The Five-Fold Ministry and the Birth of New Movements


For three or four years now I have been uncomfortable with talk about the "five fold ministry." I've had difficulty identifying my discomfort, but I'll bet many of you are way ahead of me on this and could give me many reasons why it doesn't work for you.

It seems that the phrase is mostly used in charismatic circles as part of a package that sells a certain understanding of authority.. hierarchical and positional, founded around office and status in the community, and aimed at maintaining a clerical culture of management. Unfortunately, that particular conception of authority is part of the reason that the modern church got stuck, and the places that talk a lot about it are too often places of abuse.

As I have been completing my read of Frost and Hirsch, "The Shaping of Things to Come," I have found myself asking some old questions about vocation and its relation to gifting, and gifting and its relation to position, and of course, questions about the relationship of leadership and authority in this matrix.

It seems to me that we have three urgent tasks in the emergent church in relation to the biblical revelation on gifts and authority.. we have to disentangle leadership and authority, we have to disentangle the biblical language about gifting from the cultural mess of modern Christendom, and we have to find a way to embrace the diversity of gifts in the body. If we attempt to do one of these without the other, we will probably slide back into a familiar clerical mode with centralized and positional authority.

Frost and Hirsch use APEPT to refer to "five fold," apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. They make the argument that "to each one grace has been given" and "he gave some to be" in Ephesians 4 applies the APEPT giftings to every believer.. every believer has one of the APEPT gifts.

APEPT Ministry Matrix Furthermore, they locate these gifts within two matrices: an inner leadership matrix and an outer ministry matrix. Picture two concentric circles with APEPT leaders in the center and the APEPT community surrounding them. This two dimensional understanding may be helpful to us in moving forward. Not all apostles will hold leadership positions in the church. Not all prophets will be recognized as such or exercise their gifting in a way that moves the entire community forward. But all five gifts are necessary "to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up." All five gifts contribute to a life giving dynamic and continued responsiveness to the Head of the body. There is no either/or dualism in charismata that separates the people of God into clergy and laity, but we continue to acknowledge that the measure of gifting and the measure of faith in exercising a gift varies with each individual and their context.

Innovator = Apostle, Questioner = Prophet

Frost and Hirsch run the five gifts through the grid of organizational and social research. While at first glance this may seem pedantic, it is really helpful. They make the following connection:

  • entrepreneur/innovator - the apostle
  • questioner - the prophet
  • recruiter - the evangelist
  • humanizer - the pastor
  • systematizer - the teacher

(By the way, Jon Reid did some nice work with this concept by taking some of the material from the APEPT section and using it to help people in their community identify the way they function.. see image at right. For the actual exercise Jon did you can also click HERE)

This is helpful for two critical reasons:

1. it pushes us to see the function of these gifts in any church team.
2. it moves toward disentangling these biblical terms from the muck and mire of cultural religion

In the modern setting we were very enamored of pastors and teachers, and lost the missional ability to innovate. The apostles have been thought dispensable by the management culture of modern clergy. Then we neglected to listen to the prophets, who had their ears attuned to both God and the culture, and we likewise marginalized the artists and poets, who are some of the prophetic among us and are often apostolic. Remember Ron Martoia's words describing the kaleidoscopic dance (there are three mirrors in the kaleidoscope) :

"The apostolic mirror says what do we see out there in our "sentness" role as a church. Most churches are very focused within their four walls. The word apostle means sent one. The church isn't to be gathered except to be sent out. As we go out into the culture, what do we see and hear that will enable us to address ministry in ways that are culturally sensitive? In other words, the apostolic mirror reflects to us all the culture context can show us.

"The prophetic mirror reflects to us the new thing God wants to do in us and through us. Isaiah 43 says God wants to do a new thing. This mirror reflects to us God's heart at the moment and in the context of the apostolic mirror of the cultural context we find ourselves.

"The third mirror is the poetic. Every church has a unique voice, unique gifts, a unique way of expressing what God is doing through them. The poetic mirror reflects each churches unique delivery system to the community around them. When apostolic "sentness" captures the cultural context, and then mingles with the new thing God wants to speak prophetically into the culture and that is sieved through the poetic voice of the church, you have a very unique missional picture emerge that shapes and contours ministry initiatives for that local church. The interplay of those three mirrors and the corresponding ministry beachheads that emerge are what I call the kaleidoscopic dance." An interview with Ron Martoia at THE OOZE

An Apostolic Movement?

Suddenly we are living in a time when many are talking about apostles and prophets. But don't be deceived, there are actually two separate dynamics at work.

"We are up against the real disintegration of the Western psyche. To compensate for the loss of control and meaning, we find a rigidity of response on both sides of most questions…"
Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

The first dynamic is an attempt to strengthen the existing authority structures. When things are shaking all around us, we run for cover. We try to build a stronger fortress against change. Much of the talk of apostles and prophets in charismatic circles is just circling the wagons. It is an attempt to strengthen centralized authority in fear that we are losing control. This is a distorted response to what the Lord is doing in kingdom and culture, or at least an attempt to manage and organize what should be organic and "spirited."

The second dynamic is almost underground.. unless you spend a lot of time at emergent websites :) The FORGE network, ALLELON, Emergent and many other groups are not interested in controlling anything or establishing a kingdom of their own.. they are interested in supporting the growth of a new movement, of rebuilding the broken walls, of nurturing the growth of God's kingdom in small ways wherever they see it happening. No one is interested in status or titles; many in fact are trying to avoid prominence. This is a trans-boundary, trans-cultural and trans-national movement because it is something that the Lord is doing. This second dynamic is apostolic because it doesn't claim apostolic authority but would prefer to be invisible, it has a strong interest in marginalized people, it is non-hierarchical, and it is all about service.

Stages in Organizational Life: from Movement to Machine

Frost and Hirsch note that organizational research finds definable stages in organizational life in relation to leadership. Young movements are full of prophets and visionaries, people with little vested interest in old forms and lots of energy for risk and experimentation. But as movements become organizations, the builders and synergists take over.. establishing relational connections, consolidating the group. The visionaries and questioners are marginalized. Next teachers and administrators standardize roles and functions and systematize a system of understanding and the builders and synergists are marginalized. As time passes the adminstrators rule, and as they manage the organization it shifts to maintenance mode. Finally, authority is encapsulated in an office and the bureaucrats rule with a rod of iron. Little change or growth is possible, and the organization dies. (This progression has been documented as far back as Niebuhr's "The Social Sources of Denominationalism.")

So the apostles and prophets are always strongly in evidence in the birth of new movements, but then are thrust aside as the movement becomes established. Charism gives place to charisma.. pastors and teachers rule .. humanizers and systematizers. Movements become institutions in part because they push aside the innovators and visionaries, they lose touch with context and become frozen in time. Life and passion gives way to "hardening of the categories."

This explains in part why I am so unhappy with our religious conceptions of the five-fold ministry. Those titles tell us little about the life of a spirit born body and a lot about the frozen irrelevance of modern churches. We have legitimated authority narrowly into a few roles and lost the dynamic of the Holy Spirit in the community. We need all the gifts, but in the birthing of a new movement we particularly need the artists and prophets and poets.. we need to get comfortable again with the questioners and innovators.. we need "poets who speak against the prose flattened world" (Brueggemann).

"Our God is a God of beginnings. There is in him no redundancy or circularity. Thus, if his church wants to be faithful to his revelation, it will be completely mobile, fluid, renascent, bubbling, creative, inventive, adventurous, and imaginative." Jacques Ellul, Resist the Powers

All very nice, you say, but who gives direction? Is it the apostle, the prophet, the pastor, the teacher, the evangelist.. or all of them? What if this is the wrong question?

What if leadership has more to do with finding meaning than in setting direction? "Strange attractors," in the world of physics cause order to emerge from apparent chaos. "Strange attractors" are like guiding principles or values and have more impact on individual behavior than good management.

Organizational science is finding that focus is more important than individual behaviors. Taking control would mean replacing individual initiative, and re-centralizing authority, thus impeding the natural development of community and natural development of new leaders. If our goal is to be in control, we needn't worry about the growth of community; a hierarchy will do. If our goal is to build a congregation, an audience, we only need a few leaders, who will foster dependence in order to maintain the system or soon burn out with the impossible task of holding it together. Instead, leaders need to know how to support, as leadership coach Margaret Wheatley put it,

".. self-organizing responses. People do not need the intricate directions, time lines, plans, and organization charts that we thought we had to give them. These are not how people accomplish good work; they are what impede contributions. But people do need a lot from their leaders. They need information, access, resources, trust, and follow-through. Leaders are necessary to foster experimentation, to help create connections across the organization, to feed the system with rich information from multiple sources-all while helping everyone stay clear on what we agreed we wanted to accomplish and who we wanted to be." A Simpler Way, 1996

If we no longer see dominance and social influence as the basic activities of leadership, we no longer think of people in terms of leaders and followers. Instead, we can think of leadership as a process in which an entire community is engaged. This enables us to disentangle power and authority from leadership. Authority is a tool for making sense of things, but so are other human tools such as values and work systems. (For further discussion of leadership dynamics go to Kingdom Leadership in the Postmodern World) or Here for a PDF document.)

Footnote: Why church plants can look so dated...

Ever wonder why a brand new church plant can look so dated? Ever wonder why something brand new can look old and tired?

It's because there are two life cycles to consider in every new community: the life cycle of the new community itself, and the life cycle of the old community out of which the new community is birthed.

In nature this works very differently. I have never seen a woman give birth to her identical twin :)

But in organizations, a new work can in fact be a clone of the old one. An established denomination can plant a new church that is a mirror image of itself. It is in the maintenance and managerial mode, and it commissions maintenance and managerial people to begin a "new" work. It should, of course, recognize that what is needed in a new work are visionary and innovative people.. apostles and prophets, artists and poets... but it may not easily recognize those people in its midst since when an organization is well established it tends to marginalize those functions.


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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005