A Practical and Biblical Application of the 5 Fold Ministry


Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Let me explain some problems I see in the commonly observed application of this scripture, and then I’ll explain what I see these verses are declaring to the Church.

First of all, it’s apparent by the common application of this group of gifts that there is disparity in their value to the Church. 

In my observation, Apostles are commonly viewed as either elected offices within our organization (District or General), or in some cases they are men who have risen to a stature among other men. These men either ‘are’ leaders of other men, ‘seen as’ leaders among other men, or men who pastor more than one church. In essence, these are men who are highly esteemed by others. There are very few ever given this austere recognition among us.

My observation about how we perceive Prophets is men (sometimes women) who are gifted in the supernatural, workers of the miraculous, or those who privately hear mysteries from God and communicate them to people. Again, there are very few people who are ever given this recognition or title, and those who proclaim to have (or ‘be’ as it were, in our common application) this recognition or title are often viewed suspiciously by others.

As I observe our application of the Evangelist, this is the itinerant preacher who carries an extra faith to churches, and generally makes their livelihood through honorariums given in places they preach. As opposed to the very uncommon attribution of Apostle or Prophet, this gift seems to be much more prolific among us. Of course, evangelists also seem to come in different levels of effectiveness, experience, and reputation. They are not regarded even in the same league as the two preceding offices.

Then I observe our treatment of the Pastor gift. Of course, the Pastor is commonly understood as the main leader of the congregation… the one who is the overseer, the one who hears from God, who preaches faith-filled messages, and who does the majority of the instruction… to adults. Not to children or youth because there’s a special, lower-league position for those that I’ll mention later. But nevertheless, the Pastor is the most highly revered in the local church, and in larger gatherings on the regional or organizational level.

Lastly, and certainly least (hopefully my mounting, deliberately facetious tone is picked up on here) is the category we call Teacher. And by this, we by no means consider to be construed as remotely on the level of the previous four “offices”. The teacher is important in the church, don’t get me wrong… just not on the level of the others. They are appreciated, accountable lay-leaders who have little recognition beyond the local church.

Obviously, I have taken a little creative license here, but I do believe I’ve articulated the general view of our constituency, and even much of Christianity.

Alright, let me make a few general observations now. 

First, we do not treat these gifts equitably, as I’ve described. We have effectively excluded the common working of the Apostle and Prophet in our churches, and allow the working of the Evangelist when our church budget allows. We have capitalized on the Pastor and Teacher being the most prominent and important pieces of ministry in the local church. How does this support, honor, and express the teaching that these very gifts were given to the church by Christ Himself? How can the church be edified without the presence and working of the Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists? It would appear that we have not treated this scripture with the gravity that it deserves. And by gravity, I don’t mean respect and repute given to these people, but rather the deeply held conviction that Jesus Himself considered the persisting operation of all five to be vital to the local church.

Secondly, these are not called or described to be offices or positions to be filled, but rather as gifts that were given. It would appear that the gifts were literally enabled people, and not just spiritual endowments. In contrast, however, we have made them to be – effectively –  five numerical seats at a table to be filled in the context of a local church. Or in most cases only two or three of them are welcome at the local church’s table.

Which brings up another disparity in our application… How many seats are available in a local church for these? Most allow one pastor, but many teachers, and none of the other three. 

Or how many of these are permitted in “The Church”? Understanding that the Church is far greater than one organization, do we then see Apostles and Prophets as organizational? I know we don’t. Then there must be a more applicable view.

Verse 12 of Ephesians 4 tells us that these gifts were given to equip the saints for the work of ministry, which ministry is the edifying of the body of Christ. Yet it’s my belief that we’ve stunted the edification and growth of the local church, and the Church at large, because of our application of this verse and these gifts given by Christ.

So, with all that verbosity out of the way, here is how I see the practical application of these gifts in the Church.

I see these gifts to be given generally to the church body. When Paul uses the word “some”, it’s apparent that he’s intending to imply that not everyone will be used as an Apostle, or as a Prophet, or any of the other three. But instead, there is a mixture of gifted people within the Church leadership that exercise their gifts for the effectiveness and success of that local body.

In contrast to the way we have nearly deified two or three of these as “offices”, and diminished others, Paul is describing these as necessary and even vital to the church. In a practical sense, how can any church be adequately equipped and edified without the continual presence and activity of these gifts in the local body? There must be an application of this instruction that produces the outcome of verse 12.

The Biblical Model

I see each of these gifts to be equally as important to the local church. These are not  general saints, as Paul says in verse 11 that they are given “to equip the saints”… men and women working in the tier of leadership.

  1. Apostles are administrators, gifted by God with plans for equipping, sending and expanding.
  2. Prophets are those gifted with prayer and spiritual direction and wellness.
  3. Evangelists are recruiters, inspiring others to engage the work of God.
  4. Pastors are encouragers and shepherds, gifted in caring for and nurturing the church.
  5. Teachers are trainers, both in doctrine and execution of service.

If any of these gifts to the church are absent or deficient, the church will be deficient.

Many churches attempt to structure solely around a pastor, and expect him to be “all things to all men”. However, some of these men are indeed gifted administrators, but terrible encouragers… they have great plans, but can’t keep people motivated to service. Or they’re gifted trainers, but terrible recruiters… so they can make sure things are done well, but have nobody volunteering to do the systems.

In an almost genius model, Paul describes a church (or even a team) that is well rounded in each of these areas because he gave “some” of each to the church. Instead of having one, or even just a few leaders leading a team we see a healthy, practical, workable structure that literally ensures that the saints will be equipped to do the work of the ministry, and the body of Christ will be built up.

So if we see these as divinely appointed, yet approachable and celebrated gifts, as Paul calls them (“…Christ gave…”) instead of observing them as untouchable, overly spiritualized offices or seats of reverence, I believe we would have a much healthier church that actually fulfills their purpose and advances the Kingdom as intended.


In the context of our local church, we have a church board that is comprised of these leadership gifts (and includes a few others).

Then, in each of the main ministries/teams of our church (outreach, hospitality, worship, follow-up and connections, discipleship, etc.) we are intentional about making sure that all five gifts are represented. This may mean five people, or just a few that provide a full representation of the gifts (some have more than one). This ensures that every team is built for biblical success at equipping, edifying and expanding the church.

Having been in pastoral ministry for over 26 years and the last few working with this understanding of what I believe was fully intended by Ephesians 4:11-12, the difference is clear. We’re healthy, growing, planting and training – by the grace of God – and better positioned than at any time in our church’s history to fulfill our mission.