In Acts 1, there were only “Apostles” as ministers. Let’s call them the Apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14). They were twelve.
In Acts 6, as the congregation grew, there was a need for more ministers. These were called “deacons.” They were seven. This was the second stage. Many of them were Greek speaking.
In Acts 8, because of persecution, dispersion of the Jerusalem community, and the spread of the gospel message, there emerged a new ministry called “evangelist.” The first evangelist was Philip, who was previously ordained as a deacon (Acts 21:8). He went to Samaria.
By Acts 11, the congregations had multiplied to the point that leaders were needed in the new congregations. They took a name from the leaders of ancient Israel who were called “elders.” They called the new congregational leaders “elders;” first mentioned in Acts 11:30. Within a few years, this became the standard practice to ordain elders in EVERY congregation (Acts 14:23). By Acts 15 (verse 2), the local congregational elders and the inter-congregational apostles had formed an extended leadership body.
In Acts 13, when the congregation in Antioch grew, there developed additional types of leaders, along with the elders and apostles. These were called “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). The name “prophets” was taken from the ancient Israelite prophets, but they represented a new stage of prophecy–part of the normal leadership of the New Covenant congregations. Until that time, the teaching ministry had been done by the Apostles (Acts 2:42), but now biblical teaching was multiplied and extended to other congregational leaders.
By Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas were well into their mission, sent out by the congregation at Antioch to preach the gospel and teach the scriptures. They were among the prophets and teachers at Antioch. But when they began to multiply congregations, and appoint elders in those congregations, they became “apostles” themselves (Acts 14:14). Paul and Barnabas were obviously not part of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.
Paul and Barnabas represented a new stage of multiplication and extension of the original apostolic ministry. Many other apostles were to follow (even “Andronicus and Junia” of Romans 16:7). Some were even “super” apostles, like Apollos (I Corinthians 3:3-6) and James (I Corinthians 15:7). There were so many new apostles, that many of them were fake. The early community of faith had to discern what was true and what was not (Revelation 2:2).
This new stage of normative, apostolic leaders increased until it became an accepted part of the gifts and functions within a New Covenant congregation (I Corinthians 12:28-29).
The fullness of the multiplication of the original “Apostles” may be found in Ephesians 4:11, where there are “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” The original Apostles did all five of those functions. But now the apostolic role is refracted into five different roles, sometimes called the “five-fold” ministry. These five roles are gifts of the Holy Spirit given by Yeshua to the community of faith after His ascension (Ephesians 4:7-10).
The Apostles did all of the five types of ministries, but today these functions are fulfilled by five different ministers. It was a logical and necessary development of multiplication and diversification. Interestingly enough, the word “pastor” (poimen in Greek) as a ministry role is mentioned only ONE time (!) in the New Covenant – here in Ephesians 4. There is no such thing as a pastor that is not in teamwork with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers.
It is ironic that the role of pastor is not explicitly found in the book of Acts, whereas apostles were plentiful; and yet today, many think there is no longer a need for apostles, but every senior leader of a congregation should simply be called “pastor.” Many senior congregational leaders are actually more teachers or apostles than they are pastors.
It would seem that the role of pastor, developed out of the role of the elder, is a type of lead-elder in the local congregation.
Let’s summarize the development and multiplication of the Apostles’ unique ministry into the multi-faceted functions of the New Covenant ecclesia.
- Acts 1 – Twelve Apostles
- Acts 6 – Seven Deacons
- Acts 8 – Evangelists
- Acts 11 – Elders
- Acts 13 – Prophets, Teachers
- Acts 14 – New apostles
- Ephesians 4 – Pastors.
Therefore, it might be more accurate to say the “seven-fold” ministry. The one role of original Apostles actually became seven roles, cooperating together. In chronological order they were: deacon, evangelist, elder, prophet, teacher, apostle, pastor. That is the full spectrum of servant leadership for the community of faith. All of us together, as the “saints” of God, continue on as the extension of the original apostolic commission.
Together we reflect the wondrous nature of our Messiah Yeshua, who Himself is the chief Apostle and Shepherd of our souls (Hebrews 3:1; I Peter 2:25).
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, October 24, 2018, and reposted with permission.