This post is the fourth part of a series looking at Building A Healthy Church Leadership Structure and will look at what roles the Five-Fold Ministry play in church government. Earlier posts examined elders and deacons. If you are looking for definitions of the five fold ministry gifts, you can find them here. I’ve also developed a five fold ministry test. You can find this five fold ministry test, and other church assessments, here.
Every church looks different; every form of church structure and government will vary. Some churches have thousands of people, others are a handful. The New Testament shows us that people met in small groups and synagogues. We can see that elders led the church and they were served and supported by deacons. But what of the five fold ministries? Where do they fit into the overall picture of church government and structure? How do they relate with the other two offices of elders and deacons?
Roles within Church Government
These three offices are separate, but there does seem to be a biblical precedent for overlap between the five fold and the other two. We can see from the scripture:
- It is possible to be a deacon and hold a five fold ministry. Philip is called both a deacon and an evangelist.
- It is possible to be an elder and hold a five fold ministry. Peter is called both an apostle and an elder.
- Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that all elders are or should be five fold leaders. As I argued elsewhere, the qualification for eldership is character and not a five fold ministry gift.
- Nowhere in the New Testament are five fold ministers expected to be elders in a local church. Philip, as above, is an example here.
If these four things are true, then we should not expect local churches to each have all, some or even one five fold minister based there. A senior leader should not be called an apostle, for example, to ‘tick that box’ if he or she is not one. That undermines and undervalues both apostleship and eldership. A pastor, or teacher, or an elder, that is called an apostle but isn’t one, will still, in reality, function as a pastor, teacher, or elder.
Five Fold Involvement in Church Government
We’ve seen that some elders and deacons are five fold ministers, and some aren’t. It is clear from a casual reading of the New Testament that local assemblies had a connection and relationship with an apostle. Paul, Peter, James, Barnabas and Apollos all either wrote letters of instruction to churches in their care, or they visited them.
This shows us that local churches benefit from and need input and influence from at least one apostle. This is not a hierarchy of apostolic oversight, covering or network. It is relational. In the Kingdom, authority is only ever received. It is never imposed. Apostles serve churches; they do not swoop in like helicopters performing a rescue. They will serve churches by helping adjust, restore and develop the foundations and spiritual health of churches, and by identifying, growing and developing leaders.
Other five fold ministers will bring their unique ministry lens and grace gifts to a church. Whether the five fold ministers are already based in that church or come to it from outside; whether they are deacons, elders, or neither, they should come with a heart to impact the culture and spiritual health of a congregation. If you are unsure as to the current level of spiritual health of your church, I’ve developed a five fold ministry test you can take here.
Developing Five Fold Influence in Church Government
Practically, how do we embrace and develop a healthy, scriptural five fold influence in our church government and structure?
- Have a healthy structure comprising of elders and deacons
This post will give you pointers on how to build a healthy church leadership structure.
- Don’t let the leader of the church be called ‘Senior Pastor’
Whether they are a five fold pastor, or not, this shapes expectations from the people and can place people into ministry boxes that are not their gifting or calling. I advocate something like ‘Senior Leader’, but anything that doesn’t restrict people works!
- Recognise who you already have
There are certain signs you can look for to identify five fold ministers. Know your sheep, and see who you have who could have these graces on their lives. You are looking for character, spiritual lens, and gifting. Start with those who have giftings or success in these areas.
- Don’t try to collect the set!
What I mean by that is, don’t shoehorn people into an office just so you have all five. Don’t take someone who has talked to a nonbeliever and say they are your evangelist. If you have four, three, two, one or even none, that’s OK! You build with who you have. Conversely, you might have more than one prophet, or teacher, or pastor, or whatever. That’s totally OK too.
- Don’t build with titles
Be careful with five fold titles; especially if someone does not have the gifting or ministry level for it. You can crush someone, or allow someone too much influence when they don’t have the grace or maturity for it. Take it slow to give titles or public announcements. Over time, examine the fruit on and through peoples lives.
- Gather those with the gifts to shape the culture
Organise a gathering with anyone who sees themselves as having gifts in these areas. I’m not saying gather people who say they are prophets, for example. I’m saying gather those who have prophetic gifts. Keep it as an open invitation, and start off with a working exercise. Ask the group (assuming this is a prophetic group) “how can we grow the prophetic life of the church?”. Listen to their suggestions, because some great ideas may come out. But also, look to see who speaks, and who speaks with authority. Who do people listen to when they speak? Who has the maturity and authority in the room? These people are the ones for you to connect with.
- Expose your church to authentic five fold ministers
Get guest speakers and ministers in. This is especially important if you lack any five fold level leaders within your church. For example, if you don’t have any strong prophetic leaders, locate and invite a prophet. Have these leaders minister in large meetings, but also to your deacons and elders. Also, gather like-gifted people – for example, if you have an evangelist visit you, make sure they get time with those amongst you with evangelistic heart, passion and gifting. It will impart something to them, and grow them, or even wake up those who are ‘dormant!’. Finally, get one on one time with them as a leader and ask them “how would you grow the life of the church?”
- Make space for and deploy those within your church with five fold gifting
Giftings grow through use, which means opportunities. I’ve written elsewhere about steps you can take to develop leaders. Include training opportunities, and public ministry opportunities, such as teaching, preaching and leading meetings.
- Bring those with mature five fold gifting into your wider leadership team meetings
Exposure and connection into a team builds unity and shapes thinking. Additionally, it will prevent them from inadvertently leading a silo that only focuses on one particular ministry. It also helps foster connection and teamwork. Being in a larger team will help develop them as leaders because they will need to consider the bigger picture of church life. It will show them how they can help bring what they do in a way that serves and blesses the local church because their job description is to equip the saints. So, should they be elders or deacons? Only if they fulfil the biblical criteria!
- Foster teamwork and inter-dependability
Pastors need evangelists, and evangelists need pastors. Prophets need teachers, and teachers need prophets. Each of the five fold needs the other four for sharpening and depth. None are superior, because all are servants
In short, it is worth re-stating that elders lead the church, not five fold ministers. In that sense, the presence of a prophet doesn’t mean they are the leader. As we’ve seen earlier, they might not even be an elder in that local church! Elders and deacons form the local government structure of a church, with the five fold bring unique gifts and graces to it. Sometimes these roles overlap, but not always. But these five fold ministry gifts are essential for the spiritual health of a church, and should be pursued accordingly! A healthy church will identify, gather and deploy those with existing and potential five fold gifts to enjoy the benefit of their ministry apostolically, prophetically, evangelistically, pastorally, and through teaching.
You can read fuller descriptions about each fivefold ministry definition, and resulting cultures they create, in the following posts:
- Fivefold ministry: what it is and why it matters
- What are the signs that help us recognise a fivefold minister?
- What about apostles?
- What about prophets?
- What about evangelists?
- What about pastors?
- What about teachers?
- Fivefold ministry and church government
- Cultivating APEST Leadership
Each fivefold ministry is essential for any healthy, mature church. Do you know how strong your church in each of them? Are you strong in some, and weak in others? Do you know why? How did you test to see? To help churches like yours answer these questions and discover their fivefold health, I designed a FREE Fivefold ministry test for churches.
To find out more, and take the Fivefold Ministry test, click HERE.