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What You Should Know About Five-fold Ministry
‘It was He who gave some to be Apostles, some to be Prophets, some to be Evangelists, and some to be Pastors and Teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until We all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’
You have heard about the fivefold ministry as found in Ephesians 4:11-13, but have you seen it in operation? The chances are that you may have seen twofold or threefold ministry in the church. In most churches, the pastors are the ones who usually serve as Evangelists and Teachers. On some rare occasions, they might even take on the prophetic role and utter some prophecies. Once a year, they might lead mission teams to plant churches in other countries and thus take the role of an Apostle.
We have to appreciate these pastors for being versatile enough to do the fivefold ministry. However, in the biblical sense this is not ideal. The Lord has never placed all the gifts in one person but wants the fivefold ministry to be shared among the leaders of the church. The church grows stronger when these ministers cooperate and serve the people, building them to become matured in their faith. The end result will be an effective congregation united in Agape love and at the same time doing the “works of service” by reaching out to the community.
Mobilization of Laity
The mobilization of laity is absolutely vital for the church to grow strong spiritually and also grow large numerically. The “quantity” of the churchgoers goes hand in hand with the “quality” of the church. (Though the opposite may not necessary be true). Seekers respond to the Gospel when the church’s lay ministers are spiritually strong and well trained enough to present it with the power of the Holy Spirit. The fivefold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers has to be reintroduced in every church. The pastor has to observe, select and train lay people who have such relevant gifts. After training, these gifted people should be given clear guidelines, ministry descriptions, and the appropriate authority to serve and build God’s people for other ministries. God has given us a self-perpetuating programme it is up to us to obey Him and implement this in our church.
The early Disciples of Christ were known as Apostles. They were the ones who were anointed by the Holy Spirit so that they could establish the fledging Christian faith in different countries. Apart from the twelve well-known Apostles recorded in the Gospel we have to take note of the Apostles recorded in the other parts of the New Testament. The lack of clear distinction between these two groups of Apostles has led to misunderstanding as to what Apostleship is all about. We now know that there are people who are called to the office of Apostleship and then there are many who have apostolic gifts. Paul the Apostle challenged those who claimed to be Apostles but who were not willing to pay the price of that esteemed office:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2.Corinthians 11:23-28)
Today, there are Christian ministers who call themselves “Apostles”. There is no doubt that some of these are true Apostles but others have assumed this title as position of elevation. (Surf the Internet and you will be able to observe quite a few of these so-called Apostles). Few of them hold apostolic credentials like that of Paul and I suspect that it is their insatiable appetite for recognition and power that has resulted in this abuse.
When I was in China, I had the privilege of traveling with an old Chinese pastor who had been imprisoned for his faith, by the Communists, for 27 years. During the journey, I observed how humble and Christ-like he was. Even at 75 years old, there was fire in his eyes whenever he talked about the Lord and the future of the Chinese churches. He was poor but was most willing to share the little money that he had with others. He had no car or even a bicycle. He dressed simply and had little possession. For more than ten years after his release from prison, he had been traveling around Southern China to establish underground churches. After traveling with him to visit a couple of these churches and watching him counseling, correcting and even reprimanding younger pastors, I had no doubt that he was a true Apostle. In every church, he encouraged the congregation to establish more cell groups and more churches. In one church, he had to leave in the middle of a sermon because the police was after him. Even though he had never announced himself as holding the apostolic position, the people whom he served, recognized that.
Missionaries who pioneer and establish churches can be considered to be the modern Apostles because the primary task of Apostleship is planting churches. Even though I have planted more than 16 churches and a few orphanages, I can only say that I am doing the apostolic work. The emphasis is upon the word “work” rather than the word “apostolic”. It is a privilege to be used by the Lord in this way and never shall it be used as a position of elevation and honor.
In the New Testament, Agabus was known as a prophet even though his advice to Paul was inaccurate (Acts 21). The daughters of the Evangelist Philip were also well-known prophetesses. The purpose of the prophetic ministry is to guide the church. The prophets usually exercise revelation gifts such as words of knowledge, words of wisdom and discerning of the spirit in their prophecies. With the words of knowledge, they may foretell the future in specific terms. With the words of wisdom, they provide wisdom in difficult situations. Jesus displayed such gift of wisdom when He was faced with the condemned adulteress (John 8:1-12) and also during the issue about to whom should the people pay their taxes (Matthew 22:15-22). In having the gift of discernment, the Prophets are able to discern whether certain people are speaking on behalf of God’s Spirit, human spirits or evil spirits.
Prophets speak on behalf of God and reveal His will. They are important in today’s church because all Christians need to know the heart of God and learn how to work together for His glory. Most Christians may have prophetic gifts but not all hold the office of a Prophet. Today, there has been an increase in the number of so-called “Prophets” who abuse this position of gifting. Many of them have assumed the mystical aura to impress naïve Christians. Sadly, many Christians are still as superstitious as the pagans and they are taking these “Prophets” to be their personal fortune-tellers. This is a very dangerous trend because if prophecies were based on the practitioners’ ability to guess and convince, then the people would not be able to distinguish between the real and false prophets. In some of the surveys done in USA, such prophets were only twenty per cent accurate. This was tantamount to guessing as those who did not have the prophetic gifts also gained similar scores. The shamans and mystics in Asia would have done better than that. In the Old Testament, the prophets had to be 100 per cent accurate or else they would be known as false prophets and be stoned to death.
Let me emphasize that we should not reject those who are called to the prophetic office but neither should we accept every utterance without using the biblical guidelines of evaluating and judging them. Let us be cautious as we weigh every prophetic word with the Scripture.
Evangelists are Christians who have the specific gift of challenging seekers to have faith in Jesus and also to bring spiritual revival to lukewarm churches. They are the “sales” force of the church. It will be good if the church can identify those who have this gift from among their congregation and use them for the purpose of winning souls. As not all pastors are Evangelists, it will be wise to spot some early.
For example, a pastor of a small church, who did not have the gift of an Evangelist, was constantly frustrated for years when he preached at his own annual evangelistic meetings and received little responses for salvation. Then on one occasion, he broke with his tradition and invited a gifted Evangelist to preach. The result was astounding. There were more responses for salvation in one meeting than all the meetings that the pastor had ever conducted. A Holy-Spirit empowered gift is something to be reckoned with.
The Lord also blesses Evangelists with signs and wonders so as to confirm the words that they preach. The purpose of the Evangelists is to create new converts. After that, they hand these converts to the church and let the pastor-teacher does the grounding work so as to make these converts into Disciples. We should encourage those who have this evangelistic gift to come forward to be used for the kingdom of God. This is especially crucial for the future existence of the church because it is only through new converts that new Disciples come forth.
We are most familiar with the role of a pastor as this is the most prominent office in the church. He is the under-shepherd of the Chief Shepherd who is Jesus Christ. His gifting is in the area of caring and nurturing the believers. He has overwhelming emotional stamina, patience and also wisdom to resolve church problems and human relation issues. James, the brother of Jesus, was known as the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Even the Apostles returned to report to him and the elders in that church.
Today, the churches are in a confused state because we do not recognize the call of God for ministers to serve in any one of the other four ministries, except that of a pastor. Therefore we erroneously deem anyone who has a divine call should automatically become a pastor.
I met a Christian brother who is gifted as an Evangelist but he is pastoring a church. This is frustrating him to no end. He has tried to be a full-time Evangelist but during that time, even though the ministry results were good, his family almost starved. For practical reason of getting a fixed income for his family, he became a pastor. Evangelists usually do not get a full salary and have to live from offerings to offerings. It is now time for the churches to recognize the needs of the other parts of the fivefold ministry and to accord these ministers with appropriate income so that they can concentrate on their calling and serve the Lord and His church.
The role of the teachers is vital because the spiritual and doctrinal foundations of the church depend upon them. They are the ones who do the grounding work. I can usually tell that a church is strong by seeing the number of good teachers it has. Most pastors are gifted with teaching ability and so they usually take the role of being pastor-teachers. However, the pastor alone is never enough. He must activate other gifted lay members to take on this teaching ministry.
Spirit-gifted and anointed teachers are different from those who are teaching in the secular schools. This teaching gift is divinely given and special because it allows the teacher to impart divine life and at the same time reveal hidden spiritual truth. With the gift of wisdom, the teacher speaks the mind of Christ to his students and thus stirs up further hunger within them. The more the congregation understands the will of God, the better it is in serving Him. Sadly, many modern Charismatic churches are missing out on the dedicated teaching of the solid doctrines of the Scripture. The overt emphasis upon the spiritual gifts has led to neglect in the didactic ministry. No matter how much spiritual gifts that the Christian might have, nothing is more important than the consistent studying of God’s Word under the guidance of an anointed and gifted teacher.
Restoring Fivefold Ministry
For the modern churches to be powerful and effective, they have to reactivate the ministries of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. The fivefold ministry is like the five fingers of a hand. Yes, we can use the hand even though it has only three fingers but it is not ideal. The handicap is obvious when we want to use it for heavier task.
The task of churches today is heavy indeed. We therefore have to restore the complete operation of the fivefold ministry by giving the rightful positions of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. We must emphasize that for the fivefold ministry to be effective we must include the lay people. It should never be reduced to a domain for only a select few.
The maturity of the Church of Jesus Christ is at stake and the fulfilling of Christ’s command to make Disciples of all nations has yet to be achieved. The churches cannot afford to play church games any more. Let’s arise and make every effort to allow God to use us effectively in whichever part of the fivefold ministry that He has for us. Let’s fulfill the Great Commission of the Lord without further delay.
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