Due to the unique place of Apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), God never meant for the Apostolic and prophetic offices to continue past the first century. As we see in the New Testament books that were written near the end of the lives of Apostles such as Peter and Paul, the ongoing work of the church under officers including elders, deacons, and shepherds is stressed (1 Tim. 3:8–13; 1 Peter 5:1–4). Thus, we see that some church offices given by Jesus to His church are temporary, while others continue in perpetuity until His return.
Today we will consider the three church offices in Ephesians 4:11 that continue: evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. We should note first that the qualifications for elders or overseers given in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 include such things as the ability to teach and offer correction, a desire to show hospitality, and other characteristics that would be part of shepherding and teaching God’s people. It may be, then, that evangelist, shepherd, and teacher are alternative names for the office of elder or are names for those who hold the office of elder but have a special focus in that role. Many Presbyterian denominations have developed a church polity that reflects this, distinguishing between teaching elders—men who preach and teach regularly—and ruling elders—men who can teach but do not do so regularly in their exercise of church oversight.
In any case, whether we see these offices as being identical to the office of elder in some way, God clearly intends for some men to function as evangelists, shepherds, and teachers in His church for the welfare of the body of Christ. Some disagreement exists regarding the continuation of the office of evangelist. As we saw in a previous study, John Calvin believed it is no longer in operation except in rare circumstances when church renewal is needed. Some churches today affirm Calvin’s view, but others designate particular men as evangelists for church planting or overseas missionary work. Regardless of one’s position on the continuation of the office, an evangelist is one who is particularly gifted in preaching the gospel to those who have not heard it before.
Shepherds exercise pastoral oversight over God’s people. Their work includes teaching, but also encompasses giving counsel and general leadership. Teachers are those who have a special gift to explain and apply God’s Word to God’s people.
Are you thankful for the evangelists, shepherds, and teachers whom God has given your church? It is easy to be critical of our leaders and teachers and to criticize them for their real or perceived failings. But God in His wisdom has given these officers to the church. Let us be thankful for them and express our thanks to them and to God.