When God wants to give the the Church insight into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, He first reveals it to the apostles and the prophets, the foundation of the Church. Paul explains it to the Ephesians this way:
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.Ephesians 3:2-6
Now, it’s not like God never mentioned this mystery before. As we look back into the Old Testament we can see how God continuously foreshadowed the Gentile inclusion into the family of God. But there was a revelation of wisdom and insight given to the apostles and prophets, of which Paul was among, so that they could see clearly God’s desire to include Gentiles as heirs together with Israel in the promises of Jesus.
This is why apostolic leaders and prophetic leaders are so essential for the Church to thrive. They open new doors of insight into mysteries that have always been there but the rest of us just couldn’t see. It doesn’t cease to be a mystery, as if it could all be explained away, but the mystery itself just becomes clearer and more accessible. This is what the apostolic leaders did in the first few centuries of the Church as they articulated and protected the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the nature of Christ.
Pastors and Evangelists are focused on people. Pastors care for people and Evangelists want to see people get saved. We too often like Pastor and Evangelist led churches because we want our church to be centered around meeting the people’s needs. It makes us feel good.
Apostles and Prophets, however, are focused on heaven, specifically seeing heaven come to earth. They get insight into the mysteries of Christ that the Church so desperately needs. They see from heaven’s perspective and think with the mind of Christ. They help the Church get beyond limited human reasoning and into Godly wisdom.
Teachers function as a bridge between the people of the Church and the insight of the Apostles and Prophets, helping to make it make sense. They take a mystery and break it down into something people can more readily apply to their lives. But if the Teachers of the Church aren’t connected to Apostolic leading and Prophetic revelation, they simply end up being a bridge between people and theology. The church becomes well-informed but doesn’t experience much personal transformation into Christ-likeness. Doesn’t this describe much of the American Church?
This is why Christ gave the Church apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. We need all of these fivefold ministries. But we can’t forget to prioritize apostles and prophets. Paul was clear about how important this is. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”(1 Corinthians 12:27-28).
The focus of the Church must be about bringing the Kingdom of God to the earth and not just on catering to people’s felt need in the moment. This is why we need apostles and prophets. They keep our focus heavenward.