I am new to the idea of the 5-fold ministry. Sure, I have read Ephesians 4:
“And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Eph:11-13 CSV)
I had no problem with evangelists, pastors, and teachers. But prophets and apostles? Most of my spiritual formation was under a reformed theology that was not cessationalistic in form but was influenced by that theology. In my early college years, I had exposure to the Charismatic movement. After baptism in the Spirit, I had more of an acceptance for prophets. However, I still hung onto the apostolic office as something that ended with the first generation of Jesus followers.
My main objection came from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you, because you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 9:1-2 CSV emphasis mine)
It was my understanding that an apostle had to have seen the risen Jesus to claim that office. I believed this up until last year when I started following those who talked about the 5-fold ministry – including apostles! I took another look at that verse, and I saw something that I had not seen before. Paul did not list physically seeing the risen Jesus as a qualification of an apostle, but as a qualification for his ministry overall. Being free, being an apostle, having seen the risen Jesus, and starting the church in Corinth are all rhetorical questions affirming Paul’s authority over the church. Not one of those rhetorical questions are meant to qualify another.
In his lecture on the apostolic ministry, Dr. James Flynn explained that apostles are those who are missionaries and church planters. These are gifted and called people who are driven to start new fellowships and care for those fellowships. The apostolic ministry can be applied to those who are called to the mission field or for those who are called to start up new church communities. Dr. Flynn also cleared up something that had been plaguing me – those that claim to be apostles and are not showing good character, not servant leaders, have unsound doctrine, and, above all, are not humble, are certainly not apostles.
Apostles lead hard lives digging into the hard work of establishing faith communities. As times have changed, so has the way apostles create churches changed. Gone are the days when the missionary or church planter gets a group of like-minded believers together, build a building for three hymns and a sermon. No, the modern-day apostle starting a church in American has to keep in mind that they are starting a church in a postmodern, post-Christian culture.
In his book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America, Gabe Lyons describes a Christianity that is living in a culture that has many negative stereotypes (deserved and undeserved) and has mostly rejected the Christian worldview. The apostle has to navigate the waters of this culture and the way these new Christians interact with it. According to Lyons, the American Christin church has faded into either the mode of Separatists (living in a separate “Christian” culture attempting not to touch the corrupting effects of the world) or Cultural (those that are indistinguishable from the world).
However, the new Christians present the apostles with a new challenge to the whole concept of church. The apostle needs to understand that the new Christian in America desires a church that creative, relational, and grounded. They desire a church that provokes the believer to be culture changes for Christ but civilly and lovingly. As Dr. Umidi described in his third lecture on Christian witness, the American Christian needs to be involved in a faith community that has a restoration mentality. The postmodern, post-Christian culture will leave its inhabitants cold and without hope. Sin and idolatry have a way of doing that. However, for the believer called to the apostolic ministry, this means they need to establish churches that are filled with an overwhelming desire to engage the culture. Not to combat it, but to bring the love and hope of Jesus to the hopeless.
 Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2012), under “13%,” Kindle.