An apostle is an elder who is sent out to establish a new church. The Greek word “apostlos” literally means "one who is sent". It is applied to a messenger who is sent on a mission. In the New Testament, it is used to describe a person who is sent out to establish a new church.
This is what happened in the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). In that church there were prophets and teachers (pastors). While they were at prayer, the Holy Spirit told them to set aside Paul and Barnabas to be apostles.
Paul and Barnabas then went through Asia Minor establishing new churches. This is the ministry of the apostle. Once they had been sent out Luke referred to Paul and Barnabas as apostles (Acts 14:14).
When a couple of Christians have grown to a point where they can take on an eldership role, some of the existing elders will be sent out to start a new church. The pastor-teachers sent out are called apostles. Sometimes the prophet accompanying them is also called an apostle.
The Greek word for apostle is used frequently in the New Testament, but we do not notice. The problem for us is that the noun is translated “apostle”, but the verb is translated as “sent”. When we see the word “sent” in the New Testament, we should think “apostle”. We would then realise that the experience being “apostled” was very common.
The New Testament provides a number of principles relevant to the process of sending out apostles.
Go with the Spirit When starting a new church, apostles will normally move into the next neighbourhood or village. Often they will go to a place where someone has just been converted (Acts 16:11-15). They will go where the Spirit is moving, so hearing God’s voice will be important in knowing where to go. In warfare, establishing a new beachhead is much harder than pushing out from controlled territory. The same applies in the spiritual dimension. Advancing from an area where a spiritual stronghold has been established is more likely to be successful.
Send the Best The best people should be sent out. Paul and Barnabas were key leaders in the church at Antioch, so they were sent out as apostles. This is the most important principle (see Marks of an Apostle). Most new works fail, because the best leader stays behind and an inexperienced person is sent out to start something new. Starting a new church is harder than keeping a good church going, so only people who have proved that they are skilled in caring for a church should be assigned to this task. The best elders should be at the cutting edge in the new church.
In the early days of the church the apostles all stayed in Jerusalem. This may have been nice for them, but it was holding back the growth of the church. God had to send persecution to get them to move out into the world. It was among those who fled to Antioch that they next major advance of the church took place (Acts 8:1-8; 11:19-21). The Lord may have to send a similar time of testing in New Zealand to get those who are called to be apostles to move out.
Send Teams Apostles should never be sent out alone. Even a mature Christian like Paul took others with him for support and spiritual protection. Sending a person or couple out alone to start a new church is like sending soldiers armed with sticks to fight against tanks. We should not be surprised that so many are destroyed in these circumstances.
Send a Prophet An apostle should be accompanied by a prophet. Barnabas (Acts 4:36) and Silas (Acts 15:32) were prophets who accompanied Paul. When Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement, Paul was not prepared to go out till he had found another prophet (Silas) to go with him.
The most experienced prophet should be sent out with the apostle, because starting the new church is the most demanding task. Good prophetic insight must be part of the church from the beginning, so it will be built on a foundation of righteousness and holiness. Every new work must be based on a clear vision. Many new works founder, because they have inadequate or confused vision. The apostle and the prophet complement each other. This is why a church is said to be “built on the foundation of apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20).
Send an Evangelist. The apostolic team should also include someone with an evangelistic gifting. This will ensure that the new church grows quickly. Timothy (2 Tim 4:5) and Mark (he wrote a gospel) were evangelists with Paul.
Send Balanced Teams. The apostle will provide the zeal and boldness to get the team moving out of their comfort zone. He will use his pastoral skills to draw a group of believers together and build then into a unit. The prophet will impart clear vision into the new church. He will encourage the apostle and watch over the church to see that it is built according to God’s plan. A building with a faulty foundation will not be able to stand, and will eventually collapse. The evangelist will teach the new believers to share the gospel.
Send a United Team. There must strong unity in the apostolic team. Just after the apostolic team has been sent out is the time when it is most vulnerable. There must be no unresolved issues that could cause division between them. The will have developed these strong relationships with each other by working together in the church from which they are sent.
The elders sent out as apostles will function as the elders of the new church. They will submit to each like the elders of other churches. This will provide protection from sin and the attacks of Satan. If they have not proved they can work together in the sending church, they should not be expected to work together in a new environment.
Replicate their Ministries. Before leaving, the apostles will appoint new elders to take over their responsibilities in the sending church. The new elders will step up easily, because they have learned their ministries, while being supervised by the departing elders. Replication of ministries is an essential part of this process. If the new elders have been trained by their predecessors, the sending church will carry on with very little disruption. There will be an existing role into which they can step. All that a new elder must be able to do is disciple six to ten Christians.
All that elders have to do is be able to disciple six to ten Christians, making certain that one grows sufficiently to be able to take their place when they move on. (They also have to be able to get on with the other elders, but if they cannot do this, they should not be elders.)
Paul was frustrated when Mark deserted him at Pamphylia and did not continue in the apostolic work (Acts 15:38), because he wanted to replicate his ministry in Mark, Paul had to start all over again with Timothy.
Send Soon. An apostolic team can be sent out as soon as other people in the church are ready to take over their leadership role. Once each member of the apostolic team has replicated their ministry in one person, they should be sent on to start a new church. The sooner this happens, the better. Once a church grows beyond a certain size, its leaders become indispensable and it will be too hard to replace the elders who are sent out. It is more likely to get institutionalised.
A sending church will be an exciting place with no room for complacency. If a apostles are sent out, the remaining members will have an opportunity to grow into leadership. Potential leaders will be constantly stepping up into the roles of those who have left.
Many problems in the modern church come because people get bored and then restless. If a church is continually sending out apostles there will always be a good challenge for the remaining members.
Send Ordinary People. Most apostles will be ordinary people. In fact, many of the apostles in the New Testament were such ordinary people (Barnabas, Andronicus, Junias), that we know very little about them. When we stop looking for the spectacular, we will find many people who are called to be apostles. If there is rapid growth in the number of churches, there will always be lots of opportunities for ordinary people to exercise this ministry.
These will not be super apostles. Many elders can become apostles. The biggest problem today is that our understanding of apostleship is too grandiose. We have made the pastor into something really big, so an apostle must be greater still. We will not recognise an apostle unless he is like Paul or Peter. We will not accept a prophet unless he compares to Elijah. When we think of an evangelist, we think of Billy Graham.
Not every pastor will become an apostle. Some will prefer to stay where they are and work with those who are crushed and broken. That is just as valid a ministry as being sent out as an apostle. Balanced churches need both ministries.
God wants us to get away from dependency on big ministries. In the Old Testament times only a few people had the anointing of the Spirit. Gods people had to depend on a few great heroes. The purpose of Pentecost was to pour the Holy Spirit out onto all believers. This means that every believer can have a ministry. We need a church structure that allows every member to develop into a ministry. Rather than having a few heroes, God would prefer to have millions of small ministries anointed with his Spirit.
Repeat the Process. The new church will grow quickly. The evangelist in the team will ensure there are plenty of new converts. The apostle will ensure they grow quickly. will train some of the new converts to be pastor-teachers. Once the new church has grown a little, the more mature of the new converts will be appointed as elders.
Jesus gave very clear instructions about the way that an apostolic team should do its work (Luke 10). These are probably the most ignored words in the entire New Testament.
When they are sent out into a new area, Christians should seek God to find the right neighbourhood.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1).
Jesus appointed the seventy-two and sent (literally apostled) them out. They went everywhere he was going to go. Now that Jesus has gone and the Holy Spirit has come, apostles should go where the Holy Spirit is about to go. Being in Jerusalem is pointless, if the Holy Spirit is moving in Antioch.
Some neighbourhoods and nations are spiritually tougher than others. Jesus said,
When you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near' (Luke 10:10,11).
Apostles should not waste their efforts where they are not welcome. They should move on and find a place where the Holy Spirit is moving. Antioch is a good example of such a place, but apostles initially missed out on the opportunity (Acts 11:20-24).
Person of Peace
When they move to the chosen location, the apostles should try to establish contact with an influential person or “person of peace” in that place. Jesus commanded the seventy-two to stay in one home and not go from house to house.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you" (Luke 10:1,2,5-6).
He had said something very similar when he sent out the twelve.
Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you (Matt 10:11-13).
The Holy Spirit will lead the apostles to a “worthy person” or “person of peace”. This is someone who is open to the gospel and who has contact and influence with other people in the area. Sometimes that person might be a Christian with a burden for their neighbourhood. The new Church will usually meet in the house of the person of peace.
Paul often went to the local synagogue to identify the worthy person. This was how he and Barnabas started a Church in the house of Lydia.
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us (Acts 16:14,15).
Lydia was the person of peace and influence and the first convert in Philippi. Paul and Barnabas established a church in her house.
Sometimes the person of peace or influence will be a town official or key business person. Publius, the chief official of Malta welcomed Paul into his home (Acts 28:7). Lydia was a successful businesswoman. In Paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God (Acts 13:6,7). Winning a person in authority for Christ will open the whole neighbourhood or village up to the gospel.
The fact that he person is at peace may be a sign that the forces of evil are not strong in that locality. This will make it an ideal place to establish a spiritual stronghold.
Stay in a House
In most cultures, the apostles would go and live in the house of the person of peace. Jesus said,
Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house (Luke 10:7).
Jesus had said the same thing to the twelve when he sent them out.
Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town (Luke 9:4).
Paul and Barnabas went to stay with Lydia. Paul went to stay with Publius. Ideally an apostolic team would accept customary offers of hospitality and stay in the house of the person of peace.
In western cultures, staying with the person of peace or influence might be too intrusive. The apostle should rent or buy a house as close as possible to the person of influence, but they would still have their meetings in the home of the person of peace.
If the rest of the apostolic team are single, they could stay with the apostle in his house. If they are married, they should find houses close by.
The apostolic team will focus their chosen locality. They will build a spiritual stronghold and form a Christian community, in which they share and care for each other. This will be a tremendous witness to the people who live around them.
Healing the Sick
Once contact has been established with the person of peace, the apostles should look for opportunities to heal the sick. Jesus said,
When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you' (Luke 10:8,9).
An apostle has authority to heal the sick, so someone should be healed, when the apostolic team moves into the new neighbourhood. The healing will often crack the neighbourhood open.
At Malta, Paul prayed for Publius’s sick father and he was healed (Acts 28:8-10). The whole island came and were healed (many would have been saved). The proconsul in Paphos believed the Gospel, when he saw a sorcerer struck blind by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:8-12).
When people in the neighbourhood hear about the healing, they will be curious. Many others will come wanting to be healed. The apostles will take the opportunity to share the gospel and pray for them.
In most cultures, a crowd will gather. The apostle or the evangelist will preach the gospel and pray for the sick. God will confirm their preaching with signs and wonders (Mark 16:20). Jesus regularly used this method.
The apostolic team will disciple the new Christians, teaching them to live in obedience to Jesus. They will mould them together into a Church, based in the home of the person of peace. The new Church will become a community in which the life of Christ is visibly demonstrated. As households are converted, they will be drawn into this community. Seen from this perspective, becoming a Christian is becoming part of a Christian community.
Starting with the End in Mind
Apostles will start the new Church with the end in mind. The first priority of the apostolic team will be to get to the stage where they can appoint a team of elders from within the new Church to take over its leadership. Most of their energy will go into those whom they expect to become elders. The apostolic team will intensively disciple them and start to replicate their ministries in them. They will focus on developing a team containing the full range of ministries.
People with influence are important because they are likely to become leaders in the new Church. A person of peace is less likely to have a lot of personal problems that need to be sorted out before they can grow into leadership. A person with both influence and a peaceful spirit should have potential to become an elder.
The ideal is for the apostle to live with the person of peace. This would increase the intensity of their discipleship. They would see everything the apostle does and be able to join in all the apostle’s activities. Having an apostle, and perhaps a prophet, living in their house will also provide a high level of spiritual protection. These benefits will help the person of peace grow very fast.
The apostolic team will not be concerned about gathering a large number of new converts. They will be busy with those who have leadership potential, so they will not have time to disciple a large number of new converts. They will not want a lot of new converts until some of the first batch of local Christians is ready to disciple them.
A work is ‘unfinished” until local elders have been appointed (Tit 1:5). When a local eldership team is in place, it will be easier to bring people into the Church.
Apostles will not be interested in church buildings. Their focus will be on growing to the point where they are able to send out apostles again, so they will not waste time and resources on buildings. Sending out apostles and starting new Churches is more important than a place to meet. The members of the apostolic team will usually rent their houses, as they will want to be free to move on when the time is right.
Summary of the Apostolic Way
Jesus spelt out a very clear strategy, but implementing it will require a radical change in the mindset of the church. For a long time the goal has been to get people to come to the church to hear the gospel. The problem with this approach is that in many cultures, most non-Christians will not come into a church service.
Jesus never said we should get people to come; he always said the church should go to where the people are (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). The advantage of the New Testament way outlined here is that the Church goes to where the people live. They will see real hard-core Christianity being lived out in their living room or in the house next door.
A neighbourhood view of the process described above looks like this. Christian A moves into A Street. He is an elder with a pastoral gifting. He knew that P was a person of influence, so he rented the house next door to him. His friends R and E move into the same neighbourhood at the same time. R is quite prophetic and E has an evangelistic calling. They had served together as elders in the church that had sent them, so they trusted each other and understood each other’s gifting.
When P’s crippled daughter was healed, he and all his family decided to follow Jesus. Everyone in A Street saw the dramatic change in both P and his daughter. When they asked what had happened, he blurted out the entire story with the gospel sprinkled in between. Those living in the blue houses chose to become Christians. A watched over them to ensure that none got side tracked. He also worked hard on building relationships between them.
The faith stirred up following the healing of P’s daughter led to a couple of other people at the other end of the street being healed. E shared the gospel to many others living in the street, and some came to believe. He took responsibility for those living in the houses shaded in green and built relationships with them. R focussed on those living on his side of the street.
Within a few months, a new church had come into existence. Their activities are centred on P’s house.
A year later, the church has grown even further and was starting to expand into D Street. When a sick person living in D Street was healed, the interest in the gospel spread quickly.
Something else was happening as the church was expanding. A, E and R made sure that every new Christians was discipled into the Christian life. E looked after the green household and R looked after the red ones. P grew to maturity quickly, so was able to move into the role of an elder. He took over responsibility for the people in the blue houses. They had all got off to a good start and P knew them well, so the transition was not that hard. A was able to focus his attention on some of the new families in the turquoise houses out towards D Street.
The couple in the green house labelled B had also grown fast, so they were soon being acknowledged as elders too. They took over responsibility for the people in the green houses, so E could focus on the people in the orange houses. They had come to the Lord more recently, so they needed closer oversight. The church in A Street that started with three elders now has five (A, E, R, B, B).
The church is now led by four or five elders, each with a different gifting, but submitting to each other to ensure unity. Each elder would provide oversight for about five or six families. If all the families overseen by these elders lived close to each other in a local neighbourhood, they could function as a community.
Apostles get restless when things settle into normality. A year later, A is looking for a new challenge, so he moved his family to a house in B Street. Across the corner is a Christian family (P), who are friends with some of the Christians in A Street. P believes that many of the people in their neighbourhood are interested in the gospel, so A agreed to give him a hand to get things started. A had replicated his ministry in the couple in the Turquoise house labelled B. They were able to take responsibility for oversight of the Christians around them.
E rented his house to a family of new Christians who needed strong emotional support. He knew that the church in A Street would support this family. The couple in the orange house labelled E were acknowledged as being mature enough to act as elders, so they took responsibility for watching over the people living in the other orange houses. The original E had replicated his ministry in them. The church in A Street still had five elders in residence. Most of the Christians were doing well, so they did not need much pastoral help anyway.
Most of the Christian living in A Street carried on as normal. They will already have good relationships with the new elders, so they will be unaffected by the departure of the apostles. Their relationships with other friends in the church can continue to grow and develop. Those sent out will often return to their sending church for fellowship and encouragement, so the bonds will not be broken.
E moved down to B Street into a rented house over the road from A and close to P. R chose not to move out with A and E, but he committed to providing prophetic oversight over their new ministry in B Street. He was able to do that from a distance, because he had really good relationships with the apostolic team of A and E.
Within a few months several people in the B Street neighbourhood had become Christians in the lighter green, blue and red houses. Someone that P new well had been healed of cancer by prayer, so everyone who knew them had to sit up and take notice.
Christians will have an important role in restoring real community to in the places where we live. Every church should be attached to a particular locality. Ideally, there should be one church at each location and each location should have one church, functioning as the heart of a local community.
An effective church has started in the A Street neighbourhood, but something else that is important has happened. The members of the church know each other and trust each other. They have established good relationships with the people in the white houses that live around them. Each group of families has at least one person with some leadership skills that are available for service in the wider community. Because the families that belong to this church live close to each other in a local neighbourhood, they can function as a community.
The three Ds are people who have become deacons. The Christians in A Street will commit to providing social assistance to anyone in their neighbourhood who faces poverty, whether or not they are Christian. One couple in the Orange group chose to follow Jesus after they received help during a period of unemployment.
Times of Distress
We may be going into a time of trouble, distress and judgement. The world is getting increasingly violent and unstable. Christians should be prepared for troubled times. To cope with the disorderly world that is emerging, Christians will need to together in locality-based churches to provide support and protection for their communities.
If society were to collapse into chaos, W would have an monitor people coming into A street and call for help to deal with undesirables. If the situation got really bad, some of the people might move in with friends in A Street for a while to obtain protection. This may be the best of protection against theft or looting during a time of disruption.
Elders will establish relationships with other churches to share in support. Churches in the country will give food to give to churches in the cities.
Churches in the city will distribute surplus food to people in need.
Churches in the city with surplus wealth will supply other with needs.
When social disintegrates, state power will fall apart. Social welfare system will collapse and justice will fail. Christian churches will be needed to fill the gap.
The Wider Church View
Looking from the church perspective, we have something like the following diagram. Each Christian in A Street is overseen by a Christian elder. The three Bs are pastoral, R is prophetic, and E is evangelistic.
These five elders had strong relationships with each other. They draw all their people together in one body to be a church. Many of these people new each other well already. They elders work together to strengthen these relationships, so it looks like this.
The relationships between these people are as important as the people. They look something like this.
When the Apostles move out from A Street onto B Street, the churches look like the following.
The new church will grow quickly. There is an evangelist in the team, so there will be plenty of new converts. There is a very experienced pastor/teacher so they will grow quickly. The apostle will train one of the new converts to be a pastor/teacher. Once the new church has grown a little, that person will be appointed to a pastoral role.
Because the new church starts with a balanced apostolic team, it will grow very fast.
The Path of an Apostle
The path of an apostle can be described in another way. Each little pentagon signifies a church with a balanced ministry.
The original church that has sent out an apostolic team is signified by the blue pentagon. In this example the first church has sent an apostle who has started a new church. Once the new church reaches maturity, new elders are appointed and the apostolic team moves out again to start another church. The apostle replicates his church replicates his ministry and then moves on to repeat the process. The arrowheads represent new churches.
The first church has also trained up some new elders and sent out another apostolic team. (The most experienced will be sent out).
Several years later the original apostle has started a third church. The first church he planted has sent out another apostolic team. The original church has now sent out three apostolic teams.
A few years later, 6 new churches have been started as apostles have been commissioned and sent out. In each case, it is the best people who are sent out.
A few years later there are twenty-five churches. Multiplication is a very powerful principal as it produced exponential growth.
The Cutting Edge
The apostles represented by the purple dots have all started three new churches. The first apostle (red dot) has planted four. The important thing to note is that the best people are at the cutting edge. However, I am not just talking about seven people. Each dot represents and apostolic team, so there are at least 20 top people at the cutting edge. Moreover, there is a range of different ministries between them. This provides real protection and strength for the church as a whole. The strongest are on the battlefront with the world, where the going is the toughest. That is why the apostles are referred to as pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9). They are on the edge of the church holding it up.
Apostles exercise authority looking back.
The elders in each of the churches marked in yellow have a link with the first apostle. They will be either his spiritual children or spiritual grand children. Therefore they will respect him and acknowledge his authority. They were once submitted to him when he was an elder and they were new Christians, so they will still respect him, though they have become elders.
The authority of an apostle comes out of relationship. Paul demonstrated this type of authority in his letters. He was able to give direction to the churches because he had a relationship with them. He was the apostle who had established their church.
This authority is completely different from the worldly pyramid model. It does not depend on legal power or position. In contrast, the authority of a bishop comes with appointment to a position in a legal organisation
We should note that the The Twelve Apostles of Jesus were not a select group, with a special role; they were just the first of many apostles who were sent out to start new churches.
Every now and then one of the churches in a cluster will organise a celebration. All the Churches in that area will get together to praise and worship God. They will meeting in a public place (Acts 3:1). Some of the apostles may minister to them.
Some apostles will be sent out to other countries as missionaries. The same principles will apply when apostles go to another country.
The best people should be given the toughest tasks. Those sent into other cultures should be the best apostles.
Apostles should never be sent into a different culture alone. Sending an individual or couple into a different culture, puts them at tremendous spiritual risk.
An apostle should be sent out in a team that includes at least one past, one prophet and one evangelist. Otherwise the church in the new country will be unbalanced.
The apostolic team should have proved that they can plant a church in their own culture. Paul and Barnabas were only sent out after they had proved themselves in Antioch. To often missionaries first real experience of ministry is in a strange culture. This makes the task incredibly hard.
The apostolic team should have proved that they can work together in their own culture, before being sent to a different culture. Often missionaries from a number of different churches in different countries, who have never met, are put together in a mission field and expected to work together. They have to learn to work together, before they can minister effectively together. Sometimes they don't manage to learn to work together.
An apostolic team sent to another country should concentrate on establishing a church in a particular locality. Once they have trained up elders to take over, they should be sent out to start another church in a new area. They will start the process of multiplication described above. At some stage, they will take indigenous Christians with them to teach them how to be apostles. Very soon some of the indigenous Christian's should also be being sent out as apostles. Eventually, the indigenous church will be multiplying independently of the missionary apostles.
Locality-based apostles will be moving frequently, so they will find it difficult to hold down permanent employment. They will receive their financial support in three different ways. The common factor is strong relationships. See Local Finances.
There is a complete chapter on the Role of Apostles in the Church in the book called Being Church Where We Live. It is quite different from most modern teaching on this ministry. Apostles are not Bishops.