April 9, 2024

Building the Body

The five crucial functions of Church leadership

by Brian Scott

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 

—Ephesians 4:4–7

The typical, or maybe ideal, experience of a disciple of Jesus in a post-Christian culture is to be developed or equipped in some type of gathering or program within the ministries of a local church. My personal testimony includes a beautiful expression of being discipled in the context of a family of believers who loved me and desired to see me mature in the knowledge of Jesus and the life He desired within His Kingdom. The programs of this local church became the conduit for people to influence and invest their perspectives, gifts, passions, and leadership into the life of a young person who would not fully realize and appreciate their impact until much later. I can’t recall all the programs that I experienced during those formative years, but the memories are thick with the experiences I had with those ordinary people who were used by the extraordinary Spirit of God. The programs had some value, but it was the diversity of voices that made the lasting impact. 

In Ephesians 4, Paul described the One who saved us by descending to the depths to redeem captives (see Eph. 4:8–9). And like a good king, He blessed those He rescued by giving them gifts. One particular gift was leadership, given to the Church to equip and mature her into unity. This gift was given in plurality and diversity in order that the activity of equipping disciples would be more holistic and complete. If leaders equip disciples in a way that limits this diversity, there will be restrictions in their discipling strategies. Paul lists the diverse perspectives or functions of the gift of leadership as apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, and teaching—commonly known as “APEST.” 

Trinitarian Leadership as the Model

In many settings, these leadership functions have operated in conflict at worst and isolation at best. Could it be because our cultures or models for leadership do not align themselves with how God designed leadership to operate? The model for culture and relationship within leadership groups or teams should be patterned after the relationship within the Trinity. Yet how many of our leadership cultures are characterized by solo-heroic or unilateral leaders? This is nonsensical when considering that the three Persons of the Trinity birthed all that is in existence out of interdependence in their differing roles. 

If the gift of leadership operates in diversity and unity, as seen in the Trinity, each APEST voice has an equal value around a leadership table. This demands relational connectivity, vulnerability, sacrifice, and trust because each voice has been strategically placed by the Head of the Church to bring balance, edification, and most assuredly, agitation. No one voice should be seen to be greater than any other, regardless of title. Many authors have defined each function differently. Below is another view of APEST.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s 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. 

—Ephesians 4:11–13


For an apostolically functioning leader, their main role is to keep the group moving. To be at a place of stagnation causes great angst in the heart of someone who is always pointing the group beyond its present realities. Their unique vision gives them opportunities to speak possibilities into leadership groups that aren’t currently in existence. The effect of the gospel is too important to remain centralized or contained to a certain group of people. The apostolic leader is the main voice that decentralizes the Church. 

The apostolic leader also places a higher value on achieving victory at any expense with less attention to how the move affects people. Those who operate with apostolic imagination usually do not have the natural bent to come alongside those who are stragglers or late adopters. If need be, the apostolic leader will carry on the work alone, which is a shadow of the apostolic leader operating in immaturity. Whether mature or immature, the apostolically functioning leader can cause great irritation to the other functions. 


Let’s be honest, we have all experienced a prophetic personality that has rubbed us the wrong way. At times, that has made it easier for us to dismiss or ostracize what the prophetic function brings to the leadership table. Yet, there is beauty and effectiveness in what this perspective adds to a team. For the prophetic leader, there’s an awareness of God’s desires and an ability to see direction with a level of clarity. There is an inner drive or call they feel to proclaim the very thoughts or words of God. When the prophetically functioning leader works in maturity, they become instrumental in championing people into greater purity and connection with God. 

Unfortunately, a prophetic function can be just as destructive in immaturity as they are effective in maturity at building up the believer. The prophetically functioning leader will be less people-oriented and interdependent with the other four functions if they are not connected to the Vine. This will cause them to care more about the message from God than they do about the person who receives the message. This abrasiveness can keep the hearer from receiving 


The evangelistically functioning leader will put a heavy emphasis on the gospel and the outcome of transformation when it reaches lost people. They will not stop telling their testimony of life with God and will spur disciples on to do the same. They are always looking for ways to connect with people who have not yet made a commitment; networking is natural for them. When equipping discipl e s, evangelists will exhort people and find the beauty in everyone’s story of redemption. When an evangelist talks strategy, it will be on an individual or family basis and not a broader strategy that comes more naturally for the apostolic imagination. 

The wandering nature of the evangelistic leader can become their shadow. When they are a part of the believing community, they can lose interest and disengage from the gathering. In immaturity, they lose the opportunity to equip. In a general sense, the evangelistically functioning leader will always have a feeling that not everyone is at the table; people are missing, and we need to go out and find them!


The actual functioning of a shepherd, in context with the equipping of disciples, is to keep us caring and nurturing the community of believers. The shepherding leader brings an aspect of connection within the Body. This function demonstrates how to be accessible to people, especially when there is a need that arises in people’s lives. They will be seen coming alongside people in their experiences. Sympathy and empathy are characteristics of their interactions with people who are in places of difficulty. Shepherds place high priority on their availability to people; therefore, their calendars are full of personal connections. 

Shepherds can have a shadow in their desire to please people. They can also become overwhelmed by wanting to be aware of every situation or circumstance people in the church are facing and will want to have influence or voice into resolving any pain or difficulty. When a church has allowed the shepherd to take the only role of caring, nurturing, and protecting the Body, it takes a toll physically and emotionally.


The teaching function is passionate about the exploration, process, and communication of truth. These leaders are rooted in truth themselves and passionately fight for every expression of the Church to be fully equipped to discern truth rightly. They tend to be creative in how truth is presented and can naturally find illustrations around them. Often, the teaching function brings a sense of stability because they tether discussions to Scripture. The gift of a teaching function on a leadership team purposed to equip disciples can be seen in the effectiveness of communication with the Body. 

When operating in immaturity, the teaching function is similar to the prophetic function; neither are centered on people, instead being more principally driven. The teaching function can get so passionate about truth that they miss the point of how truth transforms the life of the recipient. Teachers can also get enthralled with knowledge and lose wisdom in the process. 

For the Sake of the Body

It’s easy to see how each function can agitate the other functions sitting around a leadership table, especially when interdependence is lacking. For instance, an apostolic leader can create chaos in the number of ministry opportunities they create, which causes conflict with the prophetic function who deals with correction and clarity of direction. The shepherd tends to be the function that is agitated most by the apostolic because the shepherd desires to protect the gathering and tries consistently to avoid the change and loss that movement brings. 

Prophetic leaders can run into conflict with shepherding and evangelistic leaders because of their impersonal approach. The prophetic and teaching functions can slow down an apostle’s vision because of their bent toward the rightness of direction. The evangelistic function can sometimes use whatever means necessary to bring in a lost soul, which again can be an affront to the teacher’s or prophet’s perspective. Shepherds can become loose with the mission of the Church, which can get a visceral, emotional rise out of the apostolic, prophetic, or evangelistic roles on the team. 

These are just a small sampling of issues that can come to the surface on a leadership team when leaders operate in competition and isolation instead of unity and complement. If there is no interdependence, it is the Church, and the disciples in it, who suffer and lose the opportunity to be equipped for the work and life God has ordained for them. Leadership teams must walk a journey of relational trust, resisting the urge to spiritualize their function as the most essential. Leaders must be marked by humility and submission to fully understand God’s vision for His Church, and to equip His people in unity and diversity. 

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