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