A foundational ministry function which has slowly been emerging (in public view) over the past decades is “apostolic” in nature. This “gift” is highly debated, polemical, and denied by a large portion of the Body of Christ. The apostolic function does not share an equal level of revelation or authority as the original 12 apostles of the Lamb; the canon of Scripture is closed. Yet the office of apostle continues today, because the work of building and founding (establishing) the church has not ended. I don’t believe there should be a special hierarchical status for this continuing gift (and if there were a hierarchy, the apostolic would be at the “bottom.”) Instead, I believe (and I’m not alone in this belief) there remain apostolic “builders” within the church who major in the following qualities:
1) Wield a “breakthrough” spiritual capacity not dissimilar to the iconoclasm of a genuine prophetic anointing. For example, when a church suffers from factions or unchallenged dysfunction, apostolic ministers are able to deliver a highly skilled, spiritual ‘chiropractic session’ for corporate transition—a spiritual reconfiguration that is hardly pastoral in nature.
2) Capacity to establish platforms and build up networks (connected churches, businesses, etc.) with global relevance and impact for highly specific reasons, be they marketplace ministries, ecclesiastical, educational, or leadership development centered in ethos.
3) Spiritual ability to “prepare the way,” a torchbearer, pioneering new roads of innovation and discovery which benefit the generations. For example, Amelia Earhart was a “pioneer” for women and in aviation in general.
4) Planting and watering emerging ministers. Able to leverage and draw on vastly diverse disciplines for the benefit and instruction of the apprentice.
5) A special capacity for “sharing in the mind of God,” receiving divine instruction in the form of blueprints for issues that affect the direction of the global Church.
6) “Five-fold” in the sense that they can carry prophetic, teaching, evangelistic, and pastoral gifting all at once alongside a primary apostolic anointing.
7) Persevere faithfully through long seasons of agonizing suffering and lack.
Apostles are spectacles of transformation on display before the Body. Paul said “for it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” (1 Corinthians 4:9) He has undergone legitimate redemptive suffering over a period of multiple decades. An apostle functioning fully in his calling, and one who is “new” to suffering, are an elephantine contradiction. Loss and intense struggle are a prerequisite for the calling!
Someone remarked on a cute baby picture: “Praise God! An apostle has been born!” Such a statement, although innocently made, represents the pinnacle of ignorance, given that apostles are not born naturally—they are forged in the fires, losses, and trials of desert wandering. They undergo a process of being mentored and strengthening, aided by a collection of Fathers. Through the sacrificial service of such godly men, an apostolic ministry slowly takes shape. If there are no fathers available, and there often aren’t, God will father the emerging minister Himself, at times allowing him to fall flat on his face, for the purpose of instruction and birthing fortitude within.
In an ecclesiastical context (a church setting), an apostle will function effectively as an iconoclast, always challenging the congregational body to face hurdles to attaining maturity, and illuminating hidden root causes which hinder corporate progress. He will often operate as a visionary, seeking after, and drawing from seemingly impossible goals that God has planted deep in an underground well of resources. Apostles are experts at drawing forth wisdom from the ‘unknown,’ and have a well-developed capacity for hearing directional ‘words’ then executing them in a “now” capacity. For the church at times he is a cheerleader, an administrator, a teacher, and other times, an incisive prophetic voice to command repentance. Overall, he is a skillful architect and wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:9-10, Amplified Bible).
Apostolic functions almost always are “hidden,” foundational functions in the sense that very few understand or need to know what is going on spiritually behind the scenes. But their hiddenness does not negate the authority and mandate intertwined with the function. Apostles are not interested in parading around and proclaiming their calling to anyone, so as to garner attention. They know nothing is completed entirely, but in many ways, their involvement in the work of ministry is only a commencement. They undergo decades of excruciating processing to “arrive” to the point where God releases them to a more public ministry, yet many never attain recognition during their lifetime. All the same they labor faithfully to proactively and corporately “set in motion” the purposes of God.
A great way to sum up apostolic ministry is with this quote below:
Don’t aspire to be like the gilded weather vane on top of a great building. However much it may glitter, however high it may be, it adds nothing to the firmness of the structure. Rather be like an old stone block hidden in the foundations, under the ground where no one can see you. Because of you, the house will not fall. -St. Jose Maria Escriva
An apostle charged with overseeing a network of 10 churches might think in terms of the (caring) sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He may have some pastoral concerns for the members, yet will usually emphasize the corrective measures that are needed for their maturity as any good father would. For a seasoned minister a church-split would cause heartache and a lingering sense of loss. Paul spoke of himself as a knowing and compassionate father. “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Much like the father who saw the prodigal from a long way off and ran to embrace him, (Luke 15:20) the apostolic church minister will have in his heart a fatherly vision for the congregation (Luke 15:21-22). Situations of disorder and fractures in the church may vary from case to case, but the proper biblical response would involve loving measures of restoration (if possible), and an attempt to reestablish and encourage growth.
In the case of Paul and Silas in building believers in the emergent church, the Scripture says “… they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.” (Acts 16:40) The last part of the verse indicates that Paul and Silas did not stick around forever to care for personal needs, but allowed the brothers and sisters to face life on their own (for their good).