How Does an Apostolic Team Work?
This is a rather chunky article and I’d like to ask the reader upfront to read the other articles related to apostolic teams1 so I can avoid too much repetition here. I’m sure that only those who are exploring what an apostolic team means for themselves will wade through this article, but I do think it will be very helpful to you. I’d also like to recommend the article, How do we build teams … that multiply? as a follow-up to this one2.
Okay, by “apostolic team” we’re referring to a team of Ephesians 4:11 equipping gifts working together for Kingdom advance3. While there might be other assignments that such an apostolic team embarks upon I’m going to stick narrowly to the lessons we learn from Paul and his apostolic team. It is clear from the New Testament, Paul understood Kingdom advance and the unpacking of the Great Commission to mean the planting and serving of churches that became the beach-head for Kingdom exploits into their cities and provincial regions.
Continue reading if this subject if you’re exploring how an apostolic team works or if it captures your interest.
So, how does an apostolic team work?
First, let’s kick-off by answering this question, Why team?
Since community is the very essence of God’s nature; by extension, leadership and ministry must be fleshed out in the context of team. Even the Lone ranger had Tonto. The only one who flew solo was Superman! And we need to humbly acknowledge that we’re not Supermen! The day of one-man ministry is over … and should never have seen the light of day in the first place.
The answer to everything is found in (1) Jesus and (2) team. Yes, the order is crucial but don’t miss the importance of this statement. No matter what problem ambushes you; you will always find an answer, if you’re anchored in Him and armed with the resources of a team you trust.
Paul always worked in the context of a team of Ephesians 4:11 equipping gifts. Note the frequency of Luke’s word “they” and “them” (or “we” and “us” when he joined up with them) in reference to Paul’s team in Acts 13:1-6,13,14,43,51; 14:1,3,6,7,12,14,18, 21,23,24-28; 15:2,3,4,12,22,30,35,36-41; 16:1-4,6-10,11-13,15-17,20,25,32,34,40; 17:1,10,14,15,16; 18:1,2,5,18; 19:22,29; 20:4,6,13,15,17,18; 21:1-7,10,15ff).
Paul tells of a time when he arrived at Troas to, as always, “preach Christ’s gospel” (2 Corinthians 2:12). He reveals that “a door was opened to me by the Lord” (v. 12). Wow! Great! Go for it Paul … jump in! But no … he didn’t. He says, “I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find Titus my brother” (v. 13). So what did he do? “Taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia” (v. 13). Wow!
Even though a door of opportunity arose, Paul realized that all the ingredients for effective ministry were not present. Most notably, Titus had not arrived and thus “team” was not possible. Recognizing his own limitations and the inbuilt weakness with Titus’ absence – and obviously concerned for Titus himself – Paul chose not to exploit the door that opened at that stage. How many of us would have done what he did? How many of us are very happy to fly solo, enjoy making unilateral decisions and are smugly content to exist as an island in ourselves?
An apostolic team is a group of peers who are joined by the Spirit; who, through mutual respect and shared life, have discovered the beauty in each other and, while also accepting the limitations in each, work together to accomplish in God what they alone could never achieve. Secure in whom they are, each team member contributes and serves the others; willingly submitting to the leadership of the one best suited to lead in a given situation; humbly willing to lead should their gift-mix and experience require them to lead in the next.
When they work together in this way they tap into a synergy of grace. As a steel punch, rather than flabby fingers, they can then spearhead the Great Commission releasing a multiplication of life. We see this multiplication so clearly portrayed in Acts: believers were added to the church (2:47; 5:14), then the numbers of disciples were multiplying (6:7) and finally the churches themselves were multiplying (9:31)!
So what are the characteristics of an apostolic team and how do they work?
The apostolic goal
Paul wrote, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The Greek word (katartismos) for “equipping” means “to render fit, complete.” In classical Greek it described the setting of a bone during surgery, and as this passage describes the “body” (vv. 12-16), we can begin to appreciate the importance of the equipping gifts to the church. The equipping gifts enable believers to be established in Christ, correctly aligned in His Body, to fulfil their collective and individual destiny in advancing the Kingdom of God in the world.
A further study of the use of this word, and its corresponding nouns and verbs, reveals that it’s used of mending nets (Matthew 4:21), of training and mentoring (Luke 6:40), of being properly joined to other believers (1 Corinthians 1:10), of restoring someone who has fallen (Galatians 6:1), to describe supplying what is necessary (1 Thessalonians 3:10), to describe correct ordering and arranging (Hebrews 11:3) and of the active progress in spiritual maturity (Hebrews 13:21). This one word sums up the goal that the apostolic writers of the New Testament had for the early believers. It’s used more frequently in exhortations and prayers than any other word (see 2 Corinthians 13:9, 11 and 1 Peter 5:10 alongside the verses given above).
The key thought that we dare not miss here is this: the goal of the equipping gifts is to equip the believers “for the work of ministry”. It is a terrible cliché to stress, but the equipping gifts are to release the believers “for the work of ministry,” not do all the ministry themselves! They exist only to the degree that they equip believers to further God’s cause. The evaluation of the fruitfulness of equipping gifts is not, “How good was our message?” or “How anointed was our ministry?” or “How well did people receive us?” Rather we should be asking, “How fruitful have those we are equipping become?” “What impact are they having on the world around them?”
The apostolic attitude
The apostolic attitude is characterized in Jesus’ own example: “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Apostolic teams are teams of servant-leaders – and while we all give general consent to this concept, it’s not always modelled.
Jesus made it perfectly clear that our understanding of authority was to be very different from the world’s viewpoint. He said: “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 11:42, 43).
Sadly, truckloads of books on Christian leadership today play more into the hands of secular leadership than Biblical, servant-leadership. While we can learn wise principles to better lead and manage our businesses, the way we lead God’s people in the fulfilment of His Great Commission must be different. Jesus said: “it shall not be so among you”. We would never transfer our entrepreneurial and motivational business skills into how we parent our own nuclear families; and family, not business, is after all the backdrop of the church.
For example, one man defined leadership as the ability to motivate people to do what they would otherwise not themselves do. But if we build a philosophy of leadership on this premise we deviate from Biblical leadership and turn leadership into an art of manipulation and control. Yes, envisioning others is a part of servant-leadership, but it must find its part in the foundation of parental-love.
Too much of what passes as Biblical leadership are simply skills to get people to serve us and fulfil our vision. We may nod our head in agreement until we get whiplash but apostolic teams must model the servant-heart of Jesus and nurture this attitude in the churches they serve. The equipping gifts are servant ministries that serve believers in finding and fulfilling their destiny to serve the Master’s vision in serving the nations.
Think of James, the apostle and brother of Jesus. If anyone was tempted to name drop or bend to self-promotion, James was on top of the list. Yet he introduces himself in his letter in these terms: “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). In some circles today, if you don’t call a leader by his title, it’s viewed as disrespectful. From what dizzy heights we have crashed! Paul also referred to himself as a “bondservant” (Philippians 1:1) – a Greek word (doulos) meaning “slave” – and never appealed to the churches out of manipulation and control but from a father’s heart and servant’s attitude … even with the delinquent Corinthians!
In letters, like 2 Corinthians, Paul followed the example set by Jesus: emptying himself of his privileges, he made himself of “no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). For example, he honestly speaks of the hardships he was experiencing (2 Corinthians 1:5; 4:8-10; 11:23-30), he admits his feelings of inadequacy and his temptations (2 Corinthians 3:5; 12:7-10) and he refused to commend himself or compare himself with others (2 Corinthians 3:1-3; 10:12-17). And when you think that the purpose of this second letter to the Corinthians was a letter to appeal to them to submit to his apostolic authority and counsel, it speaks volumes of Paul’s commitment to servant-leadership. If ever he was tempted to abuse his authority and “pull-rank,” it would have been with this immature church in Corinth.
Biblical leadership derives its strength from a relational basis of service (servanthood) rather than a structural basis of position (control). It appeals to the internal conscience of others through relational integrity rather than imposing external conformity through hierarchical pressure.
The apostolic perspective
Jesus entrusted the Great Commission to apostles (Matthew 28:18-20). This mandate was to “make disciples of the nations” where the Greek word for “nations” (ethnos) means “people groups” not “countries”. While this certainly implied that individual people would become disciples of the Lord, their perspective was to be of a corporate nature. They were to aim at discipling “nations” – in a corporate sense.
In our world of proud individualism, we tend to forget that God thinks corporately. The Bible teaches us to reason “from the whole to the part;” in other words, even though the individual parts are unique, significant and precious, they only find their full meaning within the corporate whole. Most believers in the Western world are conditioned to read the epistles, for example, with an individualistic mindset: “How does this affect my life? What is in it for me?” In contrast, the original recipients of these letters had a corporate mindset and would ask: “How does this affect the community that I am a part of? What is my responsibility within my community now?” The equipping gifts must have this corporate perspective and are responsible for nurturing this corporate mindset.
For example, most people read Paul’s statement “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) as a reference to the indwelling Christ within the individual believer. But he uses “you” in the plural sense, referring to the church family (vv. 2-10, 21-26). He was teaching the Colossian church that Christ revealed through their oneness was the hope of glory! This foretaste unveiling God’s glorious nature is the fulfilment of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer: “that they may be one … that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). This, of course, has very different implications.
Paul explained that while each believer is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20), we are also collectively “the temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). And in Ephesians 4:13, he makes it clear what perspective the equipping gifts are to forge: “till we come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. The corporate Christ is their aim! Therefore, while this obviously implies the need to “present every man perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28), the perspective of the equipping gifts is on the corporate temple, the corporate vision, the corporate community, the corporate personality and the corporate “nation”.
The apostolic perspective includes “pulling down strongholds” of a corporate nature (2 Corinthians 10:4). While individuals may be bound by personal “strongholds” (unrenewed thinking), equipping teams also aim to dismantle the “strongholds” over entire people groupings or within a geographical locality. Jesus did just this in confronting a corporate stronghold of unbelief in Nazareth (see Mark 6:5, 6).
The apostolic heart
The effectiveness of the equipping gifts is not in homiletics, charismatic personality or entrepreneurial skill; rather it lies in two words: heart travail and impartation.
Paul bears his soul in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, for whom I labour in birth again until Christ is formed in you”. In Paul’s aim to see the corporate Christ “formed” in the Galatian churches, we catch a glimpse of his heart travail. The Greek word “labour” (odino) – “travail” [KJV] – means, “a birth pang, a labour pain,” and it’s used metaphorically of “spiritual birthing”. Travail is about carrying God’s heart for others. It is a heart consumed with the burden of the Lord for His purposes to be fulfilled. “For as soon as Zion was in labour [“travailed” – KJV], she gave birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
Travail is first and foremost a lifestyle, a continual response to the Spirit of God. A pregnant woman carries the burden of the child she is about to have with her continually. It is not something that she can turn on and off4. Rather it is something she eats, sleeps, dreams and lives! In Paul’s account of the trials he endured and the persecutions he suffered, he concludes with this bottom-line item: “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). This is apostolic travail: carrying God’s heart for the churches.
Travail is expressed in intercessory prayer. There is no other appropriate release for the response of travail than in the deep groaning of Spirit-led intercession: “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). It is only as we bow before the Throne of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to overshadow us, that He consummates His purposes. The maturity of the churches is, to a degree, dependent on the intercessory travail of the apostolic team to whom they are aligned! (See Ephesians 1:15-21; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:3-11 and Colossians 1:9-12).
Intercessory travail, accompanied with the preaching of the Gospel, is also crucial for the salvation of unbelievers. Catch the travailing heart of Paul released in intercessory prayer in his letter to the Romans: “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren … my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 9:2, 3; 10:1).
The second key to effectiveness is found in Romans 1:11, when Paul writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established”. The Greek word “impart” (metadidomi) means “to give a share of”. It is therefore distinct from the word “giving,” although it is sometimes used in the context of giving to indicate generosity (see Romans 12:8).
To “impart” refers to more than just giving something, it means to give of oneself! Thus, impartation is depositing into others the investment of God-given grace. For example: “Now Joshua … was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him” (Deuteronomy 34:9). And this is not just done through “hands on heads” in a prayer line; rather the act of Moses laying hands on Joshua was a public expression affirming their intentional father-son relationship process in God.
Paul said, “affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart [Greek: metadidomi] to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Impartation involves more than just the transfer of information, but the infusion of spiritual life: “we … impart … our own lives”. Apostolic travail for others leads to an apostolic impartation of the life of God to them. Paul explained: “So then death is working in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12).
Paul expresses his desire, in Romans 1:11, to “impart” spiritual gifts that the church may become “established” – meaning, “to fix, to make fast, to set”. In other words, while his letter would communicate truth to the church, he longed to be with them in person to impart truth. This is why reading through books or articles have value but do not carry the same weight as receiving the ministry in person of the author or writer. Grace and truth are more caught than taught.
We also need to learn how to “receive” the impartation of life through others (Matthew 10:41); to make a withdrawal on the grace investment God has given them. Casual attitudes, familiarity and passiveness all give rise to unbelief, which can limit the life God wants to impart. “Now [Jesus] could do no mighty work there … And He marvelled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5, 6). Notice that it does not say, “Jesus would not…” – it says, “[Jesus] could do no mighty work there”.
The apostolic burden
Everything about apostolic ministry involves heart-wrenching, soul-draining and body-sapping hard work. Paul speaks of “striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29). The Holy Spirit described Barnabas and Paul’s ministry as “the work” into which they were called (Acts 13:2).
This intensive nature of apostolic ministry is obvious in light of the fact that it involves consistent confrontational warfare against the kingdom of darkness – Paul wrote, “we wrestle” (Ephesians 6:12), not “we box” – and the continual response to the brooding of the Holy Spirit – this is not a vocation where we clock “in” and “out”. And finally, it involves the demanding privilege of serving people; and who hasn’t thought at some point or other that “church” would be wonderful if it were not for people!
The great news is that despite this sacrificial lifestyle required, there is the corresponding “grace” to match: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly … yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul was saying, “I am … therefore I do” rather than “I do … therefore I am”. There is life and death between those two statements. Finding this crucial balance between sacrificial apostolic work and doing it in the grace of God, is surely the most important aspect to lifelong fruitfulness.
In his heart-wrenching second letter to the Corinthians, Paul often alludes to the grace of God. For example, “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). Paul’s total dependence on God’s grace gave him complete confidence in God’s ability!
Later in the same letter, he records the words of Jesus; “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). In response to this amazing grace, Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Notice, he does not say, “when I am weak, God is strong”. There is no doubt about the fact that God is strong all the time, but notice that he says: “then I am strong”. Paul knew how to walk in “weakness”, a Greek word (astheneia) not referring to unrighteousness or flawed character but to the humble realization of one’s inability to produce results. Paul found his true strength in the grace of God to be fruitful and effective.
The apostolic strategy
Paul wrote: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thin that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).
In this passage, Paul reveals his personal reliance on God to enable him to fulfil “The Bottom Line” in his apostolic calling. While his phrase “weapons of our warfare” immediately reminds us of the need to be properly armed (Ephesians 6:11-18); it refers to more than just wearing the spiritual “armour” (Greek: panoplia).
The word for “weapons” (Greek: hoplon) here means “instruments,” referring to more than just the weapons themselves but specifically, how they are used. And the word “warfare” (Greek: strateia) is the word from which we derive the word “strategy”. Written from Paul, who as an apostle is referring to his “weapons of warfare,” the phrase is best understood as “apostolic strategies”. Through these apostolic strategies, Paul had the fire-power to fulfil the Lord’s command “to open [people’s] eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18). We need spiritual weapons to win a spiritual war!
Let us investigate the strategy of Paul’s apostolic team and some of the implications.
Step 1 >
An apostolic team, led by the Spirit, penetrated a new people group.
Firstly, Paul’s emphasis was on a region rather than city; he targeted provinces not just towns5. For example, note the stress of Paul’s thrust on the provincial region of Macedonia rather than directly to the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica or Berea (Acts 16: 9-12; 17:1, 10; c. 18:5; 19:22). Of course, his team penetrated these cities but it was in order to impact the entire region. Once they planted churches into a few strategic cities they moved on expecting the established churches to advance God’s Kingdom in the region with apostolic life. Paul explained to the believers in Rome: “no longer having a place in these parts … when I journey to Spain, I shall come to you” (Romans 15:23, 24). Considering his apostolic work complete in Achaia, Paul planned to move onto Spain via Rome. Thus, the first point here is that apostolic teams are to discern the region they sense God is ear-marking.
Secondly, apostolic teams then target a city within the region under scope. This then included intercession (Acts 16:13, 16), spiritual warfare (Acts 16:18), preaching the Gospel (Acts 17:3) and a demonstration of God’s power (Acts 19:11, 12) for spiritual breakthrough into a new city and into the heavenly realm of the area.
Paul’s general strategy was to start in the Jewish synagogue of a city, “as his custom was” (Acts 17:2). Every city, in which they worked, except two, had a synagogue (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4; 19:8). Unless Paul received specific leading to penetrate a city that did not have a synagogue, he aimed at cities with a Jewish community and started his ministry there. Why? Because … the synagogue was the place where the most receptive group of Gentiles could be found.
Remember Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9), and as a wise fisher of men, he discerned the area of greatest receptivity among the Gentile people. Yes, there were occasions that under the Holy Spirit’s leadership he would start in the market place, so to speak, with a demonstration of God’s healing power (see Acts 14:8-18, where there is no historical evidence of a synagogue in Lystra). But Paul’s general God-given strategy was to target synagogues because a receptive group of Gentiles, known as God-fearers, were present at every synagogue.
In Jewish communities outside Palestine, the Jews met in a synagogue, as the Temple was too far for regular worship. In a synagogue community there were three groupings of people: (1) the Jews: “the chosen ones;” (2) the Proselytes: Gentiles who were converted to Judaism by undergoing the ceremonial baptism, circumcision and separation from all their Gentile roots; and (3) the God-fearers: Gentiles who, though attracted to the Jewish faith, were not prepared to submit to the legalistic requirements of being a proselyte.
Although the God-fearers were classed as inferior and not allowed to participate in the full synagogue worship experience, the Jews encouraged partial involvement in the hope that they would convert to Judaism. Paul in his quest to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, and hopefully win his Jewish brothers to Christ, always began in a synagogue to reach the God-fearers, who would willingly respond to the message of justification by faith rather than the law. The God-fearers were the most receptive grouping of Gentiles and Paul had found his “son of peace” (Luke 10:6).
The result of Paul’s preaching in a synagogue was always: (1) the majority of the Jews persecuted him, (2) a few Jews and proselytes believed, but (3) the God-fearers responded whole-heartedly! In fact, Paul would often end up spending a good period of time grounding them in the faith; establishing the nucleus of a church. It was at this point that Paul would take these new converts into a house to continue the work (see for example, Acts 18:7).
The principle for us is simple yet powerful. The apostolic team must seek God’s direction in discerning the “access point” into the people group that God calls them to penetrate. Part of this involves discovering the “son of peace,” the person or person(s) open to the messenger and his message and who thus becomes the “door-opener” into the people group. Once the “access point” and “son of peace” are found, the apostolic team can establish a beach-head of new converts, the nucleus of a new church.
It is important to clarify that Jesus used the phrase “son of peace” not “man of peace” (Luke 10:6) – the Greek word (uihos) means, “calf, foal or child” stressing the openness and teach-ability of the recipient to the messenger and his message.
Thirdly, the apostolic team needs to then discern the finger-prints of God in the people group they target. “When [Barnabas] came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23).
Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to discern whether the activity among the Gentiles at Antioch was a genuine work of God. He could so easily have brought his Jewish package with him and missed what the Lord was doing. He could so easily have brought Jerusalem’s bias with him and cut across the unique work God was doing in Antioch. Instead, Barnabas was led by the Lord to discern the “grace of God” upon them … to witness the fresh work of God in their setting and encourage them to “continue with the Lord”.
We are not called to be exporters of religion, promoting “our salvation package,” polluted with our cultural bent or coloured with what might be “working” in our situation. Rather, as “God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9), we are to cooperate with Him in first discerning His finger-print in a people group; His redemptive trigger in the “nations” we serve.
When Paul wrote his epistles, he addressed them: “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). Thus, we do not take the church to Japan; we go to discover the church of Japan. When we first honour what God has already done, then we can open people’s eyes to the redeeming hand of God; who has always been at work among them. We can be confident that His eyes are scanning “the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
There are two crucial benefits in discerning the grace of God in the people we are called to reach. First, it removes the natural prejudices that would otherwise develop; biases that would cause us to patronize and belittle the very people we have come to serve. But when we show genuine respect for them, which love and integrity demand, we also establish credibility in the minds of those we are called to reach. Second, it enables us to identify the redemptive trigger(s) in people. Discerning the finger-print of God on each people group and pulling the trigger is so much more rewarding than attempting to squeeze them into our packaged version.
Then – and only then – can we discern the strongholds, and the prevailing demonic principalities that exploit them, within the people we are called to reach. Discerning the spiritual forces that hold people captive is crucial if we are going to release the Kingdom rule of God. We can trust for the Spirit’s aid and resources as we seek His counsel (1 Corinthians 12:10) … and maintain a purity of perspective, by first discerning the grace of God on the people.
Finally, the apostolic team then seeks to infiltrate the people group, multiplying the missional vision. Traditionally planting a church means renting a public meeting place and inviting people to attend a service of some sort. This “come to us” or attractional approach fosters a pastoral congregational model. In contrast an apostolic team’s approach is infiltrational, seeking to incarnate the Gospel within the relational community the “son of peace” already has.
Purity to this Kingdom-seed is vital if we’re going to see Kingdom fruit. It is at this point that so many empire-building initiatives are spawned. While corporate meetings for training/empowering or worship/intercession are without question valuable they ought to be distinctly secondary and subservient to the staple-diet of communal life and discipleship.
Step 2 >
The apostolic team entrenched the new converts in the foundations of Christ: nurturing a new self-governing community6.
It is vital that new converts become (1) “rooted and built up in Him” thus “established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7) and (2) “knit together in love” as a spiritual family thereby experiencing “full assurance” (Colossians 2:2). Through Paul’s apostolic team the foundation of Christ was so deeply laid within the new converts that no external spiritual life support systems were necessary; in fact, appointing parent-elders often only took place months later.
The new family thrived on the priesthood and brotherhood of all believers without becoming dependent on leadership or any program or event. They were “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10) able to experience and enjoy His Divine Life. The early churches were called the “Way” because they had indeed discovered a brand new way to live (Acts 9:2).
Paul was never merely satisfied with “decisions made” or even just individual disciples born as the fruit of his labours. He always set out to birth a community of disciples … always. For obvious reasons, a new community provides the necessary ingredients for new believers to grow but since Paul’s vision was for the Kingdom come, he knew that only a community alive (in the Spirit), in love (with one another) and active (in mission) could represent Christ to their world.
As we seek “simplicity” in achieving the goal of self-governing communities (2 Corinthians 11:2, 3), we have asked: What is the least, yet adequate apostolic investment required from apostolic teams to “commend [the church and its elder(s)] to the Lord” (Acts 14:23)? What did Paul invest into a new work that would allow him to move off within a short period of time confident that they would stand strong? As we plant, we’re determined to avoid the cumbersome and expensive “clutter” that usually comes with what is so often considered “church”.
We have discerned four key ingredients to develop a self-governing community that we refer to as apostolic essentials.
The (Essential) Creed
This refers to the way we use the Word of God and how we prioritise the Great Commandment. The issue here is this: Do we make people dependent on gifted teachers and Bible study resources aiming at knowledge accumulation? Or do we help them to depend on the Holy Spirit aiming at transformation of life, attitude and character?
The (Participatory) Lord’s Supper
This refers to the way we minister to God and how we view the priesthood of all believers. The issue here is this: Do we make people dependent on gifted musicians and packaged song-lists aiming at a “praise and worship” time? Or do we help them to depend on the Holy Spirit aiming at responsive, participation God-wards with an expectation that He will minister to and through them?
The (Inclusive) Family
This refers to the way we build community and how we grasp the brotherhood of all believers. The issue here is this: Do we make people dependent on the initiative and directive of leadership, expecting leaders to meet their needs? Or do we help them to depend on the Holy Spirit as they take a sense of ownership of the community, asking God to lead and empower their service in meeting other’s needs?
The (Shared) Baptism
This refers to the way we engage with mission and implement the Great Commission. The issue here is this: Do we make people dependent on leaders, formulae and programmes to “do outreach”? Or do we help them to depend on the Holy Spirit to live as missionaries in their sphere of influence and to contribute as part of a missional community?
I trust it’s clear that the way we approach these four aspects can either be used, often unintentionally, to make people dependent on leaders, gifts and tools or dependent on Christ and His mission.
Step 3 >
The apostolic team affirms and appoints parent-elders to parent (shepherd) the new community.
Paul’s team identified elders in the churches and appointed them as “overseers” of the new fledgling flock (Acts 14:21-23). It is the heartbeat of apostolic teams to seek out, identify and release parents-elders at which point their hands-on role becomes redundant. This is the second and final transfer of Christ’s authority from the apostolic team to parent-leaders7. Only when this occurs, does the apostolic team “commend [the church and its elder(s)] to the Lord” (Acts 14:23).
In order to achieve the goal of establishing a self-governing community that can stand complete in Christ together without artificial props and man-made programs; an understanding of, what we call, the apostolic process is vital. Every group goes through three stages in achieving the goal of becoming self-governing. This is true for planting a new work from scratch or starting a new home church from within a network of home churches. The group’s initial leader – who might be an apostolic leader or a person supported by an apostolic team – needs to have a working knowledge of these milestones to facilitate the group’s growth from a loosely connected group of individuals into a covenant family.
A Kingdom community evolves through three phases similar to how an individual grows spiritually in Hebrew thinking (see 1 John 2:12-14):
Stage 1 Self-Existing <Child>
Stage 2 Self-Functioning <Son>
Stage 3 Self-Governing <Father>
Let’s explore these stages of community growth. In stage one, the group is “self-existing”; that is, the group has come together naturally, by the Spirit. People want to be together – they are not obliged to do so. The apostolic worker’s (or original church planter) role is initially both missional leadership and ministry while the group members’ main focus is on relationship-building. This certainly doesn’t mean they cannot minister but a depth of ministry will flow out of trust built through relationships.
In stage two, the group becomes “self-functioning”; that is, off the back of deepening relationships, the people in the group start to feel they want to contribute meaningfully to the group’s mission and life. At this point the apostolic worker and/or original church planter’s role is simply missional leadership, championing a Kingdom missional base. The group’s members become meaningful participants serving and ministering as they feel led to.
In stage three, the group becomes “self-governing”; that is, the group understands covenant family relationships, recognizing and affirming those who are emerging as spiritual parents in the midst. Mutual respect and appreciation begets a genuine community able to stand alone. The apostolic worker and/or original church planter’s hands-on role becomes redundant – redefining this relationship is important.
The apostolic worker may continue to serve the self-governing church as a ‘grand-parent’ to the group (a parent to the parents) in mutual apostolic alignment. The original church planter may or may not emerge into one of the spiritual parents in the group. The simple church is self-sustaining and capable of reproducing itself as a self-governing church under the Headship of Jesus.
Step 4 >
The apostolic team continues to serve the elders and their church communities as partners of Christ’s apostolic vision.
On many occasions Paul returned to minister to the churches (Acts 14:22; 20:7-11) or to the elders themselves (Acts 20:17-38). He also sent members of his apostolic team to do so (Philippians 2:19-30). An apostolic team’s role is to both plant and serve churches; parenting the parent-elders – it also includes ensuring integrity of doctrine, character and values, and inspiring the churches to advance the Kingdom of God in their localities. Importantly, the apostolic team’s authority is relationally invited not hierarchically imposed.
The relational health between apostolic teams and the elders they appoint is vital as spiritual families align to apostolic vision for Kingdom advance. Not only does it place the vital checks-and-balance in the Kingdom equation – both parent-elders and apostolic teams mutually serve and support each other in integral relationships – but self-governing simple church communities stay vitally connected to an apostolic (missional), Kingdom thrust.
Most of the New Testament churches revealed in the Book of Acts existed as a network of simple churches fathered by parent-elders who enjoyed a corporate life overseen by these elders. While apostolic teams regularly served into these churches they did not seem to have resident apostolic ministry in their cities.
However in a few significant cities – such as Antioch (Acts 13) and Ephesus (Acts 19) – it seems apostolic teams set up a base from which to spearhead an apostolic thrust into the region. For example, in Ephesus Paul himself was resident for over two years (Acts 19:10). After this he ensured that Timothy based himself there (1 Timothy 1:3). Church history tells us that after Timothy’s time, John resided in Ephesus. The impact throughout the provincial region of Asia Minor was remarkable.
Luke records that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:10), a statement indicating that the region was apostolically penetrated leaving the churches established to accomplish the “mop-up-operation”. Furthermore, history reveals that in just fifty years, the false worship of the goddess Diana – the prevailing principality – dried up completely throughout Asia Minor in the wake of the Kingdom of God!
When an apostolic team sets up an apostolic base in a key city, the focus is to first penetrate the region and secondly to resource the elders and their simple churches. In this sense, the apostolic team ought to operate wisely in their regional work as a sodality respecting the modality of the church8; ensuring they don’t undermine the leadership established in the city or infringe on the ministry of the church itself.
The apostolic spirit
The Holy Spirit is a missional (apostolic) Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus to seek and save the lost (Luke 4:18; 19:10). One of the foremost prophetic pictures anticipating the New Covenant is the river of God’s Presence flowing from His Temple to the nations (Ezekiel 47:1-12). God’s Spirit is a missional Spirit.
Think about Jesus’ famous words in Acts 1:8. In short, He told the disciples they weren’t ready yet and needed to wait for the baptism with the Spirit. We often equate this outpouring with an endowment of power evidenced by miracles and gifts of the Spirit. While it without question includes these manifestations of the Spirit, the disciples had already cast out demons, healed the sick and seen manifestations of God’s power. Why didn’t they say, “Wait for power? Been there, done that!”
The baptism with the Spirit is not just a wonderful step into the resources of the Spirit-filled life; it is a baptism into the missional Spirit of God, an impartation of God’s heart for the nations. We miss the point if we only see this baptism as an enabling to be more charismatic in the four walls of the church. Jesus made it clear that this baptism would thrust them forcefully throughout their locality and to “the ends of the earth”. They certainly needed the power of God for this mission impossible!
For most who come to saving faith in Christ, the first thing they are grafted into is, in a word, “meetings;” where they are taught the ‘policies and procedures’ of how our group works. Of course, this might not be our intention and yes, these meetings may include passionate worship, great teaching and heart-felt fellowship but essentially they’re “born again” into the practices (or disciplines) of the church. And while these practices are certainly valid in themselves, engaging in these as the first order of business in a new believer’s life quickly diffuses the missional Spirit. Instead, new believers should be grafted into – first and foremost – the mission of Christ. They ought to be baptised into the missional Spirit, enlarged by His heart for the nations and empowered with His resources to cooperate with His mission in the world!
Meetings – and there will be plenty of them in any believer’s life – should only be a part of facilitating a believer’s union with Christ and His mission. Whether this mission is outworked in a commissioning into one’s own neighbourhood, or a specific niche in society or a foreign nation on the other side of the world, this is without question, God’s prerogative. Embracing the nature of God’s missional Holy Spirit is where our responsibility lies.
To be clear: God’s people are to be an (apostolic) missional people whether we cross the seas or cross our streets, go around the globe or go around the block.
An apostolic mindset
Jesus entrusted the Great Commission to apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28). The Book of Acts records the apostles spearheading this Great Commission to the nations, and the epistles are instructions written to the church by apostles. We cannot fully appreciate a Kingdom-shaped church until we grasp an apostolic mindset of the New Testament.
Again, this is not to over-emphasize the gift or function of apostle to the neglect of the other equipping gifts or the contribution of all believers. However, my hope is that this article may help to profile the role of the apostle and apostolic teams; something that the modern church at large has tended to under-value or even deny.
Yet as Paul said: “Receive [them] in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem” (Philippians 2:29).
1 Suggested links:
What is apostolic alignment? <A Few Good Fathers>
What is an apostle? <Definitely Maybe>
How does authority work? <Like Father, Like Son>
2 How do we build teams … that multiply? <A Dream Team>
3 In a true sense, the team will be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and Biblical as all the Ephesian 4:11 equipping gifts work together but it is a real mouthful to mention all five dimensions each time – hence, the use of the shortened phrase “apostolic team” instead. It seems to me that the Nicene Creed uses this phrase in the same way.
And for the record, an apostolic team may of course include women too. Although I use the pronoun “he” throughout this article, I certainly believe God gives women Ephesians 4:11 equipping gifts. Paul refers to “Junia” a woman apostle in Romans 16:7.
4 My research on this subject comes from a reliable source: my wife!
5 How we apply this today may vary as the size of first century cities were tiny compared to mega-cities today. For example, Melbourne – the city I live in – has over 3.5 million people to date and is really a mega-city of thirty-one metropolitan cities. In my opinion, Melbourne is a region in itself and we work as an apostolic team in various cities within Melbourne as led by the Lord.
6 Let me explain the prefix “self-” in this phrase. In the same way that a believer should exercise “self-control” as a fruit of the Spirit’s work in his life (Galatians 5:22, 23); that is, he ought to submit himself to the leading of the Spirit, by “self-governing” we mean a spiritual family ought to submit themselves to the Presidency of the Spirit in their collective midst.
7 How does authority work? <Like Father, Like Son>
8 A “modality” refers to the life and ministry of a self-governing community fathered by elders, the parent-leaders. A “sodality” refers to extra-local apostolic work of spearheading the Kingdom of God distinct from the essential life and ministry of the church.