There are three key elements of any apostolic venture

by Brian Sauder

Article 1 in the Apostolic Series

The Bible history we have of the expansion of the early church is called The Acts of the Apostles. We commonly shorten this to ‘Acts,’ but it could just as easily be referred to as “Apostles.” Why is the name never used in that way? Or why is the full name not commonly used?

If we think about it, using the name “Acts,” separate from the apostles, does not make sense. Unfortunately, this reduction of the full name for this book of the Bible is just the tip of the iceberg when considering the many ways apostles are being ignored or marginalized by the church today and have been throughout history. The truth is, we desperately need the acts of the apostles today in the church on many levels, including recognizable, dynamic apostolic leaders. They should be seen in Africa, Asia, South America, the Western world, and in every nation. Apostles are God’s design to advance the Kingdom today. Fortunately, they are emerging.

What is the big deal? Let’s note that the term “apostle” is a military term. Strong’s Concordance contains definitions of the word “apostle” relating to a military context: “of the sending of a fleet” and “of consuls with an army, an expedition.” Jesus and New Testament authors were living under the Roman Empire. Their choice of words reflected the backdrop of their reality. When Paul said Jesus was “the apostle we confess” in Hebrews 3:1, he saw beyond the religious context to draw from the culture of the day. Speaking of being an apostle gives a picture of a whole fleet leaving Rome to conquer foreign lands.

In John 17:18, Jesus said, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” The Greek word used here for “sent” is apostello. This is again a military term. In other words, Jesus was telling His Father that even as He had made Jesus an apostle, so Jesus was making these disciples apostles to the world. When apostles are missing from the church, the feature of forcefully—albeit not violently—advancing the Kingdom of God that was so strong in the New Testament church is also missing.

What happened that caused the recognition of apostles and their role to disappear from the church for thousands of years? As we read the Bible, we see that apostles were central to the growth and expansion of the church in the New Testament, but something happened. Certainly, Scripture did not change. Or was it pride that caused many theologians to embrace dispensational theology that relegates apostles to the first century? Is the church so mature now that it no longer needs apostles and the power they bring to the church? How could we (the church) think that we could do it without them (apostles)?

There are too many reasons to examine in great detail, but we will start by considering a few of them.

The church drifted from its mission. The decline of apostolic ministry occurred as the unscriptural role of bishops was embraced by the church. Subsequently, apostles have been called bishops and other non-biblical names. King James translators misused the word “bishop” to describe “church overseers.” This is a bad translation, which was no doubt influenced by the fact that at the time bishops were a part of the medieval historical scene in England and Europe. Perhaps insecure leaders were in need of titles. Out of this, bad theology was developed. In fact, we can note that many Bible colleges today designate Timothy and Titus as the “pastoral epistles,” when in fact they were written from the apostle Paul to Timothy and Titus, who were apostles! The list goes on.

What Does the Church Look Like without Apostles?

In a local church, it is common for most of the activity to be geared toward providing a safe environment to nurture the flock of God. Without apostles, churches can too often become maintenance oriented. Apostles thrive on development and expansion—what we might call “shaking the city” as we observe over and over again in The Acts of the Apostles. A church in maintenance mode, however, lacks the apostolic thrust to develop and expand, and ultimately has little or no impact on the city.

Don’t misunderstand this as a criticism of the church. It is more a statement of reality. Pastors focus on gathering and nurturing the saints, and teachers focus on maturing the saints in Bible doctrine and practice. In a general picture of the church, there is an emphasis on maintaining what we have received. Maintenance is not a bad thing, but in terms of stewarding the assignment Jesus entrusted to the church, maintenance alone won’t meet the expectations. Many local churches do not have the influence of apostles, prophets, or evangelists to remind them that they need to keep moving forward and outward, and to equip them to do just that.

Our modern church titles and positions do not correspond very well to the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. Many individuals are wrongly called pastors when they are actually anointed as apostles, teachers, or evangelists. Still other ministry gifts are hidden behind titles of superintendent, bishop, youth director, assistant pastor, missionary, Bible-study leader, trustee, and so on. The church has developed these titles through tradition rather than based on the Word of God. These are not evil or wrong, but the church will not function at full capacity until we ensure that a leader’s title accurately reflects his or her anointing.

Large segments of the modern church have been unable to accept the fact that at least twenty-two apostles are named in the New Testament. Modern-day prophets have been ignored as well, even though they are mentioned over 150 times. It is not enough to accept that there are apostles and prophets on the mission field somewhere. If we do not expect to have apostles in our midst, recognize them, and even affirm them, we will not see them in the church. If we do see them, they will be present on a limited basis and may not be effective. Every nation, every region, and every movement of God needs apostles and prophets—along with all the other giftings represented in the fivefold ministry—to equip every believer to do the work of ministry.

What Does the Church Look Like with Apostles?

Apostles provide vision for Kingdom expansion. Perhaps the most dramatic advantage of apostolic leadership is the vision that they infuse into the church to expand. Apostles live to pioneer new works. As pioneers, they communicate a holy dissatisfaction with current accomplishments and desire to initiate new assignments from the Lord. Paul willingly went into unknown territory to bring the gospel and establish churches. The influence of an apostle brings emphasis on empowering the saints and releasing them into the harvest.

Apostles are also builders. Because they want to build well, they often focus on creating a strong foundation. They want churches and ministries to last. For this reason, in spite of being so passionate about expansion, apostles lay strong doctrinal foundations. For example, Barnabas and Paul spent their first year at Antioch teaching, laying a spiritual foundation in the believers (Acts 11:25-26). The teaching that took place throughout that year became the foundation which allowed the church in Antioch to become one of the greatest church-planting centers of all time.

Spiritual children who are raised up by apostles become leaders. Paul fathered Timothy and many other believers who became leaders in the church (1Timothy 1:2). Apostolic leaders produce new leaders and remain connected to them in missional relationships. One of the great apostolic scenes of the Bible is Paul’s final fatherly meeting with the elders of Ephesus.

Apostles bring authority and depth in prayer. Paul’s ability to address the spiritual realms is documented in the book of Acts. We see evidence of this in Acts 19:6, Acts 16:25-34, and Acts 14:8-10. In Ephesians, we see Paul training the church of Ephesus in spiritual warfare. Apostolic leadership carries with it a proven ability to take authority in the spiritual realm through the Holy Spirit. This brings a deep impartation to those who are being trained in supernatural living.

Why Apostles Are God’s Design to Advance the Kingdom

Apostles feel personally responsible to complete the commission given by Jesus Christ to the church. They sometimes act as if no one else is helping with the Great Commission. That is the commitment they own. Under the influence of apostles, the local church becomes a training and sending base to fulfill the Great Commission.

Apostles carry a passion for what God is doing globally and desire to see how the local church can participate in God’s work around the world. They help to connect the local people to the greater move of God. They understand and communicate the value of becoming part of a vision that moves beyond local influence. When apostolic leaders are surrounded by apostolic teams, they then have the base of operations they need to activate and release the saints to impact cities and regions, touching every sphere of society.

Three Key Elements

There are three key elements of any apostolic venture: a sender, a sent one, and a mission.

We see this in the dialogue between God and Moses when Moses received his calling to lead the children of Israel out of slavery. Moses is a type of apostle in the Old Testament. He knew that when he went to the people to explain his mission, they would have but one question: “Who sent you?” That is a question that relates to one’s apostolic authority. He knew that people would need to understand who sent him and where he had been sent.

This is the first of a series of articles in which we will learn about apostles and their function in the church today. Look forward to many examples and greater clarity about apostles and their role in the church. The next article will focus on modern-day apostles.


Caron, Alain. Apostolic Centers. Vancouver: Arsenal Press, 2014.
Eberle, Harold. The Complete Wineskin: Restructuring the Church for the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Yakama: Winepress Publishing, 1997.
Sapp, Roger. The Last Apostles on Earth. Chicago: Companion Press, 1995.