The ministries of the church are ordained by God to carry out divinely ordained functions in God’s purpose. Some of the ministries of the church are catholic and eternal. Others are local and limited to specific needs of the church in a given place. Consider the following ministries ordained by God.
First, there are the ministries of apostle and prophet. These ministries head the list of “gifts” that were given by Christ to the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28). These ministries were catholic or universal in their scope, not limited to any particular location. The church universal is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” because God gave the revelation of his word to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:3-5). Only a limited number of apostles were chosen by Jesus, and the gift of prophecy was also a time-limited gift (1 Cor. 13:8-10). The universal ministry of the apostles and prophets had to do with the revelation of God’s word and the establishment of the mission, worship, and doctrine of the church for all time. The teaching of these individuals is authoritative, carrying the authority of Christ himself (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6,14; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Peter 3:2,15-16; 1 John 4:6).
Another ministry which has a more universal scope, but might be carried out in a single location is the ministry of evangelist (1 Timothy 1:3). We learn most about this ministry from the epistles to Timothy and Titus. In Ephesians 4:11-12, it is listed in third place behind the ministries of apostle and prophet. An evangelist can proclaim the word of God anytime, anywhere, and do so with all of the authority of Christ, as long as it is the word of God he proclaims (2 Timothy 4:2ff). The ministry of an evangelist involves several things. It is primarily a preaching and teaching ministry, providing spiritual instruction, exhortation, and correction to people. The evangelist must proclaim the message of Scripture, in which he must be an adept teacher (2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:11-16). His task includes being an example to the people (1 Timothy 4:12), the full and faithful proclamation of the word (2 Timothy 4:2), and the appointment and correction of elders in the local church (Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 5:21-22). This should be done in the context of a loving and mutually supportive relationship (Acts 20:28ff).
The elders or overseers of the church are a local ministry, crucial to the spiritual direction and protection of the local congregation. Elders are appointed in every church (Acts 14:22-23; Titus 1:5; Philippians 1:1). In that local church, the elders are teachers and shepherds of the souls, looking out for the spiritual welfare of the Christians (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:28ff ; 1 Peter 5:1-5). The elders lead the church in what is right and protect the church from what is false. Like all shepherds, they are involved in the restoration of those that stray away. The work of being an elder is a “good work,” and one that is very demanding.
The ministry of deacon is a local ministry, depending on what needs to be done at a given place at a given time. Deacons are appointed to meet certain needs as those needs arise (Acts 6:1-6). Their ministries can be many and varied. They not only serve the specific needs to which they are appointed, but serve as spiritual examples to the people around them because of their genuine Christian character (1 Timothy 3:8-13). The ministry of deacon is not an authoritative ministry, but a ministry of service. Anyone who accepted a special task, or service, or ministry to perform in the ancient church was referred to as a “servant” or “deacon” of the church. Women also served ministry functions in the ancient church as they do today (1 Timothy 3:11; Romans 16:1).
Though these were the more formal ministries in the ancient church, there were also the “widows” who were enrolled on the church’s permanent support list (1 Timothy 5:3-15). In addition to these, various church members carried out various ministries among the Christians based on whatever gifts God had given them, whether teaching, or giving, or showing mercy, or managing and organizing, or encouraging, or any number of other things that need to be done in the work of the church (Romans 12:4-8).