Is there a role for apostles in the 21st century church? by Rev Stephen Brooks

Rev Stephen Brooks gives an insight into the apostolic ministry, and argues that there is a role for apostles in the modern day church

What exactly is an apostle, and how should we understand an apostle’s role today? The Bible singles out apostles as one of two foundational ministries in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-20), which are attached to Jesus, the Chief Foundation of the Church.

Theological traditions hold conflicting views on apostleship. Some believe the gift was limited to the twelve disciples but is no longer relevant today, others believe apostles exist today.

The apostolic leader’s primary function is to extend God’s Kingdom and initiate new ways to bring people to Jesus. In the New Testament, Paul exemplified this; he had a desire to go to places where no one had yet preached the Gospel. He didn’t want to build on someone else’s foundation. Paul also lists apostleship among the leadership functions given to the church in Ephesians 4:11. The word ‘apostle’ literally means ‘sent one’, a term that may be applied to many believers, although we must be mindful of the New Testament’s warning against false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13).

Apart from the original 12 apostles, Barnabas is referred to as an ‘apostle’ in Acts 13:2, and the same Greek word usually translated ‘apostle’ is used to refer to Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23. The Apostle Paul modelled this gift in the early church; he explained that his calling was to lay new foundations that others would build upon. He appointed elders and pastors in the young congregations, and released them to step forward into ministry. When he tells the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:14) that he is glad he had not baptised many of them, he also indicates that other gifts follow the apostolic calling to equip the body more fully. Paul reveals that the Lord assigns different roles to people within the body of Christ for the common good. He points out, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthinas 3:6). Wherever Paul went, he left behind churches that others would then lead.  Apostles aren’t concerned with carrying an organisation from generation to generation, but making new generations. It’s about reproduction.

I believe there are men and women currently doing apostolic ministry, but very few of them recognise it as such, and thus don’t call it apostolic. Also, in an attempt to avoid association with the Roman Catholic Church, in terms of hierarchy and structure, they refrain from using the word.

Apostles are able to look at the spiritual landscape and see where God is working. There is a difference between apostles and missionaries, who also carry the Gospel to the unreached: apostles are eager to establish churches, and not just see people converted to Christianity.

Bishop Sydney Dunn is a wonderful example of apostolic gifting.   Whilst serving as pastor in the early ’50s, he felt inspired by the Lord to begin planting new churches and raising up new leaders. His passion for starting new things eventually led to establishing over 50 churches here in the UK, and building the multi-million pound Bethel Convention Centre in Birmingham. The vision to extend outwards, through planting multiple congregations, is also clearly evident in the apostolic leadership of General Overseer of the Redeemed Church (RCCG), Dr Enoch Adejare Adeboye. He has been a pioneer of the multiple-site model now presently operating in over 160 countries, and RCCG is currently the fastest growing church in the UK.

The model for church organisations should be relational; the paternal bond between apostle and pastors emphasises the source of apostolic authority. Every pastor needs an apostle, and every apostle needs pastors. Today, many church organisations are based on a company or corporation model, and local churches are often supervised by bishops or district superintendents. The function of the apostle working among churches has been replaced by the organisational function of the CEO, the president or the bishop. Many of these offices are now occupied by people lacking the apostolic gift, working primarily administratively.

Do you know which three of the Ephesians 4:11 ministries are mentioned most in the New Testament? Or which two of those fivefold ministries are mentioned least in the New Testament? The answers indicate how out-of-balance the modern church has grown, compared to the original church that Christ established.

The word ‘apostle(s)’ occurs 85 times in the New Testament; the word ‘prophet(s)’ occurs over 150 times in the New Testament, and the word ‘teacher(s)’ occurs 125 times in the New Testament. The word ‘evangelist(s)’ occurs only three times in the New Testament, and the word ‘pastor(s)’ occurs precisely once in the entire New Testament. Yes, once!

The Bible speaks of New Testament apostles, prophets or teachers a combined total of approximately 200 times. Pastors and evangelists are mentioned a combined total of four times! And yet, the modern day church calls most ministers by the term ‘pastor’ and shies away from ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’. Man’s prejudices, fears or misinterpretations have deprived the Church of the two foundational ministries that Jesus Himself placed on earth. The Church today, wherever it denies these two ministries, is improperly structured. Pastors, evangelists, teachers and prophets alone cannot effectively deliver the intended growth and equipping function of the Church, leaving it somewhat wanting. Let us move forward as the Bible says, “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

You can contact Rev Brooks at or phone 07940 237959.


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