What is a Fivefold Ministry?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

In many Christian circles, the phrase “fivefold ministry” is often used. In some circles that are predominately charismatic in practice, a fivefold ministry is used to describe a church of today that has five specific roles amongst the congregation. In other circles, a fivefold ministry describes five specific roles in a church that was common until the death of the last Apostle John about 96 A.D. As always, it is good to study the Bible so that we can evaluate form God’s perspective what is a fivefold ministry.

Where does the term fivefold ministry come from?

Nearly everyone agrees that the idea of a fivefold ministry comes from a verse in Ephesians 4 as follows:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:11-12)

In these verses there are five specific roles that are mentioned that Christ gave to the local church. They are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Contrary to what many think, these were positions that had a specific function in the local church. We know this by looking at the entire chapter of Ephesians 4 to get the proper context (1) (2).

What is a fivefold ministry

What are the specific parts of a fivefold ministry?


The word apostle comes from the “Old English apostol, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apostolos ‘messenger,’ from apostellein ‘send forth.’”(3). This word is in keeping with the original 12 apostles that Jesus chose to take the message of salvation to the world (Matthew 10; Luke 11:49; Acts 1-2). Therefore, an apostle is a messenger.

According to the Bible, in order to be an apostle there was a certain requirement. The person being considered had to have been an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus Christ from the beginning until He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:15-26). Although the apostles are mentioned by name in the beginning, there are others that became apostles that were not part of the original group, yet they still met the Biblical requirement of being an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry on earth. Specifically those who were not part of the original 12 are:

• Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14-15)
• Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1 as explained in the context of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)
• James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:18-19)

Using the Biblical definition of an apostle, we can know that there were no more apostles living after the ones mentioned in Scripture. Those who use the title Apostle today do not meet the Biblical requirement to be an apostle. Likewise, there were no apostles in the Old Testament.


The word prophet comes from the “Middle English: from Old French prophete, via Latin from Greek prophētēs ‘spokesman,’ from pro ‘before’ + phētēs ‘speaker’ (from phēnai ‘speak’).”(4). This word is in keeping with the Biblical use of the word of those who speak on behalf of God, both men and women (Genesis 20:7; Exodus 7:1; Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:10). However, the Bible also mentions false prophets as those who do not speak as a spokesperson of God (Acts 13:6; Revelation 2:20).

Therefore, a prophet of God is a spokesperson for God. In the context of Scripture, a prophet is primarily used in the Old Testament as someone that spoke on behalf of God concerning the coming Messiah, kingdom of God, and end times events. However, although not mentioned as directly, the same term can be applied to Jude, John, and Jesus.

With this mind, it is important to understand that if a person calls themselves a prophet, they speak on behalf of God. This is a dangerous thing to claim for two reasons. First, is that everything a person says as a self-proclaimed prophet is then claimed to be literally equal to Scripture. Second, if we are still receiving prophecies in addition to the Old and New Testament, then the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are not the completed Bible and this makes Deuteronomy 4:1-2; Proverbs 30:5-6; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 3; and Revelation 22:18-19 all lies. God forbid!


The word evangelist comes from the “Middle English (sense 2): from Old French évangéliste, via ecclesiastical Latin from ecclesiastical Greek euangelistēs, from euangelizesthai ‘evangelize.’”(5). This word is translated as a person who seeks to convert others to the Christian faith by sharing the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. (6).

The message of an evangelist is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, until the Lord comes there is still a need for evangelists to preach the way of salvation through Christ. However, an evangelist must be someone who understands the true gospel and has trusted Christ as their savior in order to preach a gospel that results in fruit that remains unto Christ (John 15; 2 Timothy 2:1-7)


The word pastor comes from the late “Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French pastour, from Latin pastor ‘shepherd,’ from past- ‘fed, grazed,’ from the verb pascere .”(7). The New Testament Greek word is poimen, which is translated as pastor or shepherd (8). The Old Testament Hebrew word for pastor, raa, is also translated as feed or shepherd (9).

It is clear that a pastor is the shepherd of the local church congregation who is responsible for feeding the local flock of believers. Many pastors, out of deference to Christ, refer to them self as the “under shepherd” of Jesus Christ, who is the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20).


Finally, we have teachers. There is no need to define a teacher. From a mother, who is the first teacher, to a professor, to Jesus Christ Himself, a teacher is anyone who can impart knowledge to others. Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to have a degree in education to be a great teacher.

Biblically, a teacher must have to have the ability to communicate knowledge to others when appropriate (1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:2, 24, Titus 2:1-5). They must also have the Holy Spirit, who gifts them in their understanding and use of Scripture in their teaching (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16) Last, they must know what they are teaching (2 Timothy 2:2). With these points in mind, anyone can be a teacher.

How does a fivefold ministry apply today?

The fivefold ministry of today is one that is based on a few simple points:

  1. The fivefold ministry is built Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of everything they believe and do (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-7)
  2. The fivefold ministry has the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles as its foundation, which are the Word of God in line with the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, all of which are built upon as the living temple of God (John 1:1,14; 1 Corinthians 3:11-14; Ephesians 2:14-22; 1 Peter 2:5)
  3. The fivefold ministry has evangelists who go out into the world and share the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:17-23; 1 Corinthians 9:14-18; 2 Timothy 4:2; Revelation 14:6)
  4. The fivefold ministry has a pastor, or under shepherd, who oversees and feeds the flock and protects the flock from false teaching and evil behaviors of some sheep (Proverbs 27:5; Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 17:3; John 21:16-17, Acts 20:28; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:6-16)
  5. The fivefold ministry trains and equips everyone (believers) in the church to teach others what they have learned as appropriate and challenges them to actively disciple others so that they too can become Christians (Acts 11:26; 1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:2, 24, Titus 2:1-5)

What is the goal of a fivefold ministry?

Finally, the fivefold ministry has as its purpose the goal of perfecting the saints, accomplishing the work of the ministry, and edifying or building up the body of Christ. This ministry continues until everyone comes to the perfect faith and knowledge of Christ and are perfected in the likeness of Christ when the believe stand before the Lord and hears, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21-23).


The fivefold ministry is not founded in becoming a first century church that did not have the completed word of God and needed prophets and Apostles to directly communicate from God to the people. Likewise, it is not founded to become a modern church that seeks to add to God’s Word. Instead, a fivefold ministry is a ministry that is based on the cornerstone of salvation through Christ, the foundations of the Scriptures written by the prophets and apostles, the work of evangelists leading others to Christ, the overseeing of the flock by a pastor, and the teaching of everyone. The fivefold ministry will continue until such time as all believers stand before God perfected physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Take a look at this similar article: How to Find a Bible-believing Church

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) “Preaching: Ephesians 4:1-14 What is your role in the Kingdom of God?” Selah Mountain Ministries, http://wisdom4today.org/preaching-ephesians-41-14-what-is-your-role-in-the-kingdom-of-god/, (2014). (2) “Preaching: Ephesians 4:15-32 Is your behavior becoming of a Christian? Parts 1 & 2.“ Selah Mountain Ministries, http://wisdom4today.org/preaching-ephesians-4-15-32-is-your-behavior-becoming-of-a-christian-part-1/, http://wisdom4today.org/preaching-ephesians-4-15-32-is-your-behavior-becoming-of-a-christian-part-2/, (2014). (3) Google. (2014). “Apostle”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=apostle. (4) Google. (2014). “Prophet”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=prophet. (5) Google. (2014). “Evangelist”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=prophet. (6) Online Etymology Dictionary. (2014). Evangelist. Retrieved from Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=evangelist. (7) Google. (2014). “Pastor”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=pastor. (8) Strong, James, (2014). “Pastor”. Strong’s number G4166. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. (9) Strong, James, (2014). “Pastor”. Strong’s number H7462. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

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