The Five Fold Ministry - April 2019

By David K. Bernard     Ephesians 4 identifies five types of leaders in the church and describes their function in the body of Christ. These ministerial offices are filled by those whom God has called to preach, teach, and lead His church. Today we often call them the “fivefold ministry” or “ministers of the gospel.” (See Ephesians 3:7.) The United Pentecostal Church International grants ministerial credentials to those who have a call to this type of ministry. The passage describes how they are to develop other ministries in the church.

It’s important to understand that the word ministry simply means “service.” In the New Testament, the term minister doesn’t refer specifically to a preacher but simply means a servant. In the Middle Ages, a sharp distinction arose between clergy and laity, and this attitude influences churches even today. The priests were the only ones qualified to approach God directly, to read and understand the Bible, and to perform the sacred work of the church. The laity were mostly observers, and typically they couldn’t even understand the language (Latin) the priest used in the worship service. They had to confess their sins to a priest and perform the penance he prescribed.

The Protestant Reformation proclaimed the priesthood of all believers. Every individual could approach God directly through the mediatorial sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everyone could intercede on his or her own and on behalf of others. Moreover, everyone should have an active role in the life of the church.

Ephesians 4:11–12 shows us that every believer has a ministry, or place of service in the body. The Lord has given the fivefold ministry to the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Because of commas in the King James Version, some have assumed that these leaders have three tasks: to perfect (equip) the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to edify (build up) the body. Actually, there is one unfolding task: These leaders are to equip the saints (all believers) so that the believers can do the work of ministry (service in the church). When every believer is trained for a place of service and functions in that place, then the body of Christ will be built up. The leaders aren’t supposed to do all the work, but they motivate, train, and develop everyone under their care so that everyone can work together. When everyone is productive in the Kingdom, then the church can truly grow to maturity as God intends. Local churches will become strong, and the worldwide church will fulfill its divine mission.

In short, everyone is called to serve. Everyone should have a ministry, although not everyone has the ministry of preaching, teaching, and leading. All of God’s people are to be ministers in the biblical sense, that is, servants in the work of the Lord. The job of the fivefold ministry is not to do all the work of the church—not even all the public speaking, soulwinning, or decision making—but to equip the people of the congregation so that all of them find places of service and together everyone works to build up the body of Christ. The church should function as a team, and the ministers of the gospel are the leaders and facilitators of that team.

Ministries can overlap; a person may fulfill more than one role, and a person’s ministry may shift over time. For example, in the Book of Acts, Philip began as an administrative servant of the church, probably what was later called a deacon, but then became an evangelist. The important thing isn’t to seek a title or to fit into a rigid mold but to recognize the call of God and to fulfill the ministry He has given. (See Colossians 4:17.)

As we have indicated, these ministers are stewards of people. They are not to be dictators, monarchs, mediatorial priests, or solo performers. Instead, they are leaders, trainers, teachers, coaches, motivators, encouragers, and facilitators. Their task is to inspire and encourage people to grow; to help them identify their gifts and callings; to equip, develop, and train all believers for service. Not everyone is called to be a preacher or a pastor, and not all pastors are called to be senior pastors. Nevertheless, everyone is called to serve in the body of Christ. There should be a continuum of ministry in which everyone participates.

 

This article has been adapted from David K. Bernard, Spiritual Leadership in the Twenty-first Century (2015).