Where have all the apostles gone? Let’s have more APEs Please.

If we're into the gifts of the Holy Spirit, why not also the ministries?

I believe in the fivefold ministry. God calls and uses us in many ways, with many ministries complimenting each other to build up the body of Christ. With a growing movement [some of the many references at bottom] I see especially the fivefold ministries described in Ephesians 4:11 as a power-dynamic for Church producing, Church strengthening and Church sustaining leadership. I see it as given by God for great synergy, balance and strength in the Church, and particularly in leadership.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
(Ephesians 4:11-12)

Let’s look at a couple of turning-points in the church’s history that have led to where we are today:

Constantine’s Marriage of Church and State

Emperor Constantine

Emperor Constantine

At the start of the 4th Century Christianity’s rapid growth threatened the existence of the Roman empire, so, in short, Constantine responded by subsuming this dangerous ‘atheistic cult‘ into the empire, making it the official state religion. Overnight every Roman citizen became supposedly Christian. Armies no longer fought for Mars, they now slaughtered in the name of Jesus, taxes funded Bishops obliging them to maintain the imperialist status quo and the church became a means of control with the message of Jesus’ kingdom which was “not of this world” scrambled into Latin and ritual.

As everyone in the expanding empire was supposedly Christian the ministries of apostleship, prophecy and evangelism (what I’m calling the APEs) were no longer needed, the armies did all that. All that was needed was pastors and teachers to maintain the status quo. Of course as apostleship, prophetic and evangelistic ministries are the ministries that particularly advance the church into new places, blunting or removing this spearhead was a great satanic plan.

First Reformation: The Word

John Wimber

Martin Luther, “father of the reformation”

In the first great reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries God took His word out of the hands of powerful religious oppressors and put it back into the hands of everyday men and women, through the costly translation and distribution of the bible and through the planting of new Protestant churches.

Church structures remained mostly the same as the Catholic model, and except for some notable exceptions not many were baptised in the Holy Spirit.

Second Reformation: The Spirit

John Wimber

John Wimber, central to the charismatic movement

In the 20th century reformation God did the same for gifts and ministry, anointing more than the formally ordained by pouring His Holy Spirit into the hearts of everyday men and women. The pentecostal/charismatic movement largely replaced the old false theology of cessationism of spiritual gifts with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Use of spiritual gifts became mainstream, as well as many new wineskins, new ways of doing Church.

Along with the understanding that “this power is for us all and for now” came a new understanding of ministry, of the functioning of the body of Christ. In particular the ministries of apostleship, prophecy and power evangelism that had been made obsolete by Constantine came back into focus.

Gifts But Not Ministries?

Despite theologically recognising the place of ministries in the church we have been oddly reticent to properly operate within a ministry understanding: recognising, training and empowering people for specific ministries. We have been charismatic when it comes to gifts but effectively cessationist when it comes to ministry.

Let me explain.

  • We call all our leaders pastors
  • We expect all leaders to pastor sheep, not just those who are gifted pastorally
  • When we do recognise apostleship we only recognise very few people with this ministry
  • When we talk about ministry we can’t get over using indirect language: “prophetic” instead of “prophet”, “apostolic” instead of “apostle” etc. It’s not about identity but is instead vague. It’s unconfident and wishy-washy.
  • Our unspoken church culture says people have to be everything and do everything:
    • Evangelists lose sheep they’ve brought to Jesus because they’re not shepherds
    • Shepherds feel guilty because they never get on with evangelism
    • Prophets are put into a pastoral mould and have a hard time loving their sheep, getting frustrated because they’re supposed to be agitating change
    • Apostles spend their time doing admin…

I understand we’ve been reticent to give people labels or to make claims about apostleship due to examples of grandiose unreality in some Christian scenes, unaccountable floaters and false “apostles” peddling air and selling their ministry. I understand our caution regarding fancy titles, but I don’t understand why we’ve let that define us. Hundreds more scandalous, dodgy and sadly true things can be said of the fringes and unchecked excesses of Pentecostalism, but that hasn’t made us abandon the gifts of the Spirit.

What If?

Maybe if we had the understanding and confidence to say to one another “you’re a prophet”, or “you’re not an evangelist, you’re a pastor”, or “you’re an apostle”, we’d start to find more of a confidence in our identity, in our strengths, to do the stuff of ministry.

Maybe if we said to one another “We believe God wants to make you into an apostle/ prophet/ evangelist/ shepherd/ teacher, why don’t you apprentice yourself to a more mature A/P/E/S/T then get on and do the stuff?” we’d see a lot of stuck situations move, a lot of frustrated people find their identity, fulfilment and joy again, and maybe we’d start to see the kind of health and fruit the Holy Spirit so desires to grow through us.

After all, according to Paul the natural result of functioning ministries is:

…grow[ing] up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:15-16)

That was my story last year, God showing me who I am and who I am not. It’s given me much more security, fulfilment and confidence in who I am in God, it’s released me.

Of course, ministries do change over time and we’ll probably operate in two or more main strengths. This isn’t just for ordained leaders either. This also isn’t about each person simply picking and choosing to do what’s most comfortable for them, this is something we work out together, affirm and train one another in and commission one another into.

So, let’s call some teachers or pastors, but let’s also call some evangelists, apostles, prophets, workers of miracles, hospitality-izers, healers, intercessors, organizers (aka administrators) and more. Let’s be confident in affirming one another’s identity, in specializing and in saying “this is who I am”, “this is who you are”.

It doesn’t have to be big-headed so long as we submit to one another under the real head of the body, Jesus Christ.

Who’s in?

 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

 

References

Tree climber, pancake eater, initiator. Trying to keep up with Jesus. Webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Army.

  • John Vagabond

    Yes, but…OK, then. In typically apostolic style, Paul compartmentalises ministry into watertight chambers and so do we, because we’ve been trained to see things in this way. Personally, I think that God reveals and exposes different attributes which are often subject to growth and change to fit a particular purpose. I don’t think it’s as simple as just learning a trade, apprenticed to a senior man. I am, for example, the most incompetent evangelist on the planet. People have found Christ, but only because they were desperate and all I had to do was open a door for them.

    • Aye. The whole thing is:
      1. A starting point. Callings and therefore ministries change over time.
      2. About positivity, not negativity. This is for us to be confident in eagerly pursuing our calling, rather than either feeling frustrated because the position we’re in doesn’t suit our real calling or saying something silly like “sorry, if you want to find Jesus you’ll have to ask one of our accredited evangelists”.

      Because we’re filled with the Holy Spirit who makes us like Jesus we’ll have a bit of every ministry potential in us, but by design we all have different strengths and weaknesses. This whole thing is saying “let’s be clear who’s what so we can develop and tessellate well”.

  • As long as we recognise the demanding qualifications; so apostles have ‘seen the Lord’, probably worked miracles, planted churches, etc; evangelists do miracles in converting many; prophets have the word confirmed by its effectiveness and/or fulfilment…
    Sure you grow into this, as Paul, Philip etc did, but it would be just as bad to give titles to those who aren’t there yet.
    Just a cautionary word. Otherwise yes the churches need the Apes!

    • If the qualifications stick in our throats we should let that challenge us, not deny our calling.

      Regarding the stringent qualifications of apostleship I’d distinguish between use of the term “the apostles” to signify “the twelve” and the ongoing, wider gift of apostleship. 1 Cor 15 describes how the ressurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve, 500+ brothers, James, all the apostles, then lastly (at that point) to Paul. Paul distinguishes between the term “the twelve” (which was clearly just a term, not a prescribed limitation on the possible number of apostles, as there were only eleven of them at that point) and “all the apostles”, which we can infer were not an identical group to “the twelve”.

      Where Paul points to his credentials as an apostle, particularly in seeing the risen Jesus, I think he’s justifying his inclusion with the twelve. Additionally there are other apostles listed in the NT such as Barnabas, Apollos, Timothy, Silas, Andronicus and Junia (last two contested, I know).

      Some notes I’ve gathered on the ministry of apostleship, the missional ministry, the most misunderstood and least demonstrated ministry: http://bit.ly/1GrEXwO

      Yes, this is to be more something of personal identity than titles. I know I’m a prophet in the church but I’d shudder at the thought of introducing myself as Prophet Aidan or putting that in my email signature!