A Question I Was Asked:

What Is "Five-Fold Ministry"?

"Five-Fold Ministry" Confusion Explained

The Actual Question:

What is this thing I have heard concerning the "necessity" of the 'five-fold ministry'? Can you make any sense of it?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Let us be sensible about this: If Paul had been laying down a ministry pattern for every church of every age to follow, surely he would have made that utterly and unmistakably clear so that there could be no future doubt?? The ambiguity is only ambiguous because the offices in the early church are not Paul's central point in this chapter.

The concept appears to come from Ephesians 4:11,

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers."

So we have five church offices listed here:

(1) Apostles.
(2) Prophets.
(3) Evangelists.
(4) Pastors.
(5) Teachers.

Actually Paul is not intending to give a comprehensive list of church offices here, for two offices (that of elder and deacon) are missing. Elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) would appear to come below the office of pastor, and the deacons (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1,8,10, who were purely concerned with the physical, practical needs of the congregation), would probably be listed last. Pastors were presumably selected from the senior preaching elders, although there are two other possibilities: (a) 'pastor' was simply the name given to the preaching elders. (b) pastor was an alternative name for all the elders (in which case, only the office of deacon is omitted, although the deacon's responsibilities were not spiritual).

In writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul the Apostle is making the point - read the whole chapter - that the members of the Church of God should strive for unity and be prepared to move forward in spiritual knowledge and discernment (indeed, as we all should be doing, even now). To help facilitate this, in the first century Church of God, various offices were quickly set in place.

Of course, in this listing, the office of Apostle is mentioned first, as being the most senior office ever granted by Almighty God to Man. These Apostles included, of course, Paul, Peter, John and Andrew. This is now a closed office; these men were chosen to be personal witnesses to the ministry of Jesus, especially witnesses of the resurrection and ascension. I repeat: that is very obviously now a closed office. For more details, see Who/What Were the Apostles, And Are There Any Around Today?

Secondly, 'prophets' are mentioned. It seems from the setting here that it is the New Testament prophets who are being referred to (second in order of importance although, again, not necessarily continuously ongoing). This does not appear to refer to the Old Testament national prophets of Israel (now a completed office: Hebrews 1:1-2), but to 'church prophets.' I have previously written on this office and will say little more here except to remind us all that - especially until the completed Bible canon was established and available - the offices and, indeed, authority in the early Church were essential to respect and to understand. The 'church prophets' had a role which was, apparently, purely concerned with local congregations and the movement of elders and preachers. It seems that the Holy Spirit - on occasion - would grant divine knowledge through these people for the purposes of protection in an age of rampant persecution. See Acts 11:27-30; Acts 13:1-3; Acts 21:10-11. The need was to prepare the tiny new churches for sudden changes in world conditions which might affect them, and assist the protection of certain important leaders. We must understand that this was a day in which no telephone calls could be made nor telegrams sent; in order to assist these fledgling churches, our merciful God raised up several people, such as Agabus, as church-based prophets. It seems clear from the Book of Acts that such individuals were an entirely different genre from the Old Testament national prophets of Israel and Judah. People like Agabus were purely concerned about the Church of God. They were not concerned with making national-scale predictions about this or about that (unlike the modern self-appointed "prophets" who seem to feel that being consistently wrong is the new hallmark of prophets). It can only be helpful to read the article Are There Really Prophets in Today's Church?

The other three offices, evangelist, pastor and teacher may be witnessed today and we need to say no more about them here.

Mainly as a result of this verse (Ephesians 4:11), some believe that God has restored, or is currently restoring, the offices of apostle and prophet in the church today, but this verse suggests no such thing. Paul simply writes to the church at Ephesus of the situation as it was when he wrote his epistle. He is not writing a prophecy, neither is he laying down a pattern for all churches of all time. Let us be sensible about this: If he had been laying down a ministry pattern for every church of every age to follow, surely he would have made that utterly and unmistakably clear so that there could be no future doubt?? The ambiguity is only ambiguous because the offices in the early church are not Paul's central point in this chapter.

Others believe that no church can function without a so-called "five-fold leadership" system being in place but this is frankly nonsensical. Yet again I have noted that those who suggest this are almost always insufficiently tutored in the Bible. They tell us we should have this in place and have that in place but they don't even really know their Bibles in any sort of comprehensive fashion. Frankly, this "five-fold ministry" thing is yet another of these 'flavours of the month'!

So let us be utterly clear about this. Paul's central points here in Ephesians, chapter four, concern:

1. The need for unity. (1-13).

2. That believers should be ready to move forward in spiritual knowledge and maturity. (14-16).

3. That believers should walk worthy of the standards suitable to their calling, no longer behaving as the Gentiles behave. (17-32).

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul is not writing of the ideal church governmental structure that all Christian congregations of all time should follow, rather, in making other points (the three I have just listed), in verse 11 he simply writes of the church governmental situation as it was at the time in which he wrote his epistle with several of the Apostles (obviously including Paul himself), still around and still active, and with the church prophets needing to be particularly active at a time of great persecution upon Christians. He refers to this simply in making the point of the need of unity and for the Ephesian believers to be ready and prepared to move forward in spiritual maturity.
Robin A. Brace, December 25th, 2009.