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Part 5 - Dead or Alive: The role of the apostle today

by Josh Blake

The ongoing role of the apostle today ultimately affects the church reaching full maturity and the completion of the Great Commission. We have defined the term, surveyed varying stances of theologians, explored what Scripture has to say, and concluded that the gift of apostleship does still exist today. Using the working definition, apostles are those sent out by Jesus, or by the church, to accomplish a specific task after having developed as a faithful disciple-­‐maker in one’s own locale, we now turn to how this impacts the individual believer and the global church as it relates to the Great Commission.

The existence of the ongoing role of the apostle today has both personal and corporate implications. To begin with, I sense the call from God to serve as a missionary cross culturally. That said, I must look to the biblical example of missionaries – or more accurately apostles – to understand what my own development should consist of, as well as what the work itself entails. I must first be a faithful disciple-­‐maker locally, by sharing the Gospel and multiplying disciples, churches, and leaders, or at the very least, be involved on a team that is doing this. Then, I must be sent by the church to establish, equip, and release new churches in foreign contexts. The biblical example should drive my own objectives as well as the objectives of the global missions sending community.

Assuming the common end goal of seeing the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the burden for this responsibility has been given to the church. [1] In places where the church exists, there will inevitably be those who feel called by God to preach the Gospel and plant churches in previously un-­‐evangelized or unreached areas. When the aspiring “sent one” senses this call, he or she should seek God in prayer for clarity (following the example of Paul) and begin or continue sharing the Gospel with the lost toward the goal of starting churches in his or her own locale.

Paul is an example of this in his labor in Tarsus prior to coming to Antioch. [2] The ideal scenario would be for the aspiring “apostle” to grow in the characteristics of an elder-­‐qualified leader. Paul and Barnabas were not simply zealous to change the world or to travel. Instead, they both had proven character. Barnabas had been previously well known in the church in Jerusalem. He advocated for Paul, and thus, Paul was able to establish rapport at Antioch. Both of these men had fruit-­‐bearing ministries locally prior to being sent. 

Similarly, it is wise for aspiring apostles to partner within a local church to grow into the character of an elder, proclaim the gospel to the lost, disciple the lost and form new groups from lostness. Like Barnabas to Paul, a more experienced practitioner should mentor the aspiring apostle. In the case where there may not be a more experienced practitioner locally, the aspiring apostle should be sent with an experienced apostle. Although there is no indication that Timothy aspired to be a “sent one,” Paul saw his potential and picked him up for on the go mentoring and training. Timothy came out of the harvest in which Paul had previously started churches. One could conclude that Timothy would not have become an apostle without Paul’s mentorship. Most likely, these aspiring apostles would become future team leaders.

There is no biblical support for sending an aspiring apostle overseas without prior evidence of them being a faithful servant of the gospel locally. This is a factor to consider in why missionary sending has not resulted in new disciples and churches being multiplied in ways that are consistent with the Book of Acts. One exception to this would be the phenomena known as Church Planting Movements. [3] As Alan Hirsch has suggested, every great kingdom movement throughout history has comprised the five gifts as a whole. [4]

This has drastic implications on the current sending mechanisms within the church. Mass sending of individuals with no prior track record of either being a faithful, fruitful disciple or involved on a team like this, may prove to be ineffective. Churches currently sending missionaries, or hoping to do so, should look to Paul’s missionary journeys as a case study and road map. After each assignment is completed, Paul returns to Antioch to report to them what the Lord did among the Gentiles. This reflects Paul’s own willingness to submit to elders in the context of the local church. Thus, an apostolic team should be called by the Spirit, affirmed by the elders in fasting and prayer, sent out by the Spirit, given permission to pursue Gospel objectives in the field, and should return to report on the objectives for which they were sent. 

It is wise for the church to send the apostle out with a team, or to join a team, because there is no Biblical case for sending apostles alone (Luke 10, Acts 13 [HCSB]). The example of Antioch makes a compelling case for apostles being tested and proven at home (2 Corinthians 8:22 [HCSB]), sent out as team leaders with a team surrounding them, given permission to start churches and appoint elders in the unreached/unevangelized area to which they are sent, and expected to return home upon completing the assignment to report to the local church. If implemented, this might mean less people are sent, but this would also mean far more faithful and effective people are sent with a team of balanced spiritual gifts around them.

Scripture promises that with the Spirit He has “given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:13 [HCSB]). Alan Hirsch calls Ephesians 4:11-­‐13 the “almost  silver bullet.”55 Jesus has given all of these gifts – apostles, prophets, evangelists, prophets, and teachers -­‐ to the church and without the affirmation and permission to employ all of them the church will not reach maturity. 

There is sufficient evidence for the ongoing role of the apostle. Without the apostle, the church stagnates and even dies. Just as in the pages of Scripture, affirming and releasing the apostle brings awakening, renewal, and nothing short of movements of God locally and abroad. Releasing the apostle sharpens missiological practices globally and challenges some of the current ecclesiological paradigms in the west. May the church unite together in the echo of “Come Lord Jesus,” and may the global body affirm and release the gift of apostleship to serve in the capacity in which Jesus intended.

  1. Matthew 24:14, Matthew 28:18-­‐20, Revelation 5:9-­‐10, Revelation 7:9-­‐10.

  2. Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 67.

  3. Steve Addison, Pioneering Movements: leadership that multiplies disciples and churches, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 16.

  4. Alan Hirsch, Mike Breen, and Tim Catchim, The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st century Church, (San Francisco: Jossey-­‐Bass, 2012), Loc 1004.



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