who brings good news – to non-Christians and Christians alike; pastors and evangelists are different people-focused people types, not the same type in different contexts. So they encourage – perhaps more with the stick than the carrot – the congregation to be evangelists (the PointFive in the TwoPointFive-Fold Ministry: what everyone who isn’t in oversight does to expand the community under oversight). Which is a great permission-giving release into who God has made them to be for any evangelists...and ill-fitting armour for everyone else.
Just yesterday, I attended a meeting of representatives of the various Anglican churches in our town, where we were exhorted at length and with some passion that we needed to mobilise our congregations in evangelism – mission with no apostolic or prophetic strategy, no natural role for pastors or teachers.
In my experience across several churches, evangelists are relatively rare but nonetheless extremely effective in bringing people into the orbit of the life of the church community. We do not need more evangelists – though at times and in places those who are not by fundamental nature evangelists may be called to do the work of an evangelist, and in so doing become more rounded in our Christlikeness (which is carried, in potential, in every Christian; but expressed most fully in community not isolation). We need to release evangelists to be evangelists, and apostles to be apostles, prophets to be prophets, pastors to be pastors and teachers to be teachers...in order that we might do those works which God prepared in advance for us to do, and that the body of Christ may be built up. One of the first things this does – not just in theory, I have seen this in practice – is release people from the burden of guilt of not being what they are not, into the liberating freedom of being who they were made to be. Then, of course, comes the work of learning how to live in inter-dependent freedom.
This truncated and ill-conceived present understanding reveals the extent to which a reverse paradigm-shift in our imagination is required, if we are to recover the ways of being church that carries the potential to grow into maturity, defined not as head-knowledge of creeds and doctrinal statements but as the ongoing dynamic redemptive work of Jesus in his world.