Understanding How Apostles Minister in Different Spheres
By C. Peter Wagner
Foundational or governmental gifts:
The basic text is Ephesians 4:11: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." I like to call these foundational or governmental gifts or offices. Others call them "fivefold ministry" or "ascension gifts." Now that these offices are being recognized, it is important to develop agreed-upon protocol as to how they should relate to each other positively. I have worked on apostles/prophets in Apostles and Prophets: The Foundation of the Church (Regal Books) and pastors/prophets in Pastors & Prophets: Protocol for Healthy Churches. I now see that some work needs to be done on apostles/apostles because it is becoming clear that there are many different kinds of apostles who minister in many different spheres.
Definition of apostle:
An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the growth and maturity of the church.
What I have excluded in this definition:
There are three biblical characteristics of apostles which some include in their definition of apostle, but which I have chosen not to include: (1) signs and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12), (2) seeing Jesus personally (1 Cor. 9:1), and (3) planting churches (1 Cor. 3:10). My reason for this is that I do not understand these three qualities to be non-negotiables. They characterize many, perhaps most, apostles. But if a given individual lacks the anointing for one or more of them, this, in my opinion, would not exclude that individual from being a legitimate apostle.
Before considering the different ways that apostles minister in different spheres, it is important to recognize that many apostles are "hyphenated apostles." They are frequently hyphenated with other government offices, such as Apostle-Prophet or Pastor-Apostle or Apostle-Evangelist, etc. They can also be hyphenated within the different ministry categories pertaining to apostles, such as horizontal apostle-vertical apostle or convening apostle-mobilizing apostle, etc.
The title "Apostle":
There continues to be discussion as to the necessity of actually applying the title "apostle" to individuals in the church today. Some argue that functioning as an apostle is enough without needing to use the title. My conclusion is the contrary. While I concede that the function is the most essential consideration, I also believe that there is increased power in the use of the title "apostle." The function, in my opinion, will be more anointed and more of a service to the church if the title is used.
Jesus Himself was the one who coined the new term "apostle," (Luke 6:13) (It does not appear in the Old Testament.), and I suspect that He had a distinct purpose for doing it. Later on, both Paul and Peter introduced
themselves in their epistles with the title "apostle." Today we freely use the titles "pastor" or "reverend" or "bishop" or "evangelist" or "doctor" (i.e., teacher), and there seems to be little reason, other than a possible fear
of change, to exclude the title "apostle" as a designation for contemporary church leaders.
It is also important to recognize that "apostle" occurs in one of the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 (see 1 Cor.
12:28). The gift and its accompanying office are significant enough to be declared, along with prophets, as the foundation of the church (see Eph. 2:20).
The adjective alone is not enough:
Some advocates of the apostolic movement have chosen to use the adjective "apostolic" in their writings to the exclusion of the noun "apostle." They speak of "apostolic leadership" or "apostolic churches" or "apostolic ministry" with the implication that by doing so they are describing apostles. There are at least two reasons for this.
Some use the adjective and not the noun because they do not believe that the gift and office of apostle are operative in the church today. A case in point is the American Assemblies of God. An official public denominational position statement was issued by the General Presbytery of the General Council of the Assemblies of God on August 11, 2000 under the title, "Endtime Revival—Spirit-Led and Spirit-Controlled: A Response Paper to Resolution 16." Under a subsection, "Deviant Teachings Disapproved," one of what is referred to as a departure from scripture which threatens the life and stability of local churches is "The problematic teaching that present-day offices of apostles and prophets should govern church ministries at all levels." This teaching is attributed to "persons with an independent spirit and an exaggerated estimate of their importance to the kingdom of God." Such persons are "wrongly interpreting 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 2:20 and 4:11." This paper argues that "The leadership of the local church, according to the Pastoral Epistles, is in the hands of elders/presbyters and deacons. There is no indication in these last writings of continuing offices of apostles and prophets, though the ministry functions still continue." The section ends by arguing for the adjective, not the noun: "We affirm that there are, and ought to be, apostolic- and prophetic-type ministries in the Church, without individuals being identified as filling such an office."
Just as a footnote, David Cartledge of the Australian Assemblies of God, in his book Apostolic Revolution (Paraclete Institute), attributes this position of the American Assemblies of God to "Pentecostal Cessationists!" (p.
Another reason given for this by those who do believe that the office of apostle is operational today is that the adjective could provide more of an entry level approach for others who might not yet be ready to recognize the office implied by the noun "apostle." This was the case with the first book on the apostolic movement published in Australia, Out There! The Church of the 21st Century, edited by Ben Gray. However, as John Eckhardt points out in his book Leadershift, every church should be an apostolic church, every believer should be apostolic, every teacher should be apostolic, every evangelist should be apostolic, and so on. If this is the case, which I agree with, then the adjective "apostolic" is not specific enough to substitute for "apostle" as a noun.
Among practicing apostles, I have found a relatively low level of practical understanding of apostolic spheres. All apostles recognize that they have divine authority, but not all are aware that this authority is only activated within a divinely-appointed sphere. Once apostles get outside of their sphere, they have no more authority than any other member of the body of Christ. Paul relates spheres to authority in 2 Cor. 10. In verse 8 he "boasts" of his authority, leading to verses 13-16 in which he deals with spheres. He says, for example, "We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you" (2 Cor. 10:13). This reflects Paul's remarkable statement in 1 Cor. 9:2: "If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you."
Toward a useful terminology.
The current apostolic movement is so new, and it is developing at such a dizzying speed, that a considerable amount of confusion has arisen. Who is an apostle? Are all apostles the same? How do bona fide apostles minister? I believe that the answers to these and other similar questions will emerge through a phenomenological approach. This is the methodology that I have used to arrive at a continually-developing set of conclusions. Terminology that accurately describes current apostolic phenomena will greatly help dispel the confusion. Here is a terminology that seems to me to be helpful, at least at this moment:
- Ecclesiastical apostles. Apostles who are given authority over a sphere which includes a number of churches, presumably in an apostolic network headed up by the apostle.
- Functional apostles. Apostles who are given authority over those who have an ongoing ministry in a certain specific sphere of service which has defined boundaries of participation.
- Apostolic Team Members.
Apostles whose apostolic ministry functions in conjunction with an apostle who is seen as the leader of a team of one or more other peer-level vertical apostles. They may be assigned specific spheres by the leading apostle. These are more than administrators or assistants or armor-bearers.
- Congregational apostles. Apostles functioning as senior pastors of dynamic, growing churches of more than 700-800.
Apostles who have authority to call together on a regular basis peer-level leaders who minister in a defined field.
Ambassadorial apostles. Apostles who have itinerant, frequently international, ministries of catalyzing and nurturing apostolic movements on a broad scale.
Mobilizing apostles. Apostles who have the authority to take leadership in bringing together qualified leaders in the body of Christ for a specific cause or project.
Territorial apostles. Apostles who have been given authority for leading a certain segment of the body of Christ in a given territorial sphere such as a city or state.
It seems clear that some marketplace apostles would be vertical (perhaps within a large company) while others would be horizontal (bringing together peer-level marketplace apostles). The more we work with marketplace apostles, the more clarity will come in due time.
Please note: Dr.Wagner functions as a horizontal apostle within a sphere of recognized apostles. As such, Dr.Wagner does not provide apostolic 'covering' or accountability as a vertical apostle.