After Christ ascended up to heaven, He gave gifts to the church. These gifts were people. Christ gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). These gifted men had to equip ALL the believers to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). It is important to note this. These gifted men were NOT to build the church by themselves. They were to equip the believers, so that the believers would build up the Body of Christ. Every believer has a part to do in building up the Body of Christ. But such a work is so rarely seen today.
First among the gifted men are the Apostles. These are not the first twelve apostles alone, because it says here that Christ gave them to the church AFTER He ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8). In Acts, we read that Paul and Barnabas are also called apostles. And in Revelation 2:2, we read, that at a time when there was only one of the original 12 apostles living (John), the Lord said to the church in Ephesus, "You tested those who claimed to be apostles and found them to be false." That proves that there were other genuine apostles also at that time. Otherwise there would not have been any need to test anyone who claimed to be an apostle. There are apostles today too. Apostles are not necessarily those who write Scripture. Andrew and many of the original 12 apostles did not write any Scripture. And there were non-apostles like Mark and Luke who wrote Scripture. Apostles were men who were sent out by God with a specific task. The word 'apostle' means 'sent one' - a man sent by God to a particular place at a particular time. They establish local churches in a number of places and appoint elders in those places. Then these apostles become elders to those elders, guide them, solve their church problems and lead them to maturity. Although an apostle may have a home-base in a church, he will not have any responsibility over the members of that local church. His responsibility will be for the elders of the churches.
Next we have the Prophets. These are men who are given the discernment to diagnose the problems in a church. They are like good doctors who can diagnose a patient's sickness, give him the right medicine, or perform the needed surgery, remove the cancer and cure him. Prophets are not very popular, because they are always exposing the cancer of sin in every church. Many people may not be happy to see the results of their body scan. Even so, many believers are not happy when a prophet tells them about their sinful inner state. But this is the most important ministry in a local church. For any church to remain in spiritual life, it must have prophets who expose sin in every meeting Then people will be convicted of their hidden sins and acknowledge that God is present in the meeting and turn to Him (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). I am not referring now to the multitude of false prophets in Christendom today who tell people where to go, or whom to marry, or who threaten them with judgement. That is counterfeit prophecy. Directive prophecy is NEVER found in the new covenant. That was the ministry of old covenant prophets, at a time when only the prophets had the Holy Spirit. But that is not the case today.
Next are the evangelists. These are believers who are given a burden for those who have never heard the gospel and who are given the ability to bring them to the Lord - either through personal evangelism or through evangelistic meetings. The evangelist is like the hand in the body that takes a slice of bread (type of an unbeliever) and puts it into the mouth. The prophet then is like the teeth that chew that slice and make it small, and also like the stomach that pours acids on it and reduces its size, and finally makes it a part of the body. The gentle ministry of picking up the slice is more appreciated than the acid-pouring ministry. But both are needed if the slice of bread is to become a part of the body. So the evangelist and the prophet have to work together.
Next we have the Shepherds The Greek words poimen (noun) and poimaino (verb) are used 29 times in the New Testament and are always translated as shepherd, " and "to shepherd " respectively in every other place. Here alone it has been translated as " pastor". This has led to a lot of misunderstanding of this ministry in Christendom. Shepherds are those who look after the sheep, and care for them when they are hungry or wounded. A shepherd's job is to nurture the sheep, tenderly care for the little ones (the lambs), and to ensure that they grow up to maturity. Every church needs shepherds, not just one pastor. Jesus shepherded only 12 men. So if a church has 120 men, it needs 10 shepherds to look after them. I am not referring to 10 full-time paid workers who have the title of 'pastor.' I am referring to those who have a shepherd's heart to care for those younger to them. They could be men who are holding secular jobs, but who seek to encourage the younger ones in the church. A 25-year-old man can encourage all the teenagers in his church and thus be a shepherd to them. Many such men can be a great help to the elders in a church. As a church grows in size, it needs more shepherds. Mega-churches are not in God's plan for Christ's Body, but small churches with shepherds who have a father's heart. Large churches are actually "preaching centres" where people come to be entertained and educated, but not to grow in grace. The leaders of such churches are merely good administrators and preachers/teachers, but not shepherds.
Finally, we have the Teachers. These are the men who can explain the word of God and make it simple and understandable to people. There are not many good teachers in Christendom. But then every church does not need a teacher. One teacher is enough to travel around and teach 20 or 30 churches. And nowadays with CDs, DVDs and the Internet, one teacher can reach hundreds of churches. In the same way, every church does not need an evangelist, because an evangelist can bring people to Christ and then move on elsewhere. But what every church does need are prophets and shepherds.
The purpose of all these ministries is to build up the Body of Christ. An evangelist must not bring souls to Christ and then tell them to go to whichever church they like or to go back to their old dead church. That's not the type of evangelist spoken of here in Ephesians 4. But unfortunately, today we have evangelists who have their own name attached to their ministry. They conduct meetings and people are saved (hopefully). Then they tell them to go back to their dead churches. In those dead churches, there are no shepherds or teachers to lead them to the truth. Here in Ephesians 4, we read of evangelists working together with the apostles, prophets, shepherds and teachers. The evangelist must hand over the converts to good shepherds. This is the type of cooperation we need in the Body of Christ. This is how it was in the early days of the church. Philip was an evangelist, but not an apostle or a shepherd (Acts 8). So others in Samaria took over the responsibility from Philip to lead those converts further into the truth of God. Philip did not let them wander around on their own.