In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the five ministry gifts that will lead to the church:
But to each one of us was given grace according to the gift that Christ measured out … And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. They would equip the saints for the work of service to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the adult population of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:7, 11-13).
In my Swedish house church, we once looked at this passage and realised that not only are the apostles and prophets extremely rare in the West, but when they still show up, we become terrified. Especially if they dare to call themselves apostle or prophet. This probably stems from the prevalence of cessationism in Protestantism, which elevated teaching as a major component of church life while prophecy and apostleship were viewed as obselete.
Today, most European churches have abandoned cessationism, and many realise that the Bible does not limit the title “apostle” to the twelve guys closest to Jesus. Yet, we have incredibly difficulties using the terms apostle and prophet. We look with skepticism when, for example, Christians from Africa are not afraid to liberally use these terms for describing their leaders.
Many charismatic movements have wanted to remedy this by emphasising the importance of all five ministries in the life of the church. In order not to scare people away though, the Vineyard movement for example has not officially used terms like apostle and prophet, but the ministries themselves have definitely been there (John Wimber, for example, was a typical apostle and Paul Cain is a typical prophet).
Sadly, there is often a risk that apostles, prophets and evangelists fall outside the congregation. They form para-ecclesial “ministries” with very loose ties to local church communities, which ultimately makes it impossible to demand accountability from them.
My pastor Hans Sundberg has told me how he once asked Rick Joyner, a very prophetic man, whether he was subordinate and accountable to anyone. Rick mentioned a pastoral team in his parish, but Hans asked, “Honestly, are you really subordinate to them?” In practice, no. The prophet was actually disconnected from the church.
What we need is more apostles, prophets and evangelists who do not operate outside or “above” the churches, but in and through them. When congregations are dominated by pastors and teachers it will be unequally yoked to local and intellectual issues, rather than global and prophetic ones. In order to increase church planting, missions, responsiveness to the voice of the Lord and personal evangelism, all five ministry gifts need to be in operation because they do not exist for themselves but to equip all Christians to spread the kingdom (Ephesians 4:12).
We are facing a de-Christianization en masse in the West unless a revival comes. And biblical revival requires biblical churches. The apostles, prophets and evangelists must assume their proper roles in parish life. If you have any of these gifts, go ahead immediately with equipping the saints. We have no time to lose.
I chose not to return to the church as a paid pastor, because if I had to criticize the ones paying me, there would have been a conflict of interest and the temptation of corruption enters in. The same is true when a prophet or apostle subordinates himself to the congregation he is ministering to. The leaders are subordinated to Christ, who is our HEAD. Each leader as equals in ministry should be able to speak on equal footing, regardless their ministerial role for the Body of Christ, and exhort other leaders (think of Paul exhorting Peter).
Yet, we are to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, not only leader to leader. We are told not to accept every teaching at face value, yet we tend to with teachers and preachers who have a dose of popularity, either locally or globally. We are told to test every prophecy with the bi-fold Mosaic test. We are told by John to test every spirit, with the Johanian bi-fold test. Everything must be submitted to a test to verify its authenticity, not only prophecies and authorities, but also teachings and preachings.
Clarification: The Spirit of God is not subject to our tests. It is the spirit of the prophet who has control of delivery of the prophecy and the spirit of the teacher who formulates the delivery of the teaching and the spirit of the apostle who formulates the establishment of the works and the spirit of the preacher who is formulating the preaching for the salvation of souls, these are who are subject to our testing. And what are we testing? Whether the Spirit of God is truly in these acts of leadership aimed at the flock, who is the Body of Christ. Are they ministerial acts by the Spirit of God or are they clandestine attacks of trickery to destroy the faith of the flock, a sheep among the wolves. And if we as shepherds of the flock to not keep watch for those wolves, then we are neglecting our duties given us by the LORD. And if we neglect the commission the LORD gave us as shepherds of the flock, then what will be left for us, but the firey lake of sulfur as judgement? We must test. Those who do not fail the test, we should not hinder. We do not want to quench the Holy Spirit, else we fight against God. So there is order to this, which is often not employed, though the guidelines are in the Scriptures.