“Do you think I’m an apostle?” It was an unusual come-on line from a would-be suitor. As a single female pastor, though, I got used to fielding all kinds of weird questions on dates. But I wasn’t sure how to answer this one. Even so, his question has stuck with me throughout the years; it was the first time I had heard a regular person apply the word apostle to themselves.
The word apostle seems to be reserved for the select few, or as alter egos for the disciples. Its usage begs the question: What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple? And is the word apostle even still to be used?
Last week we explored the question: Is your church culture set up for apostle-making? I argued that “sometimes we think only church planters can be apostles. Or that it requires a special call. I disagree. If we follow Jesus’ model, apostleship is a natural next step in discipleship. It’s how followers become leaders. It’s how Jesus’ ministry gets carried out.”
This week, I want to dig into the key differences between discipleship and apostleship, and reveal to you the secret faith of apostles. Then I’ll suggest two steps you can take to grow in your apostleship.
Disciples and Apostles
The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus, meaning scholar. A disciple is the student of a particular teacher. A disciple’s primary focus is the teacher and mastering his or her teachings, so that they can follow their path. (The word derech in the Hebrew, means path or way). John the Baptist had disciples, the Pharisees had disciples, and Jesus had disciples. (See Luke 5:33). Of all three, we know the most about Jesus’ disciples: they traveled extensively with Jesus to learn, absorb, and soak up all they could about his life and ethos.
While a disciple is a student, an apostle is an altogether different animal. The word apostle derives from the Greek apostolos, meaning envoy. If disciples are followers, apostles are agents. The first are somewhat passive while the latter are active, even proactive. Apostles are sent out as commissioned agents to act on behalf of another person.
The first 12 apostles functioned as both disciples and apostles. “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:13-15) The 12 first learned from Jesus, then were sent out in his name. They were followed by many others who were also sent out in his name including Barnabas, Paul, and Junia.
Jesus first sent the 12 out, and later the 70, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the Kingdom. In other words, to do exactly what he did. Jesus ultimately said they could do even greater things than he, which they also accomplished. The book of Acts tells how the apostles oversaw the rapid multiplication of the church, with thousands upon thousands becoming believers.
How is it that these one-time followers of Jesus were able to duplicate the very miracles we usually associate exclusively with Jesus? This question leads us straight to the biggest difference between disciples and apostles. I assert that disciples have faith in Jesus while apostles have the faith of Jesus. Otherwise, there’s no way that apostles could do what Jesus did. Apostles must make a qualitative leap in faith. Let’s look at these differences in faith.
Faith in Jesus Faith in Jesus means trusting in his power, his love, his teachings, and his saving grace. This is the kind of faith we commonly teach in church—in songs and hymns, sermons and Bible studies, and children’s messages and youth curriculum. It is the focus of our teaching on salvation.
Faith of Jesus Having the faith of Jesus takes things to a whole new level. It means trusting in what Jesus trusted in. It means abiding in a deep knowing that you are one with God and one with the Holy Spirit; it means cultivating an unwavering trust in your life purpose; it means entertaining a rock-solid knowledge that all things are possible; it means living with an ever-ready expectancy of miracles. Most of all, it means living in constant communion with, and surrender to, God. In other words, having the faith of Jesus means operating in an elevated state of consciousness in which there is no separation between humanity and divinity, between us and God. This kind of faith is hinted at in church, but is often not emphasized, even though it is a big part of Jesus’ teachings (see for instance John 15). It is the secret faith of apostles. Is it any wonder that apostleship is so little known?
Growing as an Apostle
With this in mind, you may be ready to grow as an apostle. If you are, here are two suggested steps to take:
- Ask Jesus to show you the kind of faith he had. Listen quietly and expectantly for an answer. Then do what he tells you to do.
- Pray the prayer of the apostles: “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5). Then, listen for his answer. Just as he encouraged the 12, don’t be surprised if he directs you into action. Here are things you can do right away: stop doubting God, and stop doubting yourself. Doubt in God limits God’s capacities to do wonders in your life. Self-doubt limits your capacities to follow God’s instructions. Either way, both kinds of doubt interrupt momentum and obstruct miracles.
Remember my would-be suitor and his question? After he asked me about apostleship, I had to question my own level of faith. After all, he was a mailman and I was a pastor. Where in the heck was my trust in God? I prayed my own version of the apostle’s prayer when he eventually asked me the big question on bended knee. God showed me the right answer; I said yes.
Next week, we’ll look at the 5 A’s of biblical apostleship. In the meantime, if you are interested in maximizing your leadership culture, check out my latest workshop: From Discipleship to Apostleship.
Article adapted from the forthcoming book, “Dream Like Jesus,” by Rebekah Simon-Peter. All rights reserved.