The Five Offices of the Church Does Not Include a Priest
Bill Tenny-Brittian

In most of our Protestant churches in the West (North America and Western Europe), there are three main church jobs (offices) we hear about.  Mostly we hear about the office of the pastor.  In most of our understandings, the pastor is the leader of the church.  In some traditions we also hear about deacons and elders. 

However, when Paul lists the five God-given church offices, he lists: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  These are commonly called the five offices of the church.  Recently, when I was reading this passage, I was struck by a single thought--there are five offices of the church and not one of them is a priest!

Which might not strike you as particularly profound, but it is, which is why, in the words of Dr. Seuss, why I'm bothering telling you so.  That the five offices doesn't include a priest is profound because our seminaries, at least in the Mainline (yeah, we're one of those), are mostly in the business of training priests for the church, not apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers.

Let me show you what I mean by defining what each of the five offices are and what they do.

Apostle.  An apostle is one who is sent to start new churches (plural).  Paul was clearly the most effective of all the apostles--he clearly started more churches than the original twelve apostles.  However, tradition teaches us that virtually all of the twelve apostles started churches in various parts of the Eastern world.  Today, our apostles are those who are out there in the field starting multiple churches.  To date, the most effective apostles are working in China and India, but we see effective apostles around the world including in the U.S.

Prophet.  A prophet is someone who hears a message from God, especially regarding the future, and shares that message.  This doesn't mean they are the ones who are foretelling the future, like a fortune teller, but someone like Bill Easum or Loren Mead who are looking at the state of the church in the U.S. and are calling it back to its roots even while they see it self-destructing.  This is the office I tend to see myself in.  Prophets often tell the truth of what they see (and what God is showing them) and that truth is regularly resented.  Prophets also regularly receive a "word" from the Lord that speaks to a particular person or event.

Evangelist.  An evangelist is more than just someone who shares the Gospel with another.  We are all charged with doing that (yes, even you who are reading this).  An evangelist, however, is someone who's giftings and office allow them to be particularly effective often in gathering a crowd, sharing the Gospel, and reaping the harvest.  Evangelists sow seeds, but they are particularly adept at seeing people who are ready to receive the Gospel and to become followers of Jesus.

Pastor.  Contrary to popular opinion, a pastor is not the solo leader of a church.  Pastors in the early church were the caregivers of the flock.  They were what we might call the chaplains.  The pastor is the one who has a high mercy gift, who lives and breathes compassion, and who lives to help care for those within the Kingdom.  They are experts in the One Anothers.  They didn't preach, they didn't serve communion, and they didn't run the church.  They did call on the sick, seek out the missing, and share their lives with those of the church.

Teacher.  Any guesses what the teacher did?  They taught.  The teachers were the ones who mentored and apprenticed and taught and trained the folks in the house church.  Remember that there was no Bible in most of these churches--and certainly not a Bible like we know it--so the teaching was of an infinite practical side.  They taught the house church how to love one another, how to share the Gospel, how to encourage one another, how to share one another's burdens, and so on.  They weren't much interested in teaching about God, but how to be about the work of God.  You see, it wasn't so much what you knew, but what you did and how you shared with others.

Okay, those are the five offices of the church.  Notice anything missing?  There's no "worship leader" no "prayer leader" and no "communion leader."  There's no one there to do the things the biblical priest did.  Biblical priests were the representatives of the people to God.  They did most of the praying.  They did most of the interceding.  They did most of the sacrificing.  And later, when in the Middle Ages the priesthood in the church reared its head, they became the only ones who could handle the "holy."  So they became the experts in the Bible.  They became the communion leaders.  And they became the gate-keepers of who was in and out, which meant who got cared for.  The priests took over all five of the offices, but they perverted all five of them.  The priesthood became the pastoral care person and the teacher.  They pretty well stopped doing evangelism, prophesy became preaching, mostly about how you needed to be a better person or else, and the office of apostle was handed over to architects who were the only ones building churches (i.e., church buildings).

Today, our seminaries are primarily producing professionals who haven't a clue about the five offices of the church.  Instead, they continue to produce "pastors" who are, in fact, prepared to become "priests."  I recently had a conversation with a recent graduate from one of our seminaries and asked about how they would help someone who was not a Christian--but was interested in becoming one--become a follower of Jesus.  Their response was that they didn't know how to introduce someone to Jesus.  The seminary didn't teach them the most important thing of all!  But the seminary also didn't teach them how to be an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher--at least not in the biblical sense.

So, why am I telling you this?  Because it's important to know because at The Rock we're trying to make sure we teach our pastors how to be pastors and we want to be raising up apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers as well.  These five offices share the leadership of the house church.  It's not about one leader, but about the leadership of our Lord and our collective sense of where the Lord is leading the house church.

Which, by the way, is probably the key function of the priest--to listen to where God is leading and to follow (and lead others) where God is going and doing what God is doing.  However, there isn't any one priest in our churches--according to the Scriptures, all who have accepted the calling and leading of Jesus have been made into a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5-9).  You are the priests of the Kingdom.  You are the ones called on to intercede, and to pray, and to serve communion.  You are the ones called to be a light to the nations.  All of us.  Not a thousand points of light, but one point of light shining through thousands.