APEST Approach to Discipleship

In our book on APEST and the apostolic vocation entitled The Permanent Revolution, we discuss the different impulses that run through the various five fold ministries of APEST in Ephesians 4. An additional angle on the fivefold approach that we did not include in the book is how the various APEST ministries tend to approach discipleship.

Because the different APEST giftings express various aspects of Christ’s ministry while here on earth, then we should expect to see the various five fold ministries emphasizing various aspects of discipleship–and for the most part, this often happens to the exclusion of other various aspects. In other words, the various APEST giftings are attracted to various aspects of discipleship, but typically not all. So here is a quick look at how each APEST gift is drawn to certain aspects of discipleship.

[bctt tweet=”The various five fold ministries emphasize various aspects of discipleship.”]


Multiplication is often the starting point for apostles when approaching discipleship.

Apostles, because they have an impulse for missional extension, see discipleship primarily as a mechanism for multiplication and leadership development. This particular feature of multiplication is undoubtedly front and center in the practice of making disciples.

If discipleship is done well, it will always lead to multiplication and leadership development. 

[bctt tweet=”Good discipleship will lead to multiplication and leadership development.”]


Prophets are looking to close the gap between how things are and how things should be. As such, discipleship is typically attractive to prophets if it is utilized to bring about tangible, concrete changes in the status quo. Discipleship, then, for prophetic people, has to some how be connected to reforming and restoring the people, places and power structures that are being ignored.

So closing the gap and moving towars the margins is often the starting point for prophetic people when they approach discipleship. So in contrast to the apostolic emphasis on quantity, prophetic concerns revolve around quality.  


Evangelists, because they value conversion–the movement from being out to being in–often see discipleship as a pathway to making a decision for Christ. The evangelist is always looking to bring more people in, so their attraction to discipleship is often focused on initial conversions, or training others to be more evangelistic. But notice the tension this can create with the prophetic concerns.

If the quantity of decisions outweighs the quality of development, then the community becomes shallow and unsustainable. Most discipleship efforts by evangelists need a healthy dose of prophetic content to help bring depth and sustainability to the developmental process.


Shepherds value protecting and providing for people. As such, shepherds tend to approach discipleship as a means for personal transformation and spiritual development. They find great joy in walking with people through a maturing process. Discipleship is attractive to shepherds because it provides a vehicle to stay close to the sheep and be in touch with their needs.

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This is why shepherds are often content with small group ministry functioning as a vehicle for discipleship. However, notice the tension this will likely create with evangelistic concerns. To an evangelist, personal transformation is necessary, but it’s insufficient. After all, aren’t there more people “out there” who need to be transformed?


Discipleship is attractive to teachers because it provides an opportunity ‘explai the scriptures and train people in certain skill sets. Discipleship for a teacher is about rooting people in a biblical worldview and developing biblical literacy. There is typically not much emphasis on quantity either from a multiplication or an addition view point with teachers. In fact, there is often not much emphasis on personal transformation either.

The teacher operates under the premise “If they know better, they will do better.” Notice how this approach would create tension with a shepherding approach. To just tell people more information, but not actually walk with them in relationship through the highs and lows of their personal journey would seem entirely strange to a shepherd.

Bringing them together.

So which one is right? Well, the apostolic provides the optimal environment in which the other ministries can function. If we apply this to our discussion of discipleship, it is the concept of multiplication and the development of leaders that provides discipleship with the over arching field of meaning in which to organize and integrate the other features of discipleship.

For example, the emphasis of the teacher on biblical literacy and worldview finds its most fertile application when in the context of discipling people for multiplication. The emphasis of the shepherd on personal transformation finds its most optimal application when functioning within a broader, over arching mission to in turn allow that transformed life to influence other people’s lives.

The prophetic emphasis on reformation and restoration finds its most potent force of change when wedded to the apostolic function of missional extension. Reformation without multiplication only amounts to revolution. Revolutions are short and die out over time. If discipleship can facilitate restoration, and restoration can be framed around the larger, more systemic function of multiplication, then the revolution could possibly become a permanent revolution, but not without the integration of the apostolic vocation and person, who, out of their own giftings, bring the issue of multiplication and leadership development front and center.

This is why the apostolic is said to be first, and foundational, in the church. Without the missional, extending focus on multiplication then discipleship will devolve into moralistic, informational, monastical, hermetical and local dimensions. That being said, if the apostolic impulse for multiplication functions autonomously and does not allow itself to be influenced and honed by the other giftings, it will take on a thoroughly mechanistic, utilitarian approach to discipleship that seeks to exploit human capital for the sake of achieving the mission.

So while mission and multiplication should take priority among the other features of discipleship, it should not become the exclusive feature. Without the other five shaping the practice of discipleship, then it is hard to imagine how we can say that we are discipling people to look like Jesus. We need all five in order to demonstrate the fullness of Christ in the world. This, after all, is why the five gifts were given to the church, to re-present the full range of Christ’s ministry in and through the body of Christ to the world.

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