Christian Living

Embracing the Five-Fold Ministry

Discover the Essentials for Effective Ministry

When we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills us and gives us spiritual gifts. These are special abilities to help grow God’s Kingdom. The Bible talks about many of them, and here is a list of the key spiritual gifts.

Paul names five of these gifts in his letter to the Ephesians, which some people call the five-fold ministry. The roles of the five-fold ministry—as empowered by spiritual gifts—are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

The purpose of these positions are to equip people to build up the body of Christ (that is, Jesus’s church) to become united in faith, better know Jesus, and reach spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Here are the roles in the five-fold ministry:


Apostles are the spiritual visionaries who lead the way to advance the Kingdom of God. But they are more than leaders. They are supernaturally empowered to see opportunities others miss. They move forward under Holy Spirit power to grow Jesus’s church.

Jesus exemplifies apostleship, as well as all parts of the five-fold ministry. The Bible also identifies his disciples as apostles. And Paul proclaims himself as one also.


Though prophets are ministers, not all ministers are prophets. A prophet does more than proclaim the word of God to others. A prophet has a deep connection with God, discerns his heart and spiritual truth, and proclaims it to others.

Prophets are empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak supernatural insight (1 Corinthians 14:29-30 and 2 Peter 1:20-21).

We also must be aware of false prophets and watch out for them (1 John 4:1)

The Old Testament is full of prophets, but their role did not cease or change when Jesus came to earth. Prophets still exist today, and Paul makes it clear we need prophets for effective ministry. Jesus exemplifies a prophet.


An evangelist tells others about Jesus. Though we all can—and should—do this, evangelists are equipped to do so more effectively. They have winsome personalities, and they’re able to connect with people and bring about meaningful—and life-saving—spiritual conversations.

The Bible mentions two evangelists by name: Phillip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5). Though not called an evangelist, John the Baptist functioned in this role and Jesus modeled it, just as he does with all the other roles in the five-fold ministry.


Next, we have pastors, also called shepherds, as in shepherds of a flock. We should not assume this role of pastor is the same as minister. A pastor—a shepherd—cares for those in their congregation, as in their flock, which are those under their care.

Both Timothy and Titus function in the role of pastor, as appointed by Paul. They serve as shepherds for the flocks assigned to them.

Jesus exemplifies being a shepherd, both now and for eternity (Revelation 7:17). He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16). Even better, Jesus is the great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20) and Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).


The final function in our list of roles in the five-fold ministry is teacher. The teacher effectively communicates the truth about Jesus and knowledge of God to others.

They do this clearly and avoid confusion to help people better know God, move forward on their faith journey, and challenge them toward a more God-honoring lifestyle.

The New Testament contains many teachers, with Jesus being the best of them all. Some ministers are teachers but not all are. Just as we should look out for false prophets, we must guard against false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

As we grow in our faith and increase our knowledge of what it means to follow Jesus, we should all move into the role of teacher (Hebrews 5:12), while knowing that it carries a higher accountability (James 3:1). Yet some receive teaching as a spiritual gift, a supernatural anointing.


While all who follow Jesus have spiritual gifts, not all are gifted for the five-fold ministry. The key is to use whatever spiritual gifts God gives us to grow his Kingdom.

When it comes to ministry, it occurs most effectively when each role in the five-fold ministry is present. This is not to imply ministry can’t occur without all five positions, only that it best happens when all five positions are filled.

Though one person can accomplish all functions in the five-fold ministry, just as Jesus modeled, few people possess all five. Usually, people in ministry excel in one or two areas of the five-fold ministry.

For example, my area of giftedness in the five-fold ministry is teaching. God has called me to teach others through my writing. He has gifted me to do so, and I work on developing this skill. Doing so fills me with joy and gives me life. It energizes me.

I also enjoy the role of shepherd, but I need to exercise caution because it will drain me if I don’t take care of myself.

Though there have been brief times when I have functioned as an apostle and prophet, I don’t do those with as much confidence or realize as much impact. The fifth area in the five-fold ministry is evangelist. This is not a role I excel at and struggle with.

The Next Step

Learn the roles of the five-fold ministry and be strategic to maximize impact.

If you are in ministry, which of the five-fold roles do you fill? In what areas do you struggle with or fall short? Who can you invite to work with you to produce better results?

If you are not in formal ministry, how can you come alongside your ministry leaders and staff to support them in one of these five-fold ministry functions?

And if your giftedness is not in one of these five areas, how can you offer the spiritual gift that you do have to further God’s Kingdom?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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