Apostles – Called to Extend the Gospel
“11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV (emphasis mine)
When he speaks of building the church, Paul identifies five key leaders that are critical to equipping and building the people – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. While some theologians suggest that the pastor and teacher are the same role, for the purposes of these devotions, we will be exploring them differently.
The first type of leader that Paul mentions is the apostle. The word apostle means, “one who is sent with a commission.” (Bible Exposition Commentary) I’ve often thought of an apostle and disciple as the same thing, but that is not the case. Jesus had many disciples, but we know that He had personally selected only twelve apostles, so there is a marked difference. A disciple is a follower or learner, while an apostle is a divinely appointed representative whom Jesus specifically selected to help to lay the foundation of the church (Matthew 10:1-4).
I think it is important to identify a distinction between a New Testament apostle, and those who operate with an apostolic gifting today.
1 – EARLY APOSTLES
The Apostles of the early church were called to give witness of the resurrection and as such were required to have seen the risen Christ personally. Obviously, there is no one living today that has witnessed the resurrection and the risen Christ personally. Of course, if that is how a New Testament Apostle is defined, then there are no longer Apostles living today. That being the case, there are none today who fall into the same category of the early Apostles. While we may be gifted with an apostolic ministry today, Scripture is clear that there is no one today that speaks with the same authority of the New Testament apostles.
The three things that characterized the New Testament apostles were the following.
1 – They were witnesses of the Resurrection or had witnessed the risen Christ personally. Acts 1:15-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2.
2 – They were called to that office by Jesus Himself. Luke 6:13, Galatians 1:1
3 – God marked the ministry of the Apostles with special miracles. Hebrews 2:1-4
While the twelve Apostles in Jesus’ day had a unique and special ministry, it needs to be pointed out that the ministry of the apostle is still relevant today because there are many today who still have an apostolic ministry, an apostolic gifting, and an apostolic calling. (John 20:21 – as the Father sent Jesus, so He sends us).
2 – APOSTOLIC CALLING FOR TODAY
While not being equivalent to the early church Apostles, there are still people who operate with an apostolic gift today. Those who operate with an apostolic gift or ministry calling today think in terms of vision for the future and work to develop leaders. They establish new ideas and innovations to expand the Kingdom of God. In the contemporary church today, we can recognize those with an apostolic gift, though it is unlikely we refer to them as an apostle. Those who operate with an apostolic ministry are people who shake up the faith to help establish the church in new contexts while developing leaders and leadership systems.
If we were to compare apostolic ministry to human leadership systems, this person would be like an entrepreneur or innovator. Someone with an apostolic gifting is a groundbreaker that initiates a new organization, a new service, or a new product. The apostolic gifting is the divine ability to start and oversee the development of new churches or ministries. This is the person who is a strategist and wants to pioneer new things for the Kingdom. They think in terms of extending Christianity, establishing the church in new contexts, and the development of leaders and leadership systems. Leaders who operate with an apostolic gifting are strategic visionaries and innovators.
This person is typically adventurous, entrepreneurial, persevering, risk-taking, and cause driven. They think in terms of strategic issues:
- Starting of new ministries or small groups.
- Establishing of ministries within a church.
- Church planting.
- Sending out missionaries or missional communities.
- Networking movements and denominations.
While those with an apostolic ministry may be good starters, they may not always the sustainers of a ministry. Because they are wired to begin new things, they might plant a church, establish it, then decide to move on and plant another one. Likewise, they may start a small group or a ministry, but may not be the person to sustain the ministry. Those with the apostolic gift will likely have to move on to pioneer something else once the ministry is established.
Those who have an apostolic gifting need to be wary of wounding people in the organization because of their strong future orientation and visionary leadership. Because they may not be the sustainer of a ministry, there can be challenges of change and not enough health transitions. They may also be demanding and sometimes pessimistic. This is where pastoral shepherding care and teaching functions are of critical importance. We’ll look more on the pastor/teacher gifting later.
Those with the apostolic gifting are the innovative minds that help to ensure the faith is extended from one generation to the next. When people with the apostolic gifting do not step up and use their gifting for the Kingdom, the church begins to lack systems and strategy to reach the next generation. I’d compare those with an apostolic ministry to a used car salesman. While he doesn’t have anything new to sell (on the early Apostles established that), he is creative and establishes ways to make what he has, look good.
Do you have an apostolic gifting?
What if those with an apostolic ministry and the apostolic gifting were to rise up in the church? How many new innovations would we see? How many new ways would there be to reach people for God and to build them for the Kingdom? Imagine how much more the church could rise up and influence our culture if those with an apostolic gift chose not to just use their gifts for the marketplace, but for the Kingdom.
Holy Spirit I pray for those who have the apostolic gift and calling in their lives. Empower them to take the risk to extend the Gospel. Grant them the courage to step forward to advance Your Kingdom. I pray that we in the church would be more effective in seeking and finding those with an apostolic gift so that generations to come would hear and know Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.