The word “apostle” is derived from the Greek word, apostolos, which
means messenger, ambassador, literally a “Sent One.” Although the
term is most often used to describe the Twelve Apostles, certain others,
including Paul and Barnabas, were also referred to by this term
according to God’s purposes at any given time.
Theirs was NOT a title; it was a function.
NOTE: Apostles were ALL Disciples but not all Disciples were
Apostles Disciple is derived from the Greek word, mathaytes, which
means learner, or student. Generally, apostles have always been chosen
from among the disciples (Matthew 10:1), therefore, there have always
been far fewer apostles than disciples.
By definition, an apostle of God is a messenger of God. Even Jesus
Himself is referred to in this way: “Therefore, holy brethren, who share
in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the APOSTLE and high priest of our
confession. He was faithful to Him Who appointed Him,” (Emphasis
mine, Hebrews 3:1-2 RSV).
Notice that Jesus was, Himself, a SENT ONE.
In John 20:21 (RSV), “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent Me, even so I SEND you,” (Emphasis mine, ).
Again, notice that Jesus SENT the disciples, thus making them SENT
True apostles were, and still are, traveling itinerant ministers. They
are those SENT by the Lord, and often by The Church* itself to plant
new Christian communities (House Churches; Simple Churches) and
strengthen the Body of Christ. Often, these Sent Ones are actually
called-upon, just as Paul was, in the vision he received of the man
from Macedonia. In other instances, they will go to a place where there
already exists some Believers in Jesus (Acts 16:11-15) who may need
training and encouragement. At other times, their mission may be to
establish The Church from scratch. My wife and I, for example, will be
leaving for a weekend in mid-May to do exactly this with a group in
California. Two other groups in Africa and two in Texas have made
similar requests this month. I, personally, know several ministers who
are criss-crossing the nation in an effort to build into the Body of Christ
in exactly this same manner. I believe God is raising up more and more
Itinerant Ministries such as this – people who willfully and obediently
leave the comforts of home and family to fulfill the Great Commission as
the Spirit leads. In fact, I will be attending an important meeting of such
Itinerant Ministers who will be gathering in California soon. If you are a
traveling minister who reads this and feels led to join us, write me for
information. Please intercede for this gathering of men and women.
Perhaps your current situation is not permitting you to travel…kids in
school, a demanding job, etc. There are often many reasons why we
Christians CAN’T do something but there is ALWAYS one REALLY
GOOD reason why we SHOULD. The Great Commission is one of
those reasons. I know a woman in Denton, Texas who is married with
four children. She has embraced an online ministry to Chinese students
who desire to improve their English skills via computer. The
government-sanctioned book they’re studying – believe it or not – is
“The Purpose-driven Life” by Rick Warren. With 80% of the Chinese
students becoming Christians as a result of their online participation,
this woman is conducting 4 classes each week from the comfort of her
home and is asking for help. Please let me know if you are interested.
*Please note that, when I use the word “Church”, it does not pertain to
a building or an institution that is officiated by a man called “pastor”
who preaches sermons. That’s not the Church as described in the New
Testament. The New Testament Church was (still is) simply a
community of believers that gathers under the Headship of Jesus Christ
– a family where every member participates in the meetings, develops
their gifts, is trained to function in ministry, taught about and developed
a “Kingdom mentality,” and participates in the decision-making process
as any family member would. They understood that they were children
of the same Father, a God who wasn’t seated on a cloud in Heaven, but
One who made His dwelling place WITHIN each of them. God says:
‘I will dwell in them, walk in them, and I will be their God’ (Leviticus
16:12; 2 Corinthians 6:16; ). ‘Know ye not that your bodies are the
temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?’ (I Corinthians 3:16). “Let
the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Colossians 3:16).
A true apostle will focus upon “enabling” The Church, building it from
the ground up if necessary. Their focus is first upon the foundation in
accordance with Ephesians 2:19-20, “…you are no longer foreigners
and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s
household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with
Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
True apostles help the Church to stand on its own two feet. Ideally, a
true apostle understands the early Church-style expression of Church
life as non-leaders before they were sent out to plant churches and
bring them to maturity. Sadly, I’ve never personally met a self-
proclaimed, “titled” apostle who plants churches that gather according
to New Testament guidelines.
On the other hand, I HAVE met individuals who can EASILY be
described as “apostles” because they are functioning as such but are
NOT recognized as such by the Church at large because they don’t find
it necessary to receive a title.
I wish I could say that I knew of a church that was planted by a so-
called apostle that is gathering under the Headship of Jesus Christ
without all the “churchy” manmade trappings, where the members
know one another intimately, love each other unconditionally, and are
experiencing a depth in Christ,Request prophetic word where decisions are made by the
community with no one “lording’ over another, where lives are being
transformed and where every-member functions without any
individual’s control. Such is the fruit of TRUE biblical, apostolic
ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:1-4).
Far too often, titled “apostles” in today’s so-called “apostolic movement”
are clinging to practices that are rooted in manmade and even pagan
tradition, things that have hindered the Headship of Jesus Christ and the
advancement of His Kingdom for over 1700 years.
Final thoughts on true apostles: An apostle can be a prophet and a
prophet can be an apostle. An apostle can be TRAINED to function as
an apostle, but only by exposure to other apostles. Many Christians can
and should become apostles, I believe, allowing themselves to serve
as additional “sent ones,” in other words.
A major hindrance to our understanding of true apostleship is that our
understanding is simply too grandiose. Christians have elevated the
office of “Pastor” to such significance that an apostle must be greater
After the apostle, what’s next?
Most of us would not acknowledge an apostle unless he came across
like a Paul or a Peter. Likewise, we will not accept a prophet unless he
measures up to Elijah. In the same way, when we think of, let’s say, an
evangelist, we think of Billy Graham and nothing less will do. Truth is,
many of the apostles in the New Testament were such ordinary people
(Barnabas, Andronicus, Junia), that very little was written about them.
If we were to stop looking for the spectacular, we would find there are
many people in our ranks who are called to be apostles, sent ones who
go about establishing churches and training and equipping as they are
needed. These “apostling” types may actually come from anywhere
within our ranks – from the one we refer to as “Pastor” to the least-likely
among us; one who is simply willing and whose life in Christ is
unbridled. Most Christian groups can’t see themselves functioning
without human leadership and, therefore, in our inability to rely solely
upon the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit Himself, the Church
at large fails to occupy new territory. Rather, she hunkers down within
the four walls and expects the lost to come to THEM. The “sent ones”
in your midst may not be in the same league as Paul or Elijah, but they
could exercise some extremely valid ministries and more rapidly
advance God’s Kingdom.