Summary: Jesus the Son of God came from heaven to earth 2,000 years ago. He died for our sins, rose again from the dead, and returned victoriously to heaven. He had fulfilled the prophetic promises of the Old Covenant concerning His first coming to earth and instituted the New Covenant for the Church Age we are now in. During His ministry on earth, Jesus began building His Church (Matthew 16:18). When He ascended back to heaven, he left His brand-new Church in the care primarily of twelve newly-called apostles, while continuing to direct the building of His Church from heaven. From that point on, especially in the Book of Acts, we see many more ministry roles given to the Church by the Lord in heaven. Let’s look together in Acts and see the emergence of a full “fivefold” ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, along with elders and deacons.
“Jesus BEGAN to do and teach” many things in His ministry on earth (Acts 1:1, KJV). The Church continued in these things, and the Lord from heaven caused them to grow in their ministry. We’ll see that pattern of emergence and development in the ministry offices that Jesus began to put in His Church, and which saw much expansion in the Church in the Book of Acts.
We’ll look at the emergence and/or expansion of 7 ministries in Acts:
While on earth Jesus chose twelve men, whom He “named apostles.” He trained them to become spiritual pillars of the early Church. He helped them mature into foundational stature for that beginning Church — “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20).
After Jesus rose from the dead and soon thereafter ascended back to heaven, He continued giving ministries to the Church, as we see in Acts. Keep in mind that all five of these ministries Jesus has been giving since ascending back to heaven. He gave twelve apostles while on earth. And He has continued giving apostles since His ascension. Likewise since ascending to heaven, the risen Savior has given to the Church prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He has also guided His church in selecting and ordaining elders and deacons.
What is an apostle? As Ephesians 2:20 says, it’s a foundational ministry in the body of Christ. I think the best and briefest summary of the apostle’s ministry is seen in the apostle Paul’s words: “a wise master builder” (1 Corinthians 3:10, KJV). He is a spiritual architect, able to oversee an entire project, with the necessary, God-given skills and spiritual gifts.
We see more apostles emerging in the New Testament after the 4 Gospels. Jesus is seen calling 12 apostles in the Gospels, one of whom (Judas) fell. After ascending to heaven Jesus continued giving apostles, as we see, for example, in the Book of Acts:
For your more in-depth study of apostles, I suggest my:
There were many prophets in the Old Testament. Some of their names are quite familiar: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah, and others. Also John the Baptist, who died before Jesus’ death and resurrection initiated the New Covenant. There continued to be prophets under the New Covenant, given by Jesus since His resurrection and ascension.
Along with the apostles, prophets were described as foundational ministries to Christ’s Church. The prophet has deep sensitivity to hearing from God and speaking forth from God for edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3, KJV) and at times to foretell future events, ministries, and more — for example, a worldwide famine (Acts 11:28); the apostle Paul’s future capture in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-11).
Some New Testament prophets in Acts were:
For your more in-depth study of prophets, I suggest my:
Jesus was, of course, the great Evangelizer of souls. In this Church Age in which we live He has continued (Ephesians 4:8,11) to give evangelists to further the winning of souls to salvation in Christ.
The evangelist seems to have two primary functions:
There is one notable evangelist in Acts — Philip. We see him in both of the evangelist’s ministries to the lost:
For your more in-depth study of evangelists and evangelizing, I suggest my:
In the King James Version, as well as in many other respected translations, the word “pastors” in the New Testament, referring to spiritual leaders in local churches, occurs only one time, in the verse above. That need not puzzle us, though. The Greek word has the sense of a “shepherd” and occurs 17 times in the New Testament, referring some of those 17 times to Jesus and at other times to shepherds caring for natural sheep, in addition to this one verse referring to the “pastor” role of a human leader caring for a church flock. The meaning of the pastoral ministry is clearly that of being “shepherds of His flock,” as the Amplified Classic translates it.
Of the five ministry offices of Ephesians 4:11, the one most widely used worldwide for the primary leader of a local church congregation is “pastor.” The pastor feeds the church flock with God’s Word (see Jeremiah 3:15, KJV) and with personal love and watchful care. Although he is not directly called so in Scripture, it is widely believed that Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus. For that reason, the apostle Paul’s two epistles to Timothy are widely known as “Pastoral Epistles,” sent to help the young church leader in his ministry.
On a personal note: My 34 years of Christian ministry (1972-2006) were spread over 22 years of local church pastoring and 12 years of Bible College teaching. In the 17 “senior citizen” years since then, I’ve been enabled by the Lord to stay active in writing this website, which you are now reading, and for which I thank you.
One of Jesus’ main ministries while on earth was that of a Teacher. Even the Jewish leaders of that day recognized this in Him. For example, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God…” (John 3:1-2, KJV). Since His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, Jesus has continued to give Bible teachers to His Church.
This is the area of the fivefold ministry I have personally experienced the most. I was ordained as an Ephesians 4:11 Bible teacher in 1975 at Abbott Loop Christian Center in Anchorage, Alaska. I have felt great personal delight and gratitude to the Lord for the privilege of serving Him and His people in that capacity these nearly 50 years since. I foresee an expanded role for Bible teachers in the local churches during these exciting last days many believe us to be in.
At this point in Acts Saul (later known to us as Paul the apostle) was one of the Bible teachers in the local Antioch church. Even after much travel in later apostolic ministry, Paul would return to that local church and teach the Word of God to them (Acts 15:35).
In fact, although most think of Paul only as an apostle, he wrote of himself that God had given him several ministry gifts: “I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Timothy 1:11). Another Bible teacher in Acts was Barnabas (Acts 13:1 with 15:35).
It should not surprise us that the early Church was very actively involved in teaching the Word of God. The churches of today should be doing that too.
For your more in-depth study of Bible teachers, I suggest my:
First a couple of Old Testament similarities. God had Moses (the leader) add elders. These godly men were added to help Moses. Although in this instance not specifically called elders, they were to “bear the burden with [Moses],” particularly in judging the people (Exodus 18:22, KJV). The importance of adding elders to help the leader do his ministry was even clearer in Numbers 11:17 — “I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them [‘elders of the people,’ vs. 16]; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.”
The Old Testament principle of godly men being added to help the leader has emerged very clearly in the New Testament in the office of church elders. It has been wisely said, I believe, that local church elders are like “under-shepherds” who help the pastor(s) care for the flock. The leaders in the Book of Acts were diligent to add elders to help the leader(s) of the church in ministry.
For your more in-depth study of elders, I suggest my:
There was no ministry role specifically called “deacon” in the pre-cross, Old Covenant Scriptures. In the New Testament church, “deacon” identifies those whose ministry is in practical service. The deacon ministry arose in Acts from a crisis in the early Jerusalem church. The apostles were spending much time making sure that the widows’ support needs were not neglected. But the time they needed for their God-assigned spiritual ministry was being taken up by those important natural needs in the church. So they came up with the very helpful deacon idea, as follows:
The natural support needs of the widows were important. To place over that needed ministry they chose “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” Notice that these were spiritual men appointed to relieve the apostles of natural tasks in the church. Important: Some spiritual believers might be called to primarily spiritual ministry (here in Acts 6, the apostles). And other similarly spiritual believers might be called to ministry in natural areas. It’s all for the Lord! There is no greater-or-lesser value judgment. Every task done for the Lord is honorable in His eyes.
In the churches I’ve been part of, there have been outstanding deacons overseeing and/or doing valuable natural tasks — things such as building and grounds maintenance, opening and closing the building pre- and post-service, food ministries to the needy, looking out for the well-being of the elderly widows and others, taking care of various administrative tasks, and a wide variety of other activities that take immense pressure off the church elders and fivefold leadership team. That allows them, like the early apostles, to “give [them]selves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
For your more in-depth study of deacons, I suggest my:
The apostle Paul wrote to the local church in Phillippi. In brief, this verse describes the biblical, New Testament local church.
• “Saints” — a common Bible term for all the born-again believers in the Lord
• “Overseers” — those in spiritual leadership: one or more of the 5-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers; also church elders.
• “Deacons” — those over the necessary natural ministries of the church.
If your church has those three: saints, spiritual leaders, and deacons, you are well established on New Testament biblical principles. May God continue to bless!
Check out our related sermon: 'Body Ministry' (Team Ministry) Means We're ALL 'Ministers'
Subscribe (always free)
Shortcuts to Major Topics:
Doctrine & Theology
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Hearing from God
Holy Spirit | Pentecostal Topics
Power of God
Various Topics Not Listed Elsewhere
Victory over the Devil
Word of God
Sharing is great!
If you've been blessed by our sermon on
5-fold Ministry, Elders & Deacons Emerge in Acts
please share it with your friends.
Email them the browser link. Or
you can post the link on your social
media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
Thank you for sharing God's Word!
©2023, James H. Feeney.