Your Place in God’s Work: APEST

Drawn from The Forgotten Path by Alan Hirsch and Building a Discipleship Culture by Mike Breen, and from a bit of experience in practice.  The books are available through on-line stores.  You are hereby encouraged to give the teaching below a try!

Key Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16

Five Fold Ministry is rooted in an examination of Ephesians 4, and especially 4:11-12.   APEST is an Picture4acronym for each of the “gifts” mentioned in the passage: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds (The Greek word for “shepherd” is also translated “pastor”), and Teachers. 

A little back ground is helpful to clear up potential confusion.  When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, it is by the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit not only gives us faith, but also equips us for work in God’s Kingdom by giving us spiritual gifts.   For example, the Spirit gives gifts of discernment, healing, prophesy, administration, words of knowledge, and many more.  A spiritual gift is like a super naturally empowered talent or ability.  There is much teaching about the Gifts of the Spirit.  You can even take spiritual gift tests and inventories.  Spiritual gifts which are described in many places in the scriptures, but are unpacked somewhat systematically in 1st Corinthians 11-14 and Romans 12.  Everyone who for whom Jesus is Lord has such gifts.  No one has all of them.

What we find in Ephesians 4 is a little different.  In this case, the spiritual gifts are not abilities given to a person.  Instead, they are people given to the church for the building up of the church.  Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors (aka Shepherds), and Teachers are needed in every church.

Here we run into a problem.  Is it every person in the church or just a few who get to be in these roles?  In most churches, it is generally thought that only a few are called to lead.  In many churches, prophetic or apostolic ministries would be considered out of place.  Evangelistic ministries are also often placed outside of the church.  And the roldes of pastor and teacher are only filled by recognized leaders.  However, this section of scripture begins with the Apostle Paul writing out his prayer for the Ephesians and then in Ephesians 4:1 with a personal appeal urging all of his readers to lead lives worthy of the calling they had received.  In fact, the entire letter is addressed to the “saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  It was sent to the whole church.  The gifts from the Spirit to the Church is every person in the church who knows Jesus as Lord.

The church is impoverished by limiting this teaching to leadership.  It is better to understand this scripture as a teaching about the types of ministries every follower of Jesus is invited into.  Every follower of Jesus has a role to play in building up the church.  If this describes you as you read this, you are a gift to your church.  You have a ministry in the church.  It’s helpful to understand what type.

A good place to begin is understanding your base gifting. Experience has shown that each person has a base gifting, a type of ministry for which they are wired.  For example, they are gifted as an apostle and are able to establish things, or they are gifted as a teacher and are good at helping others understand God’s Word.  However, the Spirit may bring out other giftings in people as needed. The apostle, for example, may develop the ability to speak prophetically or to evangelize to bring people to faith in Jesus.

There are many five-fold ministries/APEST tests available.  ( for example).  Alan Hirsch, probably the best known scholar associated with APEST, offers an in-depth assessment tool that costs $10.  It will provide you with a more thorough profile. However, the profiles aren’t enough.  These different giftings are best discovered and developed in the context of community on mission.  Often, when you take a survey or an assessment, it fits in the larger context of how God is calling you.  (Afterall, this section of scripture begins with an appeal to live out faithfully the calling we have received.)  Exploring how God has gifted you creates a kairos moment that needs to prayer, discernment, and the perspective of those who are in community with us.  The people who do life with us as we follow Jesus will usually see how God has gifted us more objectively and earlier than we do. We need to consider what God might be saying about us and to us through the community?

Below you will find the APEST definitions from Alan Hirsch’s web site, or you can go there yourself here:

APOSTLES extend the gospel. As the “sent ones,” they ensure that the faith is transmitted from one context to another and from one generation to the next. The way they operate resonates with the work of entrepreneurs and developers. They are always thinking about the future, bridging barriers, establishing the church in new contexts, developing leaders, networking trans-locally. Yet if they operate from selfish ambition or immaturity, they can leave people and organizations feeling hard driven, used, and worn out. The shepherding and teaching functions are needed to ensure people are cared for rather than simply used.

PROPHETS know God’s will. They are particularly attuned to God and his truth for today. Their role is not unlike the role of artists and activists. They bring insight, correction and challenge to the dominant assumptions. They point out what we have imported unwisely from the culture. They insist that the community obey what God has commanded. They question the status quo. Without the other types of leaders in place, prophets can become belligerent activists or, paradoxically, disengage from the imperfection of reality and become other-worldly.

EVANGELISTS recruit like marketers and sales people. These infectious communicators of the gospel message recruit others to the cause. They call for a personal response to God’s redemption in Christ, and also draw believers to engage the wider mission, growing the church. But without balance, evangelists can be so focused on reaching those outside the church that maturing and strengthening those inside is neglected. If they get too ambitious, they can sacrifice the transforming, all encompassing nature of the Gospel, oversimplifying it as simply making decisions for Christ.

SHEPHERDS nurture and protect, like nurses, social workers, and counselors. They are the caregivers of the community. They focus on the protection and spiritual maturity of God’s flock, cultivating a loving and spiritually mature network of relationships, making and developing disciples. Shepherds can value stability to the detriment of the mission. Without balance, they may also foster an unhealthy dependence between the church and themselves and fall to the temptation to be “super Christians” which keeps the rest of the church from using their gifts.

TEACHERS understand and explain, like, well, teachers, professors, and instructors. Communicators of God’s truth and wisdom, they help others remain biblically grounded to better discern God’s will, guiding others toward wisdom, helping the community remain faithful to Christ’s word, and constructing a transferable doctrine. Without the input of the other functions, teachers can fall into dogmatism or dry intellectualism. They may fail to see the personal or missional aspects of the church’s ministry.

This balanced approach to life on ministry may seem new to many. Many churches, even generations of churches, have emphasized only two of the leadership giftings in local churches. Those two callings were pastors (shepherds) and teachers. The roles of apostle and prophet were often considered to have ceased.   Evangelists were relegated to traveling preachers who tried to win converts. Worse still, the only ones considered to be in these roles were ordained clergy. This was deeply unfortunate, for in many places the gifts of God’s people were not allowed to thrive. But God’s Spirit worked around that.

But we are better off to cooperate with the Spirit in this. We need all five gifts operating in the church. The good news is that everyone who has surrendered to Christ has received the Holy Spirit and has been gifted in one of these ways for ministry as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd or teacher. Naturally, each of us should be curious about how they are gifted and called by God to build up the church.

Jesus had all five giftings.  He was the greatest gift of all!  Most of us have one gifting—a base area—and the Lord may develop other giftings as needed and as we grow. But all are usually present in the church.  And bring this back home: you are a gift to God’s people .  The people in your huddle are, too.  The Church needs you and the people around you.  God is delighted to work through you and has created and shaped you uniquely for this time.

How are you and the people in your discipleship huddle gifted? Use surveys, Bible studies, feedback from other members of your group, and prayer to discern how you have been gifted. Use the Learning Circle to discern what God is saying to you and respond.

The gifts of God are too precious to waste!

Questions for Reflection:

1) How can knowing how you are gifted shape your work? As a disciple? Disciple maker? Church goer? Missional community member? What are the consequences for yourself and the church of not knowing? What are the consequences for not doing anything about it once you know?

2) What are secular parallels to each of the five types?

3) Connect APEST types with the characters in the stories in the book of Acts? For example: Peter and John in Acts 4? Philip in Acts 8? Ananias in Acts 9? James in Acts 15? Paul in Acts 16?

4) How many rolls can you identify in the description of the church in Antioch in Acts 11:19-30?

5) Is God saying anything? What will you do about it?



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