Understanding 5-Fold Ministry
In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes the kind of leaders God has provided for His church for it to attain maturity and Christ-likeness, becoming the spotless Bride of Jesus. In this passage, Paul lists five offices that are referred to as the five-fold ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.
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Many Christian leaders have taken this verse out of context and elevated these five roles above their rightful place. They emphasize the importance of these offices in a local church – which is certainly true – but often serve their own interests and need for power and recognition while denying others – the “laity” – any kind of involvement in church government. Others discard the verse altogether, claiming that Paul is speaking in the apostolic age which has long passed, so that his words are not relevant to us at all any more. It is therefore of utmost importance to get a biblical understanding of the five-fold ministry, so that our churches will be healthy and functioning according to the will and plan of God.
While we will focus on these five, we must not forget that Paul is not giving us an exhaustive list. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, he says, in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Only three of the five in Ephesians are repeated here again, while Paul adds other kind of people and functions. Surely we would not equate an apostle with an administrator, yet both are in the same list, and there is no reason to assume a hierarchy, or that one function has more value than another. On the contrary, those who speak the Word of God, who preach and teach (which is all part of the five-fold ministry) are held to higher accountability. Their goal is not to serve themselves, but the flock of God, so that they would attain all the fullness in Christ (Eph 4:12-13).
With transparency comes greater responsibility, and with responsibility, higher accountability. God has set His leaders in place for His church to function, and those truly called into these places will have been tested and proven, having gone through the fire of preparation, displaying true humility and Christ-likeness, not desiring a position, but wanting to serve their King anyway He wants them to.
While there are many different ideas in the body of Christ today about each one of these five offices or functions this is what we believe as a church:
“When it comes to a study of the five-fold ministry in the New Testament, prophets are mentioned a few times, the evangelist is specifically mentioned a couple of times, pastors and teachers are referred to occasionally, but apostles are mentioned often.” ~ Bill Scheidler
And yet, apostleship is the most misunderstood of all of them. How can that be? Over the centuries, the term “apostle” disappeared from usage, until a recent new awakening of interest over the past two decades. That does not mean that apostles did not exist; they were often called “missionaries” or “pastors.” Yet, the dispensational belief that the Holy Spirit had stopped moving with the end of the apostolic age taught that all apostles had to have disappeared. Today, many are trying to gain a biblical understanding of what an apostle is supposed to look like in our day, in their pursuit of restoring the church to the normative of the first century. Unfortunately, the result has often been an unhealthy elevation of the office of an “apostle” feeding into people’s need for power and recognition. On the other hand, this abuse seems to justify dispensational concerns (e.g. certain "things" have passed) of apostleship being unscriptural today. However, theological concerns about apostleship result from a lack of distinction between the first twelve apostles and the office of an apostle. Those who seek to teach that apostles have disappeared overlook the many other apostles listed in the book of Acts as well as the Epistles. Those in favor of apostleship who also abuse the office seem to have overlooked that Paul calls himself a servant and a father, and that he paid a price none of them would be willing to pay:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor 11:23-28)
Jim Goll defines an apostle as “one called and sent by Christ to have the spiritual authority, character, gifts and abilities to reach and establish people in Kingdom truth and order, especially through founding and overseeing local churches.” An apostle has “a burden to build something that didn’t exist before” ~ Kim Terrell. They lay the foundation of new local churches and see to it that they come into full maturity. That is the church that person will be the apostle to – which means he/she will not have any authority as an apostle in other churches, which is what many today claim. Paul himself wrote to the Corinthians, "Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 9:2).
Apostles have a burden to ground their church in solid biblical teaching, an example of which we can see in Acts 11, when Paul and Barnabas spent two years at Antioch, teaching and equipping them. Apostles have the desire to train and raise up church leaders who will come into full maturity in the church, to release them, and then move on to plant another church. Making themselves “redundant” is their greatest reward, as they father their spiritual children into adulthood.
Let us remove the mysticism from the term “apostle”, and see it for what it really is. Dick Iverson once stated in an interview, “…you don't find “Apostle” written in large letters on my door. I would rather say that I do apostolic work. It isn’t just a title, it’s work, W-O-R-K.”
“A man or woman who represents the interests of God to the people. Having stood in the council of God, the prophet releases a clarion call to the people of what is in God's heart at the moment.” ~ Jim Goll
Prophets reveal God's heart to His people, giving guidance to individuals and the body, giving revelation, as well as interpretation, application and timing. We see several examples in the book of Acts. In Acts 21, Agabus is a good example of where prophecy can be rightly interpreted, yet applied wrongly, as Paul was urged not to go to Jerusalem, escaping the predictive prophecy of his fate. In this case, we see prophecy as fore-telling, yet it is also forth-telling which is often neglected by those who run after prophetic words.
With the new acceptance and recognition of the office of a prophet over the past twenty years, believers turning to them as fortune-tellers have become a real problem that has driven many to totally reject prophets. God has established prophets in His church, and the church will not be complete if we reject their ministry out of fear. Many pastors live in fear of prophets, feeling threatened by what they might say to the church or evenhimself, and at times rightly so since too many prophetic people exalt themselves and the words they speak instead of being humble servants to the body, allowing leadership to weigh their words and judge them as commanded by Scripture.
An evangelist carries a great burden for those who are not a part of the kingdom of God yet, and an anointing to preach the gospel to them that comes with great conviction and draws them to the Lord. They will often have signs and wonders following them to confirm their message.
The prime example of an evangelist in the New Testament is Philip. He was one of the men chosen to serve the widows in Acts 6, and he is the only one specifically called an evangelist (Acts 21:8). In Acts 8 he obeys the Holy Spirit and brings the Ethiopian eunuch to a believing knowledge of Christ.
“Evangelists create converts, while apostles create disciples” (Kim Terrell). Their foremost desire is to see people come into the kingdom, then leaving the discipling to others. They love teaching others how to win people, and never feel like they are actually doing enough and accomplishing their task. While they are grieved to see believers’ indifference regarding the lost, they do have an anointing to impart God's broken heart to the body. Evangelists are absolutely crucial for numeric growth in the local church and the kingdom of God.
The pastor is the heart of the church. He is a shepherd who deeply cares for his sheep, ready to lay down everything for them. He wants them to be fed, to grow, to be equipped, to develop their giftings and step into the calling of God for them. In the local church they are the bridge between the different offices and functions, listening to all sides and restoring calm and order where necessary. Jesus, the supreme Shepherd, taught a lot about shepherding the sheep, giving us a great example of what a pastor should look like. The pastor’s greatest concern is always the well-being of his sheep and His body, not only bringing training, but correction and protection where necessary.
The office of the pastor is the one most recognized today of all five. Because of a lack of understanding of the other four, those called by God to these other offices have often had to become pastors, therefore filling shoes that were not theirs, and creating tension in their churches because they could not meet their sheep’s need. It is time for the church to allow evangelists, teachers, apostles and prophets to be what they are called to be and take their rightful place in the church.
Teachers teach and edify the church, imparting divine life and anointing to their listeners who become more hungry for the Word of God, as the teacher illumines Scripture and brings forth truth never seen by their listeners before. While prophets reveal the heart of God, teachers reveal His mind. Prophets and teachers balance each other in the church, which can also create a tension. Prophets have revelation of hidden things in the future, while teachers of the hidden things in the Word. Teachers reveal the specifics of the revealed truth, while prophets reveal the spectrum. While prophets possess foresight, teachers have insight. While prophets are risk takers, teachers move by understanding and are planners. And the list could go on. Teachers are very essential in the body of Christ, to give the sheep a good foundation of the word of God. Sometimes, churches that place a high emphasis on being "Spirit-led" neglect the solid grounding of the Word. A simple saying to remember: Teaching of the Word without the Spirit, and we will dry up. Chasing the Spirit without teaching of the Word, and we will blow up.
The Lord has called some to be apostles, some as prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and some pastors. Today, He is restoring a biblical understanding of what these roles and callings mean, so that His bride can come into the fullness of what He has for her, getting ready for her Bridegroom’s glorious return. The church has come a long way over the past few decades, even though there is still a lot of wrong conceptions and rejection due to abuse prevalent in His body. If apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers start taking their rightful places, having been proven and tested as humble servants, we will see the body brought into maturity.
Having all five offices in place in a church and training up the body accordingly will allow our church to enter into a place of growth and equipping that nobody had ever dreamed possible. Only when the church on this earth becomes what her Head meant her to be, with all offices in place, will we truly come into full maturity and have the ability to fulfill the commission our Master gave us, to make disciples of all nations, doing the same works He did, and even greater.