Ministries (1 Corinthians 12:27-31)
Paul lists them as apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, support, management and communicators. While Paul enumerates them, it’s unlikely this list is closed. Rather, it likely reflects the way things were done in Paul’s experience. There’s nothing to prevent anyone from carrying on in more than one ministry. These ministries are independent of temperaments or manifestation gifts.
An apostle is a visionary, someone who sees where the Kingdom is headed, or at least where it could go if folks were faithful. A related term is missionary, someone who is called to bring the power of the gospel to bear in a specific place, or among a specific kind of people (including all the different ways we identify people), or in pursuit of some particular domain of human existence.
The ministry of a prophet is fairly obvious. This is someone called to build an instinct about God’s moral character and to call out the dangers of deviations from Biblical Law. This person sees the whole sweep of the revelation and how it is the sole path to redemption. Their work is often a matter of warning about what’s ahead.
Teachers are also rather obvious — the mission is to research and teach. These are people adept at organizing doctrine and putting it in reach of others. They would be particularly good at clarifying parables, for example. They understand how Scripture addresses the current context.
The ministry of miracles is not well understood in Western culture. That’s because Western thinking excludes the very foundation for seeing what miracles are, much less how they happen. In the Bible, miracles are a natural aspect of covenant living; they are wired into Creation itself. It hardly matters whether they come by rituals, specific prayers, or simply the presence of someone whose mission it is to bring them to life. It has nothing to do with what people want or need, and everything to do with God manifesting His glory, often enough for reasons incomprehensible to us. This is someone who can read the moves of the Spirit and discern when God is ready to do something special.
Healers are a special category of miracle worker. This covers the whole gamut of healing body, mind and soul. This is restoring the blessings of shalom when someone has somehow gotten into imbalance with Creation. The ministry of healing includes the whole gamut of methods and means to restore things to what God intended.
The ministry of helps or support is best understood by looking at the Greek term behind it: antilépsis — succor or relief. This is easily the broadest and most subtle ministry in the list. The mission is to act or operate in such a way as taking hindrances and burdens from others. It takes a special insight to see and target the one thing that holds someone back from their full potential. The burdens they cannot remove themselves, they’ll get someone else to handle.
The ministry of management is fairly obvious in terms of effects, but Western culture has a horrible approach to identifying people who should do this work. This is not a promotion from some lower form of service; it’s a special calling to help people see how they fit into the body of faith. This is the ministry of guiding people to ministries, and keeping them from interfering with work they don’t understand.
A lot of readers are confused by Paul’s use of the term tongues in this context. It’s not a reference to glossolalia. It’s the mission of communicating to people where they can receive the message. It can include glossolalia and the gift of interpretation as a method, but it’s much broader than that. It’s the ministry of making sure people can understand from their own context. It can include parables, art, music, poetry, etc. Not just producing those things, but this is a ministry of procuring them from others, as well. It tends to be a clearing-house operation in many cases.