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What roles exist within Jesus' church? Why did GOD create these specific roles?

Before diving into these questions, let me provide some context...

This post is a continuation of thoughts regarding the big picture of Christian life and Jesus' church. If you're joining in the middle of this journey, I'd encourage you to start here: What Does GOD Want from Me?

I began the series by looking at GOD's purpose for each of us individually, which is to change us from where we were into Jesus' image. That is GOD's will for each human being.

To that end, the purpose of the church is to help facilitate and participate in this transformation process.

GOD knew that it is not good for man to be alone (spiritually), so He designed the church so that Christians draw strength and encouragement from each other and help one another overcome the trials and temptations we each struggle with along life's journey.

Having established this big picture framework, we began digging into the details somewhat, looking at church assemblies and contrasting biblical definitions and examples of various church-related concepts with common modern-day traditions.

Now it's time to shift the conversation toward the roles in the church.

As we look at the various roles in the church, let's begin by addressing the two basic questions above:

  1. What roles exist within the church?
  2. Why do those roles exist?

What roles exist within the church?

Let's look at some key Scriptures that collectively answer this question.

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
(Matt. 16:15-18 NIV)

 

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
(Acts 11:26b NIV)

 

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
(Rom. 12:3-8 NIV)

 

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
(1 Cor. 12:27-31 NIV)

 

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
(Eph. 4:11-13 NIV)

 

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. ... 8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
(1 Tim. 3:1, 8 NIV)

 

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
(Titus 1:5 NIV)

So, to summarize in list form, the roles we read about in Scripture include:

  1. Christians—this is the one universal role we each play in Jesus' church
  2. Men/women—some instructions in Scripture are gender-specific
  3. Apostles
  4. Prophets
  5. Teachers
  6. Others having supernatural gifts from GOD, such as miracle-workers, healers, speaking in tongues (other known languages), interpreting tongues
  7. Helpers
  8. Administrators
  9. Others having "natural" gifts from GOD, such as servants, encouragers, givers, leaders, those who excel at extending mercy
  10. Evangelists
  11. Pastors
  12. Overseers
  13. Elders
  14. Deacons

Why did GOD give these roles to the church?

If GOD's purpose for the church is to help change the lives of individual Christians (to more closely imitating Jesus), then it makes perfect sense that the roles GOD has established within the church exist in order to meet specific needs toward that same end.

Let's look again at a few of the Scriptures we referenced, this time focusing on the purpose of these roles.

4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
(Rom. 12:4-6a NIV)

The various body parts of the human body exist to meet specific needs—eyes to see, ears to hear, feet walk, etc. And so it is with the church.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
(1 Cor. 12:12-27 NIV)

The end of all of this is the individual Christian's imitation of Jesus.

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
(Eph. 4:11-13 NIV)

Having these fundamental questions answered, we will begin looking at some of these roles in more detail, with a particular focus on separating what is from what should be.

Tim Harris
Author: Tim Harris

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