Tuesday, March 27, 2012


“Do you believe in the Five Fold Ministry?”

Someone asked me this very question the other day, and after a lot of thought and research I’ve finally got my answer – “No. I don’t.”

Perhaps it would help if I were to clarify what I mean? First of all, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Five Fold Ministry is a concept taken from one single passage in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11-13) which says:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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.”

Notice that there are five gifts mentioned here. They are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers, and for those who swear by the Five Fold Ministry model, this list represents both a hierarchy of giftings, and an essential list of gifts that must be present in every church for health and growth.

First, let me explain why I reject the Five Fold concept. It’s because Paul himself gives us other lists of giftings elsewhere in his epistles and those other lists are slightly longer, and in a different order, than the one he gives here in Ephesians.

Before we look at those other two, let’s go ahead and say that this fact alone should tell us that Paul didn’t intend for his list in Ephesians to be taken as the only model for church dynamics. If he gave other church members in other cities a different list, then that means he wasn’t trying to be dogmatic about this, and that he was speaking loosely about the various gifts that God releases into the Body of Christ for growth, strength, and life.

Got it? Ok, now let’s look at those other two lists, starting with the one in 1 Corinthians 12, verse 28 where Paul says:

“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”

So, even though Paul starts out the same in Corinthians as he does in Ephesians – with Apostles and Prophets – he strangely promotes Teachers to third place (up from last place in our Ephesian list. Way to go Teachers!), and then introduces Miracle Workers, Healers, Helpers, Guidance (or Wisdom) and Tongues. This might be called the Eight Fold Ministry since here Paul expands the length of his list by three.

Notice that, if we were ignorant of the other lists, the one in Ephesians and the one in Romans (which we’ll look at in a second), we could easily conclude that God’s plan is all about this (and only this) order of gifts to lead the church. We might conclude from this list that Pastors and Evangelists are lower class citizens in the church since they’re not mentioned at all. We could also easily make a case that Paul’s list is hierarchical since he enumerates these by saying, “First of all…second….third…” and so on. This clearly indicates that the first ones are more important and the last ones are less important.


Wrong. Why? Because Paul said something different to the church in Ephesus and in Rome. And, since his order in those other cases was different, we can safely assume that when Paul says “First of all apostles…” he’s talking chronologically and not hierarchically. The Apostles were the first ones to be “sent out” by Jesus and once the Gospel was preached and people responded, they needed to have others who could prophesy and teach, and serve, etc.

But wait, we’re not done. Let’s look now at Paul’s essential list of gifts in Romans 12. It goes like this:

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

(v. 4-8)

Personally, I like this list a lot more than the other two. This Seven Fold Ministry of God drops leadership to the very bottom, just ahead of showing mercy, and it moves service, teaching and encouragement to the top. That’s my kind of list.

But, again, the Christians in Rome could easily have taken this list and deduced from it that Apostles, Evangelists and Pastors are unnecessary in the Church, and that what really counts is Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Encouragement, Giving, Leadership and Mercy. But, again, they would be wrong about that.

What’s fascinating to me is that, while we have all three of these epistles in front of us and they didn’t, our tendency is to take one of those lists as authoritative while ignoring the other two. There is no evidence that the churches in Ephesus, Rome or Corinth took Paul’s instructions in this manner to be exhaustive and exclusive of the others.

The main thing I believe we can learn from all of this is that Jesus was serious when he said that we are all brothers and sisters and that none of us was meant to play the Father, or the Ruler over anyone else. (See Matthew 23:9) The goal in the Body of Christ is that we are all members of one another, and that no one person is given the preeminence over the rest of us.

Having said all of this, let me clarify that yes, I do believe that there are those today who are “sent ones” (or “Apostles”) in the church today. Their function is to go out and preach the Gospel, plant churches, recognize gifts in the Body, and move on when needed to plant more churches. I also believe that there are those in the church today with the gifts of prophecy, and tongues, and teaching, and mercy, and giving, and all those many, many other gifts.

What I reject is the idea that there are only five main gifts in the church today, or that these five should be exalted above all the other gifts mentioned in the New Testament as if they are more special or more necessary or more crucial than any of the others.

At face value, the message of the New Testament is that you matter. Your gift – whatever it is – is necessary. You are important. You have something the rest of us need. We have something that you need. We need one another to grow and to thrive.

As Paul says in each of these passages, there are many gifts, and they are all given by the One Spirit, and we are all members of each other. Our gifts are not for us, they are not about us, they are about one another and the purpose of these gifts is to be a blessing to everyone else and to exalt them, not ourselves.

So, I’m not sure about you, but since there are something like 28 different spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible, and 58 "one anothers", I’m a big fan of the 28 or the 58 Fold Ministry of God.

How about you?




Luke said...

I think another helpful paradigm is that those five are like gift categories instead of specific gifts... a la 1 Peter 4. So EVERYONE has one of the five. That's a "new" view and I've heard Cole, Hirsch and Simpson debate about it. Mike Breen's stuff teaches it directly.

It took me awhile to see where they were coming from, but I was convinced when I saw the the one who is doing the equipping in Eph 4 is Christ, not the five leaders. This activates the body in a way that seeing those five as a "leadership team" never can.

Can Opener Boy said...

Great post Keith. A friend on FB linked me to which referenced yours.

Good to hear your voice again, as I have been away from the blogosphere for awhile.

Peace and belssings friend,

~ Keith Seckel

Aussie John said...


So good to read a sane and Biblical article regarding, what has become a vexed subject in some situations in this country.

Eli Chitaka said...

you're touching some sacred cows here keith!
Honestly this article is a breath of fresh air and much needed perspective. So obvious and simple yet somehow lost in translation... I guess something todo with people loving heirarchy and status.
Would you then interpret ephesians 2:20 as speaking more to historical beginnings of household/body of christ?
In the sense that Paul is referring to the 12 and OT prophets as opposed to an ongoing reality of current day prophets and apostles being foundational.
Suppose I answered my own question...

Reverend Rafael said...


Five fold ministry can be easily abused, replicated at will by some very dangerous people. Be advised.

C said...

This is great, Keith. Thank you!

I'm personally of the opinion that there are many "gifts" given by the Spirit that are never once mentioned in Scripture.

Every time God calls us to do something that we can't do, he gifts us accordingly. Though many examples of these gifts are recorded in the New Testament, there's no reason to assume that they are exhaustive.

Unknown said...

Very interesting stuff Keith! At this time in my life, I'm also leaning towards the understanding Neil Cole presents in "Primal Fire", and which commenter Luke mentioned. I don't think of giftings as fixed, but instead as dynamic ways Jesus works through all of us.