Apostolic Leaders

And he (Christ) himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ…

Ephesians 4:11-12

Some people say that there are no longer apostles today. And if by that they mean the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:2-4) who were the first 12 disciples, then they are correct. (Really Matthias should be swapped out for Judas Iscariot – see Acts 1:13 & 26) Typically this view understands the apostolic role mainly as those who wrote scripture, and in order to protect the authority and canonization of scripture, the claim is that apostles were exclusive to the first 12 or at least to the first century church.

But there are many problems with this view. The first glaring issues is that there were many people named as apostles in the New Testament (at least 20). Most of these people did not write works found in the scriptures.

Barnabas and Paul were considered apostles (Acts 14:14). Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were listed as outstanding among the apostles (Romans 16:7). Paul calls Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy apostles along with himself (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:4-6). Paul also calls Apollos an apostle along with himself (1 Cor 4:6-9). Apparently, James the half-brother of Jesus was considered an apostle (Galatians 1:19). It’s also possible Epaphroditus was considered an apostle if the Greek word apostolon in Philippians 2:25 is translated as “apostle” instead of “messenger.” 

So it is clear that the title and role of “apostle” extended well beyond the first 12 apostles. While we can acknowledge that the canon of scripture is closed and that the first 12 apostles had a unique role in church history, we must also acknowledge that “apostle” must have been a role that was open to many who fit the description.

This is why I believe the apostolic role was always meant to be a normal leadership role in the church today (similar to what the early church eventually called “bishop”). This lines up with what we read in Ephesians 4:11 as Paul lists the different leadership roles or leadership anointings that exist in the church. 

Some ministers will carry an anointing for pastoring/shepherding and others for evangelism or teaching. Though we tend to call all church leaders “pastors,” we’ve all felt our pastors lean in one direction or another based on the gifting and anointing on their life. And the same is true for the prophetic and the apostolic. Some of our “pastors” actually have the anointing for the apostolic role. I have a few different pastor friends who aren’t just shepherds or teachers. They have been gifted with an apostolic anointing.

Based on what we see in the New Testament, throughout church history, and in the church today, the apostolic role brings with it certain characteristics. The apostolic leadership role typically means a person is over a grouping or network of churches or at least has influence of some kind over more than one church. The apostolic also seems to specialize in taking new territory in some way for the Kingdom of God (whether that means starting non-profits, planting churches, launching businesses, or advancing the Kingdom in a particular sector of society).

Finally, signs, wonders and miracles are often involved in apostolic ministry. People are healed, demons are cast out, and prophetic words seem to flow easily around the apostolic. After being around someone with an apostolic anointing, we will find that the fire of the Holy Spirit has usually been fanned into flame. Often, new gifts of the Spirit are released or existing gifts are set ablaze.

So, are there apostles today?

Well, it is true that the first 12 apostles had a unique role and purpose in church history. That will never again be repeated. However, if we’re talking about the apostolic role and apostolic anointing in general, and if we use the definition and descriptions that I’ve laid out above, then the answer is “Yes.”

There are many in the church today who function with an apostolic anointing and who could rightly be called “apostle” just as we call other ministers “evangelist” or “teacher” or “pastor.” The irony is that those most qualified to be called “apostle” generally don’t use that term to describe themselves. This is, in part, due to enduring humbling opposition similar to what Paul had to face in regard to defending his own apostleship (see 2 Corinthians 11 & Galatians 1 and 2).

One final note: it’s important to state here that there is no such thing as a legitimate “self-appointed” apostle, just as there shouldn’t be any “self-appointed” pastors, teachers, or evangelists. People in these roles should first be affirmed by a community of people who recognize the calling and anointing on someone’s life for this particular role in ministry. And there should be healthy accountability structures in place for anyone serving in any ministry role. The purpose of all of these leadership roles and leadership anointings is not for self-promotion but to build up the body of Christ and equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Prophets, Priests, and Kings

Elisha died and was buried.

Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

2 Kings 13:20-21

After Elisha dies, we don’t hear much about the prophets in the book of 2 Kings. This is in part because the prophets who followed him operated less in the miraculous and in part because the prophets after Elisha started to write down their prophecies. The prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos and Jonah were the next prophets to take up the prophetic mantle after Elisha.

It is important to realize that ever since the Hebrew people were set free from Egypt and started to form a national identity, they always had a prophet, priest and king. In the early years, their prophet was Moses, their priest was Aaron, and their King was Yahweh Himself. Moses passed off his prophetic mantle to Joshua and then to those would be raised up as Judges to lead the people. Aaron passed off his priestly mantle to his own descendants and the Levites.

Then the people wanted an earthly king and so the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul, the first official king of Israel. From that point on, there was always an executive branch (the kings), a judicial branch (the prophets) and a legislative branch (the priests) that functioned as the leaders of the people of God. The kings led the people, the prophets heard from the Lord, and the priests helped the people atone for their sin through the sacrificial system.

A similar system existed when Jesus entered the scene, only the prophetic presence has diminished. John the Baptist functioned as the first real prophet in hundreds of years. And the priests had divided their role in two. Part of the priestly role was pastoral, helping people atone for their sin through the sacrificial system; the other part was a teaching role, helping people know the Law and avoid sin in the first place.

Jesus was furious that the priestly role that was supposed to pastor the people and teach the people instead was exploiting the people and weighing them down with guilt and legalistic burdens.

Jesus took these leadership roles for the people of God and adapted them for the birth of the Church. The executive leader became the apostle. The judicial voice became the prophet. The priestly/legislative role became the pastor and the teacher. Then He added one more role for the spread of the Kingdom of God, the evangelist.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.

Ephesians 4:11-13

These five roles together are called the five-fold ministry gifts. Each of these five roles are gifts to the Church which allow it to be equipped and built up. The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are meant to work together, each bringing something special.

The apostle is focused on God’s direction. The prophet is focused on God’s voice, His word to the people. The pastor, teacher, and evangelist are all focused on the people but in different ways. The pastor wants to care for the people and remind them of God’s grace and forgiveness. The teacher wants to disciple the people and help them know the scriptures. The evangelist is focused on people outside the Church, wanting them to hear the good news of the gospel.

The foundation of the global Church and the local church, however, has to be the apostolic and prophetic roles. The apostle Paul said it this way:

…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19-21

The foundation of the American church is too often the pastor or teacher. This is not how Christ designed His Church to function. He designed the base on which the church is built to be the apostolic role and the prophetic role. Paul emphasized this truth to the Corinthians.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:27-28

What the people of God need right now is not more pastors but more people operating in an apostolic anointing. What the people of God need right now is not more teachers but more people operating in a prophetic anointing. Both the apostle and the prophet are focused first on God–His direction, His voice, His signs, wonders and miracles, His Presence–and not primarily on whether they will be liked by people. Apostolic and prophetic people do not fit well in consumeristic Christianity. Their target audience is an Audience of One. Their opinion polls are filled out by One and Only One.

Who will be the ones to stop pretending to be pastors and instead step into the apostolic role they were created for? Who will be the ones to stop just teaching and instead deliver the prophetic words from the Lord as they were called to do?