APEST: Not So Fast! : A PushBack on APEST as a Model For Church Leadership by Ty Grigg

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In keeping with the new format of www.missioalliance.org, here’s the week’s second post from Ty Grigg, a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community. Read about him here. Ty is reposting his critique of the APEST polycentric paradym for church ministry that has become so ubiquitous among Missional churches. Based on the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher distinctions found in Ephesians 4:11, this model of leadership advocates for a mutually submissive leadership that is led by these 5 gifted leaders. Most recently our friends Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim fleshed out their case for APEST in their book Permanent Revolution (it’s a good book).  I don’t agree with everything Ty says. I did a M.A. New Testament thesis 30 years ago that convinced me the structure of the church’s leadership is charismatically derived (from the gifts -charismata – of the Spirit) and that it is mutually participative, not hierarchical. I’m an advocate of APEST but suspect it has been taken too far at times. Therefore I think we need to have these discussions in a well balanced Scripture driven way. Ty wrote this post to the website Release The APE, a really GREAT site dedicated to the reclaiming of the full APEST model of leadership for the church. Check out that website. I highly recommend it.  Ty’s post is a great pushback. So read it carefully and let the discussion begin! David Fitch


cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-full-logoDear ‘Release the Ape’,

As you know, the “equippers” of Ephesians 4:11-12 has become a foundational text among many evangelicals.  However the more I study Eph. 4 and I look at it in the context of the rest of the New Testament and the early church writings, I have a nagging suspicion that we have read a schema into the text that isn’t there.  The APEST is like a trendy wool sweater.  I see it in my drawer and I want to wear it, but then I put it on and remember how much it makes me itch.

Itch #1:  There is no evidence that the APEST schema was ever “a thing” in the early church Pre-Constantine.  In fact, the evidence of the NT and the early church fathers is that other offices/schemas had more influence on leadership offices and functions.

In the New Testament, there are only a handful of times when apostles are referenced outside of the Twelve (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; Gal. 1:19; 2 Cor. 11:5,13 “false apostles”) which indicates that there were apostles besides the Twelve but it doesn’t give the impression that they were common.  In early Christian writings, ‘apostles’ are almost always talked about as a founding group in the past, not as a present ministry.  I could only find one exception in the Didache (circa 50-120 A.D.) that mentions the practice of receiving apostles.  Beyond that one reference, the mention of apostles as a present ministry is absent – a few centuries before Constantine.  There are only two references to evangelists (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5).  Surprisingly, ‘evangelist’ is left off Paul’s list in 1 Cor. 12:28.  Shepherd is only found in one other place in the NT and it’s in reference to Jesus.  In the early church writings and the pastorals (1 & 2 Tim., Titus), the APE is absent altogether and in its place are offices:  overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters), and deacons.

Itch #2:  Where do we get the clear attributes for each of these functions?  It’s not at all clear that what we mean when we define apostles, prophets, and evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, is what Paul or the early church meant when they referred to these roles.  In addition, it is not clear that Paul saw this list as exhaustive or mutually exclusive.

Most commentators note that the list in Eph. 4:11 is not a list of distinct functions but different aspects of the same function – the ministry of the Word of God.  Wherever they are found in the NT, there is a lot of overlap between the roles.  Paul refers to himself as an apostle and a teacher in 1 Tim. 2:7.   In the Didache, apostles, prophets, and teachers are used interchangeably.  To be an apostle implies that you are also a teacher and likely a prophet and evangelist too.  In 2 Tim. 4:5, Timothy is exhorted by Paul to do the work of an evangelist immediately after Paul tells him to teach sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

To make it even more ambiguous, most scholars see Eph. 4:11 as clearly being a list of four instead of five with the last one being pastors who teach.  Whether the list is four or five, the emphasis in Ephesians 4:11 is not about distinct gifts, but about a common Word-oriented leadership – these ministers all help equip the body for unity and maturity as guardians, proclaimers, and teachers of the Word of God.

Itch #3:  Our fairness bias prevents us from seeing spiritual authority in Eph. 4:11. 

Does each person in the church have one of these five (or four) orientations/ministries or is Eph. 4:11 describing leadership functions recognized by the church?  The Release the Ape website states:

“The book of Ephesians was written to every day common people, not leaders! If you see leadership in this passage, it is because you are looking through a western lens of leadership and not through the Ephesian lens of the everyday common person who read this letter.”

I disagree.  Each role listed in Eph. 4:11 implies the exercise of leadership and spiritual authority recognized by the community of believers.  For example, the metaphor of shepherd was applied to kings in the Ancient Near East.  A first century reader would likely hear the term ‘shepherd’ as a reference to a community leader, not just as a caring orientation. The role of apostle implies a commissioning (a sending) by Jesus or a community of Jesus.  A teacher implies authority in relationship to students.

The most natural reading of the text points to these people as ones recognized in having spiritual leadership and authority in the church – not as intrinsic orientations that each believer develops.  To force Eph. 4:11 to be for everyone, says more about our own uneasiness with the “unfairness” of some having authority and others not.  We have a fairness bias (everyone gets the same thing) when we read Eph. 4:11.  But God gives us what will make for unity and growth in the church.  If everyone is a leader, then in essence nobody is a leader and the church is vulnerable to deceit and division.

Leadership and spiritual authority were especially important to the early church at a time when there was not a canon and false teachers and prophets and apostles were rampant.  The exercising of spiritual authority through these APEST people kept the church established in truth and protected them from deceptive teachings.

Scripture is beautiful and messy in that it never prescribes a specific model for the church.  There is a freedom and flexibility for our gospel communities to take shape in our own time, place, and culture – guided by the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, what itches me the most about this “fivefold sweater” is that it treats Scripture like a technical manual.  We are reading for the schematics.  We find a few schematic verses without their surrounding Scriptural context, without scholarly consultation, without a history of interpretation, and without seeing our own cultural biases.  We think we have a missing piece of the puzzle that has held the church back for hundreds of years but in the end maybe we are missing the proverbial forest for the Eph. 4:11 tree.

Ty Grigg

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24 responses to “APEST: Not So Fast! : A PushBack on APEST as a Model For Church Leadership by Ty Grigg

  1. Great to see this re-posted. We need more critical interaction around this text and the practice. That is shades into a discussion of leadership will complicate the issue for some — but that is another conversation we need to continue!

  2. Ty,You articulated this so well. I’ve always valued the serious principle of mutual leadership but have thought the APEST approach is an over-development of that concept. I have more in common with APEST than not but their advocates can often “treat Scripture like a technical manual” which leads a subtle missional legalism.

    I did a little post a ways back on Mutual Missional Leadership> http://danwhitejr.blogspot.com/2012/10/mutual-missional-leadership.html

  3. I know ‘leadership’ is a loaded word in our missional circles. Churches have been seduced by corporate models of leadership rather than Christ models of leadership. But we can’t lose the concept of leadership altogether – and this is where the word ‘authority’ might be a better word than ‘leadership.’ I can’t read Eph. 4:11 without seeing authority given by Christ for the health, unity, and maturity of the church. The fivefold serve as mutual guardians of the Word of God, not CEOs running different divisions of an organization.

    1. Ty,
      What do you think about leaders as “models” for the roles described in Eph 4: the leaders lead in the roles while cultivating and identifying these roles among those not in distinct positions of authority to release them for these roles in mission?

  4. Hi Seth,Great question – and a little difficult to answer. On a pragmatic level, I would want to name the experiential reality that leaders are gifted in different ways and we need a variety of them working together. And in terms of developing people – we often miss those who are gifted differently than us. I think there is a lot of freedom in terms of church structure and language that we use to describe this. At the same time, from a biblical stand point, I’m not convinced that the definitions and descriptions of the fivefold used by Hirsch and Release the Ape are what Paul really had in mind. Personally, I lean toward thinking about the apostles and prophets and evangelists (there is an interesting paper that I can give you that speculates that ‘evangelist’ refers to someone who is gathering and documenting the Jesus tradition – like the gospel writers) as being foundational ministries in the way that Paul is thinking of the term while still affirming that there can be apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic actions and functions at work in the church.

    There is nothing wrong with understanding who we are – what our strengths and weaknesses are, temperment, personality, etc. But I also worry that we can get ‘typed’ into one of these five roles and then feel the license to become a caricature of that one role while neglecting or avoiding the other roles.

    1. I haven’t practiced it in my current context. Ironically, my question reflected what I assumed we did at LOV. I liked it because it seemed like a way forward from either “this is just for leaders” or “this is for everyone.” But again, I assumed that’s what we did.
      But here’s another question: Can we use APEST heuristically while being open-handed with complex exegetical issues? This might look like affirming, Scripturally, the spirit of APEST rather than needing to defend exegetically its pure form (or not). Understanding that because it does not emerge from a strong “exegetical defense” of any particular passage, we can then discern when and how it needs adjusting/modifying.

      Am I stretching it? What do you think?

      1. Yes and no. We need a language for talking about differences and gifting. But that’s where I would lean on Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12 for that language.
        I think the question that has to be answered first is “Are the five/four fold gifts, people who have functioning spiritual authority in a community or are they categories that all Christians will fit into?” Answering that question first will help us to know the extent to which we can play and stretch the language. If we are really talking about personality types or motivations, then I think it is awkward and confusing to use words that signify authority. What would it mean for someone to self-identify as an apostle or a prophet, apart from a community commissioning and affirming that authoritative role? What does it mean for someone to be a pastor (shepherd) without a church? These are functional qualities, not intrinsic qualities (which I believe APEST does). You have hit the nail on the head – I’m flexible with forms and models – but using the language of Eph. 4 without a context or a community that says – be that person here… perhaps leaves us feeling frustrated and confused.

  5. David, thanks for the kind words about Release the APE and the affirmation of the five fold calling.
    Ty, I am sorry it feels so itchy for you. Absolutely anything can be pushed too far and thats troublesome. Our intention with Release the APE is not to do that. Actually quite the opposite.

    The whole reason our blog was started was to push back on the overwhelmingly dominant pastor language being used in the church. Its the only title offered in most churches! We are just asking for proper balance.

    It is funny that one of your “itches” is that apostle or prophet or evangelist is not used much but RTA talks about it so much. PASTOR is used 1 time in the NT. Yet everyone is called that in church leadership, including you?

    However, fundamentally I think you have misunderstood our blog and I am sorry for that. To be clear, our blog is not about pushing for the five-fold in every church leadership situation or team. Our blog is fully dedicated to empowering people who are called by God as apostles, prophets and evangelists.

    We acknowledge that Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists exist whether it is mentioned a few times or 150 in the NT (which Prophet is) and therefore proper space is needed to empower these people that don’t feel it. Hence RTA

    Its a blog to empower those that are not called to be pastors but unfortunately are suffocated by the itchy sweater of the the pastor title…the only title and calling most churches give out and use.

    To be further clear, I love pastors and teachers. We need them as much as we need the APE. We need all five empowered. Unfortunately the APE is not being fully empowered and here in this post is further proof.

    If you or other readers want more depth to our thinking here is an article written that I suggest

    Interpreting Ephesians 4 http://www.releasetheape.com/ephesians-4/

    1. Hi Beau,Thanks for commenting here. Let me first say, even though the letter is addressed to Release the Ape, it really could just as easily be addressed to APEST. I know many of us heard and have worked through APEST before RTA came into being. Second, I have nothing but respect for the people working and writing at RTA.

      I hear you saying that you want to empower people in the church. I’m all for that as well. I think the body of many members and Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12 are more useful here because it is clearly Paul’s point in those passages. Eph. 4 is related but I think 4:11 in particular is about the gift of spiritual authority in the ministry of the Word. I also hear you saying that the term ‘pastor’ is not used in the NT as well. I absolutely agree with you there as well. I am not arguing for a biblical model of “classification” of Christians or church titles. I am saying that there isn’t one.

      Where I take issue with APEST is that pastor has become synonymous with pastoral care in this system. To be a pastor in the APEST is about having a caring orientation and empties the word of any sense of ecclesial authority. If that’s what a pastor is then I’m not surprised you would want more options! It feels too limiting and specialized. The types of things that are described as things that ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ and ‘evangelists’ and ‘teachers’ do, I think pastors need to be doing. Some will be better at gathering than teaching, some will be better at challenging than caring – and that’s okay. I would propose that we hold a more robust view of what it means to be a pastor rather than split the responsibilities up among four or five people. Why pastor? The role of pastor became prominent in the early church and has been throughout church history.

      My second issue is that Eph. 4:11 is about functions, not orientations. For example, on a construction site, we have a foreman, a project manager, a cement mix driver, a crane operator, and a brick layer. I am talking to someone near the construction site and I ask them ‘what do you do?’ And he says, ‘I’m a foreman.’ And might respond, “Wow, so you are directing the work here and making sure the workers have everything they need to get the job done.” He responds, “Well, no, but I have a foreman orientation to work.” Okay, so someday he may be a foreman but he is not a foreman yet. In the same way, I don’t know what any of the APEST means apart from people functioning in them in the church.

      At the heart of my critique, is how are all of us reading and applying Scripture. The APEST approach reads the Bible like it is written TO us directly. The Bible is written FOR us but not TO us. We want Eph. 4:11 to say more than what it may actually say. We have to start with Paul and his world and language (as best as we can). We have to be aware of our own cultural biases that we all bring to the text. Here is where listening to the history of interpretation can be helpful. How have faithful Christians for thousands of years read and interpreted this text? If we think we have discovered something new, that should probably give us pause.

      Blessings Beau! I hope God makes you productive in the work of the Kingdom!

  6. Ty, I also have some “itches” about APEST, but I still find it a helpful framework, mainly because it helps Christians who are just thinking though a S-T lens see the need for more roles/functions/orientations for ministry and leadership. Folks who are A-P-E leaning often feel misplaced and like they have no place in a community. Even if it’s not perfect, APEST helps round out a community’s leadership/ministry paradigm and leaves more space for everyone, I think.
    That being said, some of my “itches” are:
    1) In Acts, Apostles seem to be folks “sent” on a particular mission. Paul (teacher?) and Barnabas (prophet?) become Apostles because they are sent. I’m not sure it’s helpful to use APEST like a Meyer’s Briggs personality test.

    2) I’m not sure how we even should apply an APEST model to most current models of church, even if someone does like the framework. (perhaps too much from a “technical manual mindset here), But the church at Ephesus was likely a network of church communities gathering in everything from insulae (apartment complexes) to wealthy home/business buildings that could have 70-100 ppl. Seems to me that “elder” is nothing more than a disciple-maker who disciples an extended fam (church) from their house (hence the focus on family in the “elder qualifications,” which are too often seen as job description VS a list of characteristics of already happening things to look for). So perhaps, APEST was describing folks who moved in and out of different communities and who equipped and held the whole network together. Quite different than our model of church for the most part.

    Anyway, those are my itches, but I still find it overall helpful.

  7. […] (at the beginning of the week) next week! Also coming Wednesday, Ty responds to all the pushback to his last post on APEST last week. Should be […]

  8. Ty, I like where you are going with some of this but some of the garments you have offered are just as “itchy”…you make a generalized comment about the role of these APEST functions being primarily around declaring the Word…and I find this a little dishonest if you are reading the text itself, where nothing is said about the Word (the closest you get is correcting doctrine)…if we are going to extrapolate form the text our bias, lets do it all the way.
    There’s a big fat “until” in there no one seems to remember implying a temporary condition, which is by and large what I see the church as, at best a temporary constraint imposed until something better rises up, something mature and looking like Jesus.

    I am pretty well convinced that anything depending on a hierarchy model is going to short circuit the power of the process, something the disciples themselves struggled with when Jesus came down from the mount and they had been unable to engage victory where once they knew it…I see the struggle for position “lording over” one another as a disease and not a solution. Of course Kenarchy is a rather novel idea a this point and it might take a while for empire to lose influence…but according to Hirsch, that day is fast upon us.

    1. Hi Mark,Thanks for the comment. I understand that it seems like I may be pulling out the idea of ministers of the word out of nowhere. That would need to be developed a bit more. The language of “Word of God” is how I understand the roles to be about – see Acts 6:2: The twelve called together the whole community… “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” The concept of the ‘word of God’ is an important theme in Scripture – Old and New. Each of these five are working with the Word of God – receiving and attending to for the community. Thanks for your comment.

      1. Thanks for the response Ty,
        I do get where we get the idea of ministering the word, been there done that as have we all, but the reality is this model is not having the kind of impact that the early version did.

        One of the things that I am exploring is the idea that an Apostle in the NT is not a greek thing, it has potential as a Jewish model based on the Shaliach Tzibbur as a “judge” or emissary of the law (and not our greek/western law mindset, rather “the path” as the law).

        What gives this idea some traction to me is the thinking that Paul as Saul was functioning as an apostle from the Sanhedrin when Jesus arrested him on the road…so his life mission was simply redirected to the right camp…Jesus sent out the 70…this is a direct challenge to the Sanhedrin model that was in place but we fail to see the political over-tones in our greek approach.

        I am not a fan at all of the power model and frankly find the concept of covering (which seems to be unavoidable in a poisoned power model) to be against the message Jesus demonstrated.

        We cannot get first century results with 21st century mindsets…I am not a “historical Jesus” advocate other than seeing what he said and did in context of the culture God used then…

        We do a whole lot of cultural re-interpreting that I think leads us off the path…

        Just thinking out loud here.

  9. Ty
    Was wondering…
    Have you ever considered a “Seven Fold Ministry” model, KPBSSDA,
    for producing “Servants of Christ?”

    As apposed to a “Five Fold Ministry?” APEST? Producing “Leaders?”
    Seems 2,000 years later – NO one knows how to produce “leaders” who last.

    And what does “Fold” mean?

    Seems “The Five Fold” model, APEST, is – EX-clusive – Only available for a special few.
    BUT – “The Seven Fold” model, KPBSSDA, is – IN-clusive – Available for who-so-ever will.

    IMO, the Five Fold model really is, A – PEST.
    Destructive and Annoying to the ekklesia, the called out ones, the body of Christ, the Church – Causing His Sheep to follow “Mere Fallible Humans” and NOT Follow Jesus. Being A – PEST coming between Jesus and His Disciples.

    And – The “Five Fold” model doesn’t seem to be working very well. 😉 Many “Leaders” guilty of “Spiritual Abuse,” “Cover-ups,” “Exercising Authority,” “lording it over” God’s heritage, takeing “Titles” NOT in th Bible – Pastor/Leader/Reverend – Saying they are Elder/Overseers but DO NOT qualify according to 1 Tim 3 and Titus. 80% say pastoral ministry has negativly affected their familis – 77% DO?NOT?have good marriages – 70% battle depression. And the list goes on, and on, and…. 🙁

    And what does “Fold” mean again?

    Now about – Seven Fold Ministry – It is Two Folds Higher – Two Folds more important. .;-)

    1. Kings. 2. Priests. 3. Brides. 4. Servants. 5. Sons. 6. Disciples. 7. Ambassadors.

    1 + 2 – Kings and Priests —– Revelations 1:6, Revelations 5:10.

    3 – Brides —– Isaiah 54:5, Revelations 21:9.

    4 – Servants —– John 12:26, Acts 2:18.

    5 – Sons —– John 1:12, Galations 4:6.

    6 – Disciples —– Matthew 16:24, John 15:8.

    7 – Ambassadors —- 2nd Corinthians 5:20, Proverbs 13:17.

    And, since an Ambassodor is – The highest – diplomatic representation that “ONE” soverign power – sends to another – In the body of Christ – NO one is higher than an “Ambassodor for Christ.” 😉

    “Ambassodors for Christ”- can go directly to Jesus for the message.
    “Disciples of Jesus” can learn directly from Jesus – NO middle man.
    “Sons” can go directly to the Father and be “Led” by the Spirit.

    Jesus did say – MY Sheep – Hear MY Voice – and – Follow ME.

    Thank you Jesus.

    1. Mr. Love, I think you and I would get along well…
      “Leaders”… this word needs a good solid definition outside the influence of our western worldly view of “leadership and authority”.
      Jesus’ full authority was given to Him after emerging from the tomb, after dying on a cross, a life of humble and absolute obedience to His Father alone. Jesus “leadership” style was exemplified by serving the “scumbags” of humanity, caring nothing for His own reputation as the Spirit led Him to the least of these toward whom God’s Heart has been turned from page one of history.
      Our “authority” has nothing to do with education, nor titles, nor gifting, and everything to do with our submission to Christ’s Spirit and humble submission to Him as He leads us to sacrificially die to ourselves and serve others. Our “leadership” will be no different than Jesus’ where the hallmark of our influence will be our humility and servie to all, including the lowest of the low. Anyone who “earns” their authority through humility and who’s leadership is characterized by service are not likely to be an egomaniac false profit. It is hard to build your reputation and garner accolades when those you lead and serve have nothing to offer but their hearts…
      Oh that we would look to Jesus for His definition of “leadership” and “authority” and nowhere else… We could also stand to look into our current western view and contrast of “clergy” and “laity” and we’ll discover that our playing field in the Body is a lot flatter than power-wielding clergy and abdicating laity would like to think…

      Peter identifies us as a Royal Priesthood. I think I like that one the best. All the other offices/roles/titles in the Body of Christ have as their end this most noble and ultimate function. Peter is addressing the entire Body as far as I can tell so there’s no confusion whether this is limited to only a few select in the Body. Very similar to “Ambassador”, is there any higher calling than to be placed and used in the eternally significant role of administering the Good News of Jesus Christ to a lost and sin-wracked humanity?

      Whatever new trendy acronym that gets used in the lastest fads of leadership structure identification or methods, there is a lost and hurting world out there Whom God’s Spirit was sent to lead us to love and rescue. I hope and pray that we put as much time, energy and money into befriending the least of these as we do figuring how various nuances of scripture and how they may or may not apply accurately to us today. It is important, but is it as important as getting out there and loving people and being the Gospel to them?


  10. […] posting a reflection to the feedback he received from his last poston the APEST model of minsiytry (here). Remember, Ty wrote that post as a letter to the website Release The APE critiquing the concept of […]

  11. Guy
    Yup – You sound like my kinda guy – Guy…

    Much agreement when you write…
    “We could also stand to look into our current western view and contrast of “clergy” and “laity” and we’ll discover that our playing field in the Body is a lot flatter than power-wielding clergy and abdicating laity would like to think…”

    Hmmm? “power-wielding clergy???” – “abdicating laity???”

    And, just where is this “Clergy – Laity” divide? – In the Bible?

    And maybe you can help with this “Title/Position” – pastor/leader thing?

    In the Bible, I can NOT find one of His Disciples who was called – pastor/leader?
    NOT one of His Disciples who had the “Title/Position” – pastor/leader?
    Not one of His Disciples who was – Hired, or Fired, as a – pastor/leader?

    And every pastor I’ve met has the “Title” Reverend.
    Does anyone, In the Bible, have the “Title” Reverend.

    All I can only find “reverend” in the bible referring to God.

    …Holy and reverend is His name. Ps 111:9 KJV

    Isn’t there a warning in the Bible about taking God’s name? In Vain?

    Seems this “Title/Position” pastor/leader – comes with something “A Little Bit Extra.”
    Power – Profit – Prestige – Honor – Glory – Reputation – Recognition… etc.

    ALL those things Jesus spoke against.
    ALL those things that become “Idols” of the heart. Ezek 14:1-11
    …… and God now talks to you according to your “Idols.” Oy Vey!!! 🙁

    Seems Jesus, as man, humbled Himself, made Himself of NO?reputation…
    And took on the form of a “Servant.” Phil 2:7-8.

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