A Brief Explanation of the Fivefold Typology of Ephesians 4
The fivefold ascension gifts, as described in Ephesians 4:1-16, are five distinct aspects of Jesus given to the Body of Christ by Jesus. They are supernaturally designed “…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” (Eph. 4:12,13).
To clarify, while everyone has been wired by Jesus in some manner with a fivefold gift (or gift mix), not everyone has the same capacity. This is similar to the truth that while every believer has a ministry, not every believer is a leader. Leadership is a separate gifting. I want to emphasize that the Ephesians text does not convey the idea that the fivefold ascension gifts are leadership gifts, as is often taught. They are ministry capacities given “to his people” (Eph. 4:8). This includes every follower of Jesus!
It is also important to note that the fivefold ascension gifts are people gifts given by Jesus, unlike spiritual gifts that are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The manifestation gifts are situational, while the fivefold gifting functions more as a permanent hard wiring–like our DNA.
For the sake of the Great Commission and Commandment of Jesus, we dare not pick and choose between the five, though this is the unfortunate, functional state of things, especially in the western world. The issue of unifying the five is tricky business, as working with any form of diversity usually is. Perhaps that is why Paul labors to emphasize the importance of unity and oneness in Ephesians 4:1-6 before unpacking the diversity of the fivefold giftings. In Jesus we find the perfect embodiment of the modalic and sodalic forms of ministry. He was never and is never at odds with himself. This is certainly not true of most churches and missional organizations today. The genius of the fivefold ministry typology is that it honors equally the apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher—all aspects of Jesus.
We desperately need to learn how to functionally embrace the complete fivefold if we sincerely desire to re-Jesus the earth with “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
A Functional Description of the Fivefold Ascension Gifts of Jesus
The apostle/apostolic – Sending and extending
In Greek, the term literally means “sent one.” As the name itself suggests, it is the quintessentially missional (from missio, the Latin equivalent) ministry. The French translation of the term apostle (envoy) picks up this sense of commission much better than the English transliteration—an apostle is an envoy. It is a pioneering function of the church, the capacity to extend Christianity as a healthy, integrated, innovative, reproducing movement, every-expanding into new cultures. It also takes care and responsibility for the ongoing integrity of the core ideas (DNA, organizational principles, or meta-ideas) that generate and maintain systemic health across the organization.
The prophet/prophetic – Questioning and embodying
The prophetic is the function tasked with maintaining loyalty and faithfulness to God above all. Essentially, prophets are guardians of the covenant relationship that God has with his people. The prophetic is also passionately concerned with living a life morally consistent with the covenant—a simple and authentic life of justice, holiness, and righteousness. The prophet proclaims God’s holiness and calls for holiness in God’s people.
The evangelist/evangelistic – Recruiting and connecting
The evangelistic function involves the proclamation of the good news at the core of the church’s message. Evangelism is therefore all about the core message and its reception in the hearts of people and cultures. The evangelist is the storyteller, the all-important recruiter to the cause, the naturally infectious person who is able to enlist people into what God is doing in and through the church.
The shepherd/shepherding – Developing and deepening relationships
Shepherding is the function and calling responsible for maintaining and developing healthy community and enriching relationships. This involves a commitment to nurture spiritual maturity, maintain communal health, defend the community against breakdown, and engender loving community among the redeemed family of God.
The teacher/teaching – Training and contextualizing
The teaching function is concerned with the passing on of wisdom and understanding. This involves bringing a comprehensive understanding of the revelation given to the church. It is a guiding and discerning function. A biblical understanding of this function emphasizes wisdom, not simply speculative philosophy. Teaching, of course, also involves integrating the intellectual and spiritual treasure of the community and encoding it, in order to pass it on to others and to the next generation.