This post is part of a series looking at Fivefold Ministry. This post focuses on the office of the apostle and considers the role modern-day apostles perform in the church. You can find links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.
First, a question. Why write ‘modern-day apostles?’ Scripture is clear that the apostles in the New Testament times were fundamental to the establishment of the church. Some contributed writings that form our Christian scriptures. The initial twelve, and later, Paul, all had proximity to Jesus that none of us can claim. There are also some definitions around what an apostle is that really, limit the office to that original group. So I want to put this out there straight away.
What a modern-day apostle isn’t
An apostle’s teachings are not on the same level as scripture
I don’t believe that if someone is an apostle, then their teachings need to be given the same level of weight as scripture. I get Matthew, Peter, James, John and Paul did write canonical scripture. But Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, the other James, Simon the Zealot and Judas (the other Judas, not Judas Iscariot) did not contribute NT writings. Also, Luke – writer of a gospel and Acts – isn’t named as an apostle. So we can safely say that apostleship is not synonymous with writing or teaching content equivalent to scripture. Not all the apostles produced scripture; not all scripture was produced by apostles. That must mean apostolic teaching existed back then which wasn’t considered canonical. Why can’t that be true today?
There are more apostles than the original twelve and Paul
I believe there were more than the original twelve apostles, plus Paul – and so does the New Testament. Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6-9), Timothy and Silvanus (1 Thess 1:1, then 2:6), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25 – the word translated ‘messenger’ is actually ‘apostolon’, apostle), two unknown individuals (2 Cor 8:23, where ‘messenger’ again is the Greek word ‘apostolon‘). So there, from the pages of scripture, we have at least seven additional apostles outside the original twelve and Paul.
Seeing the Risen Christ is not an essential apostolic qualification
I don’t believe only eyewitnesses to the risen Christ can be apostles. Paul does say this about himself in 1 Corinthians 9:1, but contextually he isn’t talking about qualifications essential to all apostles. He’s talking about what makes him an apostle to the Corinthians. That’s a very different argument. Again, following on from my previous point, when we consider others named in scripture as apostles, we can’t be sure that they all had a visible encounter with the Resurrected Christ.
Church-planting is not an essential apostolic qualification
I don’t believe that apostles have to have planted churches. Paul obviously did, but we don’t know for sure that all the original twelve did so it seems to be something not necessarily part of the apostolic ministry.
Church leadership experience is not an essential apostolic qualification
I don’t believe apostles have to lead or have led churches. Again, we don’t know for sure that all the original twelve led churches.
Church oversight, though likely, is not an essential apostolic function
I don’t believe apostles have to oversee churches. We can see that Paul has a relational connection with numerous churches, but we don’t know for sure how formal or longstanding that was, or that all the original twelve functioned in a similar way.
I have no problem distinguishing between the apostles in the New Testament, and modern-day apostles, as long as the difference is not one that reduces or diminishes the role or importance of the apostle in the modern-day church.
The common objections to modern-day apostles can be seen to be inaccurate. The New Testament does not claim, explicitly or implicity, that the office of the apostle ceased with the completion of the New Testament canon. Apostles, then, are still for today. So what is an apostle and what do they do?
What is a modern-day apostle?
Apostle means ‘sent one’. Jesus used the term to confer a title on his disciples. But more than a title, it really communicates a mission or a purpose. They were his ‘sent ones’. Why did Jesus use this term?
Being ‘sent’ must mean there is a) a sender, b) a ‘sendee’, c) a purpose for being sent, and d) a place, person or people to be sent to. So we can understand what an apostle is if we see them as ‘someone sent somewhere, by someone, to do something.’
Therefore, the primary distinguishing mark of an apostle is this ‘sent-ness’, which is inherent in the name, and therefore the role, Jesus assigned.
Not everyone has a specific calling or ‘sending’ commission from Jesus, but some do. This specificity of calling is more than a general sense of God’s leading – there is a sense of call, mission and even burden attached to it.
The Great Commission is apostolic, in the sense that Jesus’ disciples were being sent into all the world to make disciples. Here, you see the clear dynamics of a sender, sendees, a mission, and a target people or place. Modern-day apostles, really, are taking the world and focusing more specifically on a particular place or people as God has spoken to them.
Therefore, an apostle needs to know their apostolic calling to function apostolically. But what does it mean to ‘function apostolically?’
How do modern-day apostles function?
These functions are not limited to apostles – meaning, others who are not apostles may do some of these. Also, what they look like practically may differ from apostle to apostle. But generally speaking, these are some functions of modern-day apostles mark them out. Apostles are sent to make disciples of a place or a people. Another way of wording that is they are called to bring the influence of God to people, and therefore a place. They introduce the Kingdom of Heaven and demonstrate what God is really like, by showing what His rule and reign is like. I am not talking about dominionism where a certain form of Christian thinking aggressively takes over areas of society and imposes a moral dictatorship. I’m talking a kingdom of power and love, of righteousness, peace and joy, that serves all with kindness.
Apostles have a kingdom focus, as opposed to a church focus. They will have a heart for God’s kingdom to impact and influence society outside the four walls of the church. We see this in Galatians 2, where the apostles meet Paul, hear his revelations, and endorse him – but also agree to stress the priority of ‘remembering the poor’. Social justice causes will be important to apostles because of the transformative and reformational aspects. An apostle may focus on a church for a season, but the goal will be to help it focus on the wider kingdom mission
In this sense, apostles bring Heaven to Earth – just as Jesus prayed in the Lord’s Prayer – demonstrating and establishing it through the ministry of the church and equip individuals to do the same through their own lives. This means apostles carry a sense of kingdom power and authority. This is why Paul challenges the Corinthians, who are following different leaders, to see what power they have in their lives. Jesus also walked in power and authority, which doesn’t just mean supernatural demonstrations, but also authority that comes from leadership and wisdom. It isn’t about a title, but something you sense and feel from a genuine apostle.
One mark of this authority will be apostles having an effective ministry. An apostle will work with a church in such a way that the blessing and endorsement of God are evident, both in the process and the outcomes. Apostles bring change and order out of chaos, setting the church up with apostolic thinking engage with its mission fully.
This apostolic thinking provokes us to impact the world around us with kingdom values so that it is transformed for the better. It stops the church from being irrelevant or detached from society. With this understanding, we can define the apostolic ministry as ‘influencing and transforming the world your church is in – locally, regionally or globally – with the values of Heaven’.
How do apostles serve churches?
The office of the apostle serves the church broadly in a number of ways:
- Resourcing the church forwards in apostolic mission
- Cultivating reforming mindset
- Developing social missionaries
- Motivating for kingdom impact
- Directing missional momentum
- Aligning organisational architecture
- Strengthening gospel foundations
- Fathering spiritual leaders
Apostles develop social missionaries
An apostle creates an apostolic culture, which reveals itself through a church and the believers who are part of it. These believers are equipped to be missionaries to the aspects of society they interact with, bringing a reforming mindset with them that longs to see transformation.
Apostles motivate for kingdom impact
Apostles have a big picture mentality and are always looking to advance and extend the influence of the kingdom of God. They think aggressively, in the sense of movement and taking ground. They bring this thinking to churches, to prevent them from being parochial or self-centred.
Apostles direct missional momentum
Apostles will motivate, encourage, challenge and direct individual churches to move forward in their mission. Churches that aren’t will be encouraged to begin moving. Churches that are moving will be provoked to go further and faster, and deploy and release people and leaders. Apostolic culture and thinking will be developed to be the norm.
Apostles align organisational architecture
Effective mission is best served by healthy churches so an understanding of governance and leadership is key for an apostle. They will understand the importance of mission, vision, culture, structure and strategy, and will function as ‘spiritual architects’ to develop them all. In effect, apostles provide blueprints and plans for spiritual renovations, restorations, extensions, constructions, and even demolitions! You can read more about the signs of an apostolically influenced church here.
Apostles strengthen gospel foundations
Paul saw himself as a master builder. He was keen that the churches he works with had strong foundations, meaning that Christ is the cornerstone that is the reference point for the apostolic and prophetic foundations. Paul wanted his churches to correctly understand the meaning and implications of the gospel both theologically and practically, meaning cultures of freedom and the Spirit-filled life are key! Apostles ensure that a church doesn’t just know about Jesus, but knows Jesus. They are concerned that churches aren’t just strong in their gospel understanding, but also their gospel practice. This also means there will be a sense of gospel replication – taking the gospel out.
Apostles father spiritual leaders
Paul shows himself in 1 Cor 4:14-16 to be a spiritual father. Jesus also modelled this. Fathers aren’t just interested in what people do but are interested in who people are, and want to help them grow into who God has called the people to be. They understand that spiritual maturity is more about character and identity than it is gifting and activity. Fathering is empowering, and not controlling.
Other characteristics of healthy fathering include provision, connection, attention, protection, correction, valuing and endorsement.
The Office of Apostle amongst the Fivefold
We’ve seen how the office of the apostle works within a local church, but how do they impact other fivefold cultures?
- An apostle partners with the prophet by anchoring revelation, making the prophetic practical and preventing it from turning Gnostic or super-spiritual.
- An apostle partners with evangelists by envisioning them for God’s mission, ensuring new converts are not just saved but are brought into a cause.
- An apostle partners with pastors by focusing their ministry towards getting the sheep ready for mobilisation, preventing the church from becoming a needs-centred infirmary and keeping the focus forwards and outwards, not inwards.
- An apostle partners with teachers by ensuring teaching facilitates equipping and has the purpose of practical training and experiential living for the mission, instead of being just theoretical or academic.
Without apostolic influence that gives a church an outwards and missional focus on things of the kingdom, a church will ultimately become detached from and irrelevant to the people it should serve. It becomes self-serving, making decisions primarily for the benefit of its own people and not the people it is called to reach. This risks increased church politics and battles for power as different groups fight for causes they are concerned about instead of the wider kingdom vision.
The Office of Modern Day Apostles: Summary
The office of modern-day apostle exists to ensure that the church is healthy and built on strong foundations. This should result in churches looking outside their four walls so they can serve society by demonstrating the heart of God.
Jesus is the first apostle, sent by the Father. God is a Father, and a God of love and of power. He is a builder and an agent of change. He reframed and realigned the understanding of the kingdom of God who those who listened. The office of the apostle demonstrates these traits through their ministry, meaning that any apostolic ministry within a church should result in it being mobilised, motivated and ‘sent’ out to transform the world.
You can read fuller descriptions about each fivefold ministry definition, and resulting cultures they create, in the following posts:
- Fivefold ministry: what it is and why it matters
- What are the signs that help us recognise a fivefold minister?
- What about apostles?
- What about prophets?
- What about evangelists?
- What about pastors?
- What about teachers?
- Fivefold ministry and church government
- Cultivating APEST Leadership
Each fivefold ministry is essential for any healthy, mature church. Do you know how strong your church in each of them? Are you strong in some, and weak in others? Do you know why? How did you test to see? To help churches like yours answer these questions and discover their fivefold health, I designed a FREE Fivefold ministry test for churches.
To find out more, and take the Fivefold Ministry test, click HERE.