Abuses and Blessings of the Contemporary Apostolic Movement
As a person who has been part of the Apostolic Movement since 1989 I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. That being said, I believe all of the five-fold ministry gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 have always been present throughout church history (leaders were functioning these ways, whether they used these titles or not). Consequently, I have known many leaders who legitimately functioned in apostolic leadership and I have known many who have used the title without apostolic fruit and legitimacy.
For example, I have been blessed to know and work with many outstanding and legitimate apostolic leaders in the Apostolic Reformation such as John Kelly, C. Peter Wagner, Ron Cottle, Bill Hamon, Emanuele Cannistraci, Harry Jackson, and all those I serve with on the ICAL council, and many others too numerous to mention in this article, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
By “apostolic leadership,” I mean a leader who functions in the ministry gift of apostle as found in Ephesians 4:11.
As we examine scripture we can say many things about what the signs of an apostle are. But today, I am referring to a leader who oversees a network of churches and/or leads a strong apostolic church with much influence in their community. Furthermore, apostolic churches also tend to meet many practical needs of their communities and send out many homegrown leaders to plant churches as well as send out marketplace leaders to transform society.
The following are some of the blessings of recognizing apostolic leadership:
1. When we recognize the title we can also more easily release the function
Some who favor the use of the title “apostle” say we need to recognize apostles in the same way we need the military to have uniforms, titles and ranks that release them to their functions. Not having the title will cause confusion in the chain of command as well as among civilians since they will not know who is responsible to enforce the laws of the land and protect them.
2. The recognition of the apostolic merely allows for the five-fold ministry designations of the New Testament
Some proponents of using the title “apostle” say the most pure expression of the Body of Christ in church history was the first century church, which recognized the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11. If it was good enough for Jesus and the early church it should be necessary for us to do the same if we want the same kind of fruit!
3. Recognizing the apostolic can also help usher in a new apostolic reformation
Some proponents of the apostolic say it is evident the old way of doing things through hierarchical denominationalism is dead or dying (with the exception of Pentecostal denominations, like the Assemblies of God, most denominations are on the decline). By recognizing apostolic ministry we could further accelerate the apostolic reformation that is based on the galvanization of covenantal, voluntary associations of pastors and leaders in regions irrespective of denominational affiliations for the sake of reaching cities and nations.
This reformation recognizes visionary leaders in each region that God has anointed to unite the Body of Christ and bring societal change. Often denominational bishops and/or superintendents are just gifted administrators without the leadership capacity to galvanize churches to reach a city or nation. Recognizing apostolic leadership (irrespective of denominational affiliation) can remove this bottleneck and release the authority and power of the Kingdom of God in a city!
4. Apostolic networks are amongst the largest movements expanding Christianity in the earth today
As we examine what is happening in Asia, Africa, and Latin America we find the greatest expansion of the church today is coming from apostolic leadership and their networks of churches that are producing great movements! Thus, the current great global expansion of the church is no longer being led by typical denominations. Even when denominations are involved they are usually cooperating with apostolic visionaries who may or may not belong to a denomination.
5. It will help the church expand from local to extra-local because the nature of the apostolic is to be sent as a pioneer to establish new territory for God
Typically, pastoral ministry is inwardly focused only on a congregation. Apostolic leadership is always concerned with the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Consequently, when apostolic leadership is recognized and encouraged the church will nurture leadership that not only shepherds congregations but also shepherds communities and cities!
In the early church, the apostles only stayed in a local church long enough to establish them with elders and pastors who would care for the church. Then the apostles were financially supported and sent out to establish new churches and reach new territories.
Hence, without this apostolic understanding we could greatly limit kingdom expansion!
Some abuses of the apostolic:
By “abuses” I am referring to the misuse of either the title or the position. To be fair, most of these same issues can be used for pastors, bishops in any denomination, and anyone who attempts to use a title or position to leverage power for themselves. However, since I am a part of the apostolic movement, I am focusing on some issues in this movement.
1. Many leaders who use the title have no apostolic fruit
I must admit that, in the 30 years that I have been exposed to apostolic ministry, a large percentage of the leaders who call themselves apostles lack fruit and ministry! This shows me these leaders are using the title to artificially grant themselves some sort of prestige, but what they don’t realize is they run the risk of making themselves look bad!
For example, almost without exception, all of the legitimate apostolic leaders I know in the New York City region do not call themselves apostles; they just let their fruit speak for them. The more fruit you have, the less you need to use a title amongst the leadership you labor with.
2. Many apostolic leaders have an autocratic leadership style
Unfortunately, all too often those who gravitate to the use of a title like “apostle” (I would include “bishop” as well, to be fair) tend to have an autocratic approach with a heavy, top-down leadership style.
They are prone to giving out strategies and commands without allowing a team into the decision-making process. Autocrats rarely develop homegrown leaders and often have a hard time cultivating true transparent relationships with their spiritual sons and daughters.
To be fair, I also know many apostolic leaders who have used the title, like Apostle John Kelly and those I serve with on the ICAL Apostolic Council, who are fantastic at leadership placement and developing effective strategies through teams and ad hoc think-tanks. But, all too often, apostolic leaders are without the mentoring of seasoned apostolic leaders like the aforementioned ICAL council members.
3. Many who call themselves apostles have an independent spirit and don’t work well with denominational overseers or leaders of evangelical associations
Since I travel extensively to minister all over the world I have heard several “war stories” involving so-called apostles who think they are above other leaders and arrogantly only support ministry endeavors they themselves initiate and/or lead.
Furthermore, many of them also believe all denominational leaders are old wineskin and disregard and discount them. Just because someone is in the apostolic movement doesn’t mean they are favored by God or on the cutting edge above denominational leaders. There are many incredible denominational leaders without the title of “apostle” who have apostolic fruit and anointing!
4. Some identified in the apostolic movement have caused division in certain nations
Some apostolic leaders are unwilling to work with other groups and, in their insecurity, have actually caused strife and division rather than unity in the Body of Christ. (Of course, we could say that about every expression of Christianity!) Unfortunately, these few leaders have given the whole movement a reputation of being arrogant opportunists who build their own empires rather than God’s Kingdom! As a result, there are several nations I go to where I can’t even use the word “apostolic” because of all the negative baggage it connotes.
5. Some in the apostolic are hierarchical and believe they have more God-given authority than the average pastor in their region
Some have used the title to artificially promote themselves and think that since they are an apostle they automatically have more authority in their region than all other pastors and leaders.
Some have even pronounced they are “the” apostle to their city or nation, a designation a true apostle would shun because it exhibits pride and presumption as well as disrespect towards other key leaders in their region who may have more influence than they do! In cities such as New York there are so many networks, ethnicities and movements that it would be virtually impossible for one person to be truly “the” apostle to the city! Even though I have labored in this city for over 30 years there are still probably key apostolic leaders and networks I have never heard of and those who probably never heard of me!
Unfortunately, some are so hung up on titles, protocols and hierarchy they lose sight of the nature of Christ and the early apostles, who built upon servant leadership and were anti-hierarchical (read Mark 10:42-45).
6. Some in the apostolic have taken pastors and churches away from their associations and brought them under their own “covering”
In my travels, I have heard of a few apostolic leaders from the USA who offered poor pastors in developing nations financial aid if they would leave their denominations and join their networks of churches. Behavior like this has caused much suspicion amongst denominational and evangelical leaders. True apostolic leaders never build upon the foundation of other leaders and they definitely never try to build their ministries by bribing or taking vulnerable leaders away from their spiritual overseers (unless there is an ethical reason to leave said overseer).
7. Many apostles are self-appointed
To be fair, many pastors and bishops are self-appointed as well. Like the movie The Apostle with Robert Duvall, many hear teaching on the apostolic and appoint themselves or tell the elders of their churches to appoint them as apostles. I believe if a person has a true apostolic calling then the pastors in their own community or region will recognize it and even initiate the commissioning ceremony. When leaders honor or appoint themselves it means nothing!
8. Leaders outside their city or region have commissioned many apostles
I have heard of many leaders who go to other nations to get commissioned as an apostle and/or they bring in an outsider to ordain them without consulting the local leaders who labor in the same community.
In my opinion, this kind of action is very presumptuous and lacks wisdom in most cases because a true apostle will be celebrated as such in their own backyard; they don’t need an outsider to legitimize them! Of course, if said leader is part of an apostolic organization and their spiritual leader lives outside their region then it is very appropriate for their outside apostolic overseer to ordain them as an apostle. However, their overseer should first consult with local pastors and leaders and involve them in the ceremony and process so it will be respected by all and more legitimate, lest they ordain a leader as an apostle who has lied or exaggerated their local influence to outsiders and the apostolic ceremony becomes a laughingstock in that region!
9. Many have the title without due process
I have seen young leaders with apostolic potential precociously ordained as apostles before they were mature enough to carry the mantle! Although I believe Timothy was probably 30 or younger when he functioned apostolically with Paul, this is the exception to the rule. In most cases it does no harm for a young leader to function and continue to grow apostolically before hands are laid upon them and they are given the title.
Recognition of the apostolic in young leaders is only necessary if they are actually leading an apostolic network and/or church and it becomes awkward not to have the title of either apostle or bishop.
Since apostolic leaders have much responsibility and have to deal with much stress, in most cases it is safer for older, more mature leaders to be set in as apostles and bishops because they are more financially stable and have already weathered the storms of balancing marriage, family and ministry successfully.
10. Many have apostolic revelation and language without apostolic anointing and gifting
I have seen many pastors who got excited about apostolic truth and then identify themselves as apostles just because they had apostolic revelation. They may even be able to teach and preach better on the apostolic than true apostles. But this only proves they are anointed teachers, not necessarily apostles. Having apostolic revelation doesn’t automatically equate to apostolic fruit! It is much easier to teach a truth than live it out; it is much easier to proclaim apostolic New Testament structure than successfully build a successful multi-generational apostolic network!
In conclusion, whether a leader uses the title or not, we have to remember that the most important attribute of any leader in the Kingdom is to have the attitude of a servant. Any person who aspires to be an apostle so they can have the title is missing the point and is probably not a legitimate apostle or is, at best, an immature apostle. The greatest sign of an apostle is brokenness and humility as we read in 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12.
May God use this article to further the blessings of the apostolic and minimize the abuses of some! And may those skeptical of the apostolic not throw the baby out with the bathwater by negatively stigmatizing every apostolic leader and movement just because they know some leaders involved with apostolic abuse.
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