R3 Alliance | Qualifications For Ministers and Churches
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Spiritual Qualifications for Ministry Credentials with R3 Alliance

We are pleased that God has touched your life and called you to service in the Kingdom of God. As you consider applying for credentials through the R3 ALLIANCE, we want you to fully understand the level of commitment you are about to make. Therefore, in this document, we will discuss what the concept of ministry really means, generally, within the Christian context, and specifically, within the context of vocational ministry.

Ministry Defined

We often think of ministry in the context of Christian clergy, or “those who earn their living by the gospel.”[1] But, in the early Christian understanding of ministry, those who were called to offices of ministry and exercised some formal authority were distinguished from those who performed the general ministry service in which every believer is encouraged to participate.


In New Testament times, the term diakonia, from which we get the word for deacon, is the word most often translated “ministry.” It was often related to the work of a servant who literally waited tables or performed other menial tasks. Though there are other Greek terms for “official” or “institutional” ministry[2], only once in the New Testament does the Apostle Paul use the term leitourgos when he speaks of himself as a “minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God.”[3]


Jesus clearly shaped the model for New Testament ministry. And His pattern of ministry or serving without the institutional hierarchies was so all-encompassing that it became impossible for the writers to speak of some special honor or exemplary model of “official” ministry apart from how others served in the church. Someone “serving Christ” is couched in terms of exactly what a slave would do for his lord – simple service, not authoritative domination.


This does not suggest that there are not appropriate titles for those called to vocational ministry, nor does it imply that we neglect to give “honor to whom honor” is due.[4] But it introduces us to the Jesus model of ministry.


[1] 1 Cor 9:14 “…the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” NASB (Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NASB translation)

[2] telos (office or free service); timeu (office or task); archeu (office or magistracy); leitourgia (public religious service).

[3] Rom 15:16

[4] Rom 13:7

Ministry Modeled

New Testament ministry is both taught and modeled by Jesus. Apart from Him, we cannot fully comprehend what it means to serve in our calling of ministry. Therefore all biblical understanding of ministry must begin with Jesus.


It is significant to note that Jesus held no “official” earthly titles such as a “member of the council” or “scribe” or “priest.” Even those who called Him “rabbi” were simply giving him the title of “teacher” or “sir.” And his parables and teachings were radically different from the traditional rabbis of His day. He taught by example more than by precept. His theology came to life by his whole ministry: His healing, His attitude toward sinners, and by His parables and ethical commandments. So what do we see modeled by Christ?


First we see that ministry is humble service. He counters the self-serving attitudes of even His own disciples. He says of His own ministry: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (diakoneo), and to give His life a ransom for many” (Markk 10:45). The Last Supper is a graphic portrayal of His emphasis on servanthood where He chastens the disciples for their competitive nature, washes their feet and declares, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).


Secondly, we see that ministry is incarnational. Jesus’ most noble earthly titles could be expressed in “Jesus of Nazareth” or “son of man.” The Word became flesh in order to dwell among us.[1] Even the powerful descriptive of His heavenly name, born of a virgin, was “Immanuel…God with us.”[2] God the Son took on the robe of humanity in order to identify with His human creation and secure our redemption through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).


Third, ministry is proclamation. The Greek noun kerygma means to proclaim. The focus of “preaching” is proclaiming the gospel. As Jesus stood in the synagogue of Nazareth at the outset of His public ministry, He boldly declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel[3] to the poor, He has sent Me to proclaim[4] release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim[5] the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).


Fourth, we minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. From the outset of Christ’s public ministry we see the activity and anointing of the Holy Spirit.[6] Upon His baptism, before any public activity, we see an “anointing” descend upon Him “as a dove.”[7] In Acts 10: 38, Peter tells us that after Christ’s baptism, “… God anointed[8] Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and…He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Jesus Himself tells us that He cast out demons by the Spirit of God and that this anointing was evidence that the Kingdom of God had come.[9]


Fifth, we see modeled in Jesus that ministry is shepherding. In Hebrews 13:20, Jesus is called the “Great Shepherd,” and in 1 Peter 2:25, Peter refers to Him as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” But, in John’s gospel, we see the most profound self-portrait of Jesus as shepherd. In John 10, Jesus depicts Himself as “the good shepherd.”[10] He cares for the sheep, leads them to refreshing water and healthy pastures. He protects the sheep from wolves. And the ultimate evidence of a “good shepherd” is that He lays down His life for the sheep.[11] If the good shepherd models this shepherd spirit, should this not also be the attitude of those who seek to minister to God’s people?


[1] Jn 1:14

[2] Mt 1:23

[3] Greek: euangelízomai

[4] Greek: kerusso (from kerygma)

[5] Greek: kerusso (from kerygma)

[6] Lu 4:14

[7] Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lu 3:22; Jn 1:32

[8] Greek: chrio

[9] Mt 12:28

[10] Jn 10:11,15,17,18

[11] Jn 10:11

Ministry in the Church

The impact of Christ’s model of ministry upon the church is profound. In fact, the church itself is to be the very expression of Jesus Christ in that we are “one body in Christ.”[1] He called His disciples that they “would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons.”[2] He was modeling for them what their ministry was to be in the church He was building[3] after His death and resurrection.

The essence of the Great Commission was Christ’s impartation of authority to preach and teach: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”[4] Jesus had already told His disciples that they were to be ambassadors: “’As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”[5] And Luke tells us that the distinctive purpose of the promise of power they were to receive at Pentecost was to be His witnesses.[6]

By Acts 6, the Early Church had grown to the point that seven deacons were chosen to manage the material affairs of the church. The primary purpose was made clear that the Apostles must remain faithful to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.[7] The stage was set for advancement as this priority was established and as a direct result, “the Word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”[8]


The ministry of the church continued to expand beyond Jerusalem and even beyond the first Apostles. Paul was anointed to an apostolic role, James became the “bishop” of the church in Jerusalem and governance began to be established in local gatherings of believers as new beachheads were established in the Kingdom of God beyond the epicenter of Jerusalem. Qualified deacons and elders were to be commissioned to oversee the material and spiritual affairs of the church respectively in every new church plant. Fellow workers of the apostles were called to be “ministers” (diakonos) such as Phoebe[9], Tychicus[10], Epaphras[11], Timothy[12], Stephanas[13], Archippus[14], and Mark[15]. Therefore, ministry was not to be limited to the first Apostles or even to be the exclusive rite of apostolic succession. It was to be the enduement of the Spirit upon leaders in every church.

[1] Rom 12:5

[2] Mk 3:14-15

[3] Mt 16:18

[4] Mt 28:19-20

[5] Jn 20:21-22

[6] Lu 24:46-49

[7] Acts 6:4

[8] Acts 6:7

[9] Rom 16:1

[10] Eph 6:21

[11] Col 1:7

[12] 1 Tim 4:6

[13] 1 Cor 16:15

[14] Col 4:17

[15] 2 Tim 4:11

Ministry Empowered

Already, in previous sections of this document, one can see the necessity of Holy Spirit enduement for effective ministry. Not only did Jesus operate in the Spirit’s anointing, but He instructed the apostles and other disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they had received the “promise of the Father.”[1] Just as Jesus entered His public ministry “in the power of the Spirit,”[2] the disciples were not thrust into ministry until they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see them ministering in the enabling power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.


In one sentence, the Apostle Paul uses four revealing Greek words that describe his calling into ministry. In Ephesians 3:7, he says, “…I was made a minister (diakonos), according to the gift (dorea) of God’s grace (charis) which was given to me according to the working (energeia) of His power (dunamis).” Though Paul recognizes his supernatural “calling” on the Road to Damascus, and had been trained in multiple languages and theology, his focus was upon the spiritual formation and inner workings of the Holy Spirit. To the church in Thessalonica, he reminded them that “…our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.”


Even when Paul speaks to the elders of Ephesus, he reminds them that it was the Holy Spirit who had made them overseers.[3] Surely he knew that he had commissioned these elders, but he was profoundly aware of the “call of God” attested to by the Holy Spirit working in their lives. Their public recognition only acknowledged their calling – it didn’t initiate it.



In the language of ministry, we often refer to “our call to ministry.” The word “calling” is an apt description, as we look at the summons of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Old Testament heroes such as Abraham[4], Moses[5], Isaiah[6], or Jeremiah[7]. In the New Testament we read of the personal call of Jesus upon The Twelve.[8] We see other instances of a specific assignment from the Holy Spirit, such as when Paul and Barnabas were sent on their missionary journey.[9]


While these specific instances of an “assignment from God” are dramatic and powerful, we also recognize an “inner witness” of the Holy Spirit summoning us to ministry. However, this “inner witness” functions best when reputable, recognized and called leaders confirm such a calling. In the case of Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “appoint elders in every city,”[10] he also identified qualifications, both spiritually and relationally.[11] We need to be both qualified and supernaturally gifted by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our call.


We will address qualifications later in the section on credentials, but first let us focus on the spiritual giftings for ministry. Paul urges that we not only be “enriched in [Christ], in all speech and all knowledge”[12] but also “that you are not lacking in any gift (charisma).”[13] Paul often uses the Greek word charisma for spiritual gifts and less often pneumatikon, meaning literally “spirituals” or “spirit-empowered.”


We often think of “the gifts of the Holy Spirit” within a specific context of the nine manifestation gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. By these, we recognize the signs and wonders manifested in the Acts of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. But, in a broader context there are actually twenty-one gifts of the Holy Spirit. In addition to the list of nine manifestation gifts[14] cited in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, there are seven motivational gifts[15] listed in Romans 12:6-8, and five ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11.[16] There may well be other qualities we could add as “gifts” from the Holy Spirit,[17] but these three categories are more commonly recognized.



Spiritual gifts are not to be confused with the “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” There are nine listed in Galatians 5:22-23. These relate more to developed maturity than to a spontaneous empowerment that is granted by the Spirit for a specific purpose of ministry. In contrast to an expression of fruit or maturity, Paul describes the supernatural gifts as a “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”[18] And, he says “the Spirit [distributes] to each one individually just as He wills.”[19]


It should be recognized that those called to minister need both the fruit of the Spirit for maturity and the enduement of the Spirit for power. And, while the church collectively needs mature, empowered ministers of the gospel, it also needs the five-fold expression of ministry gifts (or offices) for the “equipping of the saints,”[20] and the equilibrium of motivational (or personality) gifts expressed to advance the cause of the church.


All the gifts of the Spirit are ultimately for the church to fulfill the Great Commission through believers. And those who are functioning within the context of the office or ministry gifts must recognize this principle. The rationale for the ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11 is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Though some gifts, such as the personal use of tongues, may edify us, the ultimate purpose is for the edification (building up) of the saints. When this purpose is ignored, the church ends up in confusion as it did in the church of Corinth whose members’ proud display of their gifts only showcased their immaturity.


Some have segregated ministry to a select group of elite people. Ministry can and does “dress itself up” in pride, whether it’s clerical dress, or success-based numerical comparisons of offerings and attendance. The emphasis given by Christ, however, is that the Spirit comes upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ without regard to race, age, sex, education or socioeconomic status. The essential tools of ministry may be bestowed on all.[21]


[1] Lu 24:49; Acts 1:4-5

[2] Lu 4:14

[3] Acts 20:28

[4] Gen 12:1

[5] Ex 3:6,10

[6] Is 6:8-9

[7] Jer 1:4-10

[8] Mk 3:13-14

[9] Acts 13:2

[10] Titus 1:5

[11] Titus 1:6-9

[12] 1 Cor 1:5

[13] 1 Cor 1:7

[14] 3 speaking gifts: tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy; 3 gifts of knowledge: word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discernment; 3 power gifts: faith, healing, miracles.

[15] Prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy.

[16] Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Some New Testament scholars would combine pastor-teacher. However, while pastors must be given to teaching, teachers may not be given to pastoring.

[17] There is not reference to the “gift” of music, but Eph 5:19 specifically mentions “spiritual (pheumatikon) songs.” In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit gifted some with craftsmanship (Ex 31:2-3). Paul emphasized in 1 Cor 12:4-6 that there are “different kinds of gifts (charisma) …different kinds of service (diakonia) …different kinds of working (energema).”

[18] 1 Cor 12:7

[19] 1 Cor 12:11

[20] Eph 4:12

[21] Gal 3:38, Acts 2:17-18, Joel 2:28-29

Ministry Credentials

Because of the model of humility displayed in the ministry of Christ, and the strong emphasis in the epistles that “everyone has a ministry,” one might think that the role of so-called “professional ministry” is unimportant. Therefore, why is there a need for any form of credentialed recognition? However, because of the mandate to “equip the saints” to do the work of the ministry,[1] the Ephesians 4 model for building up the church actually increases the necessity of raising up leaders who are set apart to do this Kingdom work. The Ephesians 4 model tells us that five-fold ministry leaders are, in fact, the gifts (doma) of God “for the building up of the body of Christ.”[2]


Jesus spent three-and-a-half years training The Twelve who would have a critical role in the development of the Early Church. No doubt there were deacons such as Stephen[3] and Philip[4] who were powerful forces in advancing the early mission of the church. And later, many others are named who might be classified as “laity.” But, the task of those who were called to vocational ministry – those who “[made] their living from [proclaiming] the gospel”[5] – was enormous.

In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabus enjoyed a great influx of souls in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. What was the next step in “strengthening the souls” of these new converts?[6] They “appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”[7] Apparently these appointments were made after a significant time of prayer and fasting with some sort of public commissioning or “ordination” service. This is not unlike the process Jesus went through in choosing His disciples after He had prayed all night.[8]

Spiritual leadership is the foundation of New Testament theology. Luke, in Acts 14:23, uses the Greek word cheirotoneo, which has multiple meanings including “to ordain” or “choose by stretching out the hand,” or “to appoint by vote”. Though in the selection of the first deacons, we clearly see congregational involvement,[9] we also see clearly that the Apostles “put them in charge of the task”[10] after prayer and the laying on of hands.[11] Likewise, the elders are appointed by “stretching out the hand” – in other words, the laying on of hands. Timothy is reminded to “kindle afresh the gift of God” through the laying on of hands.[12] This is why, after spiritual preparation, we lay hands upon prospective ministers to “ordain” them to vocational ministry. And this should never be done hastily, [13] without spiritual discernment and preparation on the part of those ordaining and those being ordained. In fact, Paul’s warning implied that to ordain someone hastily or one who is unqualified and later proves to be unfaithful would essentially lay the “sins of others” at our feet.[14]

The recognition of the call of God is paramount in the appointment of spiritual leaders. Repeatedly we see that God takes the initiative in calling out leaders who will serve in an office or function of ministry in the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11, it is clearly God who “appoints” or “gives” these offices of ministry to the church.

Why is it necessary to recognize those who have been called to ministry in some sort of public or formal way? We see this practice in the Old Testament with the anointing of oil, symbolic of the power of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, Jesus appointed The Twelve to apostolic ministry.[15] After Judas’ betrayal and death, Matthias was prayerfully and publically chosen.[16] Paul and Barnabas were chosen after fasting, prayer and the laying on of hands to their missionary assignment.[17]

[1] Eph 4:12

[2] Eph 4:12

[3] Acts 6

[4] Acts 8

[5] 1 Cor 9:14

[6] Acts 14:22

[7] Acts 14:23

[8] Lu 6:12-13

[9] Acts 6:3 “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”

[10] Acts 6:3

[11] Acts 6:6

[12] 2 Tim 1:6

[13] 1 Tim 5:22

[14] 1 Tim 5:22

[15] Mk 3:13-19

[16] Acts 1:15-22

[17] Acts 13:2-3

Ministry Qualifications

The qualifications for a ministry candidate should be established with prayerful and careful deliberation. We find those qualifications established in Paul’s writings to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:6-9). To summarize, elders and overseers (synonymous terms in this context) were to be spiritually mature and Godly. They were to be publicly and verifiably credible, and faithful to their marriage (if married). They were to have a well-managed and respectful family, personal discipline, hospitality (or people-skills), and teaching ability. Essentially they were to be godly leaders whose faith and behavior were worthy of imitation.

It is noteworthy that these qualities were not all confined to the spiritual. God’s ministers were to be respected in their communities: “And he must have a good reputation (marturia kale) with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:7). Paul uses the phrase “above reproach”[5] or the word “blameless”[6]. This does not imply perfection or to be without any natural flaws, but it clarifies that someone who might have had a poor reputation in the community prior to conversion would have to rebuild those qualifications over a period of time to demonstrate they are able to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which [they had] been called.”[7] So, God’s qualifications were not limited even to the opinion of those inside the church, but also those outside the church.[8]

The spiritual emphasis focused on proven character and maturity. Paul made it clear that one being considered should not be “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”[9]

Training is obviously an important part of the qualifications for leading the church. Though there are no scriptural mandates regarding education, the model of preparation for ministry that is clearly observed is that of Jesus and The Twelve who were with Him, learning, observing, and discovering what it means to lead like Christ. For three-and-a-half years they followed him as His “disciples” – literally “learners under discipline.” Some of the apostles were already well educated, such as Paul, who sat under the extraordinary teaching of Gamaliel.[10] Others were fishermen with little or no education other than the rabbinical teachings every Jew was required to go through from childhood. But, all were expected to know the Word of God. Even Paul, in spite of his education, still had to come under the influence of godly teachers such as Ananias to come into The Way of Christ.


For this reason, the R3 Network of Churches will typically require a specified course of ministry preparation for credentials involving Bible study, ministerial ethics and practical ministry training. Courses are specified for three levels: Ministerial Apprentice, Ministerial License and Ordination, sequentially. Some credentials candidates may qualify for life credit for having been in ministry. Others who already have credentials from a like-minded credential-granting body may qualify for a transfer of credentials. These decisions are made by the governing body of R3 Alliance on a case-by-case basis.

There are both “good” and “poor” motivations for wanting credentials. The following are appropriate motivations for desiring credentials for ministry:

  1. To affirm the call of God upon your life: The R3 leadership desires to affirm those who have been called of God and help them discover their place of leadership in the Body of Christ.
  2. To place yourself under the accountability of respected leaders: We all need to be accountable for our moral and doctrinal purity. Those who will be influenced by our ministry need the confidence that we’re not functioning as a “solo act.” It is both unwise and unscriptural for someone to submit himself or herself to a leader who submits to no one. Submitting our ministry to leadership is an important safety net for ourselves and for those whom we lead.
  3. To develop relationships within a network of other ministers: We need healthy relationships in our lives, especially when the inevitable resistance of Satan threatens the work of God. Our potential is realized in the synergy of joining our faith together. It was the bond that held the Early Church together in the face of persecution, separation and even martyrdom.
  4. To provide credibility for those who would come under your ministry influence: Members of the Body of Christ need the security of knowing their minister has been “vetted” by others.
  5. To commit to a discipline of study and training within a credentialing process: A necessary part of our preparation is to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”[11] If our assignment is to equip others to do the work of the ministry, then we ourselves must be equipped.
  6. To be formally commissioned, set apart and sent to preach the gospel: The R3 credentialing body provides opportunities and resources through its network of ministers and churches.


The following are inappropriate motives for desiring credentials:

  1. To “get” a ministry: One of the most basic facts about the “call of God” is that God must call us. The R3 network cannot accomplish that. Holding a credential will not substitute for the anointing of God upon your life. The R3 credentialing body simply recognizes that the call of God is valid, therefore, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”[12] to credential you.
  2. To bring titles or recognition to yourself: Ministry is not about us but about Christ. He implored us to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”…that He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant.”[13] The greatest in the Kingdom is servant of all.[14]
  3. To get tax breaks and ministers’ discounts: Among military veterans, those who have never served but don the clothing of military or obtain medals to get military discounts are referred to as the “thieves of valor.” Though it is not common, there are some who desire ministry status primarily to obtain tax discounts such as housing allowance or the occasional “minsters’ discount.” First, the ministry is not the place to go for financial reward – most could obtain wealth in the secular world more easily. Secondly, such motivation tarnishes the office of ministry. Our purpose is to preach Christ.
  4. To find a place of employment: R3 is not an employment agency. While opportunities may develop through relationships made available through the network, in the Kingdom of God “a man’s gift makes room for him.”[15]


The Holy Spirit not only calls us and enables us, but He is faithful to purify our motives. And the rewards of ministry are far beyond any earthy benefits we might receive. To see a life transformed by the power of God is to discover a “high” like no other. To see a broken family mended or a broken body healed is “pay day” for those who are called. And to sense the smile of God is reward enough for a lifetime.

[1] 1 Tim 5:22

[2] Mk 3:13-19

[3] Acts 1:15-22

[4] Acts 13:2-3

[5] 1 Tim 3:2

[6] Titus 1:6

[7] Eph 4:1

[8] Col 4:5; 1 Thes 4:12; 1 Pet 2:12,15

[9] 1 Tim 3:6

[10] Acts 22:3

[11] 2 Tim 2:15

[12] Acts 15:28

[13] Phil 2:3-11; Lu 22:24-27

[14] Mk 9:35

[15] Prov 18:16

Ministry Titles

Prematurely showcasing titles, whether “Reverend,” “Pastor,” “Bishop,” or “Apostle,” can bypass the qualifications and vetting process described in the Scriptures. Though there are designations given in the New Testament for those in vocational ministry, rather than a pretentious, self-bestowed honor, they appear to be more functional in nature. Rather than a rigid form of hierarchy or a descriptive of an authoritarian office, they seem to be more related to the Spirit’s giftings over a given assignment.

For example, let’s look at the titles described as the “five-fold ministries” in Ephesians 4. The term “apostle” (apostolos) means specifically “one sent forth.” The context of that title has to do with carving out new beachheads in the Kingdom of God, marked by signs, wonders and miracles.[1] The authority of the First Apostles was established by having been commissioned personally by the risen Christ.[2] They became the authoritative leaders and writers of the Early Church and were responsible for the integrity of the revelation given to them. They are to be distinguished from apostolic figures today who have neither seen Christ nor written the Holy Scriptures.

However, the apostolic work is not finished. We still need those who break through spiritual darkness to establish the Kingdom of God in virgin territory with signs and wonders following. We still need those who set the church in divine order. We need missionaries who go into untouched territory and establish the church. This is more a function than a title – and the qualification clearly implies that such advances are made in the power of the Spirit “with signs and wonders following.”[3]

To make the point of “function,” the Apostle Paul, for example, functioned at some point within all five giftings listed in Ephesians 4:11. He was clearly established as an “Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ” and introduced as such in nearly all of his epistles.[4] Yet we see him used in a prophetic gift,[5] and his teaching gift.[6] He was evangelist par excellence as he preached the gospel and brought people into the Body of Christ.[7] Yet, we know he pastored for a season most of the seven churches he established, and for an extended time in some, such as the church of Ephesus.[8] Again, we see that, though his primary role was that of an apostle, he functioned as the Holy Spirit needed him and empowered him.

The office of prophet is also identified in Ephesians 4:11. The word prophet (prophetes) means “one who forth tells.” Though we often associate “foretelling” future events as prophecy, this was not the primary function of the gift as we see it in the New Testament. In a much broader sense the “testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”[9] To that extent, some, if not all of the apostles could have been numbered among the prophets. In Acts 13:1, Barnabus, Simeon and Manaen are called prophets. Agabus is named in a number of passages,[10] and Philip’s four unmarried daughters are used in the prophetic gift.[11] Though in the broadest context of the manifestation gifts of the spirit, “all may prophecy,”[12] there are clearly those who are called to and used in the operation of this gift more than others. Prophecy’s importance is highlighted in that it is listed in all presentations of the twenty-one gifts of the Holy Spirit.[13] It was used within both the context of the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in gatherings (whether preacher or laity) and within the context of an Ephesians 4:11 ministry function of those called to prophesy over the church or a situation.

The ministry of the evangelist (euangelistes) is simply “one who proclaims the good news.” They focus on calling people to be “born again.” Philip was called “the evangelist” in Acts 21:8 and was used powerfully in the conversion of significant people. Yet he was also “one of the seven” – referring to the first seven deacons chosen in Acts 6. Yet, Timothy was also called to “do the work of an evangelist” in 2 Timothy 4:5, though he was clearly a pastor. Though there are those called to function in an “office” of evangelist, it is clear that all are called to declare the good news.

The ministry of teacher (didaskalos) is listed last in the Ephesians 4 list and third in an order of church development presented by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:28, preceded by apostles and prophets respectively. Teaching is also a motivational gift (charisma) listed in Romans 12:7 and may be bestowed upon both ministers and laypersons. After all, it is the Holy Spirit that guides all believers into divine truth.[14] But within the five-fold ministry, there are those who are uniquely equipped and called to instruct the congregation in the doctrines and principles of Scripture. As mentioned earlier, some Bible scholars believe there is linkage between pastor-teacher in the five-fold ministry list of Ephesians 4. All pastors must be teachers, regardless of preaching style, but all teachers are not called to be pastors in the way they administrate the church. In any case, those called to teaching ministry are worthy of honor.[15]

The most familiar of titles in the Ephesians 4:11 list of ministry gifts, and one that is sometimes misunderstood, is that of pastor. The Greek term can be expressed both in noun form, poimen, meaning “shepherd”, and in verb form poimaino, meaning “to shepherd.” Those who are pastors, unlike the other four of the five-fold ministries, are localized in the church – they “live with” the sheep. Other ministries may be mobile ministries, but when the pastor is functioning in his or her role, it’s with the sheep for which they are responsible. This does not suggest that pastors cannot move in ministry circles beyond the local church, but their role would shift to one of the other gifts. The ultimate model for pastoral ministry is that of Christ Himself.[16]

There are two other terms that are sometimes used interchangeably for pastoral leadership in the Early Church: Overseer or bishop (episkopos) and elder (presbyteros). In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the “elders” (presbyteros) of the church of Ephesus and indicated that the Holy Spirit had made them “overseers” (episkopos) to shepherd (poimaino) the church. Likewise, in Titus 1:5-7, we find a similar use of the same terms for the same persons. The three terms appear to be equivalent in referring to the same people, but expressed in three dimensions. “Pastor” is a job description – pastors care for sheep. “Elder” suggests qualification – one is qualified in spiritual maturity to be an elder. And “overseer” (also interpreted into English as “bishop”) would seem to represent authority or supervision. The terms are not redundant, but each of them implies some unique aspect of the leader’s role with the congregation.

Though we see evidence of deacons such as Stephen and Philip functioning in a major role in the Early Church, what is clear is that deacons were appointed to oversee the material affairs of the church. Elders were appointed to oversee the spiritual affairs of the church. In modern church governance, both these titles are often used in appointing laypersons whose role is to assist the pastoral leadership by providing an extra layer of care for members of the church.

[1] 2 Cor 12:12

[2] Acts 1:22; 1 Cor 15:3-7, 1 Cor 9:1; Lu 24:48; Acts 2:32

[3] Mk 16:20

[4] Eph 1:1

[5] 2 Tim 3; 2 Thes 2

[6] Acts 15:35

[7] 1 Cor 9:19-22

[8] Acts 20

[9] Rev 1:1-3; 19:10; 22:9

[10] Acts 11:28-29; 21:10-11

[11] Acts 21:8-9

[12] 1 Cor 14:5,31

[13] Nine manifestation gifts cited in 1 Cor 12:8-10, seven motivational gifts listed in Rom 12:6-8, and five ministry gifts listed in Eph 4:11.

[14] Jn 16:13

[15] 1 Tim 5:17

[16] John 10:14; Heb 13:20, 1 Pet 5:4

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Ministry is a broad concept in the New Testament. What is unequivocal is that it implies servanthood, whether expressed by laity or vocational ministers. All believers should be involved in ministry! And the Holy Spirit has come to equip every believer to advance the Kingdom of God through ministry.


For those called to vocational ministry whose assignment is to lead a “church of ministers,” they are “captured by the Holy Spirit” and qualified to be set apart for specialized ministry. They bear the mark of the bondservant, called first by Christ Himself, then qualified, recognized and commissioned by the leaders of the church. These are the servant-leaders of God in a long line of faith that goes all the way back to the Day of Pentecost. May we walk worthy of our calling!