I believe in the fivefold ministry. God calls and uses us in many ways, with many ministries complimenting each other to build up the body of Christ. With a growing movement [some of the many references at bottom] I see especially the fivefold ministries described in Ephesians 4:11 as a power-dynamic for Church producing, Church strengthening and Church sustaining leadership. I see it as given by God for great synergy, balance and strength in the Church, and particularly in leadership.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
Let’s look at a couple of turning-points in the church’s history that have led to where we are today:
At the start of the 4th Century Christianity’s rapid growth threatened the existence of the Roman empire, so, in short, Constantine responded by subsuming this dangerous ‘atheistic cult‘ into the empire, making it the official state religion. Overnight every Roman citizen became supposedly Christian. Armies no longer fought for Mars, they now slaughtered in the name of Jesus, taxes funded Bishops obliging them to maintain the imperialist status quo and the church became a means of control with the message of Jesus’ kingdom which was “not of this world” scrambled into Latin and ritual.
As everyone in the expanding empire was supposedly Christian the ministries of apostleship, prophecy and evangelism (what I’m calling the APEs) were no longer needed, the armies did all that. All that was needed was pastors and teachers to maintain the status quo. Of course as apostleship, prophetic and evangelistic ministries are the ministries that particularly advance the church into new places, blunting or removing this spearhead was a great satanic plan.
In the first great reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries God took His word out of the hands of powerful religious oppressors and put it back into the hands of everyday men and women, through the costly translation and distribution of the bible and through the planting of new Protestant churches.
Church structures remained mostly the same as the Catholic model, and except for some notable exceptions not many were baptised in the Holy Spirit.
In the 20th century reformation God did the same for gifts and ministry, anointing more than the formally ordained by pouring His Holy Spirit into the hearts of everyday men and women. The pentecostal/charismatic movement largely replaced the old false theology of cessationism of spiritual gifts with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Use of spiritual gifts became mainstream, as well as many new wineskins, new ways of doing Church.
Along with the understanding that “this power is for us all and for now” came a new understanding of ministry, of the functioning of the body of Christ. In particular the ministries of apostleship, prophecy and power evangelism that had been made obsolete by Constantine came back into focus.
Despite theologically recognising the place of ministries in the church we have been oddly reticent to properly operate within a ministry understanding: recognising, training and empowering people for specific ministries. We have been charismatic when it comes to gifts but effectively cessationist when it comes to ministry.
Let me explain.
I understand we’ve been reticent to give people labels or to make claims about apostleship due to examples of grandiose unreality in some Christian scenes, unaccountable floaters and false “apostles” peddling air and selling their ministry. I understand our caution regarding fancy titles, but I don’t understand why we’ve let that define us. Hundreds more scandalous, dodgy and sadly true things can be said of the fringes and unchecked excesses of Pentecostalism, but that hasn’t made us abandon the gifts of the Spirit.
Maybe if we had the understanding and confidence to say to one another “you’re a prophet”, or “you’re not an evangelist, you’re a pastor”, or “you’re an apostle”, we’d start to find more of a confidence in our identity, in our strengths, to do the stuff of ministry.
Maybe if we said to one another “We believe God wants to make you into an apostle/ prophet/ evangelist/ shepherd/ teacher, why don’t you apprentice yourself to a more mature A/P/E/S/T then get on and do the stuff?” we’d see a lot of stuck situations move, a lot of frustrated people find their identity, fulfilment and joy again, and maybe we’d start to see the kind of health and fruit the Holy Spirit so desires to grow through us.
After all, according to Paul the natural result of functioning ministries is:
…grow[ing] up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
That was my story last year, God showing me who I am and who I am not. It’s given me much more security, fulfilment and confidence in who I am in God, it’s released me.
Of course, ministries do change over time and we’ll probably operate in two or more main strengths. This isn’t just for ordained leaders either. This also isn’t about each person simply picking and choosing to do what’s most comfortable for them, this is something we work out together, affirm and train one another in and commission one another into.
So, let’s call some teachers or pastors, but let’s also call some evangelists, apostles, prophets, workers of miracles, hospitality-izers, healers, intercessors, organizers (aka administrators) and more. Let’s be confident in affirming one another’s identity, in specializing and in saying “this is who I am”, “this is who you are”.
It doesn’t have to be big-headed so long as we submit to one another under the real head of the body, Jesus Christ.