Why Focus on all five of the Fivefold?

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.

It is also important to note that the fivefold ascension gifts are people gifts given by Jesus, unlike spiritual giftsthat are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The manifestation gifts are situational, while the fivefold gifting is more of 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 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 is 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. 

Unfortunately, when only one or two of the fivefold ministry gifts are honored to the neglect of the others, dysfunction, unsustainable growth and immaturity are the outcomes. Each of the gifts provide an essential collaborative complement to the others. Together, the five balance each other. The fact is, there is always an unhealthy “shadow side” to each of the gifts when they exist in isolation to their complements. For example:

  • The shadow side of the apostolic can include such things as ambition, impatience, prioritizing projects over people, starting things that don’t get finished, etc.
  •  The shadow side of the prophetic can include such things as negativity, criticalness, overly black and white thinking, stubbornness, etc.
  • The shadow side of the evangelistic can include such things as gift projection (assuming everyone should be as zealous for personal evangelism as they are), impatience with people who don’t respond immediately to their ministry, isolating their ministry of evangelism from the holistic process of disciple making, etc.
  • The shadow side of the shepherd can include such things as negativity toward numerical growth initiatives (ie., “We need to take care of those we already have before heading out to reach more!”), creating unhealthy dependent relationships, compassion without challenge, etc. 
  • The shadow side of the teacher can include such things as having a focus more on delivering head knowledge than holistic transformation, confusing the creation of teaching material for discipleship, depending more on one’s expertise than the Spirit’s anointing, highlighting the classroom over “in the trench” paradigms for training, etc.

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.” Sustainable gospel movements essentially require all five gifts serving with humility in collaboration with each other!

A Functional Description of the Fivefold Ascension Gifts of Jesus[1]

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.


[1] The following descriptions of the fivefold functions are taken from Activating 5Q by Alan Hirsch & Jessie Cruickshank.

About Bill Randall

Director of Pioneering Initiatives with Novo Mission Inc. www.pioneeringinitiatives.org bill.randall@novo.org
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