Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”.
As part of the overflow of his amazing grace toward his people (Eph 2:1-10), Jesus gave five offices to the church, four of which are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 and one of which is mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, and deacons. I will begin by briefly defining the first three and then dwell on the fourth.
In my view, the office of apostle is reserved for the twelve who were appointed by Jesus (Mark 3:13-19), minus Judas (John 13:26-30) plus Paul (1 Cor 1:1). While the New Testament sometimes applies the term “apostle” to those who were not of the twelve (Luke 11:49; Acts 14:14; 1 Cor 12:28-29; 2 Cor 8:23, 11:13; Phil 2:25; 1 Thess 2:6; Rev 2:2; 18:20), these instances refer to those who were sent on a temporary mission for the church but did not hold the office of an Apostle. Indeed, the twelve are forever distinguished in the life of the church, for (1) Jesus directly appointed them to the office, (2) they were all eye-witnesses to the life and ministry of Christ, or in Paul’s case, he literally beheld the glory of Christ and directly received his teaching (2 Cor 12:1-10; Gal 1:11-24), and (3) the Apostles, or those closely associated to them, wrote the NT and thus established the authoritative foundation of the church (Eph 2:20).
The office of prophet probably refers to persons like Judas (not Iscariot), Silas, and Agabus who were gifted at discerning and articulating the will of God for the life of the church (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Cor 12:28). It is unclear how the church is to distinguish between those who are granted one-time or occasional prophetic insights and those who hold the office of a prophet. Further, the office of evangelist probably refers to those whose primary ministry is the proclamation of the gospel among unbelievers. Again, it is unclear how the church is to distinguish between (1) those who have the habit of evangelism but do not bear much evangelistic fruit, (2) those who bear much evangelistic fruit but do not consider themselves to be evangelists, and (3) those who hold the office of an evangelist.
This brings us to the two offices that are more clearly designed to provide leadership for the local church. On the one hand, pastor-teachers are called to shepherd the people of God by teaching the Word of God, and on the other hand, deacons are called to serve the Lord and the church under the authority of the elders and thus assist the pastor-teachers as they carry out their ministry of shepherding (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim 3:8-13). With regard to pastor-teachers, three points of clarification are in order which I first articulated in the book Preach the Word: On the Power and Practice of Expository Preaching (Glory of Christ Resources: 2016, 269-75).
First, we know that Paul means for us to understand the office of pastor-teacher as one and not two (pastor and teacher) because of the way he constructed Ephesians 4:11. In the Greek language, the men-de construction helps us understand how terms in a sentence are related to one another, and while they are sometimes translated “on the one hand” and “on the other hand,” or “both-and,” they are often left untranslated because it is difficult to capture in English how they function in Greek. In Ephesians 4:11 these words are left untranslated, but it is important for us to consider how Paul used them. Here is a word-for-word rendering of Ephesians 4:11 with the Greek words men and de included: “And he gave the men apostles, the de prophets, the de evangelists, the de pastors and teachers” (translation mine). If Paul meant for us to separate the roles of pastor and teacher, he would have put another de in front of the word “teachers.” That he did not compose the verse this way leads me to conclude that he wants us to conceive of pastor and teacher as a singular office, at least in a certain way. That is, while it is possible to be a teacher without being a pastor, it is not possible to be a pastor without being a teacher. Of course, pastors must give attention to matters other than teaching, but in everything, they do they are primarily teachers. Therefore, I conclude that we should envision the word “pastor” as the title of the office and the word “teacher” as the function of the office. That is, pastors are to shepherd the people of God by proclaiming, preaching, and teaching the Word of God in the life of the church.
Second, the New Testament uses three different Greek words to refer to those we call “pastors.” The first is poimen which means “shepherd or pastor” (Friberg 2000). It is used thirty times in the New Testament, only four of which refer to the leaders of churches. The other twenty-six uses refer either to Jesus, to Jewish leaders, or to those whose job it was to watch over flocks and herds. The second word is episkopos which means “overseer or supervisor.” It is used only eleven times in the New Testament, six of which refer to the leaders of churches. The third and most important word is presbuteros which means “elder” but which can also be translated “leader.” It is used seventy-one times in the New Testament, twenty of which refer to the leaders of churches, making it the preferred biblical term for those we call “pastors.” While this word may imply a measure of age, it, more importantly, implies maturity and skill in leadership. Timothy, for example, was a young man but he was also the leading elder of the church of Ephesus, and Paul was eager for him to have confidence in his calling despite the critiques of those who thought him too young for the job (1 Tim 4:12).
Third, although there are distinctions to be made between these three terms, they are essentially interchangeable as we see in Acts 20:17 and 20:28. Here Paul refers to the leaders of the church in Ephesus as both elders (presbuteros) and overseers (episkopos), and then commands them to shepherd (poimainein) the flock of God. Therefore, we see that pastor-teachers are those called by God to lead and guide his people by teaching his Word and applying his will to their corporate and personal lives.
But if this is the nature of the office of pastor-teacher, who is qualified to fill it in the life of the local church? Paul offers the clearest answer to this question in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Titus 1:5-9). He begins by affirming that if “anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1), or more literally, “a good work or job.” And while it is important for the prospective pastor-teacher to have passion for the work, such longing is not enough to be granted the position; rather, one must also meet a number of criteria. Of the fourteen standards Paul lists, nine relate to his character, two relate to the oversight of his family, one relates to his level of maturity in Christ, one relates to his reputation with those outside the church, and one relates to his skill in ministry. Even this brief summary demonstrates that the ministry of the pastor-teacher must flow from his character and that his ability to lead and manage the church must first be developed and demonstrated in his home.
With this as a foundation, the one specific ministry skill the pastor-teacher must possess is the ability to teach. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth…And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim 2:15, 24-25). And again, the pastor-teacher “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The reason the pastor-teacher must be able to teach is because this task is endemic to his office; that is, he must be able to articulate biblical content and also apply it to life. He must prize truth, pursue holiness, and lead others to do the same. Therefore, one of the primary reasons that life in the home is the proving ground for pastor-teachers is because the ability to shepherd a few in the will and ways of God holds out the promise that he will be able to shepherd more than a few in those same ways.
So, we see that pastor-teachers must (1) aspire to the office, (2) meet the character qualifications, (3) have a positive track record of shepherding their families in the context of the home, and (4) have the ability to teach. While those who meet these criteria and are appointed to the office may train and allow others to preach in a variety of settings, the burden of the preaching ministry rests on their shoulders, and they should carry out the majority of it, especially in the prominent worship services of the church. When the church ignores or minimizes this biblical office and allows those who do not meet the qualifications to control the pulpit, it is bound to weaken and go astray, for as goes the pulpit, so goes the church.