The Five-fold Ministry

I don’t really like the terminology: "Five-fold ministry." However, I can see why it’s used, since five particular gifts are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12 as being tasked with the job of perfecting the saints for the work of ministry and the building of the body of Christ.

Five-fold or Four-fold?

As a side note, it is possible that this should be "four-fold" ministry. Each of the gifts listed is preceded by "some to be" (KJV) or "some as" (NASB) except the last one, teachers. There we read " … and some as shepherds and teachers." Thus, some scholars believe that Paul meant to say that this "some" are meant to be both shepherds and teachers, not two different groups of people.

Literally, I would agree with those scholars, but practically, I think that interpretation makes a very big false assumption. It is common today to assume that the Bible has a list of gifts which God has categorized, each distinct from the other. I don’t believe that is true. God gives grace to people, and in Ephesians 4 he is giving people, gifted by grace, to the church. Neither God’s grace nor God’s people can always be separated into distinct categories. Such boxes break and spill over into others all the time in real life.

Thus, on a practical basis, there will be some who are shepherds and teachers, and there will be some who are great shepherds, but whose teaching is at best adequate, and vice versa.

Pastor or Shepherd?

Sorry, one more side note:

The KJV uses "pastors" in Ephesians 4:11, which is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament of the KJV. The word Paul wrote is just the Greek word for shepherds. "Pastor" is a nice religious word, but Paul wasn’t using a religious word. He just said "shepherd," so that’s what I say, too.

That’s important because the use of "pastor" disguises apostolic teaching on church leadership. Paul says it is the job of the elders to shepherd the church of God (Acts 17:28), and Peter agrees with him. Of course, it’s difficult to tell in the KJV that Peter agrees with him because the KJV has Peter telling the elders to "feed" the church of God rather than shepherd them. The Greek word Peter uses is poimanate, the verb form (2nd person plural, imperative mood, aorist tense, active voice) of shepherd, which as a noun is poimen.

Today, Protestant churches commonly have a pastor and a board of elders, if they have elders at all. Roman Catholic churches have simply changed the word elder to priest, but their "presbyters" are at least still functioning as the shepherds of their churches. (Well, they’re supposed to be, but you’re as unlikely to find that happening in the 21st century in Roman Catholic churches as you are to find shepherding happening in Protestant churches. But we’ll cover that more as we go on.)

The First Three Ministries

Enough said about shepherds and teachers. Those aren’t really mysteries to us today. We understand both concepts.

I think we’ll understand them better, however, once we learn to understand the first three ministries, which have NOT disappeared. I know the idea of modern apostles and prophets is controversial, but that’s only because so many churches are either ignorant of what those offices are or are so carnal that spiritual gifts among them are rare or unknown.

There is no ground whatsoever for arguing that apostles and prophets should not exist today.


The original twelve apostles can never be duplicated. Consider these verses:

How will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation, which was spoken to by the Lord at first, then confirmed to us by those that heard them. God also testified to them with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and with gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will. (Heb. 2:3-4)

It was necessary for me to write to you and to exhort you that you should earnestly fight for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

As Clement of Rome put it just 30 years or so after those verses, "The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God." (1 Clement 42, c. A.D. 96). Tertullian adds, "From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed" (Prescription Against Heretics 21, c. A.D. 210).

The twelve apostles (and Paul) are the ones who "confirmed to us" the great salvation preached by Jesus Christ. The rest of us are the "us" of Hebrews 2:3 who should be earnestly battling for the faith which was delivered to us, and which did not come from us but from Jesus Christ and through the original apostles.

But Scripture describes many more apostles than the twelve. We can begin with Paul, as a thirteenth apostle, but it doesn’t end there. Acts 14:14 says that Barnabas was an apostle, too.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6 suggest not only that Silas and Timothy were apostles, too, but that anyone who traveled with Paul preaching the Gospel was an apostle.

There were those who were the "they," the original apostles who brought the Gospel to the earth, witnessing to the resurrection of our Lord, which proved him to be the Son of God, Lord, and Messiah. But there were also later apostles, who were not eyewitnesses of the resurrection, but who joined them in the work of raising up churches.

If you are going to raise up a church, you need to have two essential gifts. You have to have the gift of evangelism, and you have to be able to shepherd as well. You have to be an evangelist, or you will have no one to form into a church. You have to be able to shepherd, or you will fail at raising up the church. Instead, the sheep will scatter and become useless to God, mere fodder for the wolves of this world.

Sure enough, that is the picture that we see painted in Scripture concerning apostles like Paul and Timothy … and Titus.

Before I show you the Scriptures that describe the apostolic work of Paul, Timothy, and Titus, let me dispel another modern myth, very deep-rooted, but based on nothing at all.

Were Timothy and Titus Pastors?

The two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are known as "the pastoral epistles" because of the assumption that Timothy and Titus were pastors.

This is a terrible assumption, based on exactly the error I described above when I used shepherds rather than pastors to describe one of the gifts in Ephesians 4:11. In the apostles’ writings, elders are the ones who do the shepherding (and they are exactly the same people who are called "bishops"). Timothy and Titus are told to appoint elders, not to be elders. And once they appoint the elders, Paul asks them to leave the churches they are temporarily watching over (2 Tim. 4:21; Tit. 3:12-13).

Apostles As Shepherds

Paul often got no chance to be a shepherd. Sometimes that was just because he was traveling, but other times it was because he was run out of town by the enemies of God.

This did not stop him from caring for the churches.

In Acts 14:21-23 we see him returning with Barnabas "confirming the souls of the disciples" and appointing elders in every church.

In Acts 20, we see Paul calling for elders from Ephesus whom he has already appointed, and he describes his activities when he was first with the church at Ephesus:

Therefore, watch, and remember that for the space of three years I did not stop warning you night and day with tears. And now, brothers, I commend you to God and to the Word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:31-32)

This is Paul being a shepherd, building up the church until he could turn it over to those elders God had raised up who would take over the job of shepherding.

With the Thessalonians, he shepherded them in this way:

We were gentle with you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her children. Longing for you affectionately, we were willing to impart to you not just the Gospel of God but even our own lives. … You know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you like a father does his children so that you would walk worthy of God, who has called you into his glory and kingdom. (1 Thess. 2:7-8, 11-12)

But Paul didn’t always have time to always stay with his churches. The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the latest of Paul’s life, and in them he refers to himself as "Paul the aged."

He had developed a team, an apostolic team, all of whom had the right to be called apostles, and rather than stick around to do the exhausting work of shepherding a new church, he left Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete to do it for him.

But it wasn’t a lifetime work for them, either. They were to raise up elders to take their place, then return to Paul. That is why 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are the only places in the apostolic writings that give the qualifications of an elder (or bishop, which is exactly the same thing to Paul).

Apostles As Evangelists

I mentioned that apostles needed to be evangelists as well.

The word "evangelist" is only used twice in Paul’s letters. One is in Ephesians 4:11, and the other is 2 Tim. 4:5, where Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

Notice that he does not tell Timothy that he is an evangelist; he tells him to do the work of an evangelist. Apostles need to do that. New growth helps fuel the church.

This are the only places that the word "evangelist" is used in Paul’s letters, but he uses another word, translated "preacher," which means exactly the same thing. (The proof of that from Scripture will have to wait for a different post.)

Paul refers to himself as a "preacher" (kerux) in both 1 Tim. 2:7 and 2 Tim. 1:11. Evangelism and shepherding both must be done by apostles.

Evangelists Today

This post is so long already, and it covers what I really wanted to cover, so I’m only going to touch on this subject.

Evangelists are listed as separate from pastors and teachers or pastor/teachers (depending on which is the right translation of Paul’s Greek words).

Today, however, we’re very confused about the work of an evangelist. We have evangelists traveling around preaching in our churches. Evangelists need to preach outside the churches! Shepherds, who actually should be called elders and do the work of shepherding, should be doing the majority of the teaching inside the churches.

We’re all mixed up. Our pastors (shepherds) are standing up preaching evangelistic sermons to what we call the church. Then we bring in evangelists, which unlike Scripture does not mean someone who preaches the Gospel to the lost but instead means someone who travels rather than staying in one place, to whip the church into a zealous frenzy so that they start living like Christians.

Those roles should be reversed. (It may sound like I used "zealous frenzy" as a negative term, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m all for us being in a zealous frenzy. I’d much rather God be settling us down than having to light a fire under us or threaten us all the time.)

Prophets today

Just one note here. Read about what the prophet Agabus did for the church in the Book of Acts (11:28ff; 21:10ff) and think about whether the writings of the apostles have replaced the role he filled. We still need prophets like him today.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to The Five-fold Ministry

  1. Pingback: Shepherds? Sheep are smelly….and you do wash their feet don’t you? – Salt, Light, Wash Feet Ministry

  2. Sonny says:

    The “Homestyle” congregations that are growing need to understand this teaching and more as the “Apostles” and “Prophets” are ravaging the little gatherings that are without humble shepherds. Those from the divided denominated daughters of the church of Babylon are looking for the “traditions of men” as in Clergy when they should “Walk in the Light” IMHO, Would like to share this as a reference when I write to the shepherds of the “Wearechurch” ministry. Many of the groups are dealing with this. WEAREChurch teaches to select homegrown humble qualified shepherds.

  3. Sam says:

    Well done, as usual. I always look forward to your writings and I’ve learned so much through them.

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