For most of my life in the church, “apostle” has been something of a dirty word, either because it’s assumed to be an expired gift or because we’ve so often seen it abused. Most of us (even those of us who are gifted as apostolic leaders!) struggle with the idea of calling something “apostolic” and, as such, we can find ourselves operating out of a gifting that we don’t have language for.
However, I believe fully embracing and empowering apostolic leaders can be key to ministry expansion because of their innate ability to catalyze new ministry. Here are six key indicators that might evidence an apostolic gift at work in you or in your community, along with some questions to help you identify the emerging apostolic leaders in your midst.
1. Start New Things
Perhaps the surest sign of an apostolic gift at work is the series of new things that have been started due to their influence, whether spiritual or not. Apostolic leaders demonstrate a remarkable ability to get things off the ground, whether it is a new initiative, gathering, or community. Gifted apostles leave behind a trail of new communities that have come into being due to their vision and initiative.
* In your network, whose vision was behind the new communities or initiatives that have started?
2. Demonstrate Spiritual Intensity
Another indicator of the apostolic gift at work is an unusual spiritual intensity, especially focused toward starting new things. Apostolic leaders are visibly zealous for God, God’s mission, and God’s people, and their passion leads them to act, even when the odds are stacked against them. In younger leaders, this passion can often create as many problems as it solves, either because they find themselves passionate about everything or sometimes the wrong things (notice I didn’t call this one spiritual maturity), but we can’t allow their immaturity to blind us to the potential latent in these emerging leaders.
* Who in your networks radiates an almost exhausting expression of intensity?
3. Think Structurally
Apostolic leaders are consistently thinking about the systems and structures that undergird a community and how they could be redesigned to produce more fruit. The redesign might be devising new overhauls to current structures or suggesting brand-new initiatives. Apostolic leaders often demonstrate an aptitude for connecting previously disparate parts of a given network in a way that releases new energy and momentum.
* Who in your community is regularly coming up with better ways to structure your ministry for greater momentum?
4. Express a Burden for Expansion
Apostolic leaders express an almost overwhelming burden for what isn’t yet — for the people not in the room, the communities not being reached, the territory no one else is talking about. Apostolic leaders have more than a vision to reach new territory, they have a genuine burden to do so. It’s housed not just in their mind, but burns in their soul.
* Who in your community is constantly championing growth and expansion to new territories?
5. Respond to Big Challenges
For better or for worse, apostolic leaders have huge vision, and consistently respond to big challenges — the more impossible the dream, the more motivated they are to achieve it. Of course, this often gets them into trouble as they regularly bite off more than they can chew, but this willingness to jump in with both feet is a hallmark of emerging apostolic leaders.
* Who are the people in your community who respond to your biggest challenges?
6. Turn Moments into Movements
A last distinctive trait of apostolic leaders is their desire (and ability) to turn moments into movements. Apostolic people demonstrate an uncanny ability to recognize moments that are filled with possibilities, and often know instinctively how to capitalize on those events for greater influence and momentum. Because of their burden for expansion, apostolic leaders are constantly looking to pivot off catalytic moments to release movements.
* Who in your life seems to demonstrate a knack for recognizing moments that are filled with possibilities?
Embracing this kind of apostolic framework helped put language to a previously unnamed gift in my life, and this identification both catalyzed my own maturity and released a greater measure of fruitfulness in my ministry. May the same be true of many of you reading this post, to the benefit of the Christian community and the purposes of God!
--Adapted from a blog post at Release the APE, a blog dedicated to empowering the Apostolic, Prophetic, and Evangelistic gifts in the church. Check out these additional recommended posts:
• How to Empower an Apostolic Leader
• The Five-Fold Symphony: How the Gifts Work Together
Of course, Jesus’ Great Commission to the eleven apostles in Matthew 28:16-20 is the preeminent example of this, and we see it too in Paul’s choice to press onward to Troas (despite multiple closed doors) in Acts 16:6-10.
Jesus does this repeatedly during his ministry (Samaritan woman in John 4, demoniac in Mark 5), and we also see this at work in Peter in Acts 2.
See Mark 1:38-39 and Acts 13-14 for examples of this trait in Jesus’and Paul’s ministry.
Luke 6:12-13 provides a great example of Jesus’ spiritual zeal, and Philippians 3:1-16 captures both the pre- and post-conversion intensity of Paul.
The “Sending of the 72” in Luke 10 is a terrific example of Jesus’ structural thinking, and we see the early apostles demonstrating this same trait in Acts 6:1-6 in their handling of the food dispute. Finally, Paul’s shift from focusing merely on synagogues to the Greek oikos provides another fantastic example (Acts 20:20).
Paul’s words in Romans 15:20-24 capture this sentiment beautifully, and we see it too in Jesus’ decision to go through Samaria in John 4:1-42.