What is the purpose of 5-fold ministry?

In many churches, people get excited when one of the so called "five-fold ministries" comes to town. (The name "five-fold comes from the passage quoted below in Ephesians 4.) They hope to receive a personal prophetic word from the prophet, or see many people become Christians when an evangelist gives an altar call. They like to receive good teaching from someone with a teaching ministry. They hope to see these people showcase their gifts in an impactful way.

The only problem is that this is not the purpose of these gifts that Jesus has given to the church.

 This is what Ephesians 4:11-12 says: Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

According to this passage, these people are gifts of Jesus to his church. The five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4 are there to equip God's people to do the work of ministry. This means they impart to others, training them in the skills that are needed to function in their particular area of gifting. They are not doing all  the work of ministry themselves.

The apostle trains others to think strategically about the Kingdom, starting churches etc.

The prophet teaches others to prophesy.

The evangelist teaches people to spread the good news of the Kindom and make disciples.

The teacher trains others in how to teach.

The pastor teaches people how to care for others.

The purpose of Ephesians 4 ministries is not that they showcase their gifts, but they train others with the skills they have been given.

23 thoughts on “What is the purpose of 5-fold ministry?”

  1. It’s taken me a while to come to understand this. In my reaction to the institutional church, I went through a long period of trying to understand what the gifts are or how they would look outside of that setting. My previous experience with the word “pastor” was with a man who was offended if you didn’t use it as a title before saying his first name. In coming to understand the gifts outside of the institution, they make sense for the first time in a long time.

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  2. Very good and usually misunderstood, as far as I understand it. 😉 Another way to look at it also is that the five are functions, not titles. Pastoring/shepherding is a function of an elder/overseer. Same with prophecy, evangelism, teaching. They also aren’t exclusive but reflect giftedness, as you point out, Felicity. For instance, we should all be be teaching and all engaged in evangelism, regardless of our gifts. Apostle could be considered a title based on a person’s track record of planting or multiplying or discipling churches and church leaders.

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  3. Hmm. I’ve never looked at this way. So someone can and should be teaching even if they are not gifted for it?
    But would you still have those who are gifted in teaching “lead” the discussion of Scripture, and those who are gifted in evangelism “lead” the efforts to spread the good news of the Kingdom?

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  4. Jeremy,
    I’m sure that will be true much of the time, but Ephesians 4 is really clear. Here it is in the New Living Translation: Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
    And verse 12 in the Amplified:His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ’s body (the church),
    Now will someone with no teaching gift do public, up-front teaching. Probably not. But anyone can be trained in patterns of Bible study where the Word itself is a teacher and study with their not-yet-believing neighbor? I think so.
    In India, our friends take illiterate housewives and have them learn Biblical principles, including Bible verse and reference, and they practice until they are able to expound a certain number of teachings. Apparently they can confound college and seminary graduates. They can apply the principles they learn to other situations too.

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  5. In the Great Commission, which is a command to all of us, we are commanded to teach people to obey everything he commanded. Nothing is said about being gifted to do so. We can teach one on one, in an LTG, in a small grouop or from a pulpit, I suppose. We are to teach and be taught. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 — teach, rebuke, correct, train, equip.

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  6. I have been reading several blog along with my personal study of Ephesians 4.1-16 for our men’s Bible study this Saturday. I have asked them to read and re-read especially 4.11-16. I have asked them to “translate and interpret” this into their own words to force some more thinking about what the passage means.
    I think we get so stuck on whether there is 4 or 5 gifts/roles, etc. that we may miss the intent. My own take is Jesus gives various leadership gifts to coordinate and guidance so the church body (family, community or whatever word also fits) work together in such a loving, strengthening way (all those “one another”s are in play) that they can stand in the face of false teachers and present such a remarkable replica of Jesus that the world is both drawn in and reached out to.

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  7. Noel, You’ve hit the nail on the head with your description of “being such a remarkable replica of Jesus that the world is both drawn in and reached out to.” That is the purpose of Jesus’ gifts to his church.

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  8. I have a question for any who have been studying this passage. Why do you think that in the original quote in the psalms, it implies that we are giving gifts to God, and here in Ephesians, Jesus is giving gifts to us. I’m sure both are true, but I was interested by it and wonder if it has any significance. Any thoughts?

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  9. I think another key to this Scripture is that the teaching/training of the “5-fold” is not Western style training with systematic lesson plans and cirriculum. “5-fold” teaching is not formal and intellecutal, but heart-to-heart, hands-on discipleship that is done in real life situations instead of classroom/sermon situations. “5-fold” teaching should model Jesus with His disciples and be reational instead of academic and highly structured.

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  10. Felicity Dale: “In India, our friends take illiterate housewives and have them learn Biblical principles, including Bible verse and reference, and they practice until they are able to expound a certain number of teachings. Apparently they can confound college and seminary graduates. They can apply the principles they learn to other situations too.”
    Wow Felicity, this is an awesome and fruitful statement. I’d like to hear more about this, seems there may be an important story here. Cheers, Bruce

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  11. Felicity and Bruce,
    I would like to hear more of that too. Of course, and not be skeptical, but it sounds a bit like the Mormon missionaries who have learned their scripts well enough to respond to most of the objections to their views.
    Although, now that I say that, I suppose that is one form of teaching…

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  12. I use to think like you – that each of the different ministries
    reproduced its function among others. I have since come to see how it is
    more than that. The purpose is to equip God’s people for works of
    service or ministry (depending on your translation) – in each person’s
    own gifting and calling, not necessarily the
    apostle/prophet/evangelist/teacher&pastor’s gifting and calling.
    This broader perspective makes a BIG difference.

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    1. Jim, I really like this idea. Maybe it involves recognizing the gifting required for a particular vision and encouraging what you see of that in the person. This assumes that God gives a person a vision that is appropriate to their gifting.

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      1. It’s not so hard. I have found that a person’s passions will match their calling, which in turn will match their gifting. It may be expressed in the fellowship, or outside the fellowship. Doesn’t matter. God calls His people to all spheres of life.

        Rather than reproduce my gifts, I help them move into their gifts by looking for their passion and doing what I can to see it mature. In fact, that’s my gift, I think! But it also is a sign of mature leadership. What are we reproducing? Christ in us, or Christ in them?

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  13. Yes, like spiritual parents, each one imparts what they have into the body of Christ helping each of us to mature and then go and do the same; investing our talents into others. Thank you for taking time to make it plain and simple. Each has it’s purpose and all are needed to make the body of Christ complete. – the church is one with Christ as the head.

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  14. how can a prophet can teach about prophecies, because the prophecies are not by the will of man but it will of the lord., give me clarification sir.

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    1. And yet Paul says in 1 Cor 14:5, I wish you would all prophesy. Not everyone is a prophet, (as an office), it is true. Some have the ministry of prophecy, and they can teach others how to prophesy. As it says in this passage in Ephesians 4–their work is to equip the saints.

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