The human body contains 11 main systems that make it work. When all the systems are functioning the way they should, it’s poetry in motion. But a breakdown of just one system means the body is not simply hindered, but dysfunctional. A healthy muscular system without a fully functional nervous system is like a candy apple red sports car without an engine. It looks good on the outside but because of what is lacking on the inside, there is no movement. And a car that can’t go from A to B is an oversized paperweight. Similarly, a body with a healthy circulatory system is practically worthless without a skeletal system to give it structure. All the systems, fully functioning, are what’s needed for human flourishing. Without all of them, the body is dysfunctional and doing less than it was created to do.
This is the way Alan Hirsch talks about the church. On The Grind, he shared that the body of Christ is just like the human body. It has systems that enable it to function. These systems are outlined in Ephesians 4 as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (APEST). For a long time, the church has neglected what Alan describes as its callings or vocations. “We have elevated the shepherd/teacher role in the body at the expense of the APEs (apostles, prophets, evangelists). Consequently, we are like a body that is only functioning half-way.” In order to reverse this oversight, APEST must be embraced in order to have the following results.
1. APEST is Needed for the Fullness of Christ
Ephesians 4:13 says that when the church is functioning in all 5 callings it is “Attaining to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Conversely, when APEST is not flourishing in the church we won’t have the fullness of Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of APEST. He is the ultimate apostle as one sent by the Father. He is the ultimate prophet calling us back to God. He is the proclaimer of good news, the good shepherd who gives us everything we need, and our teacher, leading us into all truth. He is APEST. And if the church is missing one of these essential systems then it is missing the fullness of Christ. Jesus is not fully present with the church that is not functioning in all 5 systems. Could it be that this is one reason why the church has lost much of its relevance in western culture? Could this be one area that is holding us back from being all that Jesus wants us to be? Hirsch says that there is no silver bullet for the church but APEST is close.
2. APEST is Needed for a Fully Functioning Body
As has been previously, said, without APEST all systems of the body are not functional. A body without a working muscular system cannot move like it should. Likewise, a church without apostles, prophets, and evangelists is void of movement. A predominate shepherd/teacher model has led many of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to seek their place of ministry in parachurch organizations. Missions agencies, religious non-profits, business as mission efforts, & itinerant ministries have become the refuge of the APEs. But in their exodus, the church is left without its muscle, without its engine. Without the APEs, there is “come and see” but little “go and tell” in the church. We become solely attractional and hardly missional. We outsource mission to agencies instead of embracing mission as the church’s identity. The church opts to only send missionaries instead of being the missionary. “One example of our lack of function is becoming so dependent on shepherds to lead the church alone. But the word shepherd/pastor occurs just one time in the New Testament whereas the word prophet occurs 140 times.” In overemphasizing one or two vocations and deemphasizing others, we have essentially used one hand to cut off the other. To get back to full functionality we must have all 5 vocations in the body.
3. APEST is Needed for a Full-Fledged Movement
Lastly, Hirsch points out that unless we have APEST in its entirety, we likely won’t see a movement. A student of movements, he points out in his book, The Forgotten Ways, that a key component of every major movement in Christian history is APEST. A movement is what took the early church from 25,000 followers of Jesus in 100AD to 25 million followers of Jesus in 300AD. A movement is what resulted in 20,000 believers becoming 20 million believers in just 60 years in China. Without APEST, these types of things don’t happen. To be a movement again, the church in the west doesn’t need something new but something old, something ancient. We have to get back to the ways of Jesus. We have to get back to the fullness of Christ in his Church. We have to get back to APEST.
It should be said that the church will function to some degree in APEST. If Jesus is the head of the church, and APEST is fully realized in him, then it will function this way whether we embrace it or not. It’s in the church’s DNA! The church will always contain a “sentness” (apostles). There will always be those in the church calling us back to God (prophets). The church will pursue the lost (evangelists), love the hurting (shepherds), and instruct the saints (teachers). But what power could be unleashed through her if all 5 systems were not only recognized but flourishing? How would it change our churches and our lives?