The Five Fold Ministry Part 2 - May 2019

By David K. Bernard     Let us look briefly at the five types of church leaders in Ephesians 4:11.

The word apostle means someone who is sent, someone who has received a commission. Jesus Christ chose twelve apostles to establish the church as eyewitnesses of the Incarnation and Atonement and later chose Paul as apostle to the Gentiles. The apostles had unique qualifications and a unique foundational role. (See Revelation 21:14.) No one can take their place. (The early church didn’t replace James in Acts 12.) They and their associates wrote the New Testament.

The early church also identified some other ministers as apostles including Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia (probably husband and wife), Apollos, James the Lord’s brother, Silas, and Timothy. (See Acts 14:14; Romans 16:7; I Corinthians 4:6–9; Galatians 1:19; I Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6.) The title describes ministers commissioned by God and the church to open new areas to the gospel (pioneer missionaries) or key regional or ethnic leaders.

We also find prophets in the early church. (See Acts 13:1; 21:10.) A prophet is one who speaks on behalf of God. While all preachers of the gospel are God’s spokespersons in a general sense, some have a special ministry of speaking for God in certain situations, speaking to God’s people and fellow leaders to give encouragement, warning, and guidance. Their message sometimes involves prediction of the future, but more generally it gives insight into God’s plan and direction for God’s work.

The titles of apostle and prophet are somewhat controversial because from the first century until now some have wrongly used them to assert authority over everyone else. (See II Corinthians 10:18; 11:13; Revelation 2:2, 20.) Consequently, we rightly question those who try to appoint themselves to these roles. When someone exercises such a ministry, the recipients must decide how to interpret and apply it. (See Acts 21:10–14.) Typically it’s best to fulfill these ministries without seeking these titles. Some may be organizational leaders, because when choosing leaders we look for spiritual qualifications and for God’s will. Others may not be organizational leaders but spiritual leaders who have influence in our fellowship. In both cases, they are generally recognized as preachers to preachers and leaders of leaders. However, their ministries don’t confer the right to bypass or supersede pastoral authority or church government (whether local or general). For example, Peter and Paul submitted to the leadership of the general body, recognized one another’s roles, and respected local church government. (See Acts 11; 15; 21:17–26; Galatians 2; II Corinthians 2:10; 8:8–12; 9:5.)

An evangelist focuses on proclaiming the gospel to the lost. We typically use the term for an itinerant preacher, but the two aren’t necessarily equivalent. The ministry of some traveling preachers may consist primarily of instruction and encouragement to the church. Some evangelists may remain in one area indefinitely, partnering with a pastor to win souls and fulfilling roles such as outreach director or Bible study coordinator.

The word pastor literally means “shepherd.” The pastor is responsible to lead, feed, protect, maintain, and grow the local assembly. The New Testament also uses the words bishop, meaning “overseer,” and elder (presbyter) for this office. (See Acts 20:17–28; Titus 1:5–9; I Peter 5:1–4.) The believers of each city were members of one church even though they met in multiple private homes. In Paul’s day the church at Rome apparently consisted of at least five different groups. (See Romans 16:5–15.) The New Testament thus speaks of the “elders” (plural) of a city. We might regard them as the ministerial team of an assembly with a senior pastor or the group of pastors of various house meetings in a city. The senior pastor is the overseer and leader of the local church, and others can have a pastoral ministry of assisting in the oversight, care, encouragement, instruction, and feeding of the flock. Ultimately, all are undershepherds under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (I Peter 5:4).

Today we sometimes use the term bishop in an informal, specialized way for a senior minister who turns over responsibilities to another pastor. If this leader retains senior administrative authority, then he is still the senior pastor in official UPCI terminology. Otherwise, he is an honorary or advisory pastor (pastor emeritus).

Finally we have the teacher, or instructor. While not every teacher is a senior pastor, in a sense every pastor must be a teacher. The pastor must at times do the work of an evangelist to reach the lost (II Timothy 4:5). Yet as a shepherd, the pastor must have a strong teaching ministry or facilitate one by using other teachers (I Timothy 3:2). 

These ministers are God’s gifts to the church and stewards of people. Their task is to inspire and encourage the saints to grow; to help them identify their gifts and callings; to equip, develop, and train all believers for service. Everyone is called to serve in the body of Christ.


Adapted from David K. Bernard, Spiritual Leadership in the Twenty-first Century