Covocational Church Planting Teams

By Brad Brisco

A covocational church planter has no other option than to plant with a team. But how do you foster team dynamics to plant a healthy church that is effectively engaging its context?

Anyone involved with church planting knows it is best to plant with a team. However, if you are a covocational church planter, you have absolutely no other option. If a church planter is working 30, 40 or 50 hours a week in the marketplace, a team must share the ministry responsibilities.

But when considering the development of a church planting team, most people think of ministry categories. In other words, we think about the need for a worship leader, youth pastor, children leader, perhaps even an executive pastor. However, if as a covocational leader you desire to plant a healthy church that is effectively engaging its context, I think you should foster team dynamics by the five-fold APEST typology of Ephesians 4.

If you are not familiar with it, APEST is simply an acronym that stands for Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher. Let’s look at a simple, concise overview, then discuss a couple of key aspects of this passage, as well as the implications for team development.

How do we understand each of these gifts?

The Apostle
The word “apostle” literally means “sent one.” The Latin form of this word is missio, which is where we get our English word “mission.” The apostle is the one most responsible to activate, develop and protect the missionary “sentness” of the church. This sent quality gives the apostle’s life a catalytic influence, often playing the role of an entrepreneur at the forefront of new ventures.

The Prophet
The prophet is the one who questions and reforms. Those with a more prophetic gifting are sensitive to what is important to God. They often have a sense of what truth needs to be emphasized for a particular time and place. They’re quick to recognize the gap between “what is” and “what should be” – not only within the church but also in how the church ought to be engaged in the city’s brokenness. They like to question the status quo.

The Evangelist
They are the recruiters to the cause. Evangelists communicate the message of the Good News in joyous, infectious ways. They are avid communicators of ideas and often share their thoughts and feelings in convincing ways. As people who are bearers of good news, they have an attractional quality to their ministry.

The Shepherd
They protect and provide. Shepherds have a natural instinct to protect the community from danger and provide for its needs, on both an individual and communal level. They often notice when people are alone or hurting and feel drawn to nurture the spiritual and communal health of the church.

The Teacher
They love to understand and explain. Teachers find great satisfaction in helping people learn truth and wisdom. They grasp complex truths and then help people understand. They ensure the truths of Scripture are passed along from generation to generation.

Now, with a basic understanding of each of the gifts, let’s consider a couple fascinating aspects to this passage.

First, historically we have interpreted this text as a leadership text, or perhaps you could say we have interpreted it as a clergy text. In other words, these gifts were given to the clergy to equip the saints for the work of ministry. However, this passage is not a leadership text, it is a body text. These are gifts given to the entire body, so we can all be involved in the equipping of the saints.

Therefore, if you have the gift of evangelism, you should be equipping others to be evangelistic. If you have the gift of teaching, you should be equipping others to be better teachers. If you have the gift of shepherding, you need to be equipping others to pastor and care for the flock.

A second key aspect of this passage is that these are not roles or offices; instead they are gifts or callings given to entire body.

But perhaps the most important aspect of this passage is that Paul states that if all five of the gifts are not to being exercised in the body, the church will not reach maturity. In fact, he says the church will not experience the fullness of Christ.

But practically speaking, how do you go about incorporating APEST into the development of a church-planting team? One way I like frame this conversation is by sharing four sequential points:

  1. The church planter needs to first understand their own gifts regarding APEST because it will influence where they focus much of their ministry. (i.e., if a teacher, they often move quickly to the Sunday gathering so they can teach; if a shepherd, they will lean towards the gathering community; etc.)
  2. The planter needs to understand the make-up of their planting team and recognize what gifts may be missing. If you are a gifted shepherd, then you need to ensure you have someone more apostolic on your team or you will never start something new. But likewise, if you are highly apostolic or prophetic, it is important you have a shepherd on your team or you will likely push people too hard and run the risk of burnout.
  3. The planter will need to determine how each gift will have equal input into the mission and ministry of the church plant. Remember: A key aspect of the passage is that the church will not reach maturity unless all five gifts are being activated and exercised. How will you make sure each gift is being listened to?
  4. The team will need to determine how to ensure the equipping of the saints. In other words, how will the church encourage and empower those with the gift of teaching to equip other teachers? How will those who have an apostolic calling fan the flames of other “sent ones”? How will the gifted evangelist equip others who have the evangelistic calling?

Remember, a church plant that can bring together, encourage and capture the gifting of a fully functioning team will succeed in whatever it is seeking to achieve. Each of the APEST vocations adds a necessary ingredient to the overall missional fitness and maturity of the church, but each vocation needs to be informed and shaped by the others to anchor the church in the fullness of Christ’s nature and mission.

Resources to learn more about APEST:

  • The Forgotten Ways (Chapter 8) by Alan Hirsch
  • The Church as Movement by J.R. Woodward and Dan White Jr.
  • The Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim
  • 5Q by Alan Hirsch
  • Primal Fire by Neil Cole
  • Church Zero by Peyton Jones

Published March 13, 2023

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Church Planting voices.

Brad Brisco

Brad Brisco directs strategies development for the North American Mission Board. He holds a doctorate in missional ecclesiology; his thesis focused on assisting existing congregations to transition in a missional direction. He also serves on the national leadership team for Forge America Mission Training Network. Brad is the co-author of “Missional Essentials,” a 12-week small group study guide, "The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run" and "Next Door As It Is In Heaven."