How To Identify An Apostolic Leader

many things may be blooming in your ministry, but apostolic leaders will lead you to the edge to get those next few buds.

Ministry may be blooming, but apostolic leaders are focused on the edge; where things haven’t blossomed yet.

[Also check out “How to Identify and Evangelist in Your Ministry“]

By Jon Hietbrink

For most of my life in the church, “apostle” has been something of a dirty word.

Either because it’s assumed to be an expired gift, or because we’ve so often seen it abused, most of us (even those of us who are gifted as apostolic leaders!) struggle with the idea of calling something “apostolic” and have difficulty finding the right language to identify this gift in its emerging forms. Toward that end, here are five key indicators that might evidence an apostolic gift at work in you or your community, and some reflection questions to help you identify the emerging apostolic leaders in your midst!

1. Apostolic Leaders START NEW THINGS[1]

Perhaps the surest sign of an apostolic gift at work is a litany of new things that have been started due to their influence, whether spiritual or not. Apostolic folks demonstrate a remarkable ability to get things off the ground (even if they don’t always last), whether it be a new initiative, gathering, or community. Whereas gifted evangelists leave a trail of new disciples in their wake, gifted apostles leave behind a trail of new communities that have come into being due to their vision and initiative.

* Whose vision was behind the new communities/initiatives that have started in your network?

2. Apostolic Leaders DEMONSTRATE SPIRITUAL INTENSITY[2]

Another indicator of the apostolic gift at work is a palpable spiritual intensity. Especially focused intensity towards starting new things that are not in existence yet. Apostolic leaders are zealous for God, God’s mission, and God’s people, and their passion leads them to act, even when the odds are stacked against them. In younger leaders, this passion can often create as many problems as it solves, either because they find themselves passionate about everything or sometimes the wrong things (notice I didn’t call this one spiritual maturity), but we can’t allow their immaturity to blind us to the potential latent in these emerging leaders.

* Who in your networks radiates an almost exhausting expression of intensity?

3. Apostolic Leaders THINK STRUCTURALLY[3]

Whereas evangelists and pastors tend to think more relationally about individuals or groups of people, apostolic leaders are consistently thinking about the systems and structures that undergird a community and how they could be redesigned to function more effectively. They might be constantly devising new overhauls to your current structures or suggesting brand-new initiatives, but apostolic leaders often demonstrate an aptitude for connecting previously disparate parts of a given network, in a way that releases new energy and momentum.

Who in your community is regularly coming up with better ways to structure your ministry for greater momentum?

4. Apostolic Leaders EXPRESS A BURDEN FOR EXPANSION[4]

In contrast to teachers and pastors who tend to be concerned primarily for what is already, apostolic leaders express an almost overwhelming burden for what isn’t yet—for the people not in the room, the communities not being reached, the territory no one else is talking about. Apostolic leaders have more than a vision to reach new territory, they have a genuine burden to do so; it’s housed not just in their mind, but in their soul.

Who in your community is constantly championing growth & expansion to new territories?

5. Apostolic Leaders RESPOND TO BIG CHALLENGES[5]

For better or for worse, apostolic leaders have huge vision, and consistently respond to big challenges—the more impossible the dream, the more motivated they are to take it on. Of course, this often gets them into trouble as they regularly bite off more than they can chew, but this willingness to act into the gap is a hallmark of emerging apostolic leaders.

* Who are the folks in your community who respond to your costliest challenges?

Because it wasn’t a part of the vernacular of community, I did ministry for years before I even considered whether I might have an apostolic gift. However, once I was given language that helped me understand my experience, I found the apostolic gifting in me fanned into flame and operating with far more boldness (and maturity). May these “clues” do the same for you or the emerging apostolic leaders in your midst!

[1] See Mark 1.38-39 and Acts 13-14 for examples of this trait in Jesus’ and Paul’s ministry.

[2] Luke 6.12-13 provides a great example of Jesus’ spiritual zeal, and Philippians 3.1-16 captures both the pre and post-conversion intensity of Paul.

[3] The “Sending of the 72” in Luke 10 is a terrific example of Jesus’ structural thinking, and we see the early apostles demonstrating this same trait in Acts 6.1-6 in their handling of the food dispute. Finally, Paul’s shift from focusing merely on synagogues to the Greek oikos provides another fantastic example (Acts 20:20).

[4] Paul’s words in Romans 15.20-24 capture this sentiment beautifully, and we see it too in Jesus’ decision to go through Samaria in John 4.1-42.

[5] Of course, Jesus’ Great Commission to the 11 apostles in Matthew 28.16-20 is the preeminent example of this, and we see it too in Paul’s choice to press onward to Troas (despite multiple closed doors) in Acts 16.6-10.

[Also check out “How to Identify and Evangelist in Your Ministry“]

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About Jon Hietbrink

Jon works with InterVarsity/USA as the Regional Director for the Central US where the vision is to see "a movement of missional communities planted in our 'Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth': 500 Cells, 50 Chapters, and 1 overseas student movement". Jon and his wife Steph have been married for 10 years and have two children, Elijah (6) and Abigail (4).

14 comments

    • Claire- So glad you were blessed by the post. As I mentioned, having some concrete language for my experience (that was rooted in scripture) was a KEY part of my development–very grateful for the work of Hirsch, Breen, Cole and others who have helped pave the way for this vocation to become more “normalized” in the broader conversation! Thanks for reading!

  1. I have just recently been told I have an apostolic ministry. Like you say the language that was used opened up a whole new understanding. I’m 69 years old and just finding out!! Always thought it was just organisational skills I had but when it was explained I knew right away that was right. Due to a prophetic word, IowaIt seems the Lord still has work for me to do and there’s no chance of retiring any time soon!

  2. Oh, I bless the Lord for your effort to explain the apostolic ministry. I assure you that anyone (I included) who reads your piece will be transformed and motivated accordingly. Shalom!

  3. Jon,
    Thank you for posting and sharing your insights and key specific language described in your post. I was recently given a prophetic word. As I was reading each distinct point being made I was discerning whether it applies to me. So, I cant help to think you really described who I am or the mantle we carry. I’m very burdened & feel the gravity of this calling and also feel choosen to complete a specific task God has assigned me to do. It just all makes sense and why the way I am. I am in the process of concencrating myself onto the Lord and desire learn more about this mantle we carry. I am interested with your story and additional insight you may impart.

    All glory to Jesus,
    Brother Joven

  4. I’m saving this article to use in class. It’s a great example of eisegeis (reading things into the Bible) versus exegesis (extracting the meaning out of the Bible). There are a few other interpretive fallacies for my students to find as well. Great class exercise.

  5. Hi, Jon. I was praying with a man with a pastoral calling and another man with a prophetic calling in the same room, and the Lord began to reveal to us that many in the churches are trapped in bondage by leaders who won’t let them operate in their callings, people called to be prophets imprisoned in cells underground, and people called to be apostles bound inside tombs. Then I saw the Lord go to the tomb with the apostles (apostolic ministry) in it, roll back the stone at its mouth, and sit on it (like the angel did at His tomb). I understood this to mean that 1.) this is God’s will for this ministry (and the others in bondage) and that 2.) releasing the apostolic ministry was oh primary importance.

    We then in that meeting understood that we should pray for the called apostles to be released from the tombs (symbolizing problems and difficulties and different forms of bondage holding down the called ones) first and then the release of the prophets and then the Body of Christ. This seemed scriptural to us (eg. the Bible says the apostles and prophets are the Church’s foundation with Jesus as the Cornerstone) and so we prayed about it. Thank you for this short and concise article. I’m not part of a local fellowship; how can I see these signs in average believers who aren’t even functioning yet in the calling?

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