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.

Leading the Church

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

In the Church, Christ has released five different leadership anointing (sometimes called the five-fold ministry gifts)–apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, and teaching. These anointings are found throughout the church in many different people but are sometimes solidified into leadership roles or staff positions when the community recognizes a strong anointing and calling on a person’s life. Each of these anointings cause a person to lead the church in slightly different ways and create a slightly different culture for the church body. Let’s briefly look at each one:

The primary question for the apostolic person is, “What is God doing?” Sunday Worship is about giving God total devotion and experiencing a divine encounter. Apostolic people are often given blueprints or strategy from the Lord for an entire organization. They are risk-takers who want to gain ground for the Kingdom of God.

The primary question for the prophetic person is, “What is God saying?” Sunday Worship is about giving God the praise that is due Him and experiencing God’s Presence. Prophetic people often support the apostolic and are given insight into the future of an organization and trends that are coming next.

The primary question for the teacher is, “What truth needs to be taught?” Sunday Worship is about teaching biblical truth from the scriptures and the discipleship of the believer. Teachers tend to make complicated theology or paradoxical truth more easily understandable for everyone. Because of this they are often the “translators” standing between the apostolic/prophetic people and the pastoral/evangelistic people.

The primary question for the pastoral person is, “What do our current people need, especially those who are hurting?” Sunday Worship is about people feeling welcomed, cared for, and connected to community. Pastoral leaders tend to lean into compassion, empathy, and mercy. Their focus is often the hurting and vulnerable.

The primary question for the evangelistic person is, “What does the outsider/new person need?” Sunday Worship is all about the new person, the guest, the person who has been far from church and/or far from God. Evangelistic leaders want to see people give their life to Jesus for the first time and want everything in the church to be geared toward that goal. They tend to be Christians who don’t like church very much or remember vividly what it was like to avoid Christians in their pre-Christian life.

As you can see, depending on who is leading a church and what leadership anointing they may have, the church will take on a slightly different culture. Below is an example of the difference between a church with an apostolic culture verses a church with a pastoral culture.

Pastoral church

Primary Focus: connecting in community

Secondary Focus: healing emotional wounds

Leaders: led by Pastors and pastoral people

Mission: care for the believers 

Discipleship Emphasis: emphasizes slow processes of development over time

People’s Involvement: the people either consume or pastor

View of Church: church is a hospital for the wounded

Leadership Mode: pastoring is the main expression of the church (evangelism feels too pushy and not relational enough, teaching sometimes feels irrelevant, prophetic feels too weird and supernatural, apostolic feels too authoritative and risky) 

Apostolic church

Primary Focus: create Kingdom culture

Secondary Focus: a Kingdom environment (presence of God, supernatural activity)

Leaders: led by apostolic people in the context of the 5-fold ministry gifts (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) 

Mission: taking ground for the Kingdom

Discipleship Emphasis: emphasizes transformation through divine encounter (healing, deliverance, social change, salvation)

People’s Involvement: the people produce or are sent out

View of Church: church is an army sent to reclaim what belongs to the Lord

Leadership Mode: evangelism, teaching, pastoring and the prophetic are all pieces that contribute to the whole but they function under the authority of the apostolic. God’s supernatural presence and activity are paramount above all else.

Leadership Anointings

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…

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 4:7, 11-13

As the church shifts into this new post-pandemic culture, I believe we must move from teaching to training. We must shift to become equipping centers. Each believer must be equipped to take the power of the gospel back into their own neighborhoods, workplaces, and spheres of influence.

In the above passage of scripture, Paul describes the leadership anointings that were given to the church in order to accomplish this kind of equipping and training. Each leadership anointing is a gift from Christ to empower the church.

Apostolic: this leadership anointing breaks new ground. It allows a person to push into enemy territory and take new ground for the Kingdom of God. It often leans into miracles, signs and wonders to do so. This anointing often receives God’s blueprints for the way things should be and God’s designs and strategies for moving things forward.

Prophetic: this leadership anointing sees what’s coming and is able to say it. It allows a person to have an intensified ability to hear from the Lord. It often leans into dreams, visions, and impressions from the Lord. This anointing can often expose the plan of the enemy before it happens and call people to repentance.

Evangelistic: this leadership anointing has a heart that burns for those who don’t yet know Christ. It allows a person to know how to articulate the gospel in a way that reaches through to people. It often leans into an emphasis on outreach, hospitality, and connection to the wider world. This anointing often comes with a boldness to proclaim the gospel and a focus on the person who is not yet a part of the church.

Pastoral: this leadership anointing cares for the hurting. It allows a person to sense other people’s wounds and have insight into how to bind up the brokenhearted. It often leans into counseling, listening, and care for the marginalized. This anointing often receives words of knowledge and words of wisdom about what is happening inside a person, their motivations and broken spots.

Teaching: this leadership anointing identifies truth from error. It allows a person to have insight into ideas and concepts and apply those truths to people in a practical way. It often leans into study, instruction, and training. This anointing often comes with the ability to break down difficult concepts into more easily understood truths. It also comes with a keen discernment for what is true and what is not.

I have found, in my own life and in the life of others, that leaders in business and in the church may operate out of one or more of these leadership anointings. I often find that people blend at least two of these together as they lead an organization. What Paul was telling the Ephesians is that the church needs all five leadership anointings in operation in order to fully equip the Body of Christ. A church becomes mature when all five are in full operation and are bringing their leadership anointings to bear in the equipping of the community.

These anointings are gifts from Christ to the church. They are His way of empowering leaders to build up the church so that we all can attain to the whole measure of fullness of Christ.

Do you see one or more of these anointings operating in your own life?

Apostles and Prophets (Part 2)

When God wants to give the the Church insight into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, He first reveals it to the apostles and the prophets, the foundation of the Church. Paul explains it to the Ephesians this way:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:2-6

Now, it’s not like God never mentioned this mystery before. As we look back into the Old Testament we can see how God continuously foreshadowed the Gentile inclusion into the family of God. But there was a revelation of wisdom and insight given to the apostles and prophets, of which Paul was among, so that they could see clearly God’s desire to include Gentiles as heirs together with Israel in the promises of Jesus.

This is why apostolic leaders and prophetic leaders are so essential for the Church to thrive. They open new doors of insight into mysteries that have always been there but the rest of us just couldn’t see. It doesn’t cease to be a mystery, as if it could all be explained away, but the mystery itself just becomes clearer and more accessible. This is what the apostolic leaders did in the first few centuries of the Church as they articulated and protected the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the nature of Christ.

Pastors and Evangelists are focused on people. Pastors care for people and Evangelists want to see people get saved. We too often like Pastor and Evangelist led churches because we want our church to be centered around meeting the people’s needs. It makes us feel good.

Apostles and Prophets, however, are focused on heaven, specifically seeing heaven come to earth. They get insight into the mysteries of Christ that the Church so desperately needs. They see from heaven’s perspective and think with the mind of Christ. They help the Church get beyond limited human reasoning and into Godly wisdom.

Teachers function as a bridge between the people of the Church and the insight of the Apostles and Prophets, helping to make it make sense. They take a mystery and break it down into something people can more readily apply to their lives. But if the Teachers of the Church aren’t connected to Apostolic leading and Prophetic revelation, they simply end up being a bridge between people and theology. The church becomes well-informed but doesn’t experience much personal transformation into Christ-likeness. Doesn’t this describe much of the American Church?

This is why Christ gave the Church apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. We need all of these fivefold ministries. But we can’t forget to prioritize apostles and prophets. Paul was clear about how important this is. He wrote 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…”(1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

The focus of the Church must be about bringing the Kingdom of God to the earth and not just on catering to people’s felt need in the moment. This is why we need apostles and prophets. They keep our focus heavenward.

Apostle and Prophet

After a new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is elected, he goes into a small red room next to the Sistine Chapel known as the “Room of Tears.” It got this name because of the deep emotion expressed by newly elected Popes once they receive this new and heavy apostolic mantle.

No true apostle in the church is self-appointed. All apostolic leaders, and there are many around the world today, are recognized (formally or informally) by the network of churches with which they associate. And all true apostles feel the heavy weight of this roll. True apostles respond with both deep gratitude and deep grieving⏤deep gratitude for the high honor that it is and deep grieving because of the awareness of the suffering and self-sacrifice involved.

Paul was known as the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 11:13, Galatians 2:8). He wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Consequently, 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.

Ephesians 2:19-20

The first church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If the church wants to continue to have a solid foundation, it needs to be built upon the writings of the original apostles (the New Testament) and the writings of the original prophets (the Old Testament).

In addition to this, each floor in the temple that is the Church needs new apostles and new prophets to lead. These apostolic and prophetic leaders don’t create a new foundation; our foundation has already been established and our Chief Cornerstone is set. What the new apostles and prophets do for each generation of the Church is create a solid floor for the next level, the new story, to be built.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

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

The problem with the modern American church is that most of it only recognizes the need for three of these offices. We celebrate the office of the evangelist in people like Billy Graham and Ravi Zacharias. We celebrate the office of the teacher in people like Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis. We celebrate the office of the pastor in people like Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning.

But the floor beams of the Church in this generation are warping and bending because we’ve rejected the biblical mandate to have apostles and prophets leading the way. We’re asking pastors to act like apostles and wonder why it doesn’t work out, why they get burnt out and morally compromised. We’re asking teachers to lead us into the future like prophets and wonder why we get stale doctrine instead of fresh vision.

It’s time for the Church to recognize apostolic and prophetic anointings on people’s lives just as we do with pastors, teachers and evangelists. And when those people are faithful with their anointing, we need to honor them as God moves them into the office of apostle and prophet, guiding and leading whole movements of churches.