Do We Really Need Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists in Modern Churches or Missions?

Do We Really Need Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists in Modern Churches or Missions?

This article is not intended to be a continuation of the centuries-long debate over Cessationism versus Continuationism.  Quickly, Cessationism supports the theological concept that the leadership gifts provided to the Apostles ended with the Apostolic Age.  Continuationism supports the moving of the leadership gifts of the Apostles past the Apostolic Age.  Further, the Continuationists fall into two camps – those who believe that the continuing leadership gifts have the authority of Scripture, and those who believe that the continuing leadership gifts are judged and limited by Scripture.  I fall into the camp who believes the leadership gifts continue, but are judged and limited by Scripture.  No article or book is going to resolve these issues.

This article is about the role of the Fivefold Ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16)  in contemporary movements, missions, church, and ministry.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

–New American Standard Bible, 1995 update. (1995). (Eph 4:11–16). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

One of the basic problems we find with the contemporary evangelical church is the limiting or absence of external accountability regardless of how biblical or egregious a church may be.  Many mission agencies, churches, and ministries voluntarily associate with networks of churches, associations of churches, or clusters of churches related to a single founding church or denomination.  All of these provide some level doctrinal purity and external accountability.  But notice, the external accountability is to a collective and not usually to a person.  For many mission agencies, churches, and ministries, once the external and sometimes transient roles of Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelist are separated from the from the local church and/or Kingdom building, we find these groups without external accountability.  This can be a disaster for emerging churches and movements of churches.

I really can’t get into all the various arguments related to this topic.  So, I will focus on the purpose of each of the Fivefold ministries as related to movements, and raise the question of what happens when we lose one or more of these roles.  It is also necessary to note that the roles of Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelists are primarily external church leadership, and the role of Pastor/Teacher is primarily internal church leadership.  All roles are necessary for the universal church or church to stay healthy and continue to expand the Kingdom of God.


The strictest definition of Apostle is the twelve disciples of Jesus.  There is support, however, from Scripture that the word has a broader definition.  Barnabas is referred to as an “apostle” in Acts 13:2 and 14:4.  Other references to “apostle” are found in Romans 16:7 – Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (NASB)  The Greek word usually translated “apostle” is also used to refer to Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25.

When we examine what Paul said about himself and what he did as an apostle we have a better view of the role of apostle in missions and movement.  Take a look at what Paul writes about himself to the church in Rome.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ro 1:1–7 NASB).

When we read all the writings about Paul and from Paul in Scripture, a fairly complete view of the apostolic role emerges.  The apostolic role is possibly the best described and defined of all the leadership gifts.

The apostolic role…

  • is relational. Paul is constantly mentoring and directing people in ministry like Timothy, Titus, Mark, Silas, Aquila and Priscilla, and more.
  • is with those who don’t know Christ, such as those at Mars’ Hill (Acts 22:17).
  • holds individuals and churches accountable. See Paul’s letters.
  • moves the Gospel and the obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to new areas.
  • has authority to appoint elders and other leaders.
  • holds other apostles accountable, including some of the original Apostles named by Jesus.
  • holds other existing church leadership accountable.
  • educates and mentors others to become apostles.
  • is an example of character, ministry, and life to others.
  • holds all other leadership roles accountable for the purity of transmission and obedience of God’s Word.
  • builds teams to fulfill the functions of Kingdom leadership, movement leaders, and emerging local leadership as the Kingdom expands.
  • builds financial support from churches to help other churches to survive.

If we lose the role of the Apostle, we lose the capability and capacity to see the Kingdom grow as swiftly as reported in Acts.  In other words, we lose movements. Prophets are not discovered and trained to hold all of us accountable.  Evangelists are not equipped, so the movement ends.  Pastor/Teachers are not developed so the emerging church drifts away from what God wants and usually becomes a Christian club that does whatever it wants, regardless of what the Bible says.  Without apostles, there would be none who understands all the dimensions of church that are necessary for us to see movement.


The prophetic role is a little more difficult to nail down, mostly because it may be the most abused of all the leadership roles; and has a high variance of call and purpose.

  • Moses, as a prophet, wrote most of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament).
  • Jonah was reluctant, but forced to comply to God’s requirement to proclaim God’s message to the Ninevites, who were not Jews or connected to the traditional teaching of Scripture in any way.
  • Hosea’s painful marriage life was a prophetic message to Jews.
  • Ezekiel’s prophetic work took the forms of strange behaviors and strong words.
  • Isaiah was an apologist and reasoned with God and His people to see the fulfillment of God’s plans.
  • John the Baptist was certainly abnormal when compared to the rest of the population in Israel, yet carried one of the greatest messages of all time.

As we read about the various prophecies and lives of the prophets, some interesting points emerge.

  • Their ministries are mostly solitary.
  • They speak with authority to the children of God as well as to those who did not know Him.
  • They speak with authority in regard to their message from God, and often are not in touch with normal church and/or everyday life.
  • They are held to a higher standard of accountability than others. If what they say is not true or leads God’s people away from God, they forfeit their lives.  See Deuteronomy 18:20.
  • They pray for all kinds of peoples.
  • They minister to all kinds of people.
  • They hold civil and religious leaders accountable to God’s Word.
  • They hold those who do not believe in God accountable.
  • They are used by God to inform, correct, admonish, and change Jews and Gentiles.
  • They speak the words of God to everyone and tell them what happens if they obey God and what happens if they disobey God. (This may be the prophet’s most important function.)
  • Many preachers are prophetic in their messaging. Preaching is certainly a primary communication tool for prophets.

When we lose the Prophetic role we lose prayer ministries that are essential to all church growth and multiplication.  We lose the capacity to cause movements to happen.  We forsake accountability and wander away from what God requires.  We fail to hear the heart of God from the men and women to whom God has personally revealed himself in ways that are necessary for the church to remain healthy.  We lose our direction as churches and fail to support the expansion of the Kingdom of God locally and globally.


We actually have less Biblical reference to the role of Evangelist than we have regarding all the other roles.  We know that deacons served as evangelists (Acts 21:8).  We know that women served as evangelists (See Paul’s greetings in his letters).  And from Paul’s writings to Timothy, we have a fairly good look at the work of the evangelist.  Evangelists move the Gospel of Jesus to new territories, cities, families, and individuals; train emerging leaders; and encourage obedience to the Word of God.  As we examine the movements of God in the New Testament and history, we find the work of the Evangelist mostly focused on families, but at times they reached out to individuals, large groups, or even cities.

If we lose the role of evangelists, we will not see the church grow or multiply as often or as quickly.  Emerging leadership is not developed or equipped to multiply.  Communities and needy areas of cities are overlooked by the church.  Families and individuals are not discipled and gathered into local churches.  Church growth becomes dormant and ineffective.  Ministry to those in need outside of the church is lost.


The Pastor/Teacher has the role of bringing together the children of God and equipping them to expand the Kingdome of God as they minister to one another and their communities.

  • They proclaim the Gospel to all.
  • They exhort the people of God to obey his Word.
  • They equip the church to fulfill all the functions of church.
  • They warn the church what will happen to those do not obey Scripture.
  • They spend a great deal of time in prayer for their flocks.
  • They minister to people in all areas of their lives.
  • They equip others to become church leaders.
  • They prepare people to obey God’s call to ministry and leadership.

Of all the leadership gifts, Pastor/Teachers are the majority and arguably are as essential as the other external church leadership are to the spiritual growth of individuals and the expansion/growth of the Kingdom.  Every church should have a Pastor/Teacher.  It is the role of the Pastor/Teacher to proclaim the Word of God and exhort the people of God to obey His Word.  The Pastor/Teacher equips those who will lead inside the church to fulfill the functions of church.  He or she creates space in the church for Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists to hear God’s call and be equipped to fulfill that call,  so that the church can become part of Kingdom expansion and growth beyond any given local church.  Pastor/Teachers are the engine that propels the Gospel throughout the world, providing personnel, training and funding.

Somehow, in the past hundred years or so, Pastor/Teachers, because of their numbers and influence on the church and others, have become the defacto leaders of most of what he or she may think God is or should be doing.  The church has taken over the roles of Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelist; and in doing so has short circuited the expansion of the Kingdom of God where strong individual leaders are required to see movement happen.  When we lose Pastor/Teacher leadership who understand how the Kingdom of God works and expands, we lose the external leadership of Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists, because what should be done is replaced by what any given local church leader thinks.  The expansion of the church is crippled when the church does not recognize or limits the roles of  external church leadership who are called to expand the church and hold new and old churches and their leadership accountable for Kingdom growth.

When the church or mission agency becomes the Apostle, movement will not happen because churches cannot fulfill the relational and leadership role an Apostle brings to the expansion of the Kingdom.  Church leadership are responsible for the church and for building the space where Kingdom focused leadership can emerge.  The skill sets to start and lead a movement are very different from the leadership skills required to lead the largest or smallest of churches. Apostles are terrible leaders for churches, and pastors are terrible leaders of missions or movements.  Those who have the administrative skills to run mission organizations are themselves often incapable of starting and maintaining movements.

Please understand, we need all our leaders fulfilling their roles where they are called and gifted to serve.  The mutual accountability of all the Fivefold Leadership roles is paramount for Kingdom growth and development.

It is my opinion that most Pastor/Teachers are not held accountable by anyone, or are held accountable by people who don’t understand the role of the Pastor/Teachers.  When this happens Pastor/Teachers find themselves disconnected from what God is doing outside their local churches.  They don’t develop strong leaders because they are not needed inside the church or are seen as competitors for the limited leadership slots needed in any single church.  They don’t provide the space for God to call external church leadership.

Please understand, I think the role of Pastor/Teacher is one of the most important roles in the world.  But their focus needs to be on the church, developing internal leaders for the church, making sure disciples who will be called to serve outside the church have the character needed as well as knowledge and obedience to the Word of God, and provide the space needed in the church for others to be called to work inside or outside the church.

All the Fivefold roles are necessary to see a healthy church or movement of churches to happen.  Each role is for a called-by-God person, not just a function of any collective of individuals or organizations.  Each role has many functions that overlap other roles so that the church is found to be in unity and every role is held accountable by the other leadership roles.



David Watson

Lantana, Texas




One Reply to “Do We Really Need Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists in Modern Churches or Missions?”

  1. Hello David, Thank you for this post and your ministry! Would you have or know of other worldview lists of Bible passages other than the “Discovering God” list? For non-believers that is. Nat Winston, Brussels, Belgium

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