Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for G od to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Acts 3:19-21
In the 1900’s we saw many components restored to the church that Jesus established in the first century A.D. The church in the Book of Acts was the new wineskin Jesus spoke of that would be able to hold the new wine of the Holy Spirit. Now God is rebuilding His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Apostles are a gift Jesus gave to the church that is being restored today.
Foundation versus Building Apostles
The Bible is divided into the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Testament is another word for covenant. God made covenants in the Old Testament with leaders like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. The people of Israel in the Old Testament would often drift away from the covenants made by their forefathers. As the time drew near for Jesus’ birth, the religious leaders in Israel had turned the faith of their forefathers into empty traditions.
Jesus referred to new wineskin issues when he said to the Jewish leaders “You have made the Word of God null and void with your traditions!” Jesus made a new covenant with his followers that went into effect when Jesus shed his blood on the cross and the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The curtain hid the holy of holies from the people. Only the priests could enter there, and then only once a year. By opening the way into the Holy of Holies, God was establishing a new temple in the hearts of every follower of Jesus. The apostles first job after Jesus ascended into heaven was to establish the fledgling church’s foundations as a separate entity from the Jewish nation. These were foundation apostles.
Jesus as the word of God incarnate came to make the Father known to us. Jesus said to Philip: “If you have seen me you have seen the Father!” (John 14:9). Christians are still called to represent Jesus and the Father to the world. Jesus said in John 20:21, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” We also have the Word of God in us. What an awesome responsibility and privilege Jesus has given to us.
Apostles were one of the gifts Jesus gave the church “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
Did God have his tongue in his cheek when he inspired Paul to write this? When will the church “attain to the WHOLE measure of Christ?” or when will “ALL reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”? We are not there yet. Will we arrive there before Jesus returns? Probably not. Based on the lack of unity in the church, and in light of this passage in Ephesians we can conclude that apostles are for today.
Referring to his job in laying a solid foundation that would stand the test of time, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:19-22 about their church being built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
To retain the effectiveness God ordained for the church, the first century apostles built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, who is the chief cornerstone. In the Book of Acts we can study the work of the foundation apostles as they started the first century churches. Today we are building on top of that foundation. Building Apostles are those who are still constructing on top of the original parameters laid by the foundation apostles. To alter the original foundation would be not only be sacrilegious, but we would be ignoring the ongoing critical need for apostles. In other words, we would be disregarding one of God’s permanent gifts to His church: apostolic leaders especially called and gifted by the Holy Spirit to the ministry of building on Christ’s original foundation. What would building apostles look like today?
Often before a person leaves on a long trip, they tell family and friends the things that are most important. After witnessing first-hand the dangerous traffic in some countries, I have adopted the wisdom of telling my friends where my will is located before departure! Just before leaving planet earth Jesus told the apostle Peter, “Feed my sheep”. One of the ways Peter fed Jesus’ sheep was by shepherding pastors in the first century church. Similarly Paul’s shepherding of pastors is abundant in Paul’s epistles to the churches.
There is much evidence that pastors still need personal shepherding today. Behind almost every transfer (or resignation) of pastors there is a sad story that often remains undisclosed. The reason for relocation is clothed in spiritual language: “I feel called to a different place”. But often the real reason for the exit is hardship in leadership relationships because of the lack of an outside referee. What some authors call “church dragons” are too often left to control and manipulate the flock because of their past unresolved hurts and issues. As the new shepherd arrives to pick the discarded baton off the floor, the dragons lie in wait behind friendly faces and smiles till the honeymoon period is over when they begin to pounce.
A leader of a church denomination in Minnesota has administrative oversight for over 500 licensed ministers. He gets frequent phone calls from pastors, mostly when they are in dire circumstances. Sadly although he is an excellent leader, with such an overwhelming demand for oversight he cannot visit the churches even on an annual basis to develop good relationships among the pastors, elders, and church members. The most he can do in those local churches in the aftermath of ruptured relationships is to try to stop the hemorrhaging. There should be much more to the role of an apostle than just operating an emergency room. Consider for a moment what that would look like in a marriage: “Call me, dear, if you run into any dire crises; otherwise I will see you at the rapture.”
One of the top qualities of successful churches recently listed by a prominent author was “the pastor has been there a long time”. Consider the difference in terms of commitment between a hired shepherd and the shepherd/owner. In the United States, the average length of service for pastors is only two years per church. The congregation is dreaming of the perfect pastor, while the pastor dreams of the ideal pastorate. But the relationship between a pastor and his church is meant to be like the marriage covenant between a man and wife. Jesus was willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Each pastor is an under shepherd serving under their Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to the church as Jesus’ bride. Under shepherds are to honor the church as the bride of Christ. Conversely, the church is to honor their pastor as a covenant gift given to the church by God. Just as there are no perfect wives or husbands, there are no perfect pastors or churches. Perfect marriages result from two parties committed to working out their differences with love, honor and respect for each other. The same should be true in many aspects of pastor-flock relationships.
One pastor told me that he had probably been in his parish long enough. He was having difficulty keeping from crying at the funerals, because he had come to know the people so well. My thought was that he had finally arrived! He was no longer a hireling, but had become a true shepherd. Many veteran pastors declare that this does not happen till the 7th or 8th year of their pastorate.
One important function of an apostle is serving as a pastor of pastors when establishing churches. Paul’s model for building depth into his apostolic relationships with the leaders of the churches Paul had planted was that of a shepherd. While saying goodbye for the last time to a group of local leaders, Paul said: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Acts 20:28-29
When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. Acts 20:36 – 21:1.
The example of the first apostle’s relationships with their pastors is a model for all time. Although the foundation of the church was laid in the first century, the need for true shepherds has not diminished- especially for apostles, the shepherds of pastors of local churches.
Shepherding- A Sign
The job description for an apostle modeling his ministry after the ministry of the apostles in the New Testament includes the following functions:
1. Mediator – Philemon, Acts 15
2. Church consultant – 1 Corinthians 7:1
3. Troubleshooter – 1 Corinthians 1:11
4. Training leaders – 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy
5. Counselor –
6. Team leader – Paul in Book of Acts
7. Discipline consultant – See 1 Corinthians 5:1
8. Doctrine consultant – Galatians 4, 5
9. Church planter – Book of Acts
10. Pastor to local church leaders – the pastoral epistles of Paul to the churches
All of the above functions are necessary for an apostle today. Without apostolic input, local church boards are left to duke it out among themselves in a real life game of Survival. An apostle can facilitate a peaceful change through kingdom-building problem resolution. But the most important function given to leaders called by God to be apostles that is so desperately needed by many pastors today is ongoing, constant, caring shepherding of the shepherds.
How to Test an Apostle
Apostolic shepherding is part of God’s restoration of the church whose foundations were laid in the book of Acts. Leaders do not become true apostles by being elected or by calling themselves apostles. Frequently, when the ministry of apostle is embraced as a valid ministry in churches today, everyone with a ministry is quick to proclaim, “I’m an apostle”, as they gather up churches like notches on their belts. Revelation 3 talks about a church that was able to test apostles to see which were genuine. Incredibly, as important as it is, we were left without the substance of the “test”.
Some assume that signs and wonders are required to prove an apostle because of 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The things that mark an apostle–signs, wonders and miracles–were done among you with great perseverance.”
However, this verse does not say that these signs are required before an apostle begins their work. Looking at the context of this verse, Paul was using the signs, wonders, and miracles as evidence of his leadership calling when the Corinthians questioned his role as their apostle.
True pastoring of pastors is also a valid sign of genuine apostles. Just as a son can recognize his father, a pastor knows his apostle by the pastoral care he receives. Unfortunately, being an apostle is often reduced to a status symbol rather than an important ministry service to the church for equipping pastors. Apostles also have their own cross to bear carrying huge responsibilities. True apostles should be quick to pick up the staff of servanthood as they shepherd pastors. Desiring the title of apostle, or comparing how many churches they oversee with others should be the last thing on the mind of a true apostle. Pastors who are in their care appreciating and accepting their shepherding service is proof enough of the apostolic gift in them.
The Scope of What One Man Can Do
How many pastors can one man apostle? Anyone who tries to personally oversee 500 churches would not have time for shepherding pastors one-on-one. There are apostolic teams who share the ministry of shepherding to cover many churches. However, unless each pastor receives personal shepherding attention from someone on the apostolic team, the apostle designation becomes an empty formal title, and the apostle as shepherd is relegated to function merely as a hireling.
Jesus related to twelve men who Jesus left in charge of the church in Jerusalem with the primary task of sharing the gospel with the entire world. Jesus lived night and day with those twelve men as they walked throughout Judea and Samaria for the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Those twelve men knew Jesus intimately as their Shepherd. How many men can we relate to on a personal basis? How many can we give personal care to? When the apostle gets stretched, relationships fall into neglect. Apostles more interested in the title sometimes blame breakdowns in relationships on the very pastors the apostle has failed to shepherd. There is a need to personally shepherd those God has put in our care. Nothing can replace quality time: not anointing, miracles, or personal charisma. These may facilitate our relationship, but even the US military has to place men on the ground of the country that they wish to occupy in order to establish governmental structure. Merely tossing bombs, supplies, or pamphlets from the air will never establish order. Hands-on work on the ground is crucial. The same holds true for apostolic oversight.
The Acquisition of an Apostle
If a church is looking for a shepherding apostle who will help them build lasting foundations for solid relationships, where can such an apostle be identified? The actual implementation of apostleship in a local church needs to be a work of the Holy Spirit, because the apostolic gift is from God. Rushing to get under an apostolic umbrella of authority too quickly can be worse than no apostle at all. Those in apostolic ministry whose names are known regionally or nationally are often already carrying too many churches to effectively meet the needs of individual churches. Oversight in a large network of churches do not actually shepherd the pastors.
We were blessed at Morris Community Church to have had God speak to us from our inception in 1982 about God-given five-fold leadership. At a small group Bible study at our house we were reading in Ephesians 4:7-16 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
There was a God-breathed pause. Everyone in our living room understood as the Holy Spirit spoke to their spirits that the ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers was still for today. We all took time to pray that God would lead us to a church modeled after the Word of God.
Two weeks later Don Webster died. Don was the father of Ruth’s best friend Judy. Judy’s brother, Doug, came home from Texas for the funeral. In the week that Doug was home, Neil and Ruth visited with him about his church. When Doug lived in the Twin Cities, he attended New Testament Church in Eden Prairie, which is now City Hill Fellowship. They had apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers serving in their group of churches. The more they heard about Doug’s church, the more convinced they were that this was the answer to their prayers for a church like the one in the Book of Acts. Neil and Ruth asked Doug to arrange a meeting with the folks at New Testament Church.
At the first meeting in Morris, we were introduced to Jim McCracken who began to mentor Neil into pastoral ministry. Jim served as apostle for Morris Community Church for over twenty years. During that time, Neil began planting other churches. Jim McCracken invited Neil to join the TrueBridge apostolic team as one of the hub leaders within Jim’s TrueBridge family of churches. The hub Neil serves are churches that were begun through Outfitters for Adventure. The hub churches utilize the apostolic shepherding of pastors that Jim McCracken modeled–the model Jesus established for apostolic ministry in the New Testament. The first generation of apostles and prophets we read about in the Book of Acts laid the foundation that apostles today are still building upon. Apostolic ministry is one of the ministry gifts that Jesus gave the church. Apostolic ministry helps enable the church to stand the test of time, as apostles pastor the pastors to hold fast to the teachings that Jesus poured into his church.
Jim and Mary McCracken
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