In the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the teachers were so prominent, we saw the big name teachers (Chuck Smith, Chuck Swindall, RC Sproul, …) and when we thought of teachers, these names came to mind. But there were tens of thousands of gifted and anointed teachers popping up around the land, some filling pulpits, others leading home groups around the land.
Teaching gifts fit in well with existing church leadership, and in some cases, help existing leaders to lead better. The “office of the teacher” is a 5-fold leadership office anyway, but all believers are commanded to be able to teach, able to disciple others, so there wasn’t a lot of controversy.
Later, when God breathed on the prophetic, we saw big name prophets (Bob Jones, Bill Hamon, Paul Cain and others) come to the forefront. And while they were blazing the trail (and taking the hits) to re-introduce prophetic gifts to the entire church, prophetic gifts began sprouting among believers from coast to coast.
Prophetic gifts come in three biblical flavors: manifestations of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12), ministries from the Father (Romans 12), and the 5-fold gift of the prophet, from the Head of the Church, Jesus himself (Ephesians 4). There’s been confusion between prophetic ministries and prophets, but we’re figuring that out now.
Unlike the teaching gifts of the previous wave, prophetic gifts did not fit comfortably with church leadership, so most of the budding prophetic people lived in hiding, or masqueraded as worshippers, intercessors and exhorters; a few used their new prophetic gifts to support their teaching or pastoring or leading gifts. A very few brave souls began to confess, “God says I’m a prophet,” and model their itinerant ministry after the traveling evangelist.
More recently, the church has grown more comfortable with both prophets and prophetic ministries as maturity has been showing up in the gifts, as people are finding their place among other ministries, and as the strangeness is replaced by familiarity.
We’re now in the midst of God’s restoration of apostolic gifts. There are big name apostles (Peter Wagner, Dutch Sheets, Che Ahn, John Eckhart, Heidi Baker) that have brought the church’s attention to the topic.
But as with the other movements, while the “big names” are pioneering the 21st century version of the office of the apostle, there are also thousands of un-famous apostles in, and outside of, local churches across the land. Some successful local church pastors are taking the title “apostle” for themselves, or having it thrust upon them by peers or congregants; many of these seem to think that an “apostle” is just a really, really successful or respected pastor.
Mostly, church leadership doesn’t know what to do with young apostles. Where immature teachers could themselves be taught, and where immature prophets could be shuffled off to the intercessors, young apostles aren’t as easy to push around or marginalize: that’s not rebellion, it’s part of the calling.
So if you as a leader, as an influencer among the people of God, if you find a young man or woman who’s bumbling confusedly about in what just might be a budding apostolic calling, what will you do with them? If you find a less-young man or woman who’s been walking with God for 30 years, but may be stumbling into a new apostolic anointing (and there are more of these than I expected!), how will you respond to them?
If your job as a pastor, as a teacher, as a prophet is to “equip the saints for works of ministry…” then how will you equip these young apostles? How will you discern the real apostles from the wanna-be apostles? Will you receive them, rough as they are, or will you try to shuffle them off out of the public eye? (Hint: good answers to these questions will be more about relationship than about programs!)
The point of this article is not to outline an Apostolic Training Program, but to acknowledge that you and I may very well have dozens of immature, rookie apostles within our spheres of influence, and to challenge us to get to know them, to not write them off as the proverbial bull in the china shop (which they appear to be). Maybe we can even give some thought as to how to encourage them as they pursue the mysteries that God is calling them to.
What are you going to do with them? It will affect the next generation of the church in your region!