APEST as the defining marks of the church presents us with an outstanding, ready-made, inbuilt, and theologically robust, way to assess the church’s overall spirituality, ministry, and effectiveness. And we are effectively making an assessment against the ultimate benchmark of all Christian ministry—the ministry of Jesus Christ himself. Having then identified relative strengths and weaknesses, we can then go on to develop appropriate leadership and organizational strategies to suit. We can also ensure ongoing effectiveness by redesigning organizations along APEST guidelines. 5Q think­ing offers an almost perfect solution to long-term problems brought about by reducing Christ’s ministry in the church to unbiblical proportions.

#5Q think­ing offers an almost perfect solution to long-term problems brought about by reducing Christ’s ministry in the church to unbiblical proportions. Click To Tweet

The shift from recognizing five functions to then using these as five marks of the church is a natural one. If we wanted to know if a congregation was actually an ecclesia, we would need to be able to observe whether or not it exhibits all the fivefold functions in some discernable way. Allowing for relative strengths or weaknesses of different churches, when a church does express all fivefold functions, then we can be sure that Jesus’ ministry is being increasingly extended through the community. If one or more of the marks are missing or seriously diminished, then we have cause to question that congregation’s capacities to be a viable and authentic expression of the Body of Christ. And so, voila, there we have it, APEST are the marks of the church!

Can APEST provide a rubric for the Mark of the Church that is measurable, experiential, participatory, image-rich and connective? We believe that the answer is Yes. See for yourself. Click To Tweet

So, using the liturgical cadences of confessional language, we can say that the true church is expressed in the following characteristics or marks:

The founding mark: The community that rightfully belongs to Jesus Christ—the people called, sanctified, redeemed, by the Father through his chosen Messiah, Jesus. The church is called the embodiment of Christ in the world. By the power of God’s Spirit, the church exists to represent him, to participate in his saving work, to conform its life to his and to live out every aspect of his message, and to extend his kingdom by whatever appropriate means possible. To the degree that King Jesus is actively present and revered in a community, there is the authentic church. (This is actually the foundation of the other five marks that follow and therefore more like something of a meta-mark that defines all the other marks. The church is thereby marked by the real and active presence of Jesus. This is the basic defining mark of the church which serves as a true foundation for the rest.)

The church is called the embodiment of Christ in the world. To the degree that King Jesus is actively present and revered in a community, there is the authentic church. Click To Tweet

The apostolic mark: The people-movement that participates in the redemptive and transformative mission of God in the world. The true church experiences and seeks to live out its sentness (missio) in every way possible. Therefore, when a community engages apostolically in God’s mission of transforming the world, it is authentically church.

The prophetic mark: The holy people that stands for God in the world, calling all to faithfulness, to true worship, to receptive obedience to God and his word, and to the prayerful participation in the prophethood of all believers. When a community stands up for covenantal justice and calls all to the covenant love of God, to repentance, and to prayer, it is authentically church.

The evangelistic mark: The Body of saved people that joyfully proclaim the good news and call all to experience freedom and salvation in and through Jesus. The church is the witness to, as well as a demonstration of, the presence of good news in the world. A community arising from God’s yes of salvation, then, is authentically church.

The shepherding mark: The family of God’s redeemed people that nurtures a faithful, reconciled community that witnesses to the Resurrection through its common life. The church witnesses to the new way of being human in Jesus Christ. When a community represents God’s chosen, reconciled and reconciling, healed and healing family in the world, then it is authentically church.

The teaching mark: The wise and intelligent people that passionately seek truth and share all the treasures of the wisdom, insight, and knowledge of God hidden in Christ Jesus, faithfully nurturing understanding and communicating truth in the world. When the knowledge of God is sought, treasured, and shared, there is an authentic church.

When the knowledge of God is sought, treasured, and shared, there is an authentic church. Click To Tweet

It is worth noting here that none of these marks are form-specific. How these are expressed will depend largely on the culture and context of the ecclesia. But it is my contention that wherever you have the kind of communities and people described above—where the marks are recogni­­z­ably present i.e., the defining presence on Jesus, missional impact, coven­ant faithfulness, gospel proclamation, reconciled community, and deep wisdom—there you have a real, authentic, church. This is church as Jesus meant it to be! Anything less is less than a church.

Each of these marks stands for an inalienable function of the church, without which it could not fulfill its task in the world. Moreover, authenticity and faithfulness occur as each church or movement moves to increasingly integrate the disparate functions into one mature body. And so the scenius (the latent genius embedded throughout) of the church becomes increasingly evident for all to experience.

It follows that maturity is increasingly experienced as all five increasingly intersect and mutually inform each other, thus experiencing the systemic synergy of a truly functional Body. This can be viewed as follows…

There’s increased “Jesus space” at the center of the right-hand image!

This enlarged space in effect signifies Jesus’ active presence in the com­munity. The more integrated the church is with APEST, the more mature they become through that integration, and the Church moves ever-closer toward experiencing the fullness (pleroma) of Christ.

To drive the point home as to how important this all is, we have already noted that throughout church history all movements of spiritual and theological renewal are in some way related to the retrieval of one or more of the fivefold ministries. For instance, missional movements are essentially a recovery of the apostolic impulse; prayer and justice movements are manifestations of the prophetic impulse; revivals are an aspect of evangelistic; community and charismatic renewal is a recovery of the pastoral ministry; and theological renewals are largely related to a rediscovery of some lost motif in Scripture. Imagine if all five were taken seriously at the same time? Bring it on!

All movements of spiritual and theological renewal are in some way related to the retrieval of one or more of the fivefold ministries. Click To Tweet

It should be relatively easy to now see that the church’s problems derive from what is left out or missing in the APEST system. Simply remove, or signifi­cantly diminish, one or more of the marks from the equation, and there I wager you have a proportionally and correspondingly dysfunctional church. A church is a true church when it actively demonstrates its partici­pation in all the fivefold functions/purposes to some degree or another. This is because all five marks, as genuine markers of an authentic church’s identity and calling, must be demonstrably present, and in an increasing degree of fullness. A community that does not have all five marks evident is a community on its way to being a true church, or on its way out.

A community that does not have all five marks evident is a community on its way to being a true church, or on its way out. Click To Tweet

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How does this view of the Marks of the Church affect your views of 5Q? Your views of the Church? Let us know in the comments!

Alan Hirsch
Alan Hirsch founder of Forge Mission Training Network, 100 Movements, and now 5Qcollective. He is author of numerous award-winning books on movements, organization, and leadership, and teaches extensively across North America, Europe, and Australia.