The Church in the New Testament met in people’s homes. These house churches could be as small as a single family or as large as 60 to 70 people determined by the size of the home ad the enclosed yard. So, few churches would have had even one of the fivefold ministry gifts within the church assembly. Most the church members were recent converts from either the Jewish faith or paganism. They would be immature and untrained in the spiritual gifts that come when a person is baptized in the Holy Spirit.
So the question is: “How were the churches in the book of Acts able to operate in the fivefold ministry?” As you study the book of Acts you will discover that the key to the effective functioning of the local church and the ministry of the fivefold gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher was the establishment of what could be called “apostolic centers.” These were established in Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch and other places as well.
An apostolic center can be defined as: A beachhead for the gospel of the Kingdom in a territory. It is a regional resource center established to provide everything necessary for the planting of the seed of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the raising up of new expressions of the Church in the region -and focusing on having these churches grow and multiply.
The early church in the New Testament had no megachurches. It didn’t even have what we would call ‘moderate sized’ churches. It was made up of hundreds or even thousands of small house churches scattered across a region or a city. Individually each church had few resources. But these churches could operate in great power because they were not isolated nor alone. The churches in each region were linked into a central hub that gave them access to the fivefold ministry teams serving their area.
Whenever the Church expanded into a new area or a new culture, a new apostolic center was established. These apostolic centers were all different, but they each met a number of needs:
1> They were first and foremost teaching and training centers. Each apostolic center was begun by a visiting apostolic team devoting a year or more to the intensive teaching and training, equipping and mentoring, of disciples.
2> They were also sending centers. From an apostolic center, ministry teams were sent out to plant new the Gospel of the Kingdom, raise up new disciples, and to see Jesus use their efforts to build New Testament churches in the region thus penetrating new territory for the Kingdom – thus becoming a multiplying movement.
3> They would also travel trans-locally to strengthen already established churches.
4> Apostolic centers frequently served as gathering places for regional discussions and decision making conferences.
5> Regional apostolic centers also were places for celebrations. In the Old Testament God established the pattern that regional worship gatherings be held three times a year at the biblical feast days. The early church continued this practice well into the 4th century. Christians in small isolated house churches would come together at an apostolic center for larger celebrations as hundreds or even thousands gathered for encouragement, praise, and worship.
Through teaching, training, and the sending out of apostolic teams, apostolic centers acted as hubs where all the churches in the region could access the fivefold ministry gifts. As a result of being connected to an apostolic center, churches in the first century were never weak or isolated. They were apostolically linked. Even a small house church had access to the ministry of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. The result was that the church flourished.
Through apostolic centers every Christian in the region could be trained to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and do what Jesus did (Acts1:5, 8; John 14:12). Saints were equipped and spiritual gifts were released. Signs and wonders took place, and the territory was transformed by the power of the Gospel;.
Today, in many nations, God is raising up apostolic centers.