the weblog of Alan Knox

When equippers don’t equip

Posted by on Sep 20, 2011 in edification, service, spiritual gifts | 19 comments

Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with a friend on Ephesians 4 – specifically Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he [Jesus Christ] 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…” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV)

While I’ve written several posts about the list in Ephesians 4:11. For example, one of my most read posts of all time deals with whether Paul intended to list four or five different types of gifted individuals in the list. Also, I’ve written posts about whether this post in simply a sample of gifted individuals (like all of the other spiritual gift lists) or whether this list in exhaustive.

But, in this post, I want to focus on something else: the purpose of the spiritually gifted individuals listed in Ephesians 4:11. Paul tells us why Jesus Christ gives spiritual gifted individuals to the church in verse 12: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV)

Thus, the work of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, and shepherd-teacher includes equipping (preparing) the church for works of service. While these gifted individuals will naturally work within their giftings, they are also supposed to equip the saints to carry out those same functions.

This is best seen in the spiritually gifted evangelist. From the name “evangelist,” it seems clear that this individually is somehow spiritually gifted to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, evangelism is not “equipping the saints for the work of service.” The evangelist does not carry out this function until he or she is almost helping other believers to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The evangelist, then, is not carrying out the evangelist’s function ONLY by sharing the gospel. Instead, the work of the evangelist includes teaching and showing others how to share the gospel.

Now, take this same idea into the realm of the apostle, prophet, and shepherd/teacher. Again, these individuals should function within the realm of their particular gifting (by being sent, prophesying, or caring/teaching), but their functions do not end there. They are also to help others understand and live as being sent, to help others listen to God and prophesy, and to help others care and teach.

An apostle who is always going but is never helping others to go is not doing the work of an apostle. A prophet who is always prophesying but is never helping others to prophesy is not doing the work of a prophet. An evangelist who is always sharing the gospel but is never helping others to share the gospel is not doing the work of an evangelist. A shepherd/teacher who is always caring/teaching but it never helping others care/teach is not doing the work of a shepherd/teacher.

The spiritually gifted individuals listed in Ephesians 4:11 are given to the church both to function within their own giftings AND to help others function within those giftings as well. (I would argue this is true for other spiritual gifts also.)

So, how can we tell if we are equipping others? Well, we could start by asking if we are always doing the work that we are gifted at doing, or are we showing others how and giving them opportunities to do the same work.

By the way, if we continue reading in this same passage, we see why it is so important for these individuals to equip the church to do works of service. In Ephesians 4:16, Paul says that the church grows only when the whole church is working together. The church does not grow when only those listed in Ephesians 4:11 are working.

It’s time for equippers to stop doing all the work and start equipping others to work. This means that at times the equippers needs to step out of the way so others can function as God has gifted and prepared them. (If we never feel others are ready, it’s because WE are not equipping them.)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-20-2011

    Couldn’t agree more. I just wish every APEPT out there would read this post and take it to heart.

  2. 9-20-2011

    Great truth here Alan!

    I often paraphrase Eph 4:11-13 as He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers to equip the saints in order to have a complete and healthy church.

    If the Five (I’ll not split hairs over the 4 or 5 with you) are not equipping the saints we will never see a complete and healthy church.

    Blessings – Stan

  3. 9-20-2011


    In many ways, I’m speaking to myself in this post. Who and how am I equipping?


    I like your paraphrase/summary because it ties Ephesians 4:11-12 in with Ephesians 4:16. Often Ephesians 4:16 is left out of discussion of Ephesians 4:11.


  4. 9-20-2011

    This concept has been the hallmark of Kingdom growth in our region over the past couple of years. In my teaching with the discipleship group in our home once a week, we focused on Ephesians 4:11 for many weeks. How to know what your giftings are, how to identify those characteristics in others, how to create environments for the maturing of those giftings etc.

    I would consider Evangelism, Encouragement, and Equipping to be the tripod legs of Making Disciples. I wish I could say that I have figured out the secret to equipping others for the work of the ministry and the manner in which to duplicate that across generations, but that fact remains, I did and taught what I believe God told me to do and teach, and HE gave the increase.


  5. 9-20-2011

    Why do people always group shepherd teacher?

  6. 9-21-2011

    Dear Alan

    I came across your website a couple of weeks ago and bookmarked it. I loved your intelligent post on leadership (obey and submit) from 2007. I read Ephesians 4:7-4:16 afresh earlier this year in an attempt to fathom why many Christians I know will simply not share the Gospel with others. I love sharing the Gospel and have done so in the thousands on one to one over the past twenty years.

    When I read the list of equippers in Eph 4, I realised something. For years apostles, prophets and teachers have been in the spotlight of “Church” ministry, yet the evangelist equipper has been relegated to some kind of inferior position among the other giftings. THere has not been a submission to, or recognition of, this gift by the “leaders” to its proper function (to equip others to do likewise)within the body. Often, the evangelist is used to preach up the Gospel on an ordained ocassion to bring in the masses of new converts.

    I am greatly encouraged to write a book on evangelism so that I can encourage others to enter into this joy (or suffering). I have been shown some strategies on how I might go about equipping. THe only thing that has stalled my writing further, and I praise God for this, is the question of what is a New Testament Church. THis is a blessing since I would like to redefine evangelism equipping in light of a biblical model of Church.

    Miguel, I think you are close about the tripod to discipleship; evangelism, encouragement and equipping. When I read Ephesians afresh tonight, I was reminded on the question I keep asking: Have we discipled someone and then seen that person in turn disciple another? But now I realise, that although each one of us should be capable of bringing a teaching as we mature in Christ, each part joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. THank you Alan for posting this topic and those who sincerely contribute for the edification of us all.

  7. 9-21-2011


    I’ve appreciated our previous interaction concerning Ephesians 4:11. I’m still thinking about your statement that all gifts are wrapped up in that list. I don’t usually cling too tightly to summaries like “Evangelism, Encouraging, and Equipping” (because they’re often too nice and neat), but I do like that one.


    Grammatically, Paul includes four items in a list in Ephesians 4:11, with the last item being two things combined. So, if you numbered it, it would look something like this in English: 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, and 4) pastors and teachers.


    In my context growing up, there were only shepherd/teachers and evangelists. The apostles and prophets were relegated to history.


  8. 9-21-2011

    I was just saying because I don’t think the text puts them together

    If I say apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers then to me that looks like 5

    I guess its hard to say since greek has no punctuation really

    I just see that many “pastors” are actually teachers and vice versa =D

  9. 9-21-2011


    No, Greek does not include punctuation, but it does include conjunctions. The conjunctions used in Ephesians 4:11 are a combination that can be translated “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” when there are only two items. In this case, there are four of those conjunctions and then a different conjunction joining “shepherds” and “teachers”. Thus, if you had four hands, you could translate Ephesians 4:11 as follows:

    “And he [Jesus] gave on the one hand the apostles, on the other hand the prophets, on the other hand the evangelists, on the other hand the shepherds and the teachers.”

    We accomplish the same thing in English with commas: I ate steak, beans, salad, and mashed potatoes and gravy.

    This does not mean that “mashed potatoes” and “gravy” are the same thing, but that they are connected in the list. This same type of connection is found in Ephesians 4:11 between shepherds and teachers that is not found between those two and the others in the list.


  10. 9-22-2011


    So it seems that a different age may emphasise a particular set of giftings to the exclusion or partial exclusion of others. Incidentally, the best Shepherd I have seen by far was not a person I considered to be a gifted teacher. Now that I have had outstanding examples of both, I realise how vital it is that the flock is shepherded – these people are also great encouragers.

    Blessings, Jordan

  11. 9-22-2011

    You pull into the parking lot at work, and the lot is nearly full–there are 450 employees here at DoinGreatStuff, Inc. As you enter the expansive auditorium, you find some friends in your department and catch up on their week so far. On the stage, final preparations are being made–four chairs are set in place. The lights dim and a hush settles in.

    The CEO moves to his chair, as does the CFO, the COO, and the VP of Sales and Marketing. They each have a telephone–yep, the old fashioned kind with a rotary dial. This is a conservative business that sticks by the old fundamentals. Their faces seem so intense–these men are all very good at what they do. Then a phone rings. It is for the VP.

    “Hello, this is John with DoinGreatStuff” he begins. Smooth as silk. A few minutes go by, and then he asks for the order, a trial close, actually, but so easily woven it seemed like part of the conversation. “So, then you you want those in red and delivered by the first of the month to meet your deadlines? Yes, we can do that. He takes a few notes while the voice on the other end gives final instructions. Then he hands up winking to the CEO. They shake hands smiling, and the audience comes alive with murmurs of “great job” “amen” and “praise you Jesus!”

    Just another day at the job, where the workers sit in the auditorium and watch the well trained, senior execs conduct business–as usual. Where’s my notepad, I gotta write this down…

  12. 9-22-2011


    I think that a person can be a gifted shepherd but not a gifted teacher. I don’t think the two gifts are always given together, but that Paul connected them here.

    I see exclusion/denial/neglect of different gifts based on location, time, background, and sometimes leadership.


    You’re just trying to get another “Comment Highlight”. 🙂

    Great story, by the way.


  13. 9-23-2011

    That’s great Alan, thanks. Having an understanding of the overarching issues is a step towards moving forward. If we are called to a particular gifting we are to have patience, perseverance and faithfully move in that gifting even if it means overcoming challenges in leadership, cultural and other post modern influences. God never disappoints us. Cheers.


  14. 5-4-2012

    I believe there is an imperative for leaders to equip and train. They should not pick and choose, looking for the “best and brightest”, or whomsoever they deem worthy of passing a mantle on to. Leaders do need to keep their eyes and ears open, seeking the Lord for whom to equip and train, but certainly not on a “teacher’s pet” criteria.

    Leaders do need to pay attention to those who seem eager to serve and eager to grow, whose life shows integrity and good character, among such folks, either seeing the potential or listening to what they believe God is calling them toward. These are the ones who, be it they are willing, should begin the road of equipping and training.

    I have heard some pastors and other leaders say that, by equipping and training, they are trying to work themselves out of a job. Really? As far as I know, the job continues, even if you are passing your “expertise” on to another. In my last church, as in many others, the pastor horded the glory of the job for himself – the opposite of working himself out of a job, he works hard at securing his job.

    Equipping and training should never put anyone out of a job, but be part of continuing the job. There is no way a local church will grow if those who are called and willing do not get the equipping and training they need (incidentally, the church I used to be a part of…same people, same routine…no change, no growth). Equipping and training should not be about replacements, making one’s job easier or even raising up future generations. It is about equipping and training.

    I have heard taught what you said about pastors and teachers, how they are grouped together. A pastor should be apt to teach – although, I do not see that a teacher is always pastoral – jussayin’.

  15. 5-5-2012


    I would suggest that if a person is not equipping others, then that person is not actually a leader, regardless of what organizational position he or she may hold. I think this is one of the huge problems with the modern church, and people are following the example of others who are not actually discipling anyone.


  16. 5-5-2012

    Alan…true. I guess when I use the term, “leader”, I use it in more of a theoretical sense. Such are leaders simply because someone, or themselves, says they are. I have been part of a church like this – the leader (senior pastor) had ways of reminding us that he was our leader. As deacon and deaconess in that place, my wife and I were reminded on more than one occasion.

    I have found that a true leader is not such because they decided to lead and told people to follow them, but simply someone who did or does what God told them and people simply follow(ed). Within this leadership comes a responsibility to see the advancement, betterment, improvement and growth of those following and to do whatever it takes to encourage this to happen. To do any less – as I see it – is to “think more highly of yourself than you ought”. That is, “It is more important for me to maintain my leadership and that you follow me than it is for me to be sure that you attain all that God has for you.”

    I appreciate your determination to see scripture for what it says and thereby endeavor to do and live it. If you’re ever in Jersey, I pray we cross paths.

  17. 5-7-2012


    I like your definition of “leader.” It sounds alot like the definition of “disciple.” 🙂


  18. 5-7-2012

    To be honest, a true leader can never be such, without being a true disciple, first. Is this a fair assessment?

  19. 5-7-2012


    Exactly. In every passage describing “leaders” in Scripture, the authors are simply describing disciples of Jesus Christ – people who are following him consistently.