How do apostles work together with teams of workers and alongside other apostles? This article presents a biblical paradigm of three levels of apostolic function and how they function. Beginning with the apostolic team I want to show how such a team is formed and demonstrate from the scripture the validity of such. This will include examples of government being operated within the team and directives being given to team members. Second, I will attempt to describe an apostolic council in which both accountability and governmental functions take place. Finally, I want to present the apostolic fellowship in which there is no government or directives, but rather a measure of confrontation and accountability within the areas of doctrine and conduct.
This paper assumes the acceptance of the abiding validity of the apostolic ministry. It does not define the gift, ministry, or authority of the apostle. It does not attempt to give explanation of all that apostles do, but rather, it deals exclusively with the administration of the apostolic ministry within the three above-mentioned aspects.
What is an apostolic team? When we use the term apostolic team, we mean two or more individuals, the leader being an apostle, joined together by spiritual union in close relationship in order to labor together to accomplish the work related to apostolic responsibilities. This team believes themselves to have a special yoke in which God has connected them together both for spiritual relationship and for the work of the church.
The Old English word team dates back to before the twelfth century. As a noun it refers to two or more draft animals harnessed together or a number of persons associated together in work or activity. The word team as a verb means to yoke or join in a team; also: to put together in a coordinated ensemble. An apostolic team may be varied in function by the combinations of gifts represented by the team members. The team may be made up of two or more apostles, an apostle and prophet, or an apostle and any number of other gifts needed for the mission. The overriding complementing factor is that the leader of the team must be a seasoned and respected apostle who has the wisdom and anointing to give leadership to the team.
Christ’s Twelve Served As A Team
From the beginning of the church the early apostles saw themselves as a team of workers. The scripture makes special note that on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood among the eleven. Apparently they knew they had been specially yoked together in the mission of Christ. We often speak of how the disciples spent time with Jesus, but we must also recall they were together among themselves, building relationships and trust for the three years they were with Jesus.
In chapter three of Acts it was Peter and John who entered the temple for prayer and found themselves doing the works of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see where they prayed, worked, and even suffered persecution together (They were closely knitted to the local believers receiving prayer support). When Peter and John were released from prison, the first place they went was to their own company. In a broader sense we can see how the early believers saw all of themselves in a team spirit together in love. The apostles stood together in a means of solidarity in their preaching. “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
First Post-Ascension Sending of An Apostolic Team
The first sending-of-apostles after Christ’s ascension as a team of workers happened in Acts 8:14. When Philip had gone up to Samaria to preach the gospel, signs and wonders were done and many people believed. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. It could be said that this was the first team sent out of Jerusalem by the other apostles. They went out representing the Lord Jesus Christ with the authority to impart the Holy Spirit just as it had fallen on them in Jerusalem. “Broadly speaking, all believers are responsible for the work of God, but apostles are a group of people specially set apart and bear a peculiar responsibility for its conduct.”
Ascension-Gift Apostolic Teams
In the previous section I spoke of a “post-ascension apostolic team.” Notice, now I am using the phrase “ascension-gift” apostolic teams. Apostles who are often called ascension-gift apostles are apostles other than the “apostles of the Lamb,” the original twelve of Christ’s. In other words, the New Testament names several men as apostles who came later after the first twelve. The first ascension-gift apostles are seen in Acts 13 and began with Paul and Barnabas. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit gave specific instructions that these two men were to be sent out together. Not only are they launched as the first ascension-gift apostles, gifted by Christ and commissioned by the Holy Spirit, but also we are given a model of team ministry. First of all, they were spiritually joined long before this event, some eight to eleven years earlier. It was Barnabas who quickly went to Paul shortly after his conversion and encouraged the other brothers to receive him. From this early union Barnabas and Paul formed a special connectedness that would bring them together nearly a decade later to serve as local leaders in Antioch. It was under their teaching in Antioch where the believers were first called Christians. They taught together there for one year. It is from this local church they received their commission and were sent out as an apostolic team.
An apostolic team must have leadership. At first, we see little emphasis upon leadership between Barnabas and Saul (as he was called at first) as they began working together. Later in the scriptures we read about Paul’s commission to the Gentiles. It is from the commission that the measure of authority is recognized in the ministry of an apostle. God will always give the proper authority to fulfill the required commission. Although Barnabas had a commission from God when he was sent out from Antioch, we see that God gave a greater measure to Paul. Paul’s commission was unique in that it included the Gentiles, which required him to have a grace equal to the twelve apostles of the Lamb. No doubt it was because of this greater measure of grace that we see him taking a leadership role shortly after the trip began. After Paul dealt with Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 14), Luke begins to refer to Paul and Barnabas. Apparently he saw a greater measure of authority upon Paul.
Paul and His Company
Up until Acts 13:13, when “the expedition sets out from Syria, the order is ‘Barnabas and Saul’; by the time they leave Cyprus, it is ‘Paul and his company’” We see a team that is forming with other members who are not all apostles, yet they are very much included in the work. We are not told who makes up the team except we are told that John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, decides to leave the team and go to Jerusalem. We see later in Acts 15:38 that Paul apparently saw John Mark’s quitting as a weakness in his character. He refuses to allow John Mark to join the team until much later when he has had time to mature. Paul needed those who would be willing to suffer hardship and be committed to the task of the team.
Different Workers, Same Team
After Paul and Barnabas separated over the disagreement of allowing John Mark to stay with the team, we see Paul selected Silas to take Barnabas’ place. We catch a glimpse of a change in the team members; nevertheless, the team remains because the leader remains. The selection of team members is modeled in this example indicating the leader of the team has the primary voice in the selection. The team member selection begins with spiritual relationships or divine connections first, such as Silas had with Paul by being in the Antioch church. Second, we see how much Paul emphasized character and the willingness to remain loyal and faithful in order to be a team member. In Paul’s decision to not allow Mark to return to the team, character became a prerequisite. Because John Mark had deserted the team in Pamphylia, Paul felt like it was not best to keep him on the team. After the separation of Paul and Barnabas, it should be noted that Paul and Silas received from the brothers in the Antioch church the recognition of the grace of the Lord and the commendation to continue as an apostolic team. This grace was God’s ability to serve in the apostolic ministry of visiting and strengthening the churches. Once again, we do not know all the team members or their gifts, but we can see Silas as a prophet, and Luke the physician as part of this team.
“It seems that Paul usually had three or four main players in his team, but that considerable room was made for others. The team was often fairly large in number and included young and old, women as well as men (Philippians 4:2-3), and people from various nations (Acts 20:4).” Over time, we see some of Paul’s team members include: Titus, Sopater, Aritarchus, Timothy, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophimus, Silas, John Mark, Onesimus, Jesus who is called Justus, Epaphras, Demas, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Urbanus, Tertius, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Epaphroditus, Luke, Erastus, and Artemas. No doubt, Paul’s team included more than I have listed but these are mentioned as being fellow laborers and workers with him in his apostolic responsibilities. Some of the above mentioned team members are prophets, teachers, apostles, and other spiritual gifts which were not identified. All of these became fellow laborers in the gospel.
Directives on Apostolic Teams
We clearly see directives given to those on Paul’s apostolic team. This speaks of government. He apparently had the authority on this team to instruct others to go and stay according to what was best for the churches and the work. He speaks of leaving Titus in Crete, sends and calls for Timothy, Titus, and Tychicus, and in general gives clear leadership instructions.
Paul models for us the idea that each apostolic team serves in respect to other teams lead by other apostles, yet one team does not give directives to members of another team. Paul spoke highly of other teams, encouraging them to function alongside and with his team. When writing to the Romans he greeted Andronicus and Junias, his relatives who had been in prison with him. He said they were outstanding among the apostles and they were in Christ before He was.
When writing to Titus, Paul tells him that Apollos and Zenas the lawyer should be helped with whatever they needed and sent on their way from Crete. Apparently, Apollos had come through the area and possibly taught, exhorted, and strengthened the churches there. Paul does not give a directive to Apollos and Zenas but rather encourages his own team member, Titus, to have the church there give support to them. From this we can see that Paul was not territorial, yet he understood his place of authority and measure that God had given him. He clearly proclaims himself as an apostle to the Corinthians and speaks of the grace and authority given to him , yet he guards against division in the church even reprimanding them for dividing over himself, Peter, and Apollos. He wanted the other apostolic teams to have influence and a measure in his field of labor. By being cautious not to divide the church around leaders, Paul was keeping the proper perspective in church government and allowing Christ to remain as the head. By refusing to divide the church around apostles, Paul was not giving up his fatherhood or responsibilities to them, nor they to him. That is why he spoke so strongly to them saying they did not have many fathers.
The apostolic team functions together to accomplish the “apostolic work” of setting the churches in order, ordaining leaders, and imparting to the church. This team of workers will seem as one though they function out of a variety of gifts. It could be said that the gifts needed most are the criterion for function. If teachers were needed, then wisdom would be for those on the team who are teachers to be sent along with others to help equip the church. The need for the team is greater in the planting and maturing stage of a church. As the churches mature the team may only be called upon as an apostolic council or encouragement as needed. “Apostles do not hold a hierarchical position of authority over the churches as a mediator between them and God. Their desire is to see local churches founded on Jesus Christ and overseen by a group of local elders.”
So in summary of the apostolic teams, I see that each team is made up of few or several gifts and work together in the planting, strengthening, establishing, and encouraging of those churches within the lead apostle’s sphere. Therefore, each member of the team has a voice and function even as a local group of elders with a lead man would have among themselves. Government, ongoing accountability, and leadership are from the team as they are lead by a seasoned and respected apostle.
An apostolic council is made up of apostles who have a cohesive relationship and are able to labor together with similar vision and values. This council can give directives to the churches and workers within the sphere of each apostle. This council is formed by a mutual agreement and recognition of the grace of God and the divine connection that has proven to be among them.
The first recognition of such a council is seen in Acts 15. Here we see the “apostles of the Lamb” gathering in Jerusalem as well as Paul and his company. Included in this council meeting were believers sent along with Paul and Barnabas and local elders who had been ordained by the apostles in Jerusalem to help serve the flock. The council convened to decide a doctrinal position and resolve conflict. This shows the need for respect and recognition in the body of Christ beyond an apostolic team. It also reveals the power of the organic expression of the Church, capable of correcting and guiding itself on a larger scale, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through mere men. How the council in Acts 15 handled the conflict is worthy of our observation. “Room was given for discussion, dialogue and input, but the final decision rests with the leadership.”
Some have viewed Acts 15 as an example of denominational headquarters, but on a closer look we something totally different. First, the body of Christ is only recognized on a local level. Though the catholic church exists as the universal expression, there is no means to see, touch, or join the church except on a local level. “In the New Testament there is one method and one alone of dividing the Church into churches, and that God-ordained method is division on the basis of locality. There is no regional or national church. We all belong to the Jerusalem from above and not a national church with a headquarters in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the gathering place because that is where the Church began and all the twelve apostles still lived in the city. It is the council on which we should focus and not the location of where they met. As already stated, the council was made up of apostles, elders, and believers. When it came time for the governmental judgments to be made, however, we hear from the apostles. The lead man that rose to the place of prominence was James. Though he was not of the original twelve, he certainly was an apostle and had his place to speak. Paul and Barnabas represented another apostolic team separate from the Jerusalem apostles.
Forming an Apostolic Council
When we speak of councils forming there are some perquisites that must be present. There must be mutual respect to those on the council and a willingness to submit to the council’s decision. Notice, the council dealt with a conflict and doctrinal issue. They agreed upon a stance to take and it seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. We see that God is operative in an apostolic council to bring guidance to the churches in these matters.
Generally speaking, it would not be possible to have such confidence in each other except where there has been an opportunity for the apostles to know each other. This was certainly the case in the Book of Acts. Today an apostolic council may develop from maturing or emerging apostles who have served together on an apostolic team. They would carry a similar spiritual DNA from their labor together and respect for the apostolic leader of that team, thus even as in the early church you would see spiritual authority surface within the council. People in the council can have their voice yet there would be a moderator or spokesman of spiritual authority as James was in the Jerusalem council.
For practical matters, an apostolic team existing of apostles, prophets, and teachers might serve as a council where necessary. The churches related to the apostolic team would be able to receive their counsel because of spiritual authority provided by such a team serving as a council. However, as team members who have an apostolic gift mature and emerge as apostles with their own sphere of labor, this next level of administration, the apostolic council, becomes necessary for the ongoing function of apostolic administration.
So far I have discussed as the terms imply, two forms of apostolic administration; that of the team and the council. The team speaks of laboring together in the work with government and directives being given to workers. These directives may be given to churches in which the apostles have entrance, as well. The council, however, serves as a form of accountability for the apostles and confirming directives for the churches and leaders serving in those two or more apostolic teams.
The next level of apostolic administration as I see it in the scriptures, is that of the “fellowship of the apostles.” An apostolic fellowship is simply a fellowship of apostles who serve in different spheres and with various values and visions. There is a greater degree of difference in the apostolic fellowship than between the team and council.
We see a picture of the fellowship of the apostles in the Book of Galatians. When Paul became a believer he developed in Christ and in the revelation of the gospel that Christ had given to him. After fourteen years he took Titus with him and went to Jerusalem to present what he was teaching. It concerned him to think that he might be laboring in vain. So, as a safeguard he took one of his team members and they traveled to Jerusalem and he presented his revelation to Peter, James, and John. Paul says that these men gave he and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship a sign of recognition of the apostolic grace and revelation given to them.
Commendation and Confrontation but no Government
In the apostolic fellowship we find no directives or governments operating as we see in teams and councils. It is at this level where apostles mutually accept and commend the ministry of one other. Recognizing the grace of God at work in someone else produces this, but no directives are administered to each other and no one serves as the lead authority.
It is at this stage where apostolic administration will most often go astray. That is because one of two things will most generally take place. A leader will attempt to emerge to rule over a fellowship of apostles and eventually try to impose government or the group of apostles will form an organization that ends up stifling the growth and expression of the dynamic aspects of apostolic ministry.
Apostles in the New Testament did not try to control another man’s work. “When Paul strongly desired Apollos to come to Corinth, and Apollos was not willing to do so in the time frame that Paul desired, Paul accepted it gracefully and refrained from trying to manipulate him into compliance (1 Cor. 16:12). Obviously, when there is a gathering of apostles there must be a facilitator of any such function; however, when one apostle attempts to rule over another when God has not given him such a measure, it will drive the others away. That is not to say, that apostles in general, are not submitted to other apostles. Timothy and Titus were apostles, yet Paul was seen in their lives authoritatively and he was instrumental in their own labor serving as a father to them. When emerging apostles come from the same team of whom God has joined, then there is respect for and clear leadership from the lead apostle. However, in the fellowship of apostles who have been given a sphere of their own by God, it becomes restrictive for one apostle to bring his work under another but may labor together for the greater cause.
By allowing for many apostles and apostolic teams to develop creating different streams of work, it becomes a guard against the institutionalization of the Church. The apostolic fellowship is a key aspect of apostolic administration that protects against entanglements of oppressive rules and policies so often seen in denominational structures that override the relational facet of the dynamic aspect of the Church. “The church as an organization can be ‘manufactured’ by humans; the church as an organism cannot. We can have control over the organization, but never over the organism.”
Notice, Paul said those in Jerusalem “– whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance– those men added nothing to my message” (Gal 2:6). He is not being arrogant or spiteful with his words. He is expressing the equal grace and maturity of his revelation of the gospel and purpose of his calling. It is interesting that here in the fellowship of the apostles, no one is seen as “the authority” and no directives are given. Paul only mentioned that they “asked” him to remember the poor, of which, he was already more than willing to do. So there is a measure of challenge and accountability out of mutual respect for the call of God.
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul opposed Peter to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong playing the part of a hypocrite. What we see then is a confrontation with truth. Though Paul had no governmental authority over Peter, he could confront him with truth to counter error. Peter was then given the choice of receiving the rebuke or rejecting it by parting from the fellowship. This provides another protection for the Church.
In the fellowship of apostles we see where apostles may confront each other with truth, submit their teachings to one another, and be recognized and commended by the others, but no ongoing leader emerges or structure developed to maintain this fellowship. It is simply a fellowship by the mutual recognition of Christ’s Church.
The underlying principle for identifying these three aspects of apostolic administration is to make every effort to keep Christ the head of the Church while allowing for accountability among leaders who serve the Body of Christ on an extra-local basis. We see men like Peter who was an apostle and also served as an elder. It is on the local level among elders that the first line of accountability should be available. However, there comes a time when apostles are so extra-local in their work that it becomes vital to have not only a team of workers but a council in which to convene. It is not just for accountability however, that we must have apostolic teams, but for the work’s sake. Paul found it important to carry out the model that Jesus demonstrated with his own disciples when He sent them out in teams. Team ministry is a kingdom model. It is exemplified in the Godhead, demonstrated by Christ, practiced by Paul, and proven to be effective in ministry. The apostolic council offers to the organic, ever-increasing body of Christ, the means of protection and covering beyond one team. The apostolic fellowship gives a safety net for apostolic teams and councils. It opens the door for gatherings of the saints on a broader basis. It continuously reminds us of who is the Head of the Church and to whom we belong, yet at the same time it frees the leaders from too much static structure that holds back the fuller expression of the apostolic gifts.
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