How to Understand the Five-Fold Ministry

How to understand the Fivefold Ministry

It seems that one’s personal philosophy of ministry cannot be complete without addressing what has been called the five-fold ministry presented by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:10-16. How one views the need, purpose or even the current existence of these five church roles will determine their overall view of ministry. My personal view is that for a church (or a group of churches) to be able to fully express the ministry of Christ all five types of ministry must be in effect to some degree. So then, how exactly does the five-fold ministry factor into our understanding of a healthy and thriving church or ministry?

The Five-Fold Ministry is Both Unity and Diversity Which Builds the Entire Church.

We must first begin by understanding the overall purpose of the five-fold ministry in the mind of Paul. In Ephesians 4 Paul speaks of these ministries as being given to equip the body and to bring people to spiritual maturity. Paul also speaks about the key concept of unity as these gifts are not to be compartmentalized from each other but are to be active alongside each other. God is not a God of uniformity, just look at the variety found in creation, and in the five-fold ministry we are confronted with a call to unity through diversity.

No single expression of ministry can fully encapsulate all that Jesus is, therefore, we need all five of these offices, along with the other spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 15 to fully express Christ to the world. Because “as we grow up in Christ, we need to receive from every aspect of Jesus. “Those truly called and gifted of God to be five-fold ministers will do the same things Christ Jesus would do for His Saints if He were here in a natural human body.”[1]

What sets these five ministries apart from others such as deacons, elders, or others is that “all five-fold ministries are headship ministries; that is, they are an extension of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. All five are called to govern, guide, gather, ground, and guard God’s people; but each has been given special grace and gifted ability in one of these areas more than the others have.” [2] For example, Paul and Moses both desired that all people would prophesy and hear from God, but that does not make all people prophets. For prophets have a call, platform and responsibility to the larger community of believers, that others to not possess. The same holds true for evangelists, all people are called to preach the gospel according to the Great Commission but not all people will devote their lives to only to witnessing or have a philosophy of ministry exclusively focused on converting people.

The Gift vs. the Office

These are some of the differences between what is known as a gift and what is an office, “a spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the Body.”[3] While an office is an official (staff, volunteer, or lay) position recognized by both God and man. These people are commissioned to train, disciple, and nurture those who have spiritual gifts, so they can be fruitful. Another way to understand the difference between an office and a call according to my philosophy of ministry would be the difference between a carpenter and someone who has a woodworking hobby. Both can work with wood and create various objects but you (and the municipality) would only trust a carpenter to build you a house.

Understanding that these five gifts are not in competition with each other and that all five should be expressed in each congregation to some degree, we must now look at what exactly each of these five ministry offices are. Let us begin with Apostles, this is not just a fancy title given in some modern denominations or a title which died out in the first century, but the term literally means a delegate, ambassador messenger and the original context was “one sent forth with orders.”

The Apostle

Apostles are seen as the ones who go out to create and supervise multiple churches, one way to see and Apostle is as a pastor who shepherds churches rather than a congregation. The main call of this office is to spread the gospel and build the church and people in this office tend to move in more than one of the gifts of the spirit. This is different than an evangelist who tends to only go out and preach, apostles preach to the lost but also create the infrastructure to support the new believers. We see these factors in action through the life of the Apostle Paul (2Tim 1:11, 2 Cor 8:23, 12:12) who would preach the gospel but would also establish churches, leaders and other preachers to continue the work when he was not there.

Some view apostles as being “like fathers and mothers who impart to the Saints and raise them up as sons and daughters in the faith.”[4] While in the more historical and literal sense “apostles were literally commissioned messengers carrying out their sender’s mission; as such, they were backed by the sender’s authority to the extent that they accurately represented that commission; in the New Testament, the term applies to commissioned agents of Christ authorized in a special way (more authoritatively than others) to declare and propagate his will.”[5] In my own view of ministry I see the apostles as those who build the church on a regional level and they serve the larger church buy doing what they can to support the individual local churches.

The Prophet

The second five-fold office is that of the prophet, perhaps the most misunderstood and rejected expression of the heart of Christ among all of the spiritual gifts and offices. While prophets are generally seen are seen as foretellers, they are better understood as being inspired speakers and proclaimers of a divine message. Prophets are the ones who are especially gifted with seeing and hearing the words of God, so they can speak it to the church and in order that they can watch over the people. This is not an invitation to nit-pick sins or to become gossipers but the call to be watchers of the overall spiritual condition of the church or region, and to intervene when necessary.

The prophet is not to work alone because “the prophet was one who not only exercised the gift of prophecy, but who occupied a place of leadership ministry along with the apostles and teachers (Acts 11:27; 13:1–3; 15:32; Eph. 2:20; 3:5).”[6] A mature prophet is one who is grounded and can work with the other offices, while an immature prophet is one who remains all alone and only emerges when they have a “grand word from the Lord.”

In the New Testament we see the examples of the likes of Agabus (Acts 11:27-28) and Silas (Acts 15:32) as being recognized and active prophets. They were set apart as those “who were given, as were the apostles, particular insight into the doctrines of the faith (see Eph. 3:5). They were under the immediate influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which distinguishes them from teachers (see 1 Cor. 12:10).”[7]

The role of the prophet may not be exactly the same under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant but that does not mean the core responsibility has not changed. Prophets are still tasked with expressing God’s will and words in a church, but unlike the Old Covenant prophets are expected and encouraged to work alongside other ministries. Whereas apostles are those who oversee the natural side of churches, nations and communities, prophets are those oversee the spiritual (unseen) aspects of churches, nations and communities, much like their Old Covenant counterparts.

The Evangelist

The third ministry office is that of the evangelist, every believer is called to spread the gospel but there are also those who are specifically called to do so in a greater measure. These are those whose sole purpose in life is to see people come to Jesus, some people do it professionally and others do it casually, but both have the same fire and goal in their hearts. Evangelists are the street preachers, the ones who continually go out and bring new members into a church which is vital because an effective church should have a constant flow of new believers coming in and trained/prepared believers going back out to do the work of the gospel. When either one of these flows stop, the heart of the church becomes stagnant and dies, much like Israel’s Dead Sea.

In scripture the only person we see with the title of an evangelist is Philip (Acts 21:8), the former waiter who brought the gospel to Samaria, “but workers such as Timothy (2 Tm. 4:5), Luke (2 Cor. 8:18), Clement (Phil. 4:3) and Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12) may have functioned as evangelists.”[8] Through Philip we see how the office of an evangelist works with the other ministries. Philip goes into the new territory of Samaria and preaches the gospel, people believe and a congregation forms, then apostles from Jerusalem then come out to further teach and establish the new group of believers.

The same is true today, for the role of an evangelist continues be the bringing in of new believers into the church, and then the evangelists presents them to others for development. Afterwards the teachers can give them the knowledge and wisdom to understand the scriptures, the pastors give them council and accountability, the prophets share exhortation and edification given from God, and finally the apostles prepare them to be released into their own from of ministry.

The Pastor

We now come to a transition point in the list of the five-fold ministry as we come to pastors and teachers. Unlike the other three, “linked together (by the same article in the Gk.) are the pastors and teachers. It is possible that this phrase describes the ministers of the local church, whereas the first three categories are regarded as belonging to the universal church.”[9] Apostles, prophets and evangelists are seen as having a vision of building up the church as a whole, while pastors and teachers typically focus only on building up the local church they are apart of. This does not diminish their role in anyway compared to the other three offices, but it does provide clarity of what they are called to do in the kingdom.

With that we turn to the purpose and office of the pastor, which is the most recognized and accepted office among the five-fold ministry. The office of the pastor has evolved over the centuries yet its literal Greek definition of being an overseer, elder and shepherd, or one who tends herds or flocks not merely one who feeds them, remains true. In the New Testament the word we use as pastor today and the role they played referred then to the elders of the church. These are the ones who supervise local congregations and help the people develop into their fullness in God, in a sense “Pastors are men who serve as undershepherds of the sheep of Christ,” [10]

This sense of oversight and eldership is how Paul and especially Peter (1 Peter 5:1-4) addressed this ministry office in their writings, often using the terms pastor, elder and overseer interchangeably. This is not an isolated office as those under the office of pastor/elder/overseer must still work alongside those of other giftings to bring about the fullest expression of the ministry in the Holy Spirit in their local congregation. But it is in the front lines of ministry in a local congregation that a pastor finds their purpose, for that is there home and their pasture where they live among fellow sheep who are all following the Good Shepherd.

The Teacher

Last but far from least is the ministry office of the teacher are well those who can teach. They are the ones with the gifts and ability to lead others to the fullness of the knowledge of God and to develop people into who God created them to be, through instruction, training and discipleship. Teachers are the ones who dig deeper into searching out God’s word, they have a gift of wisdom and discernment to understand and share the scriptures with others, so then those being taught may learn and show others also. Originally “teachers were expounders of the Scriptures and of the Jesus tradition; if they functioned like Jewish teachers, they probably offered biblical instruction to the congregation and trained others to expound the Scriptures as well.”[11]

Unlike the other five-fold ministry offices and gifts teaching is the gifting in which all the others must be must be both capable and proficient in. Evangelists teach the gospel, pastors teach how to be a Christian, prophets teach what God has shown them and apostles teach a variety of different matters. Yet this office of the teach can be its own ministry in itself while there is overlap between this office and that of a pastor (Titus 1:9, 2Tim 2:23-26) there is the truth that you can be a teacher and not a pastor, they are still unique callings from one another.

How the Five-Fold Ministry Works Together

With all five of these ministry offices understood we can now piece the entire picture of unity through diversity together. If we to compare the church as a whole to a building, the apostles would seen as the walls surrounding the church on each four sides providing boundaries and protection. The prophets would then be the roof providing a covering from the top, providing an upper boundary and a covering for the people. Going deeper the evangelists are like the electricity which keeps the lights and the power in the church running, keeping it out of darkness. Pastors can be seen as the wooden beams which supports the overall structure of the church, and provide strength and just enough flexibility to keep the structure from collapsing. Finally the teachers can be seen as being the doors and windows of the building, they allow light and air into the building but keep the elements (wind, rain) and the bugs out.

This is a picture of what Christ intended for the church to be like in order for it to grow to “full maturity”. A building without a roof or 2×4’s is not a building but a pile of rubble and that is how many churches are operated in our day and age. Jesus has not given us the call to build the church without support he has given to us gifts, “the gifts are the people. All, in their particular ministries, are God’s gift to the church.”[12] The purpose behind Jesus giving these gifts is for the building of the overall church not a single particular church or denomination, they are tools for the expansion of the kingdom and must be done through love and not selfish ambition.

            At its core the five-fold ministry is about unity, maturity and love and when one of these three aspects are broken or removed the entire structure begins to collapse. This was done on purpose by God so that his people would work together and not create islands of isolation but an interconnected kingdom. In my own philosophy of ministry, I am not calling for the abolishment of denominations, but I am rather calling for unity among giftings so that each gift is not hidden behind a different denominational wall. It is the concern that the overall church believes that if it specializes in one area it has no responsibility to have the other area active within its walls. If church A specializes in evangelism and church B specializes in the prophetic it does not excuse either church of rejecting or downplaying the other.


At the conclusion of all of this how exactly does the five-fold ministry factor into my own personal philosophy of ministry? It factors in because I believe highly in the cooperation of the different gifts and offices in the body. That each congregation should have access to all five of these offices and have the opportunity to express them on a regular basis. Just as all people have natural blind spots so do these ministers but when circled together the blind spots can be removed and the church can better reflect the complete image of Christ back into the world.

I have seen this at work in my own life as I understand that I need others of differing gifts and offices around me in order to do the “full work” of ministry and to accomplish the totality of what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in a given situation. The five-fold is not about rank, or power or authority but it is the expression of the variety of gifts and personalities God has gifted to us. The five-fold ministry then is in the expression of servant-leadership, which calls on believers to walk in unity together so the greater purposes of God can be accomplished.

[1] Bill Hamon, The Day of the Saints: Equipping Believers for Their Revolutionary Role in Ministry (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2002), 182.

[2] Bill Hamon, Prophets, Pitfalls, and Principles: God’s Prophetic People Today (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2001), 97.

[3] C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts: Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2012), 33.

[4] Bill Hamon, The Day of the Saints: Equipping Believers for Their Revolutionary Role in Ministry (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2002), 182.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Eph 4:11.

[6] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 350.

[7] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Ephesians), electronic ed., vol. 47 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 120.

[8] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 353.

[9] Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 10, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 126.

[10] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1935.

     [11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Eph 4:11.

[12] Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 10, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 123.

Creative Commons LicenseHow to Understand the Fivefold Ministry Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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