Has it ever occurred to you that the church in the New Testament was not primarily led by pastors?
While in our modern church culture, the term “pastor” has become a general title to signify leaders in the church, in the New Testament it described a specific function of ministry. In fact, all of the fivefold ministry gifts to the church should be seen as functions more than titles. There are many who carry the title “pastor” because they lead a local church, but who actually are more gifted as another ministry gift.
In the New Testament, apostles were the primary leaders of the church. Along with apostles were other fivefold ministry gifts; prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. There were elders who governed the local church as well as deacons who supported the work of the ministry. (Click here to read an overview of all of the fivefold ministry gifts).
As stated above, in the New Testament church, apostles were the primary leaders. They are mentioned much more frequently, and there are many more examples of apostles than any other gift. Beyond the original twelve, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, and others are named as apostles.
Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” The first—or primary—leadership gift to the church was said to be apostles. Paul said that the church is to be built on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…” (Ephesians 2:20).
While many in the church have no problem accepting the role of pastors and teachers, many have trouble believing that there are apostles and prophets today. But we have no scriptural reason to believe that today’s church should not be led by the same leadership order as the New Testament church; we have no biblical reason to believe that apostles, prophets, and other fivefold ministry gifts are not functioning in the church today.
Paul said that the fivefold ministry—including apostles—was given “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). We certainly have not attained to that yet!
I believe that a restoration of genuine apostolic ministry is one of the greatest needs of the church today. In fact, God has been restoring the ministry of the apostle and all of the fivefold ministry gifts for past several decades. Clearly, not everyone who calls themselves an apostle truly is. There were false teachers, apostles, and prophets in the New Testament times, and the same is true today. However, we must learn to recognize and embrace the true gifts that God is raising up in the church today.
If we are to see the church return to the life and power that we see in the New Testament, we must embrace the function and ministry of the apostle. When apostles lead, an apostolic church will arise.
What is an apostle? How do you recognize one and how do they function? Check out this article where I outline three primary characteristics of apostles.