11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
These particular verses are often over-interpreted. Preachers and theologians frequently attempt to classify this as some sort of ladder in which some positions are higher than others. Those teachers and theologians who insist on some sort of hierarchy present in these verses are the type that would use their speculative theology to exalt themselves and rule over others. It should be apparent in these verses that people are given particular gifts that complement who they are. For example: teaching is given to those who are to be teachers, leadership to those who are to be apostles, discernment to the prophet, compassion to the shepherds, etc… God equips those He calls to do the work He has called them to do. If He has called you to be an evangelist, He will equip you with the gifts necessary to accomplish that role.
It is important to take note that people do not get to assign these roles to themselves. God gave the church specific people who come in these specific roles. He gave the church their shepherds and teachers. He appointed their apostles and prophets. He drew their evangelist into their midst. God gave them. So, the next time you’re praising the Lord for those various leaders in your church or cursing the day they were born, remember: God gave them to your church. Consider the implications of that before you complain or praise.
Note the purpose they are given in verse 12. They are not given to increase the flock or reach out. They are not given to make converts run the programs. They are given to “equip the saints.” In an age where we have reduced the Gospel of Jesus Christ to: Jesus loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life, and have hired professionals to accomplish the ministry so that we can have a comfortable atmosphere for worship, it is rare to find someone who recognizes that our gifts are to be used to “equip” each other. The purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers is simple, they are to train the saints to live like Jesus. It is a wonderful thing when churches engage in out-reach. Out-reach is natural, wonderful, and it is something saints should do constantly no matter what their giftings or roles are. Out-reach, however, is not the primary function of these five roles. People in these roles are supposed to train the saints for the work of the ministry. These roles are supposed to build up the body.
The word translated “building up” means literally “constructing.” It is used to elsewhere in Scripture to describe edifying each other and encouraging one another in worship and ministry. (1 Cor. 14:26-31) In Ephesians, Paul is explaining that these roles that people play are given so that the Christians within the church body would be encouraged in their lives. (That is assuming they are striving to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called.) The church ought to be the greatest source of encouragement for a Christian. In the local congregation, believers should be taught the gospel, lead to worship the Almighty, strengthened in their faith, and encouraged in their ministry. Oh dear believer, do not settle for a church that is content to keep you busy with programs that do not edify your soul and encourage you towards holiness. Business at the church building is not the same as active spiritual growth. Evaluate what your church is asking of you and whether or not they are training you to live like Jesus.
This truth should inspire churches to become centers of training, teaching, and growing. We are to make disciples. Your church ought to be faithfully teaching the Word of God to the people of God so that they are living the life that God has called them to live. Your standard for success is the lifestyle of those in your church, not the number of attendants or the size of your budget. In light of this passage, strive to lead your people toward holiness and righteousness.