Let’s start to look at the work of an apostle within the fivefold ministry team of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (Ephesians 4:11). An apostle is a new gift on the scenes. The ministry of the evangelist, pastor, and teacher are widely accepted. The ministry of the prophet is often misunderstood but the role of a prophet and that prophets exist still today is now fairly widely received. However, the Holy Spirit has just begun, in the last 15 to 20 years, to reintroduce the role and ministry of the apostle to the Church in general. Some have accepted that there are modern day apostles and did so decades ago. And, slowly, over the last decade or more, this ministry has received further recognition. In many ways it is still misunderstood – but, at least, it is being recognized and discussed more than ever before.
Some say that the gift of the ministry of the apostle ended many centuries ago. This view mistakenly assumes that the role of the apostle was limited to the original twelve apostles chosen by Jesus. A careful reading of the New Testament will show otherwise. let’s take a look at the evidence.
First of all, Jesus Christ is the chief apostle. “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” (Hebrews 3:1-2)
The first apostles were prepared and sent out personally by Jesus. They were the twelve apostles who were unique eye-witnesses of the risen Lord and His ascension. (Acts 1:15, 4:33, Revelation 21:14) They had been trained by Jesus for the task and were chosen by Jesus to represent Him.
Then there were several post-ascension apostles – Andronicus, Junia, James, Barnabas, Titus, Epaphroditus, Timothy, Silvans, Apollos, Titus, Paul, to name a few. (Romans 16:7; Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 4:6, 9; 1 Timothy 1:1)
These apostles were trained and sent out by the Church. In other words, they studied and repeated what the first apostles taught. Jesus predicted that this would happen: He told the first twelve apostles, “…if they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20b).
Indeed, the second line of apostles had successfully repeated and obeyed what the first apostles taught. These apostles realized their unique authority as Jesus’ representatives. They had followed the first apostles’ teachings which were identical to Jesus’ teachings. When Paul visited the brothers in Galatia, they welcomed him “as if [he] were Christ Jesus Himself.” (Galatians 4:14)
Tracing the steps of the apostles in the New Testament gives modern day apostles a biblical pattern to follow so as to carry out their ministries. The first twelve apostles seem to have worked out of Jerusalem for several years, devoting their time to evangelizing the lost and teaching the new believers and occasionally taking short apostolic trips to plant the Gospel in other places and to visit churches that were being established.
By the time that Paul arrived in Jerusalem, however, the first apostles seem to have left with only James remaining. It seems apparent that after the first initial years in Jerusalem, most of the first apostles moved around as itinerate leaders, stopping to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and organize churches and then continuing on to new locations.
Paul spent some time in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. He instructed Timothy to “stay in Ephesus so that [he] might command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3). After that job was finished Paul told him to “do your best to get here before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21). Similarly, Titus was left in Crete to “straighten out what was left unfinished and to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5). After this was completed, Titus joined Paul at Nicopolis” (Titus 3:12).
Apostles have always been foundation layers (Ephesians 2:20). They are spiritual fathers to the churches and young leaders. They are parenting-type figures who have the ability to attract and birth other leaders. They are master builders who have a strong passion to see the Church built on the right foundations. They are servants of the Church, who are sent out by the Church to evangelize and to plant new churches, thus having an itinerant ministry as they often exercise general leadership and spiritual oversight over a group of churches that relate to them.