How do apostles and prophets work together?

The church is built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). How do they work together?

Neil Cole says prophets see the destination; apostles develop the route to get there.

Prophets hear from God. They are visionaries who see what God is doing.  They often receive divine intelligence that informs the strategy and course of the church. God does nothing without revealing it to his servants, the prophets (Amos 3:7).


Apostles are pioneers. They "go where no man has gone before." They are groundbreakers, those who go out front. They are practical, strategic planners, foundation layers.

Map making

Both of these are gifts from Christ to the church (Ephesians 4:11). Gifts have no rights. They cannot say to the giver, "I don't want to go there." They are servants who willingly lay down their lives for those they are called to serve (1 Corinthians 9:19), equippers of Christ's body who help her to maturity (Ephesians 4:12-13). They are not dominant, insisting on their own way, but peoplel instinctively respond to the Holy Spirit within them.

Without these gifts, the church can be directionless and without strategy and foundation. 


Four questions about women apostles

After the last post on women apostles, I received a comment raising a number of questions about women in leadership. I thought it might be worthwhile to respond a little more publicly, so here goes!

I blogged extensively on the subject of women a few months back. There are around 20 posts, beginning here.

These are the questions that were posed following the last post:

  1.  Jesus chose twelve men to act as the original twelve apostles. Shouldn't he have chosen six men and six women?

In the context of Jewish life, imagine the raised eyebrows if Jesus had had female disciples! He would have had some explaining to do!

 However he did have a group of women who followed him in much the same way as the disciples did. (Matt 27:25; Mk 15:41; Lk 8:1-3; Lk 23:49), . Women played key roles, for example at the time of his burial and resurrection. He treated them as equals, not inferiors. Consider, for example, his deep theological discussions with the woman at the well, or with Martha on the subject of the resurrection.

        2.  The obvious log in my eye would be Paul's comments for women to remain silent in the                church. Should they?

You can find an explanation of the challenging Scriptures here (1 Corinthians 14) and here (1 Timothy 2). 

        3. The scripture, specifically the New Testament, is full of women interacting both on the street               and in the church. Are any of them performing the duties of an apostle?

Junia is the obvious example of an apostle since she is clearly described as such. However, Priscilla may have functioned in that role–she is usually mentioned before Aquila, and Paul described them as co-workers.

In our day, there are many women who function apostolically. Think for example, of Heidi Baker who with Rolland have seen more than 10,000 churches start in Mozambique and the surrounding countries. 

        4. Both qualifications of Elders and Deacons in the New Testament refer to men in the church.              So where are the women elders and women deacons?

 Verse 11 of 1 Tim 3 talks about the qualifications of women in a leadership context. The NLT translates this passage as "In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." Note that the word here translated accurately "women" in other older versions is translated "wives" which is perhaps why this verse is taken to apply to the wives of elders and deacons. 

We know that Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1). Personally I see no problem with this verse applying to women as elders. The description of both deacons and women begins, "likewise," or "in the same way" referring to the qualifications of elders. It depends a bit on what one means by elders and deacons. I will get to looking at this subject soon, but they are not what is typically seen in most churches today.

Female apostles?

Female symbol

I have several friends who are women who function apostolically. They run regional events; they coordinate different groups across a region; they plant churches and train others to plant churches; they strategize and extend the Kingdom. They are extremely effective in what they do, and I love to learn from them.

Some people question the validity of women functioning in such roles in the church. According to Romans 16:7, Junia was a female apostle. Over the centuries, people have tried to turn her into a man–Junias. In the contemporary literature of the day, there are more than 250 references to women named Junia. There isn't a single one to a man named Junias!

Let's encourage women to function in their gifting, including as apostles. 


First apostles?

First Corinthians 12: 27-28 says this: 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

   first are apostles,
   second are prophets,
   third are teachers,
   then those who do miracles,
   those who have the gift of healing,
   those who can help others,
   those who have the gift of leadership,
   those who speak in unknown languages

What many people take from this is that apostles hold the most important position in the church, the top of the hierarchy. Prophets are second most important,  teachers third etc. So to be an apostle is to be the most important person in leadership. Like this:

First, second, third

The problem with this view is that leadership in the New Testament is not positional, but functional. Another way to view it would be like building a house. First you need an architect, then someone to lay the slab, then someone to frame the house. Later would come plumbers and electricians etc. It's a question of function. The architect is essential to lay the plans for the house, and his work comes before the work of the electricians and plumbers, but without all these other functions, the house would not be built.

An apostle is one who is sent out (meaning of the Greek word apostello). He/she is the one who is usually the first person in a place or people group with the good news of the Kingdom. 

What is the purpose of 5-fold ministry?

In many churches, people get excited when one of the so called "five-fold ministries" comes to town. (The name "five-fold comes from the passage quoted below in Ephesians 4.) They hope to receive a personal prophetic word from the prophet, or see many people become Christians when an evangelist gives an altar call. They like to receive good teaching from someone with a teaching ministry. They hope to see these people showcase their gifts in an impactful way.

The only problem is that this is not the purpose of these gifts that Jesus has given to the church.

 This is what Ephesians 4:11-12 says: Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

According to this passage, these people are gifts of Jesus to his church. The five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4 are there to equip God's people to do the work of ministry. This means they impart to others, training them in the skills that are needed to function in their particular area of gifting. They are not doing all  the work of ministry themselves.

The apostle trains others to think strategically about the Kingdom, starting churches etc.

The prophet teaches others to prophesy.

The evangelist teaches people to spread the good news of the Kindom and make disciples.

The teacher trains others in how to teach.

The pastor teaches people how to care for others.

The purpose of Ephesians 4 ministries is not that they showcase their gifts, but they train others with the skills they have been given.

Foundational leadership

In the world, leaders are frequently put on a pedestal. They are looked up to, given preferential treatment. Others work to support their vision.

In the church, leaders are often put on a pedestal too. So-called apostles and prophets have business cards. They are highly visible on the rooftops.  But according to the New Testament, apostles and prophets are foundations (Ephesians 2:20). You don't see foundations. They are essential for the stability and safety of the building, but foundations are trodden on. There's no glory in being a foundation.


Paul said this about apostles and prophets:

" Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike.

 Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home.  We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us.  We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment."  (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

Who wants to be an apostle?

Upside-down leadership: a parable

A few years back, we had a 3-day meeting where about 40 of us gathered to listen to God. They were strong leaders from across the nation. Most of the time, the type-A personalities, seated on the inner row of 2 concentric circles of chairs, dominated vocally. The quieter ones sat on the back row.

On the last afternoon, as we waited on God, we sensed him telling us to switch rows–those on the inner circle moved to the back row and vice versa. The quieter ones, now the inner circle, spoke. What amazing wisdom flowed as they shared.

Then God spoke to us.

"You have turned the room upside-down. If you will turn leadership upside-down in the same way that you have turned this room upside-down, Christians will again turn the world upside-down!"

Our son, Tim, has produced an outstanding video on what upside-down leadership looks like: 

Upside-Down Leadership from on Vimeo.