I’ve been a pastor for 10 years, and I’ve never been a very good one.
In seminary, I remember learning about how pastors are gifted at listening, and pastoral care, and counseling. That didn’t really sound like me.
And then there was all of this energy and attention given to preaching—“pastor,” as it is in many Christian circles, was synonymous with “preacher.” That didn’t really sound like me either.
Forced to Fit a Ministry Mold
So, although I grew to love that thing called preaching—or teaching, or exhorting, or speaking—and while I’d like to think that I became a better listener as I prepared to become a pastor, when I began to plant and pastor a church a decade ago, I had this lingering sensation that I didn’t quite fit the pastor mold.
That’s because I didn’t!
Honestly, many of my peers didn’t fit the pastor mold either. This dynamic was further compounded for the women I knew in seminary. Even though they were exceptionally gifted preachers and pastoral caregivers, they also just so happened to have female bodies, which almost automatically eliminated them from fitting what in most circles is a decidedly male pastoral mold.
I remember running into a seminary classmate a number of years after he began pastoring. He was a brilliant painter, and my wife had commissioned him to do a painting that she gave me when I graduated. “What are you painting these days?” I asked expectantly. “That piece I did for you was the last one I’ve painted,” he answered.
My heart dropped at the realization that conventional expectations of what being a pastor looks like had forced the artist in him to lie dormant instead of encouraging him to express his artist’s heart through his pastoring.
Breaking the Mold through Church Planting
Thankfully, I didn’t face those same expectations. Starting a faith community from scratch gave me the freedom and permission to discover and express my unique calling rather than being forced into the pastoral stereotype. Yes, I preached and provided pastoral care, but I felt most alive when I had opportunities to craft and cast a vision, to help and empower people to discover and live out their callings in the neighborhood and workplace, and to create risky, new initiatives that form community and pursue justice.
Little by little, supported and sharpened by the saints of our young church plant, in a particular time and place I unearthed my pastoral identity. But I still felt like I didn’t have the language to capture the fact that there is a host of ways to be a “pastor”—until I came across a conversation taking place in missional church circles about something called “APEST” leadership.
Expanding Ministry Molds with APEST
APEST is an acronym for the five ways of serving in the church that the Apostle Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:11: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers.” Folks like Alan Hirsch, Mike Breen, and J.R. Woodward have done a lot of good work around describing what they variously call the “Fivefold Ministry,” or the five “Equippers” or “Intelligences.”
I like to think of them not so much as roles or offices, but as “giftings.” For one thing, passages like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 mention some of these ways of being in longer lists of spiritual gifts. For another, three times in the brief space of Ephesians 4:7-11 Paul talks about Christ giving gifts to the church, including an instance where he changes a word in an ancient psalm he quotes in order to place extra emphasis on Christ giving gifts to the church.
When I read Ephesians 4, I saw in it the first followers of Jesus confirming what my church had given me permission to express. These categories of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher expanded my understanding of what a pastor might look like, breaking out of a single ministry mold into five ministry molds! And that’s just the beginning.
In his book The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch states, “[The Ephesians 4 list] is definitive but not necessarily final…Perhaps the best way to say it is that the nature of the New Testament ministry is at least fivefold.” This expansive, “at least fivefold” nature of APEST invites us to open our eyes to see the diverse giftings of each and every person in our congregations and in our neighborhoods!
I’ve been coming back to the APEST styles for years now. APEST gives me permission to break the conventional pastoral mode. APEST gives me permission to be a lousy pastor, and it shows me how I might become a “better” pastor by giving me the freedom to consider five alternative ways I might be wired to serve and lead in the church! APEST teaches me my Spirit-given strengths and, in my weaknesses, invites me into deeper dependence on God and participation in the Body of Christ.
From Ministry Identity to Missional Imagination
But, of course, APEST is about so much more than helping me clarify my calling or letting me off the hook for a terrible sermon. APEST fuels our missional imagination and practice of being the church, calling us beyond narrow understandings of church that revolve around those reduced conceptions of “Shepherd” and “Teacher” commonly associated with pastoring.
In fact, as long as we have a limited imagination of giftings in the church—especially when we continue to impede the apostles, exile the prophets, and reduce the evangelists—we will miss out on huge aspects of our identity, our calling, and our capacity to participate in God’s restoring work in the world. We will fail to enact the missional power of APEST!
Immediately after Paul names the gifts, he states why Christ gave them to the church: “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Phrases like “built up,”“reach unity,” and “become mature” jump out of the passage, but it is the less interesting phrase “to equip” that captures the true why of APEST.
Interestingly, “equip” is the one word in the bunch that sounds like it doesn’t belong. The word makes me think of equipment. If you play softball, your equipment is a bat, a glove, a ball, a helmet, cleats, and a six pack of beer, or soda. In yoga, your equipment is a mat, a towel, and a water bottle. To equip, in most uses, seems to be about adding something extra to your body.
But that’s not what Paul is getting at when he writes “equip.”
Paul uses the Greek word katartismos, which is often a medical term. In ancient Greece, a doctor would “equip” a body by re-setting a broken bone or re-locating a dislocated shoulder. According to Eugene Peterson (who, by the way, is the quintessential “Pastor” and wrote the book on it!), in many cases, katartismos means, “to mend.”
The purpose of APEST is to mend, to put back together, to restore.
Restoration in the Neighborhood and Beyond!
APEST ultimately matters because it is about restoration.
– By giving people permission to pastor and participate in the life of the church in all sorts of different ways, APEST molds bring restoration on an individual level.
– By empowering us to give and receive healing expressions of God’s grace to and from one another, APEST brings restoration on a communal level.
– Finally, as this abundant life in community extends health, wholeness, and justice into the neighborhood and beyond, restoration takes place on a local and global level!
It is important to maintain this broad perspective about the comprehensive purpose of these Christ-given gifts. It keeps us from turning inward and being church-centered with these gifts and reminds us that, as J.R. Woodward puts it in his book (actually on his book—it’s on the cover!) Creating a Missional Culture, Christ has equipped the church with these gifts for the sake of the world.
5 Ways to Become a Better Pastor in Your Neighborhood
Recently, in a six-episode series on the RePlacing Church Podcast, I explored what APEST is all about, what each gifting looks like, and how they bring about restoration in the neighborhood. Since the Ephesians 4 terms feel a bit disconnected from our lives, I took a stab at naming each one with the hopes of making them more accessible.
So, give those episodes a listen—I wouldn’t be surprised if they help you become a better pastor by giving you permission to serve your church and neighborhood in a way that is more expressive of and faithful to the ways God has wired you! I know that APEST helped me do just that!
Intro: The Neighborhood Restorers Introduction (Episode 36) – Exploring why these 5 categories matter for being and becoming church in the neighborhood, how you get these gifts, and what their ultimate purpose is.
1. Apostle as Cultivator | The Neighborhood Restorers (Episode 37) – Exploring the Apostle as “Cultivator” by looking at the story of Priscilla and Aquila from the early church and identifying the three main practices of Cultivators as they pursue restoration in the neighborhood.
2. Prophet as Activist | The Neighborhood Restorers (Episode 38) – Exploring the Prophet as “Activist” by looking at the story of Tabitha from the early church and identifying the three main practices of Activists as they pursue restoration in the neighborhood.
3. Evangelist as Host | The Neighborhood Restorers (Episode 39) – Exploring the Evangelist as “Host” by looking at the story of Lydia from the early church and identifying the three main practices of Hosts as they pursue restoration in the neighborhood.
4. Shepherd as Healer | The Neighborhood Restorers (Episode 40) – Exploring the Shepherd as “Healer” by looking at Psalm 23 & the story of Barnabas from the early church and identifying the three main practices of Healers as they pursue restoration in the neighborhood.
5. Teacher as Sage | The Neighborhood Restorers (Episode 41) – Exploring the Teacher as “Sage” by looking at the story of Apollos from the early church and identifying the three main practices of Sages as they pursue restoration in the neighborhood.
*Check out the RePlacing Church Neighborhood Restorers Cheat Sheets for a summary of what each APEST gifting looks like in the neighborhood!