If you’re a church planter like me, then you’re aware that there’s been a growing emphasis on the 5-fold person gifts found in Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
And Paul’s point at this moment in his letter to the church in Ephesus was not really to emphasize the five-people gifts but what the five-people gifts were meant to do — to equip the body of Jesus into the maturity of Jesus. To mature people to think and feel and do as Jesus thinks, feels and does. For the purview of our thought together, I am not going to linger on the topic of defining each 5-fold person gift proposed in this Scripture (but I will highlight at the end of this piece resources from people who far better provide definitions of the 5-fold gift than I can).
So, what does this look like in real life? What does it look like to prepare real people to be equipped to really be like Jesus?
My perspective comes from leading a church plant just starting out. We are a brand new tribe of people beginning to live together in community life, rubbing shoulders together and figuring out that each person carries within him or herself a different 5-fold gift. Whether primarily as a Teacher, a Shepherd, an Evangelist, a Prophet, or an Apostle, a helpful starting point is to encourage people to discover how they are feeling in a given missional situation and guiding them into the commitment to the community of missional life.
In our specific community, as we were gearing up for our main missional gathered rhythm, what we call “Open Spaces dinners”, we began identifying what each person’s 5-fold gifting was before we planned a course of action or identified structured goals.
Our “Open Spaces dinners” are essentially dinner church: we invite our friends, family, co-workers, or pretty much anyone off the streets to come and join us in sharing a meal and sharing a story together in a meaningful way, hosted by a missional community.
As we loosely structured what our Open Spaces dinners would look like, we immediately hit on how it would make each 5-fold person gift feel. Then, we were reminded of how our commitment to the body of Christ shapes what we do with that feeling.
The following sample narratives explain what each person may experience but what commitment to the body of Christ will proactively look like in the midst of that feeling:
APOSTLE: I may feel antsy because it will feel like no movement nor no multiplication of people is happening, and that feels slow and frustrating for me – BUT I will commit to being patient and connect with Jesus that His Kingdom is on the move and that it often starts small and slow before growing exponentially
PROPHET: I may feel grumpy because it will feel like we aren’t doing anything meaningful to address social injustice issues – BUT I will commit to be gentle and connect with Jesus that His Kingdom is always issuing righteousness through his people who are experiencing community life together
EVANGELIST: I may feel anxious that OPEN SPACES dinner isn’t full enough of new people and outsiders – BUT I will commit to loving my Shepherd-gifted brothers and sisters on the inside and be mindful of how they’ll be thinking and feeling as our community is just starting off – I’ll learn to practice focusing on the needs of those who are in the inside versus those on the outside for now
SHEPHERD: I may feel threatened that OPEN SPACES dinner is too full of new people and outsiders and everyone isn’t getting a chance to feel connected for the long haul – BUT I will commit to think of the short game and just love, guard and guide the people who are present here, now, currently in the OPEN SPACES dinner just for the evening. The next dinner will be a new opportunity
TEACHER: I may feel like we’re doing things incorrectly because it feels like we’re not purposefully connecting people to God’s truth and the Bible – BUT I will commit to living out how Jesus connected people to Himself as the incarnate Word by connecting people to God’s word through my regular conversations at OPEN SPACES dinner instead of thinking that it needs to happen on a larger upfront platform in a certain way
Here’s the thing that every tribe, irregardless of place or context or number or gathered rhythm or leadership style, is dependent on most — and it’s not about the specific 5-fold person gift. It’s the manner in which each person connects to Jesus.
The connection to Jesus is the way that each person-gift functions and lives out into his/her gift to equip the body of Christ into the maturity of Christ.
Our feelings, oftentimes so different from one another, grows to be mature expressions of Christ as we each learn to stay committed to Him and His work in our community.
Resources for 5-fold person gift:
Church As Movement by J.R. Woodward, Dan White, Jr.
The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church by Alan Hirsch, Tim Catchim
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