Imagine a church where every single Christian is a perfect representative of Jesus and functions in beautiful unity to reveal Christ to the world around them. That’s the purpose of fivefold ministry!
If you’ve never heard of the term, “fivefold ministry” is a sort of buzzword that has gained steam over the past few decades. It’s not found in the Bible, but it is used to describe a passage in the Bible. It refers to the five “gifts” Jesus gave to the church (not gifts of the Spirit…rather, gifts from Jesus that come in the form of people), as described in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:11-13 — So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all 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 Christ.
To Lead or Not to Lead?
- Kingdom leaders serve and empower from the bottom up while earthly leaders administrate and manage from the top down.
- Earthly leaders “use” people while kingdom leaders spend themselves on behalf of others.
Even Jesus, the most authoritative Leader in the Kingdom — the King of kings and Lord of lords — told His followers, “You’ll do greater things that Me.” (See John 14:12.)
The purpose of fivefold ministry, then, is not to wave a title around or travel from church to church receiving praises and honorariums. The purpose of fivefold ministry is to “equip God’s people for works of service…” And the only way to equip someone for something is to be a living example of it. You cannot equip a person to serve unless you yourself are a better servant than they are. As Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (See Mark 9:35.)
Now, if service is the purpose of fivefold ministry, we need to ask what this service looks like and how it is measured. What is the end result?
I’m convinced that the end result of effective fivefold ministry is that “we all 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 Christ.” (See Ephesians 4:13.) In other words, the purpose of fivefold ministry is to equip every believer to do all five ministries. In this way, every Christian will look like Jesus.
Every Believer’s Ministry is Fivefold
For example, no one is allowed to say, “Sorry, I’m not an evangelist, so I don’t need to evangelize.” Evangelism is every believer’s mission. Paul told Timothy (who was arguably either a pastor or possibly an apostle) to “do the work of an evangelist.” In the same way, every believer is capable of “doing the work of” all five ministries.
Further, not all are teachers; and yet we have Colossians 3:16, which says to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” And then we have Romans 15:14, which says, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Not all are teachers, but every believer is called to teach in some capacity.
Similarly, while a pastor’s (or shepherd’s) role is to care for the sheep (people in the Church) and spend his or her life for their wellbeing, that’s technically what we are all called to do. We are all to “bear one another’s burdens…,” “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves,” and “…serve one another humbly in love.” So, in a sense, while there are still pastors, we are all expected to “do the work of” a pastor as we pour out our lives for one another and keep watch over each other.
When it comes to prophets, not all are prophets; and yet, every believer is capable of hearing God’s voice. (See John 6:44-45 and 10:27.) In fact, Paul said, “You may all prophesy…” (1 Corinthians 14:31). Not all are prophets, but you may all prophesy!
And as for apostles, every believer is called to prayer and the ministry of the word. Every believer is called to a ministry of miracles, signs and wonders (Mark 16:17-18). Every believer is called to contend for sound doctrine and “go into all the world.” Every believer is technically a “sent-one.” And yet, not all are apostles. (1 Corinthians 12:29)
So what’s the difference?
As far as I can tell, there’s a difference between what we’re all “called” to do (by virtue of being Christians) and what “some” are “given” to do (by virtue of a possible fivefold ministry role).
- What someone is “given to do” is natural and part of his or her God-given identity, while what he or she is “called to do” is to “do the work of” all five.
- What I’m “called to do” is to represent Jesus in all ways, while what I’m “given to do” is to train and equip others to represent Jesus in a specific way.
What, then is the difference between, say, the evangelist and every believer’s call to evangelism? Well, the evangelist is given to the church to “equip His people for works of service.” What service? Simple. Evangelistic service! Makes sense, right?
- The evangelist equips everyone for evangelistic service.
- The prophet equips everyone for prophetic service.
- The pastor equips everyone for pastoral service. (I think you get the point…)
And if everyone is equipped in all these forms of service, the result will be that “we all 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 Christ.” In short, we will all begin to serve like Jesus.
Working Ourselves Out of a Job
The word “until” is very important in the Ephesians 4 passage. On one hand, it tells me that these five ministries still exist. I don’t think we have “all” reached “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” I don’t think we have all “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Just take a quick look at the Body of Christ around the world, and you will plainly see that these things haven’t yet been accomplished, so the five roles certainly still exist. Jesus has given them “until” these requirements are met.
The other thing I learn from the word “until” is that once the goal is accomplished, there’s no more need for such ministries. If every Christian is evangelizing to the fullest potential of Jesus, we don’t need any more evangelists to train and equip people how to evangelize. If every Christian is prophesying to the fullest potential of Jesus, we don’t need any more prophets to train and equip people to prophesy. If apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers do their jobs correctly, they eventually won’t need to do them anymore!
Of course, as long as there are new converts, there will still be people who need to be trained and equipped. Fivefold ministry is for this present age.
- There won’t be any teachers in heaven. All knowledge is there, and we will have access to all of it. No one will need to be equipped for the service of teaching. Until then, we need teachers!
- There won’t be any pastors in heaven — only the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. There won’t be any wolves to look out for or problems to solve either. Pastoral ministry will be a thing of the past. Until then, we need pastors!
- There won’t be any evangelists in heaven. Everyone will already be saved! Why would we need anyone to equip God’s people to evangelize? Until then, we need evangelists!
- There won’t be any prophets in heaven. Everyone will be able to communicate with God face-to-face. That’s why Paul said “prophecy will cease.” Until then, we need prophets!
- And there won’t be any apostles in heaven. Everyone will already be full-blown representatives of the Kingdom, and there won’t be any new trails to blaze or cultures to transform. Until then, we need apostles!
The role of every fivefold minister is to work himself or herself out of a job. It’s not an eternal calling. But until we reach this fulfillment of the mission, these roles are vital gifts to the Church.
The Purpose of Fivefold Ministry
Such people have a knack for one of those ministries, a passion for training others to do the same, and proven fruitfulness in multiplying their ministry to others. They serve diligently and sacrificially. They are less interested in people seeing their own ministry and more interested in people doing “greater works” than they do. They are more excited when God works through someone they trained than they are when God works through them directly. They live for the glorification and multiplication of Jesus Christ throughout the Church (and ultimately the world).
The purpose of fivefold ministry is actually a Person. Apostles, prophets, and the rest are not merely training people to minister. They are equipping the Church to become Jesus:
“…until we all 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 Christ.”