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From the Shepherd's Nook: What about the 5-fold ministry?

From the Shepherd’s Nook: What about the 5-fold ministry?

This weekly column by John Frye now has a name: From the Shepherd’s Nook.

Scot and Kris McKnight and I collaborated to create a title for these weekly musings. Kris suggested “From the Shepherd’s Nook.” I like it. If you are new to this column, please read the previous posts to get in touch with my purpose. I am writing with the hope of creating renewed motivation for pastoral ministry in the North American context, that is, to inspire young leaders to believe in and respond to the call of God to vocational pastoral work.

Dawne, an aspiring pastor, made this comment on the last post: “… it brought to mind the idea of the five-fold ministry, something I am hearing a lot about in my local church. I wonder how this might relate?” Dawne has raised a significant question.

I have had the opportunity to teach a seminary course on church and culture focusing on the missional church. Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church was on the course reading list. Alan has offered, IMO, the most thorough, operative description of the “five-fold ministry” concept under the acronym APEPT, i.e., Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher (see Ephesians 4:11).

Because there is no one “pure” early church or historical template on how to do church at the pastoral leadership level, I have no problem with those who want to learn about and implement the five-fold ministry model. I cannot say that there is anything wrong with it. Hirsch offers very stimulating and pragmatic ideas around APEPT. Yet, I do push back on that model or any other model that allegedly trumps or replaces the traditional view of pastor. Why?

First, Ephesians 4:11 in context is descriptive, not prescriptive. If some take the text as prescriptive, they do so against Paul’s intent. There is no exegetical basis or hermeneutical reason to make the Ephesian text prescriptive. We read nowhere else in the New Testament about this particular gift configuration, i.e., we don’t read that Paul appointed or exhorted Timothy and Titus to appoint “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” in every church. Apparently no one in the early church or in church history read Ephesians 4:11 as prescriptive until the Pentecostal movement prompted the model in the middle 1800’s. [Ray Stedman put his own twist on this passage.]

Secondly, the five-fold ministry model is novel. Novelty in itself is not a reason to reject a concept. I think there are merits in the APEPT idea as explained by Hirsch. The issue is the recognition of the relatively newness of the APEPT model and its origins in 1800’s as a Pentecostal push back against cessationist views of some of the spiritual gifts. More pertinently, anyone who reads Alan’s descriptions of the APEPT model will see that he is seriously trying to make culturally-relevant the five-fold giftings, but without the attendant Pentecostal issues. That is well and good. But Alan is not exegeting and interpreting the text at this point. Hirsch is seeking to apply the text in an innovative, pragmatic manner in the 21st century. He does so in order for the church to recapture its missional DNA.  This is commendable.

Thirdly, the assumption that pushes against the traditional view of the pastor is that a solo pastor limits the church’s missional impact. The more cynical assumption is that a church with a vocational pastor is just a “one man/woman show.” Sadly, that may the case in some local churches, but not in the vast majority. Vocational pastors know the value of team ministry and if they serve well as pastors, the people will discover, develop, and deploy their spiritual gifts as in any multiple staff church or church operating with the APEPT model.

Here’s my observation. When I was the “teaching pastor” on a multiple staff team of a large church, I did my part to equip the people for works of ministry. Yet, we, the staff team, lamented the low percentage of people who actually had defined and were using their spiritual gifts in missional ways. The mentality of that large church seemed to be: “We pay all of you as staff to do the ministry. Just give us what we want.” We were an attractional, vender-model church. For me things have changed. As the one pastor of a smaller congregation, I celebrate that over 75% of the church members are regularly active in missional endeavors.

Men and women who desire to serve as pastor of a local church in the enduring, traditional model need not feel obsolete. Any pastor can and should celebrate ministry innovations without feeling like she has to mimic them “to do church right.” Local church ministry is profoundly and fiercely contextual.

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  • RJS

    Thanks John, Great post. And great title for the series.

  • RJS

    In Hirsch’s model of APEPT – are all of these (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) different persons in church leadership (clergy) or is it an empowerment of a broader segment of the church (laity and clergy). I really don’t know much about what Hirsch advocates).

  • Jonathan

    Before we talk about the “traditional pastor” role, shouldn’t we define what exactly that is? And if we are going to push back against APEST as opposed to the “traditional pastor” role, shouldn’t we provide a theological/hermeneutical rationale for the “traditional pastor” arrangement?

  • I’ll be honest, this post frustrated me. I can sense that there is some frustration with Hirsch’s approach in the way this was presented, but it doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment. My cards on the table – I like the 5 fold ministry but I have my questions too. At the same time, the historicity that is appealed to in this post, the comparison between a mega church leadership model and a small church leadership model, and the claim that Ephesians 4 is not prescriptive don’t seem to hold up. Any mega church multi-staff leadership model is going to have the same results (for the most part) that you decry. Any small community church will have similar results that you also pointed out regardless of its leadership model (with exceptions).

    I do hope that the way this is argued is questioned as people come to read it. I can sympathize with the concern for how Hirsch’s model is being touted as “the method” but by no means did he set out to convince everyone of his approach. He tried it first, and it had its fair share of troubles, but it also bore fruit and that’t the story. Anecdote vs Anecdote is not a fair fight unless you place some of his anecdotes up here next to the ones you’ve written about.

    I would commend the concern, but I struggle with your conclusions and how you argued them in a seemingly unfair way. At the same time, Alan would probably welcome your criticism as he is a learner from what I understand.

  • Good thoughts.

    I am starting a blog on just this topic in 10 days.

    Release the APE

    It’s all about releasing the Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic vocations in the church.

    I would say that to call this prescriptive is difficult if you’re not going to call the beginning or end of chapter four prescriptive. We can’t just cut out the middle verses of chapter four and say those are just prescriptive.

    Glad were talking about the five fold!

    And blessings to shepherds and teachers! We need all five vocations!

  • John, your posts are an incredible blessing and I couldn’t age with you more on this topic. I wish I could discuss this more but it is bed time on my side of the world.

  • MD

    I believe this is what you mean by “traditional pastor:”
    “As I’ve testified in my little book Jesus the Pastor, I was startled into a new appreciation for the pastoral vocation by bumping into Jesus, the Pastor, in John 10. Jesus chose to link his redemptive life and ministry to the term “shepherd” (pastor), a vocation scorned in Jesus’ day.* Jesus is the good shepherd, the ideal pastor. Just as it is often asked, “Have you surrendered to Jesus as Lord?”, I think it is legitimate to ask, “Are you following Jesus, your Pastor?” Any woman or man who responds to the pastoral calling need never feel threatened by Jesus Who is the Senior Pastor.”
    Observation and Question: Since the local church has been made a legal organization (something foreign to Jesus), the “pastor” typically operates as an Executive Director as well as a shepherd/teacher. Why don’t pastors give up the Executive Director role to someone else, and simply function within the parameters of their calling?
    It seems to me that a blending of the two distinct roles creates confusion, and is the source of many of the problems that we identify in the local church today.

  • Ben Thorp

    It’s probably worth noting that Hirsch has released another book on APEPT called “The Permanent Revolution”

  • T


    This is a very interesting post. First, the parts I think need some ‘Amen’s’:

    – Broad brushes (about pastors, churches, gift-use, etc.) need to always be tempered because “Local church ministry is profoundly and fiercely contextual.” Amen.

    – And relatedly, arguments about how to do/reform church are phrased about doing “right,” whether based on exegetical arguments or pragmatic ones or both, without acknowledging the larger freedom we have. Many of our examples in scripture and tradition are more descriptive than prescriptive, even as they have wisdom to hear.

    – Finally, and this is very important, whatever we have done or need to do in this vein, it’s a two way street: “we, the staff team, lamented the low percentage of people who actually had defined and were using their spiritual gifts in missional ways. The mentality of that large church seemed to be: ‘We pay all of you as staff to do the ministry. Just give us what we want.’” Any critiques of the “traditional view” of pastors is also a critique of the “traditional view” of the congregation. And, we have what we have not just because of “pastors” but because of all of us.

    That said (and now the “but”), 😀

    First this: “I do push back on that model or any other model that allegedly trumps or replaces the traditional view of pastor.” I think “traditional view of pastor” might need some nailing down for this discussion, so please correct me if I infer things that isn’t what you mean by “traditional view of pastor.” But again, I think that the “traditional view of pastor” is only one side of the coin and the other is the traditional view of the congregation (and other elders, leaders, etc.). We can defend or critique one and not the other. I think both need reform.

    For purposes of this discussion, I’ll grant you that the Ephesians discussion is descriptive rather than a rule that all churches need to implement these as some kind of offices or the like. But my first counterpoint on this would be that we’re not just talking about the Ephesians passage. The examples and teachings on the various gifts and how they should and shouldn’t function in the church is much more than this passage alone. When taken as a whole, the contrast b/n current practice of the various gifts and the biblical examples is hard to swallow. Further, there are passages in Corinthians and elsewhere that do seem to be more than just descriptive, but prescriptive. If you’re going to give push back to APEPT or any similar model that points to the fuller use of gifts in the Body as a critique of the traditional view of pastor (and congregation), and do so on exegetical grounds, then it’s not enough to just say that Ephesians 4:11 is descriptive. It would be more fair to say that few of the descriptions of various gifts functioning in the church (and there are several) are descriptive of the church today, and few of the prescriptions in that regard are heeded. “Pastor-teacher” has simply absorbed, eclipsed or replaced so many of the other “workings of the Spirit” that we see in the NT.

    Finally, I agree with the importance of hearing tradition. I think it is wise to consider tradition in all matters. Further, the more I learn, the more I think that my own evangelical tradition totally blows it in that regard way too often. We fail to see our traditions as such and we are highly suspicious and/or ignorant of much longer standing and often wiser traditions in the Church than our own. All that said, though, I am still a Protestant, and I still want scripture to be able to shape and correct tradition as often as necessary, and sometimes, it’s necessary and liberating for the Church.

    Again, I don’t think “pastors” are the problem. But I do think the traditional view of both “pastor(s!)” and “congregation” need serious reform based both on the prescriptions and descriptions in the NT.

  • T

    Sorry, should read: ” We can’t defend or critique one and not the other.”

  • T,
    Thank you for your stimulating comments. I will be the first to say that there are problems with the traditional view of pastors and congregations. Yet, we seem to address church weaknesses as if changes in methods and models will do the trick. Ah ha! APEPT is the magic bullet, or, seeker-sensitive, or one communicator and multi-site, etc. (And Beau, I am going to gently, gently pick on you…”release the APE”??…sounds like the magic bullet approach). We fall so gullibly for the ‘temptation of the template’ rather than do the laborious, day to day pastoral work (and I don’t care really who does it or what it’s called) of community Christian formation. Because I content that local church transformation is so fiercely context specific, I tend to question any outside “model” that will supposedly to get the job done better. Can we learn from one another? Absolutely. I’ve benefited from reading Alan Hirsch’s stuff. I’ve been invited to offer some pastoral musings and while I do hold to some conclusions about pastoral work, I am not trying to wave the flag of the traditional “one person pastor” as if it is the *only* flag to fly. I just don’t like those who suggest that flag should be retired. 🙂

  • T,
    And I do think that vocational, solo pastors must learn to form teams and work with teams to get local church ministry accomplished…all gift-based configurations.

  • Nathan (#4),
    I am not frustrated with Hisrch’s APEPT model and I didn’t write that I was. I am fine with those who want to try new stuff and wrote that. What I will not allow is some alleged ‘superiority’ of new stuff over traditional way of being a pastor. As I responded to T, the traditional way of pastoral has its weaknesses, too, but I will have become convinced that reshuffling names and ideas and templates does nothing to advance Christian formation in a local church. Christian formation is allergic to “models of ministry.”

  • CGC

    Hi John,
    I guess I am somewhere between Jonathan’s (#3) on what is the traditional pastor role and where is it defined biblically AND Nathan’s frustration (#4). I really liked some of the content and your concerns, especially, “Local church ministry is profoundly and fiercely contextual.” I could not agree with you more!

    But here are some glaring weaknesses in all this from a Pastor’s perspective:

    1. The whole prescriptive/descriptive hermeneutic seems a bit contrived and often misused in the academy to silence various theological perspectives. Notice this hermeneutic does not come from Scripture itself! Although I can conceive of ways it could be used legitmately, my experiences overall, it is simply another modern way to silence the Scriptures.

    2. The five-fold ministry (really four—pastor-teacher is really one, not two?) comes from ancient Scripture despite the fact that Pentecostals have tried to revive the concept in its own unique contextual way in the 1800’s. This is not some “novel” thing but is old. Has anyone for example tried reading the second century ‘Didache’ when it comes to apostles and prophets? If something is lost and then restored, is it novel?

    3. There really is no exact parallel to the role of the modern “Pastor.” It almost seems like the traditional Pastor is assumed to match what we read in Scripture? In many ways, the modern Pastor is a kind of “hybrid” between what the Bible speaks about preachers and evangelists. All I can say is there needs to be a lot more unpacking about the traditional Pastor and that does not even get to the heart of the matter that someone else brought up concerning the roles of the Pastor and the congregation and how they relate to one another.


  • Jimmy

    This post conveniently ignores the plain truth: Organic/simple/house churches are historically, biblically, and literally the only correct and efficient way to be the church. APEST is absolutely required.

  • John W Frye

    A conversation stopper if there ever was one. 🙂

  • Mark

    This post must be written to people already in favor of the vocational pastor position. I go to a vocational pastor and “elder” led church, which is the model John is apparently trying to encourage. I also am aware of Alan’s positions, which seems to be generally that “pastor” is not to be elevated above the other giftings. It would be helpful for those of us non-pastors for John to provide in his next post the prescriptive support for vocational pastors. Particularly, I’ve never heard Timothy or Titus being used to appoint pastors, just “elders” plural who aren’t necessarily pastors in gifting.

    Maybe Jesus Creed needs a back and forth between John and Frank Viola, to make this more balanced.

  • MatthewS

    I’m looking forward to reading this ongoing series. John, I can imagine that this column may do a lot of local pastors good.

    “As the one pastor of a smaller congregation, I celebrate that over 75% of the church members are regularly active in missional endeavors.”

    I really like that. In both 2 and 3 John, the writer says he takes joy in hearing about believers (“my children”) walking in the truth. I believe that “walking in truth” means putting shoe leather on our faith (orthodoxy meets orthopraxy?), which will almost necessarily imply some level of action. Involvement in the local church is an ideal place for some of that action to begin, and to radiate out. If it gives the pastor joy to see “his children” so engaged, then I believe the pastor’s heart is sharing in the joy of John the Apostle’s heart.

  • John W Frye

    Did you read my first two posts? No one is arguing against a community of multiply gifted people fulfilling the
    purposes of the church. We all work with the same biblical texts and historical variables regarding “doing church.” All that I am advocating is the historical, yes even traditional expression of local church vocational ministry. Is it the only way? Of course not. It is a way however with a lot of mileage and impact. I can ‘t press the text to validate any one way of doing local church work. I have good reasons why very early in church history the term “pastor ” took a leading place in terminology –not replacing the other gifts, but incorporating or absorbing them.

  • John W Frye

    Mark (#17)
    See comment #19. There is no NT prescription on how to lead a church (unless you favor Jimmy’s view #15). No one will win quoting Bible passages. “Fiercely contextual.”

  • MatthewS

    Some examples of being “fiercely contextual” are Stephen serving tables in Acts 2 and modern-day churches using checking accounts. Checking accounts are not “biblical” but they are required in the Western world to remain above reproach. Many issues are worked out in similar fashion – what is the best way to address this situation in this culture?

  • MatthewS

    sorry, Acts 6, not Acts 2

  • Mark

    So john, Alan’s church’s five fold elder model is as equally valid as your traditional pastor model? I’m sorry, I think I’ve missed your point. Although Alan’s model would seem to retain the benefits of pastors while possibly reducing the pastor issues mentioned in your earlier post.

  • Doug Hendricks

    I really like the phrase “fiercely contextual” to frame the discussion of the various models. I tend to see leadership in functional terms- Does the model of leadership we are making use of help or hinder us as we seek to achieve the purpose of the church? Perhaps the purpose of the church should be part of the discussion.

  • Mark

    Just reread the post. I guess where I’m confused is what exactly is a situation where the 5 fold trumps the traditional pastor. I read this as the pastor should always be the head or there should always be a paid full time pastor. My vocational pastors in my 40 years have had little direct impact on me ( and most direct impact has been negative), and I’ve spent a lot of time at church. I like the idea of a fully functioning and equally empowered body.

  • CGC

    Hi John,
    I liked your first two posts. As a traditional pastor, here is the bottom line as I see it. In our North American ecclesial context, whether one is a traditional pastor or a non-traditional pastor, the church is in big trouble. Hirsh is trying to counteract this with another model. If you can renew the traditional model, more power to you (I for one have been doing pastoral ministry for so long that I just don’t see it happening).

  • I think one thing worth noting about the ‘five-fold ministries’ is that there should not be an expectation for each local congregation to have all 5 of these ministries working in a particular local context. The body of Christ, as a whole, is an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, teaching body. Christ was the great apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, and his Spirit was sent to accomplish the same work. Thus, the Spirit empowers Christ’s body to be the full Christ in the world today. But us being an apostolic body will not necessarily mean each local congregation has a specific person functioning in apostolic ministry. This is true in my own congregation. Some refer to these ministries as well as trans-local. Though an Ephesians 4 gifted shepherd will shepherd in a local congregation, they will probably have a broader ministry as well. Thus, what the Bible calls ‘elders’, though they might not also be specifically Ephesians 4 shepherds, can still shepherd-oversee the congregation.

    Hope those thoughts are clear.

  • Doug Hendricks

    CGC #26 I find myself agreeing with you. Am I right to assume you are still doing pastoral ministy?- and if so are you doing something other than the two models being discussed here?

  • THis is the essay I did reviewing Hirsch’s boo The Permanent Revolution for Books and Culture. It is odd that this post does not engage with that book by Hirsch/Cotchum because it gives his fullest account to date of his convictions. What one finds in that book is very much the problem mentioned in our point #1 about it being a definitive prescription. That was among the problems I highlighted. Alan and Cotchum’s reply, and my short response, will be in the next issue of B & C and I will have further responses at my website to their reply. I would love feedback from John Frye and others.

  • John W Frye

    Mark #25,
    I think yout experience with pastors is the primary reason people who care about this topic push against the traditional view. That’s sad but so true and pastors have no one to blame but themselves. I still think there is great validity in the traditional view of vocational pastoring.

  • T


    Thanks again for this post and your reply. I totally agree about silver bullet thinking. I don’t believe in silver bullets. I do think, though, that traditional working theories of pastor-teacher on the one hand and congregation on the other contain multiple mutual agreements b/n the two that are counter-productive to both sides, which you already alluded to in your observation at the end of your post. These agreements (which are often unspoken until violated), contain terms that, IMO, are counter to the NT’s teaching about the church, about the Spirit’s gifts, about leadership in the Church, etc., but yet still form the backbone culture and ecclesiology of most churches. (FWIW, I’m an elder in a head-pastor lead church and we’re a small church with tight elders. I’m in the old model and serve there and will continue to do so, with the head pastor as a close friend. I’m not anti-pastor or anti-anybody.)

    I think the difference b/n us is that tradition and experience convinces you that traditional view/model of pastor and church (as problematic as it can be at times) is as good if not better than any alternatives in most/many circumstances. I just can’t say I’m convinced of that, though I don’t think it’s necessarily bad either. It’s better than nothing, or better than flying by the seat of our pants. I don’t know if it’s my church work or work as a professor or the NT data or knowing so many PK’s or my spiritual gifts experience or recovery group experience or some of all of it; I just have a hard time seeing the merits of the traditional view/model of head-pastor & congregation (and the activities of each) except to give grace to everyone involved since change is hard, even when it’s slow. Believe me, I get tired enough sometimes to just let the traditional view just keep on keepin’ on; keep my mouth shut. I do that a lot out of wisdom; but to always do it would feel like being a bad friend and/or giving up.

    I used to care about models a lot, but now I’d say that I care more about culture, which the models are part of, but only part. The culture of a church is that mix of ideas, structures, priorities, expectations and practices that, over time, cause some things to grow or thrive (whether weeds or fruit) and other things to die (whether weeds or fruit). I think that the traditional pastor-congregation model makes it so easy for certain weeds and so hard for some fruit that I frankly long for thoughtful alternatives. Sure, elbow grease work is always going to be necessary, but I also know that some structures or models can make the work harder, longer, and needed more often than others. Having one person (not Jesus) be the de facto voice and face for a whole body of believers just makes me sigh for the future—a lot of the same weeds I’ve seen my whole life. Again, I know another structure won’t be any silver bullet, I’m just convinced we can do better. I think more pastors are on board with than most congregations.

    Peace. (And keep at it, pastors–remember to love your kids in a way that they know it.)

  • Mark

    John, I would still like to hear what makes the vocational pastor “valid.”. Other than catholic tradition and/ or several success stories.

    As for my personal experience, I’m a Christian who has always been in some sort of pastoral limbo – not bad enough to require attention, and not good enough to be buddies or put on stage. Also my gifting lies elsewhere in the five fold, and I honestly believe vocational pastoring blocks (or trumps to use your terminology) the spirit working through my gifts.

    I guess we’ll just have to disagree on the importance of a paid clergy.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I am surprised I have not heard the classical “there are no prophets and apostles today” argument as I hear the suspicion towards those who are trying to utilize and apply Eph.4.11-12 which points to v.13 “till we all come to the unity of the faith” so that v.15 may happen, that “we may all grouw up” (in Christ).

    John, I read a scholarly treatment on this very issue where a person was saying similar things as you about the pastorate and then went on to say that in the Didache, bishops and elders replaced apostles and prophets (this is simply not true!). The Didache actually gives teaching and discernment concerning false prophets and false apostles? Why? To distinguish them from the true apostles and prophets.

    And John, like you, I am not against the traditional view of pastoring (I am one!). It just seems that 80 percent of what us traditional pastors have to do is not really what leads to the discipleship of the church culture much less the discipleship of the culture around us. Maybe we need to look at traditional pastor job descriptions in light of what Scripture does or does not say? I suspect ‘the trap of ministry’ (traditional ministry) is how many other pastors feel similarly as I do.

    In regards to Doug’s question. I am and have been doing pastoral ministry for 27 years and I inhabit two worlds. One world is the traditional model I serve in the church. The other is the ministry I do in the jails, nursing homes, hospitals, and senior homes where I preach, teach, and do various kinds of care ministries.

    Greg #29 (and looking at your blog), although I think there are abuses within the so called apostolic movements today, I think you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater (even if the bathwater is very dirty!). In regards to Heidi Baker, I wished you questioned her personally about what she said rather than questioning her integrity through written research. If you are going to do an article on somebody, can’t you at least talk to them in person rather than drawing conclusions from connecting the dots through written research?

  • John,

    Thanks for your post and seeking to write what you like about the five-fold and some of your critique. First, I need to say that I come to this discussion not as a theorist, but as a practitioner. As one who has implemented the five-fold gifting in the churches I have planted. I have also written a book entitled “Creating Missional Culture” (IVP 2012 – Just released this month) where I argue that our approach to leadership deeply shapes the culture of the congregations we serve. I think it is important that Paul ties the operation of these gifted people to the maturity of the church in Eph 4. So I come with this practical bias. I would refer you to the book for deeper thoughts on this topic. With that said, let me give some thoughts to the three points that you give.

    1. Aside from the good point that CGC makes about the descriptive vs prescriptive approach. Even if one looked at Eph. 4 from a purely a descriptive mode, what is Paul describing? After many years of ministry experience and planting of churches, he is telling us that Christ is giving these people as gifts to the body so that the whole body would be activated, that we would reach unity if faith and rise to the full stature of Christ. Paul is describing what he senses under the influence of the Holy Spirit to be a description of how the church reaches the maturity of Christ. For Christ is the archetypical Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher. So if we feel we want our communities of faith to look more like Christ in character and ministry, we could probably learn a lot about what he is describing.

    In regard to the rest of scripture, we see prophesy mentioned in each of the places that talk about spiritual gifts, as well as other places in scripture, the the prophetesses in acts. We see apostles mentioned in I Cor. 14 list, and in various places in the NT. It does seem that God’s people have not valued the ministry of prophets for some time. In the Old Testament we sawed them in half and stoned some of them. In the NT we discover that some in the church preferred to snuff out the prophets, but Paul said, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt” ( I Thess. 5:19-20).

    As a practitioner for over 20 years now, and living in the understanding of these gifts, I see these gifted people in the congregations I serve, and instead of snuffing out their gifts or telling them they don’t exist, I seek to nurture them and fan them into flame.

    2. As someone has already said quite well, the five-fold model is ancient, not novel. And what is more interesting is the church in the “majority world” have less problems in adopting the five fold mindset because they see it in scripture. Maybe us Westerners ought to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global south on this one. And as someone has mentioned, Alan and Tim in their latest book “The Permanent Revolution” do exegete the text. Mike Breen, as a practitioner in the UK and now the USA, also writes a lot about the five-fold gifting that is worth checking out.

    3. In section two of my book “Creating a Missional Culture” I take five chapters to argue for a polycentric approach to leadership as opposed to hierarchical or flat on many grounds that I cannot cover in this short post. I think there are contextual, scriptural, theological, spiritual and practical reasons for having a community of leaders within the community equipping the entire community to live out their calling in the church and in the world for the sake of the world. The reason that the five-fold is important is that not everyone’s primary calling, ministry and/or gifting is that of a “pastor”. Some are evangelist, some are apostles, some teachers, etc. Each of these gifted people come with strengths and weaknesses. Each of these five are modeled in the life of Christ. No one person is all of them, but when they work together as a team, they help the whole community to move toward maturity in Christ.

  • JR nails it! Great word.

  • CGC

    Wow JR,
    Excellent thoughts and thanks for the Mike Breen recommendation. If people throw out descriptive parts of the Bible, there are many valuable parts we lose (the book of Acts words about the church and worship are all descriptive to name just a few). We ‘all’ try to follow those desciptive words as well as many others in the Bible. Anyhow, I am going to get your book. I looked it up on Amazon and its looks really great! Thanks again.

  • J.R. Woodward (#34) and all,
    J.R., I appreciate your kind and thorough push back on my post about APEPT. You have contributed to my understanding, and I like the fact that you’re a practitioner and not just a theorist. Let me make some final, summary comments:
    1. I am an evangelical non-cessationist, that is, I believe that all the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 – 14 are still being given and should be practiced today. I do not think ‘apostles and prophets’ and some other gifts have ceased. (See my book *Jesus the Pastor* Zondervan).
    2. While affirming the traditional, vocational view of “the pastor”, I also strongly affirm TEAM ministry. I think polycentric ministry does not necessarily exclude the position I affirm. I just am not enamored by the ecclesial technology that grows up around “models” (like APEPT) of local church ministry.
    3. While the early church, at least in Ephesians, mentions APEPT, we see no defining APEPT templates for the local churches *anywhere* until the most recent years. Again, I have no quarrel with those who want to use the APEPT model, but I am simply waving the flag of the traditional view of the pastor. And again, we can’t win by quoting Bible verses…I can’t for the traditional view and others can’t for their or novel views. No one pure template exists in the N.T. or in church history. I believe the reason for such local church variety in leadership models is the essential fact that local church life, including leadership, is highly contextual and specific.
    4. I receive in good faith the correction to holding too tight to prescriptive versus descriptive texts. I do read Paul’s stunning description of what the victorious Lord did in ascending in glory and pouring our gifts (gifted people) on the church (Eph. 4). To argue from what is mentioned once (the unique 5-fold configuration) *that Jesus did* to a firm mandate for church communities to mimic seems a little much (in view of the fact the Spirit is, indeed, the One who keeps on giving the gifts [1 Cor 12]), but again the sacred text is being used as the guide and good things do happen from applying the APEPT text the way Hirsch and others do.

    So, thanks to all for a stimulating conversation on the topic of five-fold ministry.
    God bless! –John

  • Sean B

    I think I would ask the question can we simply seek to apply a methodology based upon Paul’s descriptive/prescriptive explanation of church function (in light of goal) without seeking to understand the giftings themselves. If we do this isn’t there a danger in simply using the biblical terms as positional titles in our current ecclesial/organizational context? J.R. Woodward, you bring some great insight into the current conversation because of your experience within the working out of these gifts, but without that kind of paradigm shift in understanding the gifts themselves we can too easily “assign” the title or position to ourselves and those around us without the discernment required (built upon a proper understanding of these gifts) to recognize these calls in people. Moreover, without this understanding and ability to discern/recognize, how do we hope to encourage and disciple those within our congregations who are called to these rolls?
    Here is a link to a wonderful biblical teaching on the whole concept of the Eph 4 gifts to the body. The series is called “The Kingdom of god”, and it is a very foundational teaching on the spiritual dynamics of these gifts within their functional contexts. I hope you enjoy it.

  • Dawne Piotrowski


    Wow, thank you for the post and the great discussion it generated! I certainly have quite a bit of food for thought.

    My original thought in asking the question was that the APEPT model *affirmed* the extremely important role of the pastor/shepherd. My experience in the evangelical church over the past twenty years has been that the importance of shepherding has been downplayed, as the pastor at the church I attended focused primarily on teaching (and acting as CEO of the church). The day-to-day shepherding that Jesus did, as you clearly pointed out in your other posts, seemed to be left to lay people so the pastor could focus on the “important” work of teaching. Even the elders didn’t function as shepherds but more as a “business” board. This was different from what I experienced in the mainline denomination in which I grew up. I walked away from my experience feeling like there was a hierarchy in the gifts and, as someone who has a passionate desire to shepherd others, wondered whether it was possible to find a vocational position in the evangelical world that would fit my gifts (i.e. “Is shepherding valued enough to get paid for it?”). And that is where I began wondering about how the five-fold gifting model might help affirm the importance of vocational shepherding alongside the other roles.

    Regardless of the model utilized, I hear you saying, “yes,” shepherding is extremely important and needed. Thank you for being one of the voices God is using to affirm the importance of following the example of Jesus the Pastor! I look forward to your future posts.


  • John (and others),

    Thanks for your kind and generous thoughts. I appreciate the conversation. I would agree with you and Eduard Schweizer who said, “There is not such thing as the New Testament Church order. Even in the New Testament times circumstances were very varied, and it may be vital for the ecumenical dialogue that we should admit this..” But I also agree with Schweizer when he says, “This does not mean, however, that Church order is a matter of indifference, or is to be dictated simply by the existing practical, political, or economic conditions. The New Testament’s pronouncements on Church order are to be read as gospel – that is, Church order is to be regarded as part of the proclamation in which the Church’s witnesses is expressed, as it is in its preaching.”

    All this to say that everything we do makes a theological statement. It is interesting that I grew up in a very missional movement which placed a lot of value on the apostolic and evangelistic gifting, often at the expense of the pastoral role and the teaching role. (One of the reasons I’m excited to get your book, because in my circles, we need more “pastors”). One of the reasons I have enjoyed living into the five-fold ministry is I feel it brings a sense of balance. As you look at the telos of each of the equippers, they emphasize different things. In my experience, when we understand the gifting of individuals, we understand our strengths and correlating weaknesses, we can work better as a team. Because our movement valued the apostolic and evangelists more than the other gifts, I saw that some of the gifted pastors and teachers didn’t feel at home. This sadden me, and helped me understand that a church tends to value the gifting of the leader(s). Another reason to appreciate the five-fold gifting.

    Because I came to faith in college and my first ten years as a Christian was in a group that placed higher value on the apostolic and evangelistic gifting, when I got out of my bubble, I was somewhat surprised to discover that many churches prized the pastor/teacher gifts over the others. Another reason I’m a fan of the five-fold, it brings balance in both cases.

    We call most of our church leaders “pastors”, but I have found that there are a lot of “pastors” whose first or even second gifting is not the pastor. Often large churches are led by people with apostolic gifting, but instead of birthing more churches, they birth more ministries in the church. (I personally think they would do better to birth more neighborhood churches and value multiplication more.) While we tend to call our spiritual leaders “pastor” it doesn’t seem all are spiritually wired to to pastor in the same way.

    I tend to start things and enjoy inviting those outside the faith into God’s kingdom. And while I do the work of a “pastor” I also realize I need a gifted pastoral person on the team I serve with. I feel it is also true with the “pastor,” they need some of the other equippers around them to bring wholeness and balance to the team. Sometimes we see Paul telling Timothy to do the “work of an evangelist”. It was likely not his first calling, gifting or passion.

    On my website, which you can get to by clicking my name, I have a full page description of each of the equippers. You can get to them from clicking on the different icons. In my estimation, as one understands these gifted people, it seems difficult to see the body grow to maturity without each of them equipping the saints.

    I appreciate the fact that you sense all the gifts are in operation today. I think all of the various gifts flow into one of the five equipper ministry streams. For example, someone may be gifted in mercy and administration and want to use that gift in a pastoral way “inside the body” or they may have a great passion to use it “outside of the body” in an evangelistic way. All this to say, as I have examined the telos of each of the equippers, I have become more convinced of the necessity of each of these gifted people. While a church can certainly have more than the five-fold, I think it is wise for all to strive to at least represent the five-fold. I have also found that if we don’t have the five-fold in our midst, we can pray for them. That might be the reason Paul encourage the congregation that didn’t have the gift of prophesy to pray that they might get it. I think that was an encouragement not to an individual, but the entire church, because each of the gifts actuate different parts of the body in various ways.

    I think I have spoken enough. I look forward to checking out your book. For I think the church needs more pastors, and more teachers, prophets, evangelist and apostles (with a little “a”). Of course we need the others gifts as well. Peace to you.

  • Lots of great discussion here, thanks for the blog!

    I will say this, probably something that will need to be tackled, if Eph. 4 is NOT prescriptive, then 1 Cor. 12:28…IS…and pastor does not even make the list.

    I think there are lots of unintended consequences for the models we hoist…so it is really important that we look at what is not being said as well…

    When you defend a traditional model, you have to do it from tradition..the model you seem to be hoisting is a paid clergy and a separate laity which as far as I can tell frustrates Pastor Jesus…(Rev. 2:6)…isn’t this the TRADITIONAL model?

    Are you really going to split hairs over prescriptive vs. descriptive and then defend something based on tradition?

    The other unintended consequence as far as I can tell is the authority structure we paint, and again you seem to be defending something that at times is the opposite of what the Good Shepherd prescribed :Luke 22:25-26/1 Peter 5:3 (the “over-lord” model is almost impossible to avoid in traditional churches)

    I am not suggesting we don’t implement something traditional, just that tradition alone is not a defensible position and you need to do better than that…I suppose i need to be patient since this is a mental journey being walked out in conversation with many…

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Kerry Doyal

    Once again John, great stuff. thank you