It is time we “Release the APE” Within the church and for the world just like Christians did in the early church. If the church is going to be effective in mission and healthy in growth, we must empower all five vocations as stated in Ephesians 4, not just two. We need the Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelist as well as the Shepherd and Teacher. We need the APE too, not just the ST.
Because it has existed in a “Christianized” society, the western church has become fascinated with calling every position in the church “Pastor” or “Teacher” and we have greatly emphasized these gifts. It is confusing to me when today’s Western churches primarialy only uses the Sheperd/Pastor and teacher titles, when Jesus clearly gave us five vocations as stated in Ephesians 4. Almost every church I go to has many leaders and those leaders are all titled “pastor” and “teacher”. You would be hard pressed to find Western churches that are actually releasing apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic leaders in a healthy way. You tend to either get no mention of the APE vocations or some crazy version of it that Biblically is hard to follow.
We need more books like The Permanent Revolution, where Hirsch and Catchim lay down a theoretical and theological grounding for the five-fold, and Creating a Missional Culture, where JR Woodward shows how the five-fold can work itself out in the local church.
Please hear me clearly at this point: We need pastors and teachers in the mission of God. What I want to challenge is the way we have overemphasized two vocations (Shepherd, Teacher) while leaving behind the other three more generative vocations (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist).
Because of this imbalance, many leaders that are actually gifted in A, P, or E are receiving little vision or modeling and one of two things tends to happen: Either they get stuffed into a pastoral role or they say to themselves, “Leadership in the church is not for me!” This was part of my experience as a young leader, and you can read more of my story here. I had no language for the APE vocations and I was left frustrated with deep stirrings caged inside of me. So I went to the Para-Church where there was more modeling of this way of life, but still very little language or interpretation for what was stirring in my soul.
Jesus did not design nor call every person in the church, and especially in leadership, to be a Shepherd/Pastor or Teacher! Jesus gave the church five gifts/vocations: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher (Ephesians 4).
Sadly, the APE has been “caged” in many of our churches, and I believe this “caging of the APE” is one of the key factors contributing to the decline of the western church. For the most part, the words Apostolic, Prophetic, and Evangelistic have vanished from our vocabulary. Language shapes cultures, and the Western Church at this point barely has the APE words in its dictionary! As such, a first step is to try and put language to these vocations again, and here is how I would frame the APE vocations:
Apostolic: architect for mission, visionary, reproducing, guardian of the gospel, obsessed with the “sentness” of every believer.
– Apostolic example: John Wesley
Prophetic: justice minded, challenges the status quo, keeps us faithful to God.
– Prophetic example: Shane Claiborne
Evangelistic: the linchpin of the church, recruiter, obsessed with conversion, great at explaining the gospel to people not following Jesus.
– Evangelistic example: Billy Graham & Para-church (IV, Cru, etc)
If we are going to reach people in this “Post-Christendom” culture and see the church reverse its decline and actually start growing in the West, we have to start talking about the APE so that church can be taken to people “out there” in culture. We are going to have to start catalyzing churches in businesses, pubs, cafes, fraternity houses, and malls. We are going to have to start finding the places where real conversation is happening in today’s culture and plant the gospel and churches there.
Just a few months ago in a fraternity house at San Diego State University, I had a guy who was not a Christian thank me profusely for starting a bible study in his house so he could talk about the things of God. He said, “I have never felt this comfortable with my self ever before, and I cannot thank you enough. I am surprised that at a Bible Study in the fraternity is where I felt most at home.”
This “frat boy” as many like to say, was never going to darken the door of a church and if we are going to reach him and others alike, we better get out there and get creative with the planting of the gospel. I think APEs are critical to this task and that is why we as the church need to release them fully.
People primarily gifted with shepherding and teaching have a key role to play in this mission. But, if we interpret Ephesians 4 correctly, they cannot do it on their own: we need to release the APE. Otherwise, it is like fighting a battle with one arm tied behind your back. You just aren’t going to win.
Or as a businessman would put it: It is like asking your best manager at work to go and start a new business venture for you.
It makes no sense.
Managers are skilled in a way that helps them manage the people in the company well, and the entrepreneurs and catalysts are skilled to go start new things.
You need both. You can’t run a company well with only managers or only entrepreneurs.
It is the same for God and church.
The battle that is the advancement of the Kingdom of God must be fought with all five vocations fully released, and right now we are mostly fighting with two when it comes to church leadership.
I am totally convinced that if the Jesus mission is going to get done, and the Kingdom of God is going to fully come, then we must “Release the APE” inside the church and to the world.
What do you think?
Join the conversation and tell us in the comments below!