APEST: A Pest or A Point?

I recently participated in an event where the introduction of APEST (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) precipitated confusion due to the root theology of several of the attendees.

Some felt that there is no place for apostles and prophets in today’s church. Others contend that the omission of these two leadership gifts explains why the church is losing ground to secularism in America. The first group see discussions of APEST as “a pest.” The second want to make “a point” of restoring lost ground.

However you look at Ephesians 4, two things stand out. First is the need for multiple leadership gifts to accomplish the second which is the maturity and effectiveness of the body of Christ.

Offices & Titles

Some view apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers as titles or appointed offices in the church. This is consistent with our tradition of identifying evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers as titles for leaders within our context. The glaring inconsistency here is the omission of the other two gifts as offices in the modern church. How can three leadership gifts endure while God designed the other two to cease?

For those who embrace all the gifts (including those in Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12) the omission has caused the church to lack power and influence. For these folks, a restoration of APEST is a functional necessity for fulfilling the Great Commission. My friend, Alan Hirsch, addresses this discussion in his book, 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ.

Moving Past Semantics

Those two paradigms are probably irreconcilable. The larger issue is whether these functions are recognized by church leaders, or whether they are ignored or even hindered. We need to recognize people whose behavior is apostolic or prophetic as much as giving credence to those with “a shepherd’s heart.” Add to this the overlapping nature of the three primary New Testament passages referring to spiritual gifts and you must conclude that this list of leadership gifts may not be exhaustive (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). Paul was driving toward the goal of maturity, not a showcase of gifts in these scriptures.

So what? We need to stop arguing semantics and get on with the full function of the body of Christ. It is important that we don’t threaten our unity over points of dispute. The world needs the gospel and we’ve been appointed to take it to the ends of the earth using every function of every gift mentioned in scripture.

Consider This

Try this for an assumption: “Most megachurch pastors are apostolic (e.g. pioneering, entrepreneurial, activators, etc.), but not all apostolic pastors lead megachurches.”

An apostolic leader, whether in a large place or small, feels the need to keep moving. Some, like Paul, move from city to city. Today, most shift from project to project while always extending the boundaries of the gospel.

If you’re an apostolic leader, you’re a catalyzer. You naturally spark change. You are a mapmaker, leading others on your most recent adventure. Or, perhaps just a little more cautious, you may closely follow the mapmakers as an early adopter of fresh ideas. Others may deride you as a radical or a revolutionary, but your heart is to see the gospel fill the earth. And you believe that constant change is necessary to the task. Apostles instinctively seek new territory.

At the end of the day, any argument over whether a person is an apostle, or merely “apostolic” won’t save the world. Meanwhile, restoring the ministry functions described in Ephesians 4 will go a long way towards fulfilling the Great Commission. This is about deeds, not words!

YOUR THOUGHTS--Someone told me that older people resist APEST because they cling to status quo while younger leaders have more passion. I’d be interested to know more about that (BTW, I’m old). What do you think and why?




4 thoughts on “APEST: A Pest or A Point?”

  1. First, I am old in years. Second, I believe Pastor Ralph’s message for us is attempting to unify the church (Ephesians 4 emphasizes unity). In my view Pastor Ralph is apparently suggesting a compromise where we all work together toward fulfilling The Great Commission. Some say that Acts was written to justify Paul’s apostleship because that was an issue for the early church and Paul did not fulfill all of the criteria (he had apparently never even met Jesus let alone being His disciple or a witness to His resurrection but the apostles all accepted him as such). I like the idea about a compromise with “apostolic leaders.” BTW I have seen Pastor Ralph’s actions up close in his striving to resolve conflict in His church. Thanks for this thoughtful message.

  2. Randall T. Ishida

    Great article for thought and discussion!
    “One” of the definitions for apostole in the lexicon is “the 12 apostles that were with Jesus” of course none qualify for this role.
    But I believe that the apostles in Ephesians 4 and other verses of the NT talk of apostles as
    those “sent out”.
    In Luke 10:1 the uses the word “apostellos” for the 70 (or 72) who were sent out.
    And it’s where we get our word “apostle”
    Apostolos.. “one sent forth with orders”.. the orders would be in Matthew 28… the command from Jesus to make disciples of all nations … first….. before the vision of planting mega churches. “Values before Vision”
    I think Ephesians talks of apostles in the church as being those that are sent out .. the word “missionary” comes from the Latin which got its root from the Greek.. “to send with orders”.. the Latin came about in the 15 or 16 century I believe.

    Which brings up “prophets”.. too much emphasis if not all has and is put on “foretelling future events” .. so much so that I’ll call it in some cases “christian voodoo”
    Buy if we look at “one” of the many definitions used in the different “context” of the Bible, one definition states: Men filled with The Spirit Of God, who pleads the cause of God and urges the salvation of men. Moved by the Holy Spirit having power to instruct, comfort, encourage, rebuke, convict, and stimulate their hearers and speaks under divine inspiration.

    If I were to argue that our senior pastor who recently left Hawaii had both and all of the attributes and fittings of both “apostle” and “prophet”.. I don’t think you could argue otherwise.
    Do pastors carry prophetic messages in their sermons.. of course .. I’m not saying all and always…
    Our past senior pastor was a pure catalyst
    But many other pastors from his generation if not 99.8% of the others are not and “conditioned in theology” or hermeneutics to think of prophets as Old Testimont types.. Samuel was a “Seer” but not all his students were.
    Our senior pastor taught, encouraged and released us to be sent out to make disciples.
    Is he a revolutionary? Yes in the sense that our Western Churches are so stuck on a “centralized program”.. Jesus wasn’t … Jesus movement is meant to be a Starfish not a spider.

    A.P.E.S.T. Needs to be woven together because they are all intertwined ..
    How can you be a teacher without prophetic gifts? Or a prophet with the apostolic gifts and calling? How can you be an evangelist with out the A and P and T .. how can one be a shepherd without some of the other attributes described?

    It’s a shame that these gifting are “offices”
    And are viewed at as levels of “importance”
    I hold my tongue in discussions with older and sometimes even younger pastors who have been through seminary or hold degrees in theology when I attempt to bring up facts .. I get a .. “what do you know look”
    so thank you for putting some weight in this “biblical” article. I will use it as an authoritative reference since the author has the proven track record that all of APEST is needed in our churches.

  3. John Edward Boedeker

    Dear Ralph,
    I am 79 years old and still yearn to see a balance of Apest in todays church. Releasing all the spiritual power in the church for the Great Commission and Great Commandment to happen is the most fulfilling and exciting life we can live. Evangelicals are often suspicious of prophetic and Apostolic gifts because they seem to have their roots more in personal inspiration rather than biblical foundations. Pentecostals in the body of Christ sometimes have a very authoritarian view of the pastors role and are not open to the shared gifts of leadership. Both these attitudes have hindered the church. We who are old are not past being able to learn and grow. John Boedeker

  4. It seems to me that one of Hirsch’s biggest points is that these ascension gifts from Christ are for the entire church. The language of Ephesians 4:7 seems to provide the context that Christ did indeed give these gifts in varying degrees to each one of us. What if the idea of APEST is so big that it helps us to have a better understanding of who God is, of how Christ redeemed these roles, and gave them to the church. Measuring a church by their expression and effectiveness of APEST may just be the best way to ascertain church health. Alan even asserts that APEST is likely the best hermenuetic tool one could use to understand the Bible to it’s fullest.

    At one point he confesses that while he knows there are no silver bullets when it comes to reversing the church’s lack of power and influence and fulfilling the great commission, he says it’s the closest thing to a silver bullet he’s ever seen.

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