Ephesians 4 teaches that God has given several special gifts to His church, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” and so forth. He lists them as five specific gifts: the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher.
Each of these “gifts” have specific meanings. Because many believe that it is likely that apostles and prophets ceased (based on Ephesians 2:20 and based on the fact that they are no longer mentioned as being active following the “foundation” of the church), I will not take the time here to define those terms. It would perhaps be worth the time to study those words, however, because some do believe that they are still for today (especially the prophet, albeit as a “forthteller” and not as a “foreteller”). I will define the other three however. An evangelist is a “preacher of the good news.” He apparently is to have a specific function that emphasizes the gospel. A pastor is a shepherd, and is to function as an overseer of a local congregation . He is also to “feed” God’s word to those who are under his care. A teacher is one who has a specific calling to instruct others regarding the truths and applications of God’s word. These definitions are readily ascertained by a simple glance through any Strong’s concordance.
Each of these “gifts” have the same job description. Our Savior specifically gave these gifts for the benefit of His church. While each one has a slightly different emphasis, as is apparent based on their specific definitions, each one also has the same goal in the church. All of the gifts are to function together to see verses 12-16 accomplished in the local church!
So do missionaries fit in the gifts of Ephesians 4:11? The answer, in my opinion, is far more simplistic than most make it. The word missionary literally means “one who is sent on a mission or who is undertaking a mission.” In the strictest sense, a missionary would then be one who is sent to an unreached and economically difficult area to function as either an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher. Assuming that apostles and prophets may have ceased, wouldn’t it make Scriptural sense that every missionary would either be an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher? And wouldn’t that also make practical sense? I believe it does.
As i have traveled in different countries I have met missionaries who are definitely functioning as evangelists. Eric Chapman is one such missionary. He has planted churches in Moldova and in Malawi and now ministers some in parts of the 10/40 window. He has started camps and medical clinics and Bible Colleges on several continents and has been used of God to see dozens saved. Micah Self is another missionary who functions as an evangelist. He has preached the gospel in some of the poorest sections of the world and in some of the most unreached sections as well. Hundreds have been saved and added to local churches as a result of missionaries who were sent as evangelists. I know other missionaries who are definitely pastors. They either assume the pastorate of an existing work or plant new churches and pastor them. They shepherd those they reach and through their local churches can impact entire cities and people groups with the gospel. A missionary who is a pastor (and pastors successfully) is doing a great job in fulfilling the job description of Ephesians 4 just like a missionary who is an evangelist! Other missionaries are teachers. My friend Rodney Fitzsimmons is especially gifted in this area. He would certainly be a church planter and has pastored at least one of the churches he planted. His success as a missionary, however, has undoubtedly been the Bible Institute he founded in the country of Haiti. Literally hundreds of people were taught by him and the results were astonishing. Souls were saved, churches were planted and other Bible Institutes were started as well. Rodney now serves in the ministry of the Carpenter’s Project (thecarpentersproject.org) and is using his teaching gifts literally around the world.
So does it matter? Of course it does. The Bible is our final authority so let’s be Biblical in our definitions. Since each gift is given to the church, let’s encourage each other in our respective callings. Let’s send some more evangelists to “the fields that are white unto harvest.” Let’s send some pastors to plant churches and shepherd those congregations. Let’s send teachers as well.
In fact, let’s work together to reach the entire world in our generation.
I believe we can. Don’t you?
Thanks for reading,
Your sincere friend,