Team Essentials: Apostle

By Alan Hirsch

I am absolutely convinced that there has never been a genuine missional movement—the kind that has both exponential growth as well as transformational impact across a wide domain—that does not have APEST ministry. APEST, which stands for Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher, comes from Ephesians 4, and I strongly believe movements need all five APEST functions active and engaged in order to make any lasting impact for the cause of Jesus. Below is a description of the Apostle component of the APEST model.

The Apostle

The pioneer, designer, innovator, entrepreneur

The defining aspect of the apostolic function is to maintain and develop the sentness of the church. And given that mission is clearly a central aspect of the church’s purpose, the function is absolutely indispensable if the church is to remain true to her calling. “Apostolicity,” therefore is the culturally embedded drive to ensure that the church is faithful to its missionary calling.

The apostolic function exists to:

  • Extend Christianity. The driving logic of apostolicity is the extension of the Jesus movement in and through the lives of the adherents, as well as establishing the church onto new ground.
  • Maintain movement. Because of the dynamic and advancing nature of the church, the key apostolic metaphor for the church is that of a dynamic, adaptive, advancing, integrated movement that can extend itself over time and across geographical regions.
  • Maintain focus on mission. The very term “apostolic” (sent/purposed) hints at this core purpose.
  • Design scalable organization. Because organization is essential to all forms of community and dynamic movements, the apostolic needs to develop the necessary organizational bias, as well as cultivate the necessary culture.
  • Maintain compliance around core DNA. The apostolic function involves guarding the very DNA of the movement which is always subject to various misunderstanding, dilution, or hindrances. DNA is critical to movemental health, extension, and integrity.
  • Paradigm maintenance and vision. In many ways, the apostolic vision of the church is the most comprehensive one, in that it sees the whole system and not just the parts. This “big picture” will help make sense of all the other functions.
  • Plant the gospel. Planting the gospel is the surest litmus test of apostolicity. We are never commanded to plant churches, but we are to plant the Jesus story in ways that create the basis for Christian community—the church (1 Corinthians 3:6).
  • Cultivate entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurialism requires a culture of permission-giving and the encouragement to take risks, fail and learn from failure.
  • Maintain healthy trans-local network. Just like a flight control center, everything is moving at the same time, so keeping the lines of communication open is absolutely critical. Likewise, meaningful relationships across the system are crucially important.
  • Maintain movement-wide unity while cultivating diversity. There is a lot of diversity of people, race, status and cultures in expanding movements—just look at the New Testament church. The apostolic function is responsible for the essential unity of the church as it grows and matures (e.g., Ephesians 4:1-16) and is therefore quick to respond to elements in the movement that may create systemic dysfunction.
  • Maintain systemic health. The apostolic function involves maintaining overall system health and keeping the various members of the living body as connected and functional as possible.
  • Mobilize effort. The apostolic function also involves mobilizing all the agents in the system. In other words, the church’s apostolicity requires that all disciples be appropriately equipped and empowered to be God’s representative people in the world.
  • Development of new congregations. Planting the gospel will generate new communities founded on Jesus, His gospel and His lordship. If any church is not planting new congregations, or never has, it is a sure-fire sign that it is deficient in the apostolic function.
  • Innovating of new forms. A genuinely apostolic church needs to support the innovation of new forms of churches in multiple contexts.

The role of the apostolic person

The apostolic person is the person who most corresponds to the functions described above. As in all the APEST callings, no single apostolic individual would likely express all the functions above, but embody many in an exemplary way.

In the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostolic person has an innate sense of the big-picture purpose of the organization. In its mature, idealized, leadership form, the apostle is the person most responsible for the overall extension of Christianity as a whole, primarily through direct mission and church planting.

Not surprisingly, apostolic types tend to favor the entrepreneurial edges of the church and have a natural capacity for adventure and risk. Following this pioneering instinct, they are the ones most likely to engage at the edges of the organization, to innovate and to extend the faith onto new ground.

The mature apostle will tend to have a more developed sense of the church as a living system comprised of essential parts, or subsystems. This involves being the developer and custodian of the DNA that determine the health of the system. Because of this, they can play a vital role in both leadership and health of organizations.

This content is an excerpt from Hirsch’s latest book, 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ. Order the book to learn more about the APEST model.

Published August 28, 2017

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Alan Hirsch

Alan is co-founder and associate faculty for the M.A. in Missional Church Movements at Wheaton College (Illinois). He is also adjunct professor at Asbury Seminary, Fuller Seminary, George Fox Seminary, among others, and he teaches frequently throughout Australia, Europe, and the United States. He is series editor for Baker Books’ Shapevine series , IVP’s Forge line, and is an associate editor of Leadership Journal.