Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Should the Five-Fold Ministry Still Be Active Today?

Should the Five-Fold Ministry Still Be Active Today?

In any discussion of the greatest baseball players ever the names Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle are always part of the conversation. Willie and Mickey could hit for a high average, hit for power, run well, throw well, and field well. In a nutshell, they could do it all. These players are known as “five-tool players.” They are those rare athletes who can do everything well.

When I first heard the phrase “five-fold ministry” my mind immediately went to the “five-tool players” of baseball. Is this just a pastor who can do everything? What is a five-fold ministry? And do they still exist today?

Where Did the Idea of the Five-Fold Ministry Come From?

In Ephesians 4:11-13 the Apostle Paul says:

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.

It is from this verse that the concept of five-fold ministry stems. The phrase “five-fold ministry” is a relatively new phrase. You will be hard-pressed to find historical references to a five-fold ministry. One of the first references I can find is that of Edward Irving in 1824. Frank Viola gives an apt summary:

[Irving] began teaching that “the five-fold ministry” of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers had disappeared from the church and was in need of restoration. According to Irving, the restoration of these ministries would usher in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on the earth. Irving and his followers began the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832. Its chief purpose was to restore “the five-fold ministry” and usher in the Millennial Kingdom. The Church ordained twelve “apostles” who were to be the last days equivalent of the original Twelve whom Jesus appointed.

This teaching has experienced various waves—often connected with Charismatic revivals. The most recent iteration is found in New Apostolic Reformation circles. This movement, in line with Irving, believes that the office of prophet and apostolic governance is being restored in these last days.

What Is the Five-Fold Ministry?

The basic idea of five-fold ministry is that all of the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 are still active and necessary for proper governance of the church of today. Apostles are to govern, prophets to guide, evangelists gather, pastors guard, and teachers ground. The argument, then, is that without these gifts being exercised within the church then the church body will suffer. Have you ever witnessed all of the infighting in a typical protestant denomination where there isn’t an apostle to govern? Have you been in a church where they are without evangelists, and they become the “frozen chosen”? It’s not hard to see why it would be necessary to have these ministries. And when they work in unison, it is argued, it can be a beautiful thing.

What would it look like to be in a church with a five-fold ministry? The specifics would likely be different in each setting but as a general rule, those deemed apostles would be tasked with setting vision and strategy for the church body. These would be the leaders of the organization. A prophet would hear directly from God and then declare that word to the people. Jim Goll would define the prophetic role as “A man or woman who represents the interests of God to the people. Having stood in the council of God, the prophet releases a clarion call to the people of what is in God's heart at the moment.” An evangelist would be tasked with inviting others and gathering people into the church. The pastor would care for the flock—by meeting with them and providing care and comfort. And the teacher would connect God’s Word with the people of God.

While some would believe that certain gifted people are “five-fold ministers” most believe these roles are filled by multiple people. As it has been said, “The apostle lives with leaders; the prophet lives with God; the evangelist lives with the lost; the pastor lives with the people; and the teacher lives with the word.”

Ephesians 4:12 explains what these gifts are for; namely, the equipping of the saints. It is argued that all of these are needed for the saints to be properly equipped and to become mature in the Lord. As each of these “gifts to the church” executes their calling then the entire church is built up into maturity.

So, why do some people have a problem with “five-fold ministry”? Why would anyone argue that this isn’t still present in our day?

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Is the Five-Fold Ministry Still Active?

There is much conceptually to commend in five-fold ministry. It is certainly true from the Scriptures that a plurality of leaders using their specific gifts is healthier for a church. And it is also helpful to acknowledge that these “gifts” are given not for personal power or notoriety but in order to equip others for flourishing. It is healthy to share ministry. And it is healthy to have a concept of ministry which has its aim the flourishing of others in Jesus. So, what’s the problem?

One of the chief issues here is that the role of an apostle seems to be different today than what we see in the Scriptures. There is often an unhealthy level of authority given to these leaders that seems to be foundational in the Scriptures. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. It can be argued, then, that the foundation of the church has already been laid. When God’s revelation was given to us through the apostles and prophets those roles (at least in the New Testament sense) were no longer needed.

Furthermore, the way the apostles and prophets seem to have functioned within the New Testament is different than what we often see in these churches. Paul referred to himself as the last apostle (1 Corinthians 15:8). It is informative that very early in the church these titles seemed to have disappeared. Those of elder/bishop/overseer/shepherd seemed to take precedent. Those in the early church, who functioned similarly to the apostles, made a sharp distinction between themselves and the apostles. Consider Ignatius who, while making an argument about the necessity of listening to your leaders, likens the bishop to Christ and the elders to the apostles. They do not seem to believe in the early church that these gifts continued.

It would require a much lengthier argument to discuss the differences between a biblical prophet and what we see called “prophecy” today. While there is certainly debate on whether prophecy still exists most will agree that the modern iteration of prophecy is not infallible. It is at least of a somewhat different nature than what we see on the pages of the New Testament.

In one sense I do not believe you can make a biblical case for the five-fold ministry being active still today. At least not in the sense that we see it displayed in something like the New Apostolic Reformation. But in another sense, the gifts that God has given to the church are still being used—even if differently. God still equips his church to accomplish her purpose.

At the end of the day though the way we often talk about spiritual gifts and “five-fold ministries” is often backwards. We engage in things like spiritual gift inventories (which can be helpful) and tests to see if we might have one of these five ascension gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4. But this is most certainly not the way gifts were “discovered” in the early church. Today we take a test and discover that we are a “teacher” or a “healer” or a “prophet” and then try to find a way for those gifts to be exercised in the local body.

But in the New Testament, it seems to have functioned differently (though the above model might have been more in line with the dysfunction we see in Corinth). If you want to know what your spiritual gift is start with a need. Imagine a family in your church has just lost their home to a fire, they are devastated. You want to help them. What comes to your mind?

Do you think of physical needs and think about giving them a gift card to purchase new clothes? Do you think of praying with them? Do you come alongside and provide spiritual support and counsel? Do you cook them a meal? Do you think about organizing other people to help this family? You get the idea. God has wired us within the church with gifts and passions and we often discover them in the context of need.

Much of these conversations start from the wrong place. Love Jesus. Love people. And you’ll see that whatever gifts God has given to the local church will rise up to be the hands and feet of Jesus.


If you want to govern your local body according to some sort of five-fold model and call a group of leaders the apostolic team—then I’d say go for it. So long as the rest of your theology is sound and you are truly using these gifts for the flourishing of other people, there probably isn’t going to be much damage. But if you’re going to end up claiming for yourself some special level of authority—or unchallenged words from God—then you’re probably on dangerous ground.

Love Jesus. Love people. And the exercising of gifts will probably take care of itself.

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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake.