“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Messiah may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Messiah.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Paul’s description of the five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4 is a foundational text for The Church today and all of its connected ministries. Those who are not committed to the implementation of this text or who do not understand it, think that the embrace of five-fold ministry means that we think that there are apostles and prophets who can write inspired Scripture, or who become dictators over congregations. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, along with many who believe in five-fold ministry believe in a plural eldership. That is, we believe in more than just one or two elders running everything and making unilateral decisions. We believe in accountable relationships – between elders and the head congregational leader and between leadership and the entire congregation.
Why this is Important
So what is the big deal? In forty years of ministry, one of the greatest problems in the Body of Christ is that people called to leadership are miscast. In many parts of the Body of Christ, the only paid and recognized role is the pastor or a hybrid concept, the pastor-teacher. Para-church organizations have emerged to provide some outlet for those who desire to teach in specialized ways. There are organizations that support a prophet or an evangelist.
There are two patterns that bring the issue to real clarity. How many times have I seen a congregation led by an evangelist trying to be a pastor! Many are led to Jesus, but though many come in the front door and stay for a season, just as many leave by the back door; there is no long-term growth. Many congregations are led by a pastor who does not have an evangelistic gift. Some of these congregations are very stable and have good caring ministries, but simply have no effect on the larger surrounding community. In some cases, a very good teacher can attract believers from other congregations, the congregation grows but only from lateral transfer from other congregations. There is little growth from the larger surrounding community. I have known many very disappointed leaders. They were disappointed because they were miscast.
Finally how many congregations encounter a crisis where there is no one with authority and judgment to come into the situation and bring a solution. I know of so many congregations that have been destroyed since there was no recognized person in authority to play this role. I also know of many congregations that have been saved and have gone on to new heights of effectiveness because there were such recognized people who had the wisdom and authority to help them.
The Biblical ideal is that there would be support for all five kinds of leadership-gifted people. Some have more than one leadership gift from the Ephesians 4:11 list. The New Testament anticipates that congregations will be supported and built up through the utilization and impartation of all five leadership gifts. Some leaders may have to be tent-makers, but establishing teams where all five gifts are available to serve are necessary for effective congregational ministry. A moderate sized congregation may need to join in association with others so that together they have all five gifts operating. This is what I call a five fold network.
Description of the Five Leadership Types
So what do the five different types of leaders do? Let’s take the list in order. The apostle lays foundations for congregations. The apostolic person is also able to multiply congregations, gather congregations into networks and to resolve crises that are beyond a local eldership. It is an essential function for strengthening congregations. The apostle usually travels, either in a region or beyond.
Many today are clearly operating in this role, yet do not want anyone to think they are asserting an authority like the original apostles. Of course, that role cannot be repeated and those first apostles were unique in authority. However, even in the New Testament there were other apostles who were not numbered in the original twelve. And so it is today as well.
The apostle should coordinate the other four gifted types of leaders: he is given wisdom to send them to congregations where they are needed if they are not resident in a congregation. He can examine congregations and help with the proportion of impartation needed.
The prophet does not have infallible capability in speaking God’s direction. In the New Covenant Age, everyone is to test and confirm. However, the prophetic gift reveals the hearts of people, opens new perspectives for direction for a community or a network, and can also present warnings of what is coming. It is a crucially helpful gift and will be especially important in last days.
Apostles and prophets can also point out callings and giftings and impart spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit into people and their ministry.
The evangelist equips the people so they can be effective in sharing their faith. This role is often misunderstood. It is not necessarily a person who has big meetings geared to those who do not know Jesus. Few people in the West who are not already followers of Jesus come to such meetings and so these mass crusades are fading quickly and becoming part of our history. The evangelist is effective in his own witness, but even more, he equips the people to do the work of evangelism. His regular impartation is transforming. He can often encourage faith in supernatural power to be manifest in witness.
The pastor equips the people to love one another and grow in the Lord. He brings them into a high level of healing. The teacher establishes them in the full counsel of the teaching of the Word of God.
Often the pastor and teacher gifts come together in a leader and provide an ideal for congregational leadership. All elders need to be able to teach on a small group level, but a gift ministry teacher can teach with coherence in larger groups.
The Results of Five-Fold Leadership
When we have leaders working according to their gifts and calling, equipping the people of God, we find the fulfillment of the ideal of the text as seen in Ephesians 4:4-15. The people of God grow into unity, maturity and effectiveness as they do the work of ministry. All the people are called to do the work as each member is a minister and part of the priesthood of all believers. The Bible does not present a group of leaders who do the work and a people who are consumers. The whole body works together – each part of the body functioning and doing it part.