The Fivefold Ministry is a key component in God’s blueprint for a dynamic church. When properly constructed, the fivefold ministry becomes a “container” into which Jesus may pour the oil of the Holy Spirit.
The background to the concept of “containers” into which oil may be poured stems back to the story of Elisha and the widow, 2 Kings 4:1-7. The oil did not start flowing until the containers were in place. Generally, Jesus will not pour the oil of the Holy Spirit into nothingness or into chaos. We must present to Him suitable containers before the Spirit will flow. When the Elders are functioning properly as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers,
- they become a “container” into which Jesus may pour the oil of the Holy Spirit; and
- they build local churches into suitable containers.
As long as the containers remain essentially whole and holy, the oil of the Spirit flows.
The Fivefold Ministry
In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul shifts from teaching about gifts given to individuals (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12) to gifted individuals given to the church, namely, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. [For an excellent introduction to spiritual gifts in general, including brief definitions of each, see my post Spiritual Gifts: Tools for Building.]
A student went off to college in a distant city and began looking for a church that understood and practiced the Fivefold Ministry. During a service at one of the churches, the pastor announced, “We offer the Fivefold Ministry. If you need healing, come to the altar and I will pray for you. If you need to hear a prophetic word, come and I will prophecy over you. If you need deliverance, come and I will set you free.”
That is not the way God designed it to work. The Fivefold Ministry in not one person functioning in five offices or capacities. Rather, it is five people working together, each of whom has a specific anointing to serve in one of the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11-13. When the right people with right hearts are in the right offices, the container is ready for Jesus to fill it with the oil of the Holy Spirit. The outcome is that the church moves toward spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Let’s say a bit more about each of the five offices with an extended emphasis on the office of apostle.
Biblical examples of Apostles / apostles:
- Jesus (Hebrews 3:1)
- The twelve (Luke 6:13)
- Paul (1 Cor. 1:1; Ephesians 1:1)
- Messengers (lit.: apostles) of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23)
The word “apostle” comes from apo (meaning “from”) and stello (“to send forth”). It signifies “one sent forth by another often with a special commission to represent the other and to accomplish his work.”[ii] Generally, we translate the verb apostelw as “to send” and the noun apostolos as “apostle”, meaning “one who is sent.” An apostle is like a delegate, commissioner, or ambassador who is sent out on a mission with the authority of the one who sent him or her.
The word apostolos is first found in maritime language where it refers to a cargo ship that is sent off and to a fleet that is sent out. Later, the same word refers a commander of a naval expedition who is sent to accomplish a particular mission. Eventually, apostolos came to refer to an envoy who is sent out as a personal representative of the person sending him/her and with the full powers of the sender. [iii]
Robert Noble defines it this way: An apostle is a “person who is sent out by a king or ruler to his subjects, or, more often, to a foreign power, as his personal representative bearing his full powers.”[iv]
Strong parallels exist between the spiritual gift of leadership and apostle.
As soon as we begin to talk about apostles, someone protests saying, “Apostles no longer exist in our day because no one in our day has personally seen the risen Christ and no one is writing documents that are on a par with Scripture, i.e., documents that must be added to the 66 books of the Canon. Scripture is complete. Hence, we look to it, not to apostles and prophets.”[v]
Yes, the canon of Scripture is complete. Nevertheless, we must ask, “In our day is God calling / equipping / gifting / appointing / anointing men and women to serve as apostles??”
A. Technically, “No.”
The original 12 Apostles were unique in that they witnessed Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22) and wrote ‘the very words of God’ (see Luke 10:16).
B. Functionally, “Yes.”
In our day Jesus continues to call / anoint / appoint / commission men and women to function in roles parallel to NT apostles. Men and women cannot appoint themselves to this role as Robert Duvall did in the move, “The Apostle.” Neither can a congregation by democratic process vote them into this anointing. Rather, apostles must be called, appointed, and anointed by God Himself to wear this mantle. Alert congregations will affirm God’s anointing.
I find it helpful to delineate three tiers of apostles:
- Jesus – in a class all by Himself.
- The Twelve Apostles plus Paul.
- Historic and modern-day apostles – called by God and anointed to function in roles and capacities similar to the original Twelve.
New Church Plants
Modern day apostles function with a high degree of spiritual authority. In addition to evangelizing, preaching, and teaching, they exercise significant authority in matters pertaining to church planting, church order, church discipline, church government, and mission advancement locally and globally. Along with prophets, they initiate (launch) new ministries (Eph. 2:18-22) and set-in-order existing ministries (Titus 1:5). Their powerful words are backed by powerful deeds including miracles and deliverances (Romans 15:18-19).
Several years ago I was riding with three men to a denominational meeting, one of whom was thinking about planting a church. In the course of the conversation I commented that the most effective church planters have an apostolic gifting and anointing. He looked at me with a puzzled expression – like I was speaking a foreign language – and the conversation shifted to a more familiar topic. He went on to plant a church but, for a whole complex of reasons, it did not go so well.
Even though the average denomination sends out teachers and worship leaders to plant churches, by God’s design we would be wiser to send anointed apostles and prophets to launch new works (Eph. 2:18-22).
Hierarchy of Leadership
God appoints apostles to serve as key leaders of ministries, churches, and denominations. Every ministry must take seriously the hierarchy of leadership prescribed by God in 1 Corinthians 12:28: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers …,” 1 Cor. 12:28, ESV.
Practically, how might this work in a local church?
For years Arthur served as the pastor of a church in Texas. Following a long series of events their church invited a local, seasoned man named Chuck who had a clear apostolic anointing to serve as their apostle. In due time Chuck sat down with Pastor Arthur and said, “Art, you have been serving as this church’s pastor. From now on you will be our teacher.” Pastor Arthur’s first response was one of relief! and his second, protest. “But who will care for all the needy people!?!” Chuck replied, “If you will do what God designed you to do, then God will raise up people from within the congregation to serve as pastors.” And God did.
Apostles tweak job descriptions, establish priorities, discipline erring members, and appoint qualified coworkers to lead particular ministries. In short, they set things in order.
Council of Elders
We suggest that each local church be governed by a Council of Elders and that the Council includes an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Most of the time the Council functions by consensus: they prayerfully discuss issues and agree together on plans and procedures. Every once in a while they will reach an impasse and a decision must be made. But who is to make the final call? According to 1 Cor. 12:28, not the congregation; rather, the apostle. The buck stops with the apostle. If the Council of Elders does not include a true apostle – and unfortunately, false apostles exist, 2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2 – a prophet makes the final call. If neither an apostle nor a prophet is properly positioned on the church’s leadership team, the ministry’s primary teacher makes the final decision.
Another approach is this: Many congregations may not have an apostle in their midst but may be connected to an individual who serves in an apostolic role over several congregations. This, too, is a workable arrangement. Some of the best denominational leaders have an apostolic anointing.
The Biblical assumption is this: When a godly apostle is in place, he or she will properly “order” the remainder of the church. In cooperation with the prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – and the Body – apostles manage resources in a manner that honors God, builds-up the church, and advances the gospel.
Apostles are not to serve as lone rangers.
Jesus expects apostles to work together with prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – like five fingers on a hand – to equip people in the congregation for the work of service. The Holy Spirit orchestrates the synergism.
Because the role of the apostle is neither understood nor appreciated by the average parishioner, we have devoted more time to describing it. We now turn to the remaining four offices. These descriptions are brief – embarrassingly brief. Nevertheless, this overview will be helpful.
Prophets are the Body’s eyes and ears. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they see and hear what God has done, is doing, and will do. According to 1 Cor. 14:3, prophets speak to:
- Build up
- Stir up
- Cheer up
Prophets speak an immediate word from the Lord. Often God uses them to call sinners to repentance; to communicate vision and direction; and to exhort people to follow Jesus.
Evangelists love sharing the gospel! … and when they do, people get saved! Evangelists see Jesus Christ as the solution to every person’s problems. Frequently ‘signs and wonders’ accompany their ministries, authenticating their message about Jesus Christ.
Good pastors are like Golden Retrievers: they love everybody! They form friendships that last a lifetime. Pastors [a.k.a., shepherds] love, feed, encourage, protect, and care for the flock.
Teachers explain and clarify truth. They have an amazing capacity to take complex subjects and make them simple resulting in a strong foundation and deep roots in the Word of God. Long live godly teachers!
Sidebar: Frequently the person who serves as a church’s “pastor” is actually better suited for one of the other offices. For example, often the ‘pastor’ of a Baptist church is really an evangelist; the “pastor” of a Bible church is a teacher; and, the “pastor” of a charismatic church is a prophet.
- Apostles represent God’s authority. They plant new churches and set existing churches in order.
- Prophets share God’s vision.
- Evangelists release God’s power to save.
- Pastors provide godly care.
- Teachers present truth.
Peter Wagner presents a somewhat humorous perspective regarding what might happen if any one of the people in these offices is left to work alone.
- A pure evangelist left to him or herself will build a large but shallow church, the classic mile wide but inch-deep.
- A pure pastor left to him or herself will produce a church of people with deep relationships but who don’t have enough vision to find their way out the door.
- A pure apostle will produce a chaotic church because he or she is never there; he or she is always traveling about, being trans-local.
- A pure teacher will turn the church into a lecture hall or academy.
- And the prophet? The prophet’s church is usually a small group of well-beaten sheep.[vi]
But! When the five work together in unity under the authority of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, remarkable growth happens for the glory of God. They build the “containers” into which Jesus may pour the oil of the Holy Spirit, and the oil continues to flow as long as the container remains essentially whole and holy.
Someone may ask me, “How is this working in your church setting?” We are slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully beginning to introduce the concepts. Stay tuned, and may Jesus help us!
In light of these thoughts what are you hearing Jesus say to you? To your church?
Addendum One: Another Resource
For several years I have had a sense that a church’s structure can help or hinder a church’s growth especially during crisis and leadership transitions. Recently I read a 60-page unpublished book online (free) that is worthy of consideration. It is an easy read that includes whit, wisdom, common sense, and practical recommendations.
Peter Haas, A Church Government Revolution: How to design a leadership structure that avoids splits and enhances growth. Go to ArcChurches.com (you will need to register – easy and free), then click on start a church > files > legal.
Addendum Two: An Organizational Chart
How might the organizational chart for a local church that is committed to the Fivefold Ministry look? Picture a series of concentric circles.
- Center Circle: Jesus Christ
- Circle Two: Council of Elders which includes at least one Elder serving in each of the five offices. Depending on the size of the congregation some Elders may be part-time or full-time paid staff.
- Circle Three: Deacons are people who do the work of ministry, often as teams. For example, the Worship Ministry Team; the Building and Grounds Ministry Team; the Children’s Ministry Team; etc. They serve together with humility and joy empowered by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God to advance the gospel. Depending on the size of the congregation some Ministry Teams may be led by part-time or full-time paid staff.
- Circle Four: The Congregation
- Circle Five: The Community
- Circle Six: The Nation
- Circle Seven: The World
Please recognize that this is an outline that leaves many questions unanswered such as:
- What is the relationship between the Council of Elders and the Deacons?
- What is the congregation’s role?
- Does this church have a senior pastor?
- Who selects new Elders and hires staff?
- How does discipleship and spiritual formation happen?
[iii]DNTT, Vol. 1, Page 127, paraphrased
[iv]Noble, Spiritual Gifts, page 17
[v] For example, S. Michael Houdmann champions this view on GotQuestions, http://www.gotquestions.org/five-fold-ministry.html
Brown, Colin, General Editor. (Fourth edition, Oct. 1979). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. I, II, and III. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Noble, R. D. (n.d.). Spiritual Gifts: Your Portion of Christ’s Bounty.
Originally posted Dec. 23, 2013. Slightly revised March 10, 2017.
© 2017 Philip J. Noordmans