What do itinerants do? Is it mysterious and magical? Does it require tall green hats and sparkly robes?
I think the surprisingly simple answer is that itinerants do what all saints do: we are all in the disciple making business. When we stand before Him, the job description He gave was, “Go and make disciples.” Every saint will answer to that. This involves being a light to the world by the way we live in the world and it involves building one another up. And, just like all saints, no one has all they need on their own. We are all made interdependent by virtue of our being only a part–we are not all hands or mouths; we are not all apostles, we do not all have the gift of helps, etc. (see I Cor 12:1-31)
So, first let’s consider “what do all saints do” to get a baseline for understanding the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors (elders).
1. Every saint is an equipper of others; we are all to “build up one another” – see verses like:
- Rom 15:14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
- Eph 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
- Col 2:19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
- I Cor 14:26-31 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying… If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
- Heb 10:24-25 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
2. Every saint is to function on the motive and principle of love, a fruit of abiding in Christ through the indwelling Spirit. The saints do what we do because we have a different value system than the world around us, because of who we are in Him and who He is in us.
- Gal 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
- I Cor 8:1;13:2 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth… And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
In fact, faith, hope, and love are an interwoven trinity of characteristics seen in nearly every epistle that undergird and move the saints. See, for example:
- Col 1:4-5 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
3. Every saint is to live incarnational lifestyles that offer light to the world in which we live. This is what was recognized by the world when the saints began to be called “Christians” at Antioch. We see examples of this core, contrasting cultural system in Paul’s thumbnails of shared value statements:
- I Tim 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
- I Tim 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
- I Tim 4:8-9 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is,and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.
- II Tim 2:11-13 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
- Titus 3:8 This is a faithful saying. and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
- Rom 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Now let’s look at what else is at work in apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (or, pastors and teachers):
1. Equipping others to do becomes more important than doing things yourself. For some, there comes a desire to see others becoming functional in their service to others, not just doing so themselves (thus, the focus moves from doing, to equipping others to do). This often means that elders and itinerants need to take a back seat as the saints are assembled, and allow others to step up and function.
Having become good at one-anothering among the saints, they now move into a role to help others become good at this work. Besides the continuing responsibility to be a “one-anotherer” like all saints, they have stepped back from the limelight of doing to become a servant to others. They give up the forefront when the saints gather so that others can fulfill their calling to serve one another.
In this way of leading as servants to others, it would be hard for a visitor to tell who was a “leader” when the saints assembled. All would be able to speak as they were led to edify one another. No one would dominate the floor. Simply put, I Cor 14:26-31 and Heb 10:24-25 would be again the common practice of the assembled saints.
Look, doing things is fine fun, and very satisfying as you get good at it. It is a sacrifice to step back, give up the satisfaction (and the complements and gratitude of others). They find a new kind of satisfaction, the satisfaction of seeing others take on the work and be the ones getting things done, serving others, helping others, caring for others. There is additional behind-the-scenes sort of work, much more one-to-one coaching and teaching than simply enjoying the fun public stuff. Elders and itinerants will take much more time thinking about specific developmental needs of individuals, than of general teaching on broad responsibilities, information, etc.
2. The people described in Eph 4 do so with a different span of service (among a broader reach of saints across localities) and paying a more obvious (but not greater) cost. But the basic job is the same. The same is true for elders: they do what all saints do, but with a different span of service (among a broader reach of saints in a locality). In this, all of the folks in Eph 4:11-13 are models for the saints, doing largely what all saints do; holding the same value system. Of course, the cost paid is evidentially (easy to see) higher for the Eph 4 equippers, but not higher than all saints are called to give (Rom 12:1-2). It is just more obvious when people are exhausting themselves, limiting their earthly potential for pulling together wealth and comfort. But in these things, all Eph 4 folks (elders and itinerants) are simply setting a good example for every saint to follow.
All do the same things, but the range/span/scope is different:
- A. saints generally serve a limited number of others, typically those within a congregation level
B. elders are led to serve the whole church in a locality. (Acts 14:23, biblically, a “church” is delineated by a locality (Acts 20:17, Rom 16:1; I Cor 1:2; I Thess 1:1, Rev2,3; etc.); elders will feel a responsibility and extend themselves to the whole church, requiring a greater investment of time.
C. itinerants serve across churches/localities (they feel a responsibility and extend themselves across geographical and cultural expanses)
Some additional considerations:
1. Service becomes more intrusive into your life–you have less and less private space and time.
2. You have to be careful to esteem others better than yourself, to guard yourself against thinking too highly of yourself. If you ever think that a newborn saint is not able to teach you and see things you do not see, to correct you, to advise you, you are in trouble. Without true and deep humility, you cannot function faithfully or fruitfully as a servant to others.
3. We have to keep in mind not to measure ourselves against other people and not to seek the approval of people. Both of these are the same trap, feeding our pride. Rom 12:1-2 speaks of sacrificial living as reasonable service; Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds us to to compare ourselves to Him, and so to not think we have given too much.
4. The grace level is of the same quality, while differing in quantity (proportion, range of responsibility). See, for example, Rom 12:3,6:
- Rom 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
- Rom 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
5. Sameness is the important point. One of the things that is helpful here, is that itinerants and elders recognize and share a camaraderie with every saint–we all are in the same work together, facing the same struggles and challenges. I think emphasizing the similarities in our work is more important than emphasizing the few differences of scope and cost. These just serve to set a good example for all.
By the way, do you see how sensible it is that Paul, when writing to troubled churches, writes to all the saints, and not to a hierarchy of elders/pastors who are “over them” in the sense of “being in charge of them?” In today’s vernacular, the pastors are “under them.”
Can you imagine a denominational executive writing the letter to Corinth, and never once mentioning or addressing the elders, but instead laying these problems at the feet of the saints? But, do you see the sense of it from Paul’s perspective now? He and the elders are working hard to have the saints take up the work. Rather than feeling slighted that Paul would bypass them (or that he was out of order in speaking directly to the saints), Paul laying this at the feet of the saints to take care of and to deal with would be very welcomed by the elders (pastors, if you prefer). They are all giving themselves to stirring up the saints to the work!
In all of the problems across the epistles sent to the churches, you will be hard pressed to find elders (pastors) addressed at all. The saints are the pointy end of the spear. They are doing most of the work. Eph 4 folks, both elders and itinerants, are working behind the scenes to help the saints take on and effectively accomplish that work. elders and itinerants do not steal the limelight when the saints gather together, they do not relegate the saints to an audience. Frankly, if they showed up at the average church on Sunday, they wouldn’t understand our policy of silencing and controlling the saints in the assembly. We, instead, are seeking to aid them in becoming effective, in filling up their labors.