The Ministry Of Apostle In Contemporary Times
The book of Ephesians 4:10-16 teaches us that the ministry gift of apostle will continue to function so that Christ can fill all things (every realm of society) until we come to full maturity in Christ as a church. Obviously these two things have not yet happened. So the question arises: What would the ministry of apostle look like in today’s world?
Without qualifying all my statements due to the brevity of this article, the following are some observations and opinions I have related to this ministry in context with today’s world. There have been many wonderful books written on the subject of the fivefold ministry (my favorite is Kevin Conner’s The Church in the New Testament). Thus, there is no need for me to repeat content found in these other fine books.
Those walking in the apostolic ministry have a strong leadership gift (Romans 12:7). They are not primarily followers who conform to the mainstream but are willing to go against culture and carve out a countercultural movement that is based on the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven (read Acts 4:19-31). Thus, they are willing to lead a strong movement even in spite of religious and political opposition.
Contemporary apostles need to be able to preach the gospel and lead countercultural movements that can effectively deal with postmodernism (that there are no absolute truths that can be known in this world) and a post-taboo world (a classical Greek-Libertarian approach in which we live and let live; people can engage in any behavior they want with legal protection, for example alternate forms of marriage, abortion, euthanasia). This they do in a manner that does not make Christians come off as ignorant, uneducated biblicists but in a cogent, compelling manner that utilizes logic, godly wisdom, current events, statistics, and artful subtlety with the power of the Word and Spirit of God.
Apostolic leaders have the ability to manage whole networks of people, congregations and ministries that are relevant to and thrive in the midst of cultural complexities because they can adapt their methods and message based on the culture in which they labor.
For example, Paul established complex apostolic networks in over 30 diverse cities in the Roman world. He had to speak messages and build churches relevant to Jews (Acts 9, 21, 28), intellects (Acts 17:16-34) and people steeped in carnality and debauchery (First and Second Corinthians). He was not just an evangelist who blessed people and then left town; he was a master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10-14) who had a long-term plan to build communities of faith in the main cities of the Roman world (Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Colossae, Rome, Thessalonica) so they would eventually alter the culture and turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6; 19:21-41).
In today’s world God is still using global leaders in India, Africa, Latin America, the USA, Asia and other places to start non-denominational complex apostolic networks that are driving missions across the earth.
Apostles develop new emerging leaders
When Paul met Timothy he immediately perceived that he was someone worth investing in to develop as a leader (Acts 16:1-3). Scripture teaches us that Paul's intuition was correct; we read that Timothy turned out to be Paul's best protégé (Phil. 2:19-25). Perhaps the most important calling of apostles is to see and develop the leadership potential in others.
In today's contemporary, fatherless world apostolic leaders are going to have to learn how to be fathers who can re-parent and bring healing to the fatherless, so potential leaders will have the internal affirmation necessary to become great leaders.
Apostles are humble and broken, not superstars in their own minds (2 Corinthians 12:1-7)
Scripture teaches us that Paul ministered out of his weakness, not his strength. In today's world, I am skeptical of the superstar celebrity leaders who are always bragging about their ministries and accomplishments. Today we need authentic, transparent apostolic leaders who minister out of their weakness, as Paul did, so the glory and power are from Christ alone and to Him alone!
Apostles have seen Jesus
In Acts 1 we see the 11 apostles attempted to choose a person that had walked and talked with Jesus personally to take the place of Judas Iscariot who fell away from his calling and committed suicide. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 and Acts 22:14 an important part of Paul's calling to the apostolic was that he had seen Jesus personally. Whether this was in the body or just a vision we don’t know (2 Corinthians 12). But the main idea is that Paul had a powerful life-changing encounter with Jesus that rooted and grounded him in the faith and gave him an intimacy with Christ that sustained him through all his trials and tribulations.
Contemporary apostles (like Moses and Paul of old) need to know the Lord face-to-face as a man knows his friend (Deut. 34:10) so they can clearly hear His voice and have faith to walk in great exploits, and so they are not walking in presumption and embarrass themselves and the gospel.
Apostles move in signs, wonders and miracles (Romans 15:18-20; 2 Corinthians 12:12)
Paul and the other New Testament apostles regularly moved in miraculous signs, wonders and miracles which included gifts of healings, working of miracles and casting out demons.
In contemporary times this is not only related to the aforementioned supernatural signs, but the signs of God’s providential favor—being at the right place at the right time, supernatural doors opening up, financial provisions miraculously coming for ministry projects, and great faith to see God do supernatural things in the hearts and minds of people so the great apostolic vision God has given them can be accomplished.
Apostles speak in principle what prophets prophesy by revelation
The apostolic leaders I know, like John Kelly speak in principle words of wisdom that constantly flow out of them, even in ordinary spontaneous conversations. This is unlike many prophetic people who depend upon the Spirit to come upon them and prophesy to give a word of wisdom. Both are effective; that’s why prophets and apostles complement one another and give each other balance.
Apostles are great problem solvers and strategists
Apostolic leaders are able to look at a project and think of all contingency plans (and even have a plan A, B, C based on what happens) like no other leaders. They can take the complex and make it simple for all to understand. They are master builders who can come into a disorganized church or ministry and bring great order within a short period of time. While others see reality in bits and pieces, apostolic leaders can put all the pieces of the puzzle together; they plan ahead, see life at light speed, and see all of life like a chess player who plans ten moves ahead.
Apostles are great fundraisers and operate in the gift of faith for new territories
Apostolic leaders, like Paul, are great visionaries who can motivate people and churches to give to the things of the kingdom (read 2 Corinthians 8, 9).
I have never met a true apostle who didn’t have great vision as well as faith and strategy to believe and receive provision for the vision. This is one of the main ways to distinguish between true and false apostles. False apostles may have apostolic teaching and revelation, and call themselves apostles on their business cards. But they have never built anything of substance. True apostles not only talk but walk the walk with provision for the vision so they can build great works for the Kingdom of God. This is because they have learned to trust God to meet their needs as well as to touch the hearts of potential donors who can fund the vision.
Apostles usually don’t focus on minutia but see the big picture
Apostolic leaders usually miss the tree because they see the forest. They usually do not have much patience for one-on-one counseling unless it is with a high-level leader they are mentoring. This is not because they do not have compassion but because God has wired them to focus on the big picture. Apostolic leaders are “high D” doers and are satisfied more in accomplishing tasks. If they had grace for minutia and hand-holding they would spend most of their time doing those things and would not have the emotional and spiritual energy left for the larger picture of the vision God has assigned to them. Thus, apostolic leaders have learned to nurture pastoral leaders who do the counseling, coaching and hand-holding that the congregation needs.
In closing, we need to greatly value the gift of apostle in our midst. God says this gift is so important that when He starts a work He first sets in an apostle to lay the foundation before any other office or function is established, thus ensuring that the whole building will have the proper foundation (read 1 Corinthians 12:28).