Biblical Apostolic Ministry Today

One of the key places to study the ministry of the apostle today is found in the Book of Acts, chapter 13. In the next few blogs in this series I want to look closely at Acts 13:1-5 and see what we can learn about apostolic ministry and apostles today from the work of the Church in the city of Antioch.

Many sincere Christians would vehemently contend that apostolic ministry is no longer needed in the Church today, yet they are strong advocates of missionaries being sent out to work in areas that have not heard the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is somewhat amusing, when we remember that the Greek word for “apostle” (apostolos) means exactly the smae thing as the Latin word from which we derive the term “missionary” (missionari). Both words mean “ones who are sent,” and the Latin word simply came into prominence when Latin became the standard language of the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, I am not suggesting that all ‘missionaries’ are apostles. No more than I would suggest that all those who call themselves “apostles” are truly apostles. I am simply stating that when properly used these two words – missionary and apostle – should both refer to the work of those called to be apostles today and are not two separate ministries within the Church today. And, I am not suggesting in any ay that the work that most missionaries place their hands to today is “apostolic” because a lot of it is not due to the misunderstanding of what it really means to be a “missionary” in the Church today.

Once we can recognize the apostolic nature of genuine missionary work, we can begin to evaluate modern missions from the standpoint of what the Bible says about apostolic ministry. Without this foundational understanding, how could we ever come up with with a Biblical approach to missions? The Bible says nothing about “missionaries” who are not involved in apostolic ministry because the root of the word apostle is the same as the root word for missionary – truly they are one and the same when correctly understood.

So, point #1 is simply that true “missionaries” today must be doing apostolic work. If they are not then they are neither missionaries nor apostles.

I believe that it would be good to go back to the Greek biblical word for this ministry – apostle – and no longer use the church Latin word missionary. Then we can approach apostolic ministry with a correct biblical mindset and hopefully avoid all the religious trappings that come along with the term “missionary.”

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We are examining Acts 13:1-5… and the genuine apostolic ministry as seen in this passage. This is a good thing to do because there are many “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13) and “super apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11). So, we must book to the Scriptures to help us determine who the “real (or true) apostles” are (2 Corinthians 12:12). Yesterday we saw that true apostles do apostolic work. This may seem so very obvious but it needs to be stated because many who call themselves apostles are simply not doing what the Bible clearly states is the ministry of the apostle.

Today (#2) we want to state that the Church is the normal sending station from which true apostolic ministry is sent.

Acts 13:1 begins, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were…” Today many who have been called to be apostles have been trained by “mission agencies,” parachurch organizations, and seminaries. But, the actual sending is rightfully and biblically done by the Church. I believe that the time is coming when future apostles will find their training within the local church and mainly through mentoring relationships with active and mature apostles who have proven themselves over the long term and have a fruitful, long-term ministry. However, even though training is often currently received away from the local church – it is the local church that must be the sending agent for all those called to be apostles and work in apostolic ministry. It is the biblical pattern.

There are important reasons for this pattern. No one knows us bette than the folks back home. No one can better encourage is or offer prayer support. And no one is in a better position to gauge our spiritual condition and provide a source of accountability. It is important for apostles and apostolic team members not only to know that there is a place where they have been sent out from but also to know that is a place where they can go back to. Tragically, many apostles today don’t have this sense of security that only a local church can supply.

So, the local church should be the place where apostles are trained and equipped (Ephesians 4:11-15) as well as sent out from. This also means they should return to the sending church on a regular basis to give an account of their work as Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 14:27-28).

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As we continue to look at true apostolic ministry and the impact of this ministry on evangelism today we see in Acts 13 (the church in Antioch) our third major truth. Principle #3: Those being considered for membership on an apostolic team that is being formed to “go into all the world and make disciples” must first have proven themselves on the home front within the ministry of the local church. In my experience there are many who want to travel to a foreign nation to minister – I have requests almost weekly from people wanting to travel with me. However, most have not proven faithful and fruitful in ministry in their local church.

There is a saying I share a lot; “If it does not work at home, don’t export it.” In other words, if you are not winning the lost within the evangelistic ministry of the local church you attend – don’t even think about going overseas with an apostolic team to evangelize and plant churches. First be faithful and fruitful here on your home territory and then think about becoming a part of a team that is going overseas. If you can’t win the lost here – you will never win the lost there … wherever “there” is.

When Barnabas and Saul (Paul) were sent from the church in Antioch, they were already faithfully serving as part of the leadership team in that local church. As well, their ministry had been very fruitful during their stay in that city. In Acts 13:1 they are part of the team meeting together described as “certain prophets and teachers.” They didn’t get launched to the mission field after sitting lethargically on the back row of the church; they were already actively involved in ministry. And their ministry had been proven and was fruitful.

If believers do not have an effective ministry in their home church, why should we consider sending them as part of an apostolic team to minister in some distant land, where they will face inevitable barriers of language and culture? Although there are times when someone thrives in a foreign ministry even though he has had “no honor in his own country” (John 4:44), the general principle is that those we are faithful in little will be entrusted with more (Luke 16:10a).

If we are not fruitful in the part of the Kingdom where God has placed us, it may be just wishful thinking to expect great results is we are sent somewhere else. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, served for a time with a missions agency, screening new applicants for the foreign mission fields. He was amazed to discover that the vast majority of the people wanting to travel overseas to minister had never led anyone to Christ back home! The moral of the story is that it takes more than crossing the sea to make a person a valuable member of an apostolic missions team.

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We have been looking at valid apostolic ministry today. Many today who are calling themselves apostles are really not. Many today who are apostles are quietly doing the work of an apostle and are seldom seen or heard as they labor in their part of the vineyard and are not known nationally or internationally. We have seen that:
1> True apostles are actually doing apostolic work
2> The local church is the normal “sending unit” from which apostles and their apostolic teams are released and sent
3> Those considering working overseas must first have proven their call and ministry on the home front and in a local church

As we continue our look into Acts, chapter 13 we quickly see #4 – The call of an apostle should be received and confirmed in a place of prayer as the leadership team of the local church wait on The Lord in prayer with fasting.

Barnabas and Saul received their call in a prayer room, not a board room. They received the apostolic call as they and other leaders in Antioch “ministered to The Lord and fasted” (Acts 13:2a). This pattern – apostolic commissioning birthed in a place of prayer – occurs in a number of Scriptural episodes. Immediately before Jesus gave His disciples the commission in Matthew 28:16-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations,” the disciples were worshippingHim. Genuine worship of Jesus, “The Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38), will propel us to reach out to others with His love.

Isaiah, likewise, was commissioned during a mighty encounter with “The Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). He did not just “volunteer” for the army of salvation, but responded to a direct question from The Lord: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isaiah 6:8b). This is the same question God wants to ask us – but we have to get deep enough into His presence to hear His call. One of the greatest scandals among professing Charismatic, apostolic, prophetic, Pentecostal, intercessory, and other ‘deeper life’ Christian groups is that we claim to be exceptionally spiritual, but somehow we have often missed this cry from the heart of God.

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As we continue our look at the evangelist ministry of apostles today … we are in the midst of pulling truths out of Acts 13 and the Church in the city of Antioch. Today I want to briefly examine the truth that: “The ultimate sender of an apostle is not a church or a para-church organization not really any group of people – the sender is God Himself.”

As a result of their experience in God’s presence in Acts 13:1-4, Barnabas and Saul could go out in confidence that they had been “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” This is the key to all genuine apostolic ministry: not sending ourselves out or even being sent by the Church, but being sent by God. Paul later wrote to the Galatians about his call to apostolic ministry, “Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father …” (Galatians 1:1 NIV).

Many young people today are awaiting a call to ministry, but they are expecting to receive it from people. They think, ‘Maybe the pastor will recognize my gifts and ordain me to ministry.’ Or, ‘I sure hope that prophetic minister calls me out of the congregation and confirms my calling.’ Or, ‘Perhaps I should go to Bible School or seminary so my calling can be recognized.’

All these feelings are understandable and I see them and hear about them in every nation where I travel to minister. But, they miss the crucial point: Valid commissioning always comes from the presence of God. Yes, people should confirm our calling, but they are not the source of the calling. Before being confirmed through the prayers of others, we must first hear God’s voice in our personal prayer closet. When we hear His unmistakable voice and it is then confirmed by godly leaders around us, we can go our with an unshakable conviction that we have been sent by God and not just sent by man.

So, really, a person should know in their heart that they is called as an apostle and then the prophetic words from apostles and prophets are simply a confirmation, a reminder, and an encouragement to hold on to during tough times; a confirmation of something that is already being sensed and felt in the person’s heart. Regretfully, because many today do not take adequate time in God’s presence and often do not know how to accurately hear His voice – the prophetic word through an apostle or prophet is often the first indication a young person has that there is a call upon their life. In Paul’s life he had already hear from The Lord regarding his calling and then the Church in Antioch was simply confirming what he already knew (see Paul’s road to Damascus experience in Acts, chapter 9) and adding a few details. This, I believe, is how it should be for all those called into the five-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher (Ephesians 4:11).

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Apostles today are sent out – not only to evangelize and win the lost – but to plant new churches. When the Holy Spirit said in Acts 13:2 that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart “for the work to which I have called them,” the ‘work’ in view was clearly to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire.

There is a wonderful pattern here. Apostles are sent out from the church to do the work of planting new churches. The next step, shown in 1 Thessalonians 1:8 is even more exciting: The new church itself then becomes an apostolic base, sending out it own workers to do the work of establishing still more churches. Thus not only are disciples going into all the world and making more disciples – but churches are also reproducing themselves as they reach out with the Gospel and plant new churches as the Kingdom continues to expand.

The beautiful thing about this process is that it is designed to go on and on and on and on and on… Every church is supposed to be reproducing and sending qualified apostles and apostolic teams into the harvest field to plant new works. These new churches can, in turn, send out even more workers in the harvest field and so on. It is truly meant to be a process that never ends.

This pattern in the New Testament shows the high priority God places on evangelism and “missions.” It goes beyond seeing people come to salvation; it is greater than offering humanitarian aid where and when it is needed; it involves the planting of new churches – churches that will continue the task of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and discipling new converts – while also reaching out and planting another and then another church.

It is regretful today that we don’t see most churches reproducing and planting new churches. This is still a very effective way to evangelize just as it was in the Roman Empire during the time of Paul’s apostolic ministry. It is hoped that as apostolic ministry becomes more widely accepted and the influence of apostles increases in the life of the local church that we will see this process of multiplication begin once again and become a part of regular life within each and every local church.

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As we continue our look at biblical apostolic ministry today it is good to remind ourselves that apostolic ministry is not something that is done by ‘one anointed person.’ New Testament apostolic ministry was always done as a team – the minimum being two members but often the team was larger, especially in the ministry that The Lord gave to Paul. Of course, we remember that The Lord sent them out two-by-two. This was the standard throughout the New Testament times and still is today.

Paul and Barnabas were not sent out separately but as a team. Each of them had unique gifts. Paul excelled at teaching and leadership training, while Barnabas had extraordinary gifts of encouragement and exhortation (calling people closer to God). To this nucleus was added John Mark, who served as a helper to the team (Acts 13:5).

No matter how strong or gifted an apostle is, they will need help from others in order to succeed in establishing healthy new churches. Those with an apostolic anointing may be able to function in a variety of spiritual gifts, but no one can function well in every gift. Though Paul’s strong choleric personality could have driven him to a high degree of independence, no one was a stronger advocate of the full diversity and functioning of every member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 28-31).

Paul is especially pointed in warning those who would arrogantly claim to have no need for other members of the body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; not again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-22) The apostolic perspective is that only the entire Church can fulfill the entire commission of the Church.

The apostolic team sent from Antioch was not static but went through many changes. Eventually Paul had a team consisting of a wide variety of people from a wide variety of places: Silas , from Jerusalem (Acts 15:22); Timothy and Gaius. from Derbe (Acts 16:1-3;, 20:4); Titus and Sopater from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundas from Thessalonica; Tychicus and Trophimus, from Asia; Epaphroditus from Philippi; Epaphras from Colosse; Luke, and so on…

Paul’s team became a true “multinational force.” This is a good objective for modern-day apostolic teams that would once again turn the world upside down with the message of Christ’s Kingdom (Acts 17:6-7). In my ministry I work with nationals in each country where I work – young men with an apostolic call who are willing and able to join with me during my time in their nation. This is a tremendous help in what The Lord has called me to do but also an opportunity for them to receive good hands-on training and mentoring.

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As we continue to look at the ministry of an apostle from Acts 13 and the church at Antioch we see our 8th point – Apostles should be accountable to and occasionally report back to the sending church, giving an account for the conduct and fruitfulness of their ministries.

Not only were Paul and Barnabas SENT OUT from the church in Antioch, they also RETURNED there after each apostolic journey and gave a report to the church (see Acts 14:26-28; 15:30-35; 18:22-23). On certain occasions, they also had to give an account to other Christians, such as the leaders of the Jerusalem church: “And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. (Acts 15:4; see also Galatians 2:1-2)

Apostles ned a place where they can come “home.” This should be a place of love and affirmation, helping the apostles to be refreshed and retooled for their future journeys and ministries. However, the apostle should also be accountable and ready to give a report for their lifestyle, their teachings, and their fruitfulness.

Please understand that this is not always an easy task for the apostle. First, because they travel as much as they do it is sometimes difficult to keep strong relational ties within the home church or the sending church. Even when home between apostolic trips the apostle is often very occupied ministering locally, ministering to other nations by internet, researching and writing material, as well as simply resting and having some family time. Many have to hold down a ministry locally to enable them to earn a limited income with which to live and pay their bills. Time is thus a key factor.

As well, because most of the leaders and people within the local church have not experienced international cross-cultural ministry the apostle senses that they really do not understand all that he lives through when travelling and ministering and so is unwilling to burden others with his “lifestyle” and “ministry” concerns because they simply have not “been there.”

So, he feels alone and somewhat different and knows that he cannot be completely understood or supported in ways that would be most beneficial. As well, other apostles are often living at a distance and this does not allow him to find kindred fellowship easily and without more travel and more time away from home.

In spite of these difficulties and limitations it is still very important for apostles and their team members to remain firmly planted in the life of a local church and to be relationally accountable to the leaders and people of that church.

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As we continue our look at apostolic ministry from the book of Acts, chapter 13 we see that although it is best for each apostle to be sent out from a specific church, much can also be gained from the synergy of churches working together.

Many churches do not have adequate resources – manpower and money – to successfully send out apostolic teams to be planting new churches. But that does not mean they should just excuse themselves from any meaningful role in the much needed apostolic work in the Kingdom today. Every church should be involved in apostolic outreach in some way. It may not be possible for a small church to finance a whole team and all the related costs of a church plant, but if a number of local churches pool their resources, funding should never be a problem.

This sharing of resources is not a modern invention. Paul and the other first-century leaders often called upon the churches to help one another financially. When the prophet Agabus predicted a great famine in Acts 11:27-30, Paul and Barnabas collected money to assist the church in Jerusalem. The following passages from the Living Bible show Paul’s efforts to help the Corinthian Christians see beyond themselves and assist the wider body of Christ:

“God wants you to give what you have, not what you haven’t…Right now you have plenty and an help them; then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In this way, each will have as much as he needs.” (2 Corinthians 8:12b-14)

“Yes, God will give you much so that you can give away much, and when we take your gifts to those who need them they will break out into thanksgiving and praise to God for your help.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)

“…I ‘robbed’ other churches by taking what they sent me and using it up while I was with you so that I could serve you without cost. And when that was gone and I was getting hungry, I still didn’t ask you for anything, for the Christians from Macedonia brought me another gift…” (2 Corinthians 11:8)

Although I have spent much of my Christian life as part of independent, nondenominational churches, I am increasingly seeing the value of churches sharing manpower, money, and other resources in order to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom more effectively.

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As I draw this topic “Biblical Apostolic Ministry Today” to a close we need to look at one other distinctive that arises out of Paul’s ministry although not specifically the book of Acts. Apostles and apostolic teams need to recognize the sphere of ministry God has given to them.

No apostle has an unlimited sphere. The Lord puts limits on us for our own good. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 10:14-16: “For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labours, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.

Paul came to recognize that his ministry was primarily to the Gentiles, even as Peter and the Jerusalem apostles were mainly commissioned to reach the Jews (Galatians 2:8-9). Much frustration and friction on the “mission field” can be eliminated by focusing on our own sphere and recognizing the sphere of others. Although John Wesley boasted that “the world is my parish,” as a practical matter our sphere will normally be much more limited than that.

Understanding these ten principles of biblical apostolic ministry today can greatly enhance our effectiveness as apostles and apostolic people as well as sending churches. However, many apostles are experiencing incredible fruitfulness, even though one or more of these principles is not being observed. It’s better to have the fruit than the principles!

We must remember that the early apostles had not constructed a detailed science of “missions,” nor did they hold prospective apostolic team members to some kind of perfectionistic standard. Rather, they spent time in the Lord’s presence and were careful to obey His leading. They were gripped by the Lord’s heart to seek and save the lost, and they recognized that this could be done most effectively by planting new churches. Having seen God’s glory in the lives of individuals, churches, and then entire cities, the early apostolic ministers had a passion to see the whole earth filled with that glory. May we, too, be stirred with zeal to spread God’s message, His power and His presence, in the world’s harvest fields that are ripe and waiting.

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