According to the Analytical Greek Lexicon, apostolos (or ἀπόστολος) is one sent as a messenger or agent, the bearer of a commission, messenger; an apostle.
What is an apostle?
When people intent on carrying out the mission of God talk about the need for “apostolic” people, what do they mean? Who are they looking for?
Well, I can tell you what they don’t mean. They don’t mean someone who is going to set themselves up as the authoritative leader of a new form of Christianity. That would be a cult. And they don’t mean some kind of reincarnation of one of the first twelve disciples of Jesus, the capital “A” Apostles*. That would just be weird.
No, they’re looking for “little ‘a’ apostles” - people with a specific ability given by the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 4) for the pioneering of God’s mission into new places. Apostolic people are “sent ones,” people God has equipped to boldly go with the good news of Jesus across barriers, be they geographic, cultural, social, or economic.
The Church has been greatly shaped and expanded by apostolic people throughout its history. We are who we are today because of apostles empowered by God to take the gospel deeper and wider in the world. With all the challenges and complexities facing the Church today, our need for gifted apostolic people - messengers of the gospel who will not stop at the point of resistance - has never been greater.
So how do we recognize this special group of people that the Church needs?
Luckily for us, there are several tell-tale signs. Here is our super starter list of five ways to recognize an apostolic person. Maybe it describes someone you know. Maybe it describes you.
You know you’re apostolic when:
1. What you see of the Church - a local body or the global movement - just isn’t enough.
People with apostolic gifting are wired to have a vision beyond what currently exists in the Church. This vision pushes them to take new spiritual ground, either within the existing Church or in places where the Church doesn’t currently have a transformative presence.
Having apostolic gifting doesn’t mean you’re a griper, complainer, or constant critic of the work of others. It simply means you are not interested in maintaining the status quo, either inside or outside of the Church.
CRM President Sam Metcalf describes this characteristic as a “holy discontent,” which can manifest as rebelliousness when not held well. However, given by God’s Spirit and under his influence, this can be a sanctified drive that moves the work of God forward where he wants it to go.
2. You run toward new adventures and embrace risk.
If you’re apostolic, new and innovative things grab your interest. They don’t scare you but rather excite you. Going new places, facing new challenges, and trying new things gets you up in the morning.
Your friends may jokingly call you Rambo or Bear Grylls. Apostolic people are gifted by God’s spirit to face challenges and cross barriers. So where other people shrink back, an apostle says, “Bring it on!” People who aren’t cut from this fabric may perceive the apostolic drive to be on the move as a lack of contentment, immaturity, or the need for an adrenaline rush. In contrast, the apostle may puzzle at how others find fulfillment settling down in one place.
An apostle is an entrepreneur with an irrepressible desire to pioneer. If you’ve felt pressure by the world at large to curb your adventurous spirit and need for the new, but you can’t imagine a life of playing it safe and coloring inside the lines, you may just be living with a strong dose of apostolic calling.
3. You think big.
Trying to keep an apostolic person roped in to one entity, be it a local church or established ministry, is like trying to tie a bird to its nest and expecting it to thrive.
If you’re an apostle, you probably think bigger and broader than one place or one group of people. Dreaming about whole cultures coming to know Jesus and whole injustices being set right are the bread and butter that sustain apostolically gifted individuals. Within smaller structures, like local churches, apostles will usually look for ways to expand the work of the ministry in new ways and into new places.
If you’re an apostle, small or focused work, even though necessary and valuable, just doesn’t cut it for you. This isn’t to say your work is “greater” or more important, but that it is often broader and more expansive than the vision that motivates others.
4. You have a surprising ability to influence and lead.
Apostolic gifting is sometimes described as a gift of leadership. As carriers of large vision, apostles have great capacity to draw other people into the work of God. The Spirit gives apostles a special ability to forge new initiatives and move the work of God forward in unprecedented ways, and an apostle’s passionate belief in their cause often influences others to follow.
If you have an apostolic gifting, you may find that other leaders in the Church have great respect for your contributions and listen to what you have to say. Your impact through leadership roles may have brought things in your community to a whole new level. It can even be challenging for church leaders to release an apostle into new ventures outside their realm (e.g. world missions) because of the value their leadership capacity has for the local congregation.
5. You don’t take no for an answer.
Apostles can be guilty of thinking their task is the most important task in the world. Tunnel vision and blinders can be part of the package. While often frustrating to people with a different Kingdom focus, this passion uniquely serves the pioneering work of God because it keeps the apostle persevering when circumstances would signal anyone else to stop.
Pushing the limits of what is possible and believing in the vision despite myriad reasons not to is a characteristic of apostolic gifting. This is the kind of determination that kept the Apostle Paul preaching in cities after being flogged and imprisoned. It is the kind of sent-ness that took Jonah to Nineveh after being swallowed by a big fish.
If you are an apostle, your sense of call may have the force of an acrobat shot from a canon. It doesn’t really matter what gets in the way; you are virtually unstoppable.
What about you?
Are you apostolic? (Or do you know someone who is?) If some of these characteristics are ringing true for you, personally or in relationship to someone else, here are a few simple ideas for stewarding the gift:
1. Choose to invest your efforts in initiatives where your drive for innovation, leadership, and transformation will be put to use. Look for ways to pioneer the gospel in new ways. If God has given you this gift, he has a way in mind for you to use it to build his Church.
2. Consider aligning yourself with an “apostolic structure,” an organization or group of people passionate about releasing your gift into places where it will make a big difference in the world. Explore missions organizations or other pioneering groups like CRM, or get plugged into groups of people employing strategic pioneering initiatives like CRM's Disciple Making Movements Initiatives.
3. It is common for people with apostolic gifting to feel like misfits in local church structures, which can lead to confusion or defensiveness. Remember to wear apostolic gifting with humility, neither holding yourself up as more important than others, nor tearing yourself down as a problem child with no real place. Rest in your identity as an integral part of God’s family, and work on your ability to explain this gifting to others in your community.
4. A lot of the material for our super list of characteristics came from the experience and work of CRM’s president, Sam Metcalf. Dig deeper into the nuances of living for God as an apostolic person and related challenges by reading his new book, Beyond the Local Church, now available for pre-order.
“If you have apostolic passion, you are one of the most dangerous people on the planet.”
- Floyd McClung, Apostolic Passion
* From Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim’s work, The Permanent Revolution