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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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits November 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Great explanation of the Five Fold Ministry Dr. Williams, with one exception,

You state:

“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!”

You set your premise that Prophecy is equal to Scripture. Then you set the condition that any new prophecy, since it is equal to Scripture, must be in the Bible. You are making the assumption that “ALL” of the Words of God are contained in the Logos…the Written Word. That is not true. The Scripture references you cite to defend your position all relate to God forbidding man to add to His written Word…that does not preclude God continuing to speak to us through other means, including prophecy.

I respectfully disagree with your statements on prophets and more specifically, prophecy. I think you limit God by suggesting that “all” He has spoken , does speak, and will speak is contained in the Words of the Bible. That is just not true as the following Scriptures demonstrate:

Lets start with the OT. There were numerous occasions mentioned in the OT where the Spirit of the Lord came upon men and women and they prophesied in the Name of the Lord. Saul’s cohort to capture David was one example:

“…he sent troops to capture him. But when they arrived and saw Samuel leading a group of prophets who were prophesying, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy”(1 Samuel 19:20).

Saul himself prophesied at times when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. A more obscure verse that comes to mind was when David appointed minstrels to prophecy in the Name of the Lord:

“Moreover David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals…Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king. (1 Chron 25:1,2)

In the NT… Anna in the temple at the dedication of Jesus was a prophetess:

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher(Lk 2:36).

All of these people spoke words from the Lord that are not included in the Bible. The Bible does not contain all of the words of God to His people. They include every Word necessary for salvation but not every Word of God past, present or future, to His people.

Look to Revelation when God will raise up His two witnesses. What will they be doing? They will prophecy concerning the coming judgment against the rulers of the day. Those future Words of God are not in the Bible nor will they be, because the Bible is the completed revelation of God to us but not all of His Words. Here it is:

” And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”(Rev 11:3)

Obviously their Words of prophecy are not going to be Scripture(Logos) so they will not be in the Bible. Yet they will be the Words of God from future prophets, prophesying the Words of God.

The NT church in Corinth was encouraged to prophesy. Speaking in tongues with interpretation was encouraged. This was defined as prophecy. Yet we do not have what they spoke(prophesied) in the Bible. Here it is:

” I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened.”(1 Cor 14:5)

John tells you himself that all of the Words of God are not in Scripture. Here it is:

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”(Jn 21:25)

My point. All of God’s Words are not contained between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22:21. Do not misunderstand, the Bible is the complete Logos of God. We limit God though, by suggesting He cannot continue to speak to us through prophecy.




Dr. Michael Williams November 25, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Doc Reit: I agree, not all of God’s Words are in the Bible. I never said they were not. However, the Bible tells us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It also tells that God spoke to us in these last days through Jesus Christ. Prophesies, tongues and miracles as sign gifts in the Bible have ceased because we have the cometed New Testament. The Apostolic fathers write that they no longer saw those gifts after the first centuy. They failed because that which is perfect HAD come, the New Testament – 2 Corinthians 3! The Apostles heard and saw the ministry of Christ but had a MORE SURE Word of prophesy, the Written Word of God. 2 Peter 1. They wrote the New Testament long after the events happened as directed and brought to memory the events. Try having a Biblical discussion with someone who’s only argument is that God spoke to them and told them “X.” It results in confusion and destroyed lives. Tofay, God speaks to us through the written Word. If we include the gift of prophesy as per pre Corinthians, then then anyone can write another testament and claim it is God’s Word, just written a few thousand years later. BTW, cessationists is a term used to stereo type people who add not to God’s Word lest we be found a liar. As for Jefferson and others, my book Silenced in the Schoolhouse covers the topic well.


DocReits November 26, 2014 at 12:17 am

Greetings Dr. Williams,

I do not wish to chase this too far down the rabbit hole before Pastor Jack kicks me off this site. I think it is important, though, to avoid confusion to make an attempt to unravel some ideas here that are, IMO, not only confusing but misleading. This is my humble attempt and please correct me where you see it needed.

Most lay people, myself included, are not as familiar as you on the various terms used by ecclesiastics. There is a difference between “Signed Gifts” and the Gifts themselves. Some in the Cessationist camp will allow that difference, others will not. All believe Signed Gifts such as miracles, prophecy, and/or tongues were manifested and used as a confirmation of God’s message and messenger during the times and only the times of the OT and NT. Such as Elijah confronting the priests of Baal when God consumed Elijah’s sacrifice by fire from heaven. Jesus raising Lazarus, etc.

Some moderate Cessationists believe that the time of the Signed Gifts are now over, after the times of the last apostles in the Bible, but that there still exist tongues, miracles and/or prophecies. These are not employed as signs to confirm the validity of the messenger or the message but are evidenced in individual’s lives. An example of the latter is seeing a miraculous healing of cancer in a friend’s life in response to prayer, or a Christian evidencing the gift of tongues. I do not know, but have an idea, where you come down on that topic.

This will hopefully help and not hinder the understanding of “Signed Gifts” vs the Gifts themselves.


You have been addressing again the Cessationist argument that if prophecy was for today we would somehow automatically embrace the prophet’s words and include them into the Canon of the Bible whether they be false prophets or true. Second, you make the illogical claim that if prophecy was for today then anyone claiming to be a prophet could include their words of prophecy into the Canon as those words would be the same as Scripture.

An example would be a pastor praying over a missionary heading off to a foreign field, praying for God’s guidance and protection(as we have seen many times). At the end of his prayer he sums up by saying, “God has impressed upon my heart, many souls being won to Christ through your ministry”. That was a word of prophecy. You might counter, “No, that was just wishful thinking”. I’m sure the pastor did wish that. I believe also, that God perhaps gave him those words to say just at that moment…a word of prophecy. How do we know if it was from God? Well, come back in 50-75 years and see if that word was true?

In another place I see I made you upset for which I apologize, when I was trying to demonstrate that unintended consequences are not a proof for your argument “IF” those consequences do not follow the logic of your premise. The reason the Pastor’s word of prophecy above would not be in the canon of the Bible is because the canon is complete and does not need to be added to for the world’s need of salvation edification, reproof or teaching.

But just “maybe” that word of prophecy was needed for that missionaries edification and help in a time of desperate need on the mission field…a reminder of God’s Word of prophecy to him. You will counter that he can find that in the Bible without the pastor’s word of prophecy. Agreed, but we are human, and God knows that, and that pastor speaking on God’s behalf certainly brought a special personal word of comfort to that missionary. I would hesitate to say that was not God’s Word, specifically to him, because then you might be in a place like Paul, of thinking you are right, but in reality, you are perhaps kicking against the goads.

Finally, congratulations on the book. It looks interesting. I just finished “Bible Law vs The US Constitution”:


Quite illuminating and shaking. Our roots at Plymouth Rock were as a Christian Nation with many Christian Charters, in the early decades, all using the Bible as their early and only Constitution. By the time of the US Constitution we were far from Christian. Did you know there is no mention of God in our Constitution? Did you know that all forms of Government are theocracies? People just allow different gods to form their charters…whether Islam, Christian or secular humanist. We chose the latter in the US Constitution as God does not determine justice and ensure domestic tranquility within its charter…it is stated in big letters in our Preamble who America’s god is…”We the People”…sobering

Thank you again for your kind remarks…



Dr. Michael Williams November 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Thanks for your reply Doc Reits. The two witnesses you speak of were prophesied that they would come after the resurrection. Anyone, and I repeat, anyone who say’s they speak of as a prophet of God is no different than those who God spoke to for the written Word. If what you say is true then how can anyone claim the book of Mormon is not part of the Bible? How can anyone say cult leaders do not speak for God and their writings are not Scripture? Modern “prophets” claim they speak on behalf of God so to say their words are not Scripture is denying what 1 Corinthians 13, 2 Corinthians 3, and 2 Peter 1:16-21? We have the completed Word of God. Anything else is adding to God’s Word. Many people do not seem to understand that the written Word of God was spoken first to those who wrote it. A lot of the mess we have had since the 1850s is because people think that those sign gifts that were responsible for confirming God’s Word have started again. That is why Jesus said many would come to him claiming to do these things and he would say, “Depart from me I never knew you!” Look at any commentary written before 1800 and you will not find mention of sign gifts being practiced past 100 AD until the “Toronto Blessing” in the 1850’s where people tried to “recreate the Apostolic experience.” This is what Jesus prophesied.


DocReits November 24, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Thank you for your quick reply Dr. Williams,

I think we have different definitions of Scripture. I believe Scripture, as the Miriam-Webster dictionary defines it is:

“Scripture : the books of either the Old Testament or the New Testament or of both : the Bible”

You have said Scripture is every Word of God. Does that mean to you, that every Word that God has ever spoken is contained in the Bible or that there are extra-Biblical Words of God, not contained in the Bible, which you include in your definition of the term “Scripture”? Clearing this up will be very helpful. For:

I gave you many examples of the Words of God spoken by many people in my previous post, in both the OT and NT, not contained in the Bible. Are those Words spoken by those Prophets, I cited, also Scripture, in your meaning of the word? You can see the need for the definition of terms.

Second, you ask,

“If what you say is true then how can anyone claim the book of Mormon is not part of the Bible? How can anyone say cult leaders do not speak for God and their writings are not Scripture?”

(Fallacy of Appeal to Consequences:

An appeal to consequences argues that a proposition must be true because otherwise a consequence will follow which is unacceptable for reasons outside the logic of the argument)

I would add the same way the early disciples decided that Docetism was heresy, as an example. John himself refuted this heresy in 1 John 4:2-3, stating that Jesus had indeed come in the flesh.

Also, to determine if prophecy is true, we see if prophecy agrees with Scripture(meaning the written Word of God contained in the Bible). Next, just as in the OT, does the prophecy come true? Look to Agabus in Acts as an example:

” One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.”(Acts 11:28)

Famine…prophet. No famine….false prophet.

The slippery slope which Cessationists stands on Dr. Williams is that they must redact, as Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther did, broad swatches of Scripture to fit their view of God. The entire chapter 1 Cor 12 must be redacted for “we the Church” it was written for if the signed gifts are not for today. Luther wanted to throw the whole book of James into the Rhine….same deal.

Your appeal to the lack of evidence for signed gifts in the later church(after 100 AD) is not proof of their intended demise by God. It perhaps was an indictment by God of the later church’s departure from His Ways. Read what your fellow Cessationists have to say:

“According to their historical study, “the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD”.[12] An interesting thing about their cessationist view is that it is a semi-continuationist view; that is, the gifts could have continued until Christ’s return, but instead ended “sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD”. The conclusion of their historical study is as follows: “Thus, we must discard the doctrine that the gifts were supposed to pass away before Christ’s return. Instead, we must accept the fact that the gifts were supposed to continue as a confirmation of sound doctrine until Christ’s return but were lost as the Church deviated from that sound doctrine given by Christ to the apostles and by the apostles to the early Church of the first few centuries”.[13]” Wiki

I, obviously, am a continuationist. I do not expect my small remonstration to sway your opinion, nor yours, mine. It is a blessing for me, and perhaps others, to hear differences of opinion among brothers in the Lord, to help us all to perhaps dig deeper into this faith we all hold dear. Thank you for the conversation.




Dr. Michael Williams November 25, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Fallacy of Appeal to Consequences: Definition: a philosophical term used to deny any a valid Scriptural argument point because there is a consequence. Rebuttal: a Fallacy of Appeal to Consequences: can be inverted to deny ALL arguments of Scripture based simply on the notion that mentioning any consequence makes it untrue. Bottom line.., all Scrupture has consequences because it is alive. Instead of using philosophy to rebuff the question of the book of Mormon, use Scripture. This demonstrates the danger of extrabiblical sources of argument. “Whether there be prophesies, they shall cease.”


David November 25, 2014 at 1:36 am

Dr. Williams, I too disagree about both Apostles and Prophets, never mind.
The prophesies that were made by certain cult leaders that never came to pass, I think, proved that they were false prophets, however, the gift of prophesy is relevant today.
Blessings, David Central Europe.


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