By Neil Cole
Whenever a dramatic new movement transforms the church and consequently a portion of society, long overlooked scripture is viewed with fresh eyes and consequently profound application helps to empower the new work. In the last couple decades God has been unearthing ancient truth that greatly affects His church––the APEST gifts of Ephesians 4:11. The conversations are shifting rapidly. After centuries of domination by only two of the five roles––the shepherd and teacher––suddenly all the gifts are taking on renewed interest. What would have been unthinkable only 15 years ago is now openly talked about in boardrooms, from the pulpit and page, and within halls of theological learning. We are witnessing the rise of the APEs, sans Charlton Heston’s loincloth. These are exciting times of new discovery and each recovered revelation sets more people free to fulfill the calling of their God-given destiny. We are free to unleash a universal church that reflects all the beauty of Christ in this world. I’m so glad to be alive at this time.
Current Confusion Over the A and E
In the mix of this new learning is a degree of expected confusion. It is important now that we work hard to clarify these functions, understand their unique qualities, uncover the blind spots of each and discover how they best interact together.
The most common mishap is the mistaken identity of the apostolic. This is nothing new (Rev. 2:2). In the New Testament there was confusion regarding this gift. Some of the confusion is due in large part to the father of lies that seeks to steal by counterfeiting the true gift (2 Cor. 11:1-33). I address how Satan counterfeits all the gifts in my book Primal Fire (Chp. 18). The apostolic gift is foundational and must come first in chronology (not importance), so if Satan can mess us up at the beginning he can mess with everything that follows.
There is also some confusion from a far less evil intent. Many who are followers of Jesus and faithful to His word, but not apostolic, believe themselves to be apostles. Nowhere is this more common than those who function as evangelists but think they are apostles. I want to address this confusion and hopefully bring some light to the conversation.
In some respects this doesn’t matter much, a title is not as important as the function itself. If we all just love Jesus and do whatever He tells us to do without ever knowing our gift, we will die having fulfilled our calling without the label. However, if we confuse the gifts and therefore define the apostolic with an evangelistic function, we run the distinct risk of losing the true function of both gifts, so it is important to address this. We have seen many churches built on an evangelistic foundation that lacks the movemental properties that can only be found in the apostolic foundation. This is the cost of misidentifying either of these important gifts.
Why We Have This Confusion
Let me address some of the obvious but unnecessary reasons why an evangelist would want to be called an apostle. There are two primary reasons: the unfortunate discrediting of the evangelistic title and the romanticizing of the apostolic title.
In recent days the terms “evangelical” and “evangelist” have been discredited with caricatures and counterfeits that demean the true gift. The rise and fall of the televangelists as well as the over politicizing of a demographic that reduces the term to a voter block have both brought a degree of shame to the title. This is unfortunate. Our adversary has continued his work to steal something meant to be beautiful.
Of all the gifts by far the most winsome and attractive is the evangelist. The Bible says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” An evangelist in pre-Christian literature was the one who bore the good news of victory from the battlefield to the king. Perhaps the most famous was the run from the battle of Marathon to Athens from which the 26.5 mile race today credits its origin. Considering those blistered and bloody feet would have run dozens of miles in sandals over rough terrain to bring news of victory, it is obvious that the beauty of one’s feet speaks to the price one pays to bear good news. It is the passion and commitment that ran so hard that is pictured in those feet that makes them beautiful. The evangelist is meant to be a beautiful and one of the most desirable of gifts. Who doesn’t like someone who comes with good news? It makes sense that Satan would try to paint the opposite picture presenting us with an egotistical, prosperity gospel TV personality, caked in makeup running on crocodile tears, all the while living in a mansion complete with air conditioned dog houses. The price for that kind of “evangelist” is the poor, deluded people sending in their checks, which is quite the opposite of the intended meaning of the gift.
I also believe that we tend to over romanticize the title of apostle. No matter how much we tear down the layers of religious hierarchy, the term apostle still seems to be desired above all. This was true in the first century and still is in the twenty first century (Rev. 2:2).
It is understandable that we identify with Paul, John and Peter as our heroes and feel like being an apostle is the best role. I assure you that Peter, Paul and John would disagree.
With the pioneering impulse found within the evangelist’s soul, it also makes sense that he or she would consider themselves to be apostolic, especially when they do not fit the stereotypical role of leading a crusade in a stadium––which is really just one tiny sliver of what an evangelist gift would look like and true for a very small portion of those gifted this way.
Each of the five roles––apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher––is a reflection of a part of Jesus, and each is equally significant, valuable and needed. To minimize any of them is to minimize Jesus. To discredit any of the gifts as they were originally designed and given is to bring derision to Christ. I actually hope we can raise the stature of the evangelist to be at least equal in desirability as the apostolic.
It is also true that we all have all of the gifts latent within us (because we all have Jesus and are created in the image of God). In our current learning, we have discovered that each of us has what we term a primary gift and a secondary one, and some have a tertiary gift as well. So it is very possible for someone with a primary evangelist gift to also have a secondary apostolic gift, or vice versa. Usually we fulfill the calling of the primary gift through the voice of our secondary gift. This can contribute to the confusion and some of the subtle distinctions in the unique gifts can be blurred. In fact, there is good reason to believe that Paul’s secondary gift was that of an evangelist and his tertiary gift was that of a teacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11).
We should not view the apostle as better or superior in any way to the other gifts. In fact, I am convinced that if we simply listed the description of the gifts without the titles most would be drawn to the evangelist more than the apostolic. It is when we place the titles on the gifts that everyone goes apostolic. With the kind of attraction inherent with the good news teller, one would think adding a more desirable label is not necessary. The evangelist is by far the most popular of people and one that is beloved by every generation. Think of George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham and Rick Warren all of whom are popular statesmen for the church in their days.
With all the ambition of our human nature we still clamor for what we view as the highest “office” in the land. There are no offices and there is no hierarchy in Christ’s kingdom. That said, the apostolic gift is the lowest role––called the scum of the earth and the dregs of society. Paul describes the apostolic in this way:
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Cor. 4:11-13).
The apostolic is the foundation not the ceiling. When you walk into a building you will notice a lot of things, but chances are you never pay attention to the foundation. A foundation goes unnoticed, is walked all over and is most easily forgotten when it is done right. In fact, the only time you think about it is when it is done wrong, and then everything is messed up. Anyone who would put the foundation on the top of the building is a fool and will both cripple and collapse the entire enterprise. Perhaps that is Satan’s design.
Similarities of The Evangelist and Apostle
All of the gifts overlap in a variety of ways. As the chart below demonstrates, you can often find two of the five gifts sharing some orientation and distinction from the other three. I firmly believe that this overlap is to aid in unity and teamwork among the gifts as well as blending of all the strengths. When woven together there are no gaps in developing Christ’s body.
What I find most interesting is the differences found within the commonalities of two gifts. The distinctive quality of each role within shared commonality is where the subtle and unique value of a gift is uncovered. In fact, this article is dedicated to such distinction specifically between the apostolic and evangelistic.
First, the similarities of the apostolic and the evangelistic gifts:
- Both are outreach oriented and gospel-centric. The apostle is the custodian and initial planter of the gospel while the evangelist is the ongoing conscience, passion and preacher of the gospel in the established ecclesia and even bears the name good news.
- Both are entrepreneurs inclined to start something new. The evangelist starts and builds something that grows while the apostle catalyzes multiplication movements. Both can start churches, but the product of their work will look very different. We will highlight those differences later.
- Both are bold doers, bored and discontent with the status quo. The apostle is eager to go to a new place and start another work all over again, while the evangelist is inclined to keep adding new ideas to an existing work ever improving it and growing it.
- Both are adept at reading culture and contextualizing the gospel message. The evangelist has such a high relational IQ that he/she is very adept at discovering what works in his/her own context, while the apostle is able to discover opportunities for the gospel in other cultures.
- Both words were first secular terms used to describe a specific role in a nation’s interaction with other peoples. The evangelist brought news of a foreign battle to the king, while the apostle was a representative sent to a foreign field by the king with a specific message. One brought a message from the king to a foreign field and the other brought a message back from the field.
With these commonalities it is easy to confuse the two gifts, especially based on mere first impressions. It takes a little more digging to see the sharper contrast of the two gifts. Someone who is all about the gospel being culturally relevant and who is entrepreneurial with bold vision can easily see him/herself as being apostolic. That could just as easily describe an evangelist, in fact, more so. We need to dig further into the actual differences between these two very special gifts to appreciate them both for what they are.
Six Distinctions Between The Evangelist and Apostle
- Gospel Sharer v. Gospel Steward. While both the apostolic and evangelistic are gospel-oriented, there is some difference between the two that is remarkable. The apostolic gift is the custodian of the mysteries of God found in the gospel (1 Cor. 4:1). That means that she/he understands the profound power inherent in the good news that releases all kingdom growth and movement. This goes far beyond simply being saved and included in the church. For the evangelist the gospel is the most important message because all life depends upon surrender to it. Jesus’ love compels the evangelist in all he/she does. The apostolic is also compelled to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16), but the way the gospel is transmitted is very different between the two gifts. Sharing the gospel with lost and broken people is all the evangelist can think about day in and day out. He/she becomes the conscience of the compassion and love of Christ for the church. The apostolic gift, on the other hand, sees the gospel as a seed that launches empowerment for all and movement is the result. It is not simply getting people in, but getting people out. The evangelist is the recruiter for the cause; the apostolic is the ignition for the movement. Which leads to the next difference.
- Church Growth v. Church Movement. The evangelist is a recruiter, a salesman of Christ’s church. In fact he or she cannot help but tell the world about Jesus and his church and functions like a magnet drawing people into a growing church. Today most megachurches are led by someone with an evangelistic gift. They will constantly wear the brand, tell the success stories and bring in many to the church. The apostolic, on the other hand, is far more concerned with working through the new disciple to make other disciples. An evangelist is a magnetic gift that draws people in using the church and ministry as a place where those who are preChristians can experience the love of the gospel. The apostolic is a sent gift, which means that she/he is going where the lost are and bringing the message there to plant it. The results of both these practices is very different as the next difference demonstrates.
- Creating Culture v. Crossing Culture. Culture is an important element for both gifts, but in very different ways. The evangelist is a pragmatist who will engineer an entire culture to bring people to Christ, and ultimately into the church. Think of the wave of seeker sensitive churches that have spawned a whole lot of mega churches. Rick Warren and Bill Hybels are great examples of leaders who are evangelists and drawing in lost people to form a new church that grows consistently. In doing so, the evangelist is very concerned with creating a culture that allows a seeker to feel comfortable enough to come and hear the message. Excellence and performance are accentuated in this type of culture. The evangelist will keep on building, adding more staff and creating more complex entities. The apostolic, however, reads culture and is gifted to bring the gospel into a variety of cultures and plant it in such a way as to birth indigenous expressions of ecclesia. Instead of complexity, the apostolic accentuates simplicity and is able to reduce the message and method to that which is irreducible so that it can transform a culture rather than use the culture to save those found within.
As such, the apostolic leader may willingly sacrifice excellence to empower those who are new and learning leaders. An evangelist, with a high relational IQ is very adept at creating a culture that is appealing to the people in their region, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to other cultures. It is almost cliché to find evangelistic methods or models that were successful in a neighborhood in suburbia USA overseas being less effective. An apostle is able to discover the unique opportunities of each culture (as well as some of the strongholds that are antichrist) and bridge the life of the gospel into varieties of cultures. The church expression that results will be far different because of this, whereas the evangelist will keep doing what he/she discovered successful in their context and will produce ministries that look the same everywhere.
- Drawing in v. Distributing out. Each of the gifts has an affect that touches the people around them. The affect of the evangelist is to welcome people in. What a lovely and needed gift. The apostolic gift is just as inclined to make the nest uncomfortable for young leaders so that they feel the need to leave and venture out on their own. The resulting energy of these two gifts is most distinct in the flow of direction. The evangelist draws people in while the apostolic, or sent ones, send people out. One grows a church and the other catalyzes movement. One is a centripetal energy and the other centrifugal.
This distinction is seen even in the preChristian usage of the terms. The evangelist in secular usage was running toward the King bearing good news. In the same way our evangelists are drawing people toward Jesus with good news. Thus he/she is called “the good news bearer.” The apostle in secular usage was sent by the king to other lands and peoples to bear his message in that context, and is thus called “the sent one.”
- Popular v. Persecuted. Everyone loves the person that bears good news. In like fashion the one who brings challenge to the existing culture is usually disliked in equal doses. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus are promised persecution, no matter the gift or role they bear. The apostolic specifically challenges culture and the powers of those who benefit from the current system. The evangelist tends to utilize said culture for the good of the kingdom so is less of a challenge to the powers that be. The result is that apostles tend to be unpopular in their day though are often valued in hindsight by later generations (Luke 11:49). In defending his true apostolic calling from the false, Paul mentions his persecution as evidence of his role of being an apostle (1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 11: 1-33). If the evangelist gift is the most popular and desirable gift when being described in action, the apostolic (along with its reluctant companion the prophet) is by far the most despised. The evangelist tends to be beloved and the apostolic besmirched. I am amazed by what my evangelist friends can say and do and get away with it simply because they are so darn loveable. I’m equally shocked at how easily my words and works can cause offense.
- Success Oriented v. Succession Oriented. Perhaps the most distinctive difference in these two gifts if found after they are gone. As one who is passionate about reaching lost souls for Jesus through any means necessary, the evangelist tends to utilize whatever tools are available. The most powerful tool is usually the gifted evangelist him or herself. Because of this the evangelist is usually at the center of the ministry built around such a gift. The people of God bring their friends and family to the ministry where the gospel presented through the highly effective message of the evangelist seals the deal. This produces a lot of life and ministry, but the downside is when the life of the evangelist comes to an end. The evangelist is the lynchpin that holds the whole operation together; replacing such a person is near impossible. We are witnessing on a global scale what happens when the founding pastor/evangelist is removed from a large mega church how that ministry struggles afterward. Many souls were saved and lives changed while the evangelist was fulfilling his or her calling, but succession is not the determiner of success for them and it shows later. The evangelist measures success with numbers of souls saved. Because an evangelist is a pragmatist with a very clear end in mind it is very easy to determine success. An organization led by an evangelist measures decisions and dollars, and size does matter. “Does it work?” Is the constant cry of the evangelist, and by “work” they mean grow in numbers. Evangelists, with their gift for recruiting, are by far the best fundraisers in the kingdom. The apostles, however, are always distributing rather than recruiting and are usually not well funded as a result. Perhaps there is some reason behind the early church putting their assets at the feet of the sent ones for distribution rather than building one ministry (Acts 4:32-37). Accumulating and growing is something evangelists are good at, not apostles.
After years of catalyzing the organic church movement some have questioned my gift and calling simply because I am not making any profit off of the movement and do not have a single funded and ongoing organization to point to. This is measuring the apostolic with the evangelist’s ruler. This never feels good, but the apostle can do it no other way, he or she simply must give it all away in the end. Trust me when I say that the evangelist doesn’t want to be measured with the apostolic ruler either, because he/she would also fail miserably. Each gift has its own fulfillment and consequently, its own lack thereof. We simply cannot continue to measure one another with the standard of success of only one or two gifts.
The apostolic is less concerned with growing large as multiplying small. Being unnecessary is part of the apostle’s job description, so they tend to be undervalued afterward. Not being needed is a value and goal for the apostle so s/he can move into unevangelized area and leave shortly after with a fully functioning and moving ecclesia. The evangelist thrives on being needed. We all value the apostle Paul today, but near the end of his life he was rejected by most of his churches and disciples and had a very small number of people who were there for him. Nevertheless he fulfilled his life calling and died ready for his judgment (2 Tim. 4:6-18).
Numbers being saved and gathered is less of a concern to the apostle as disciples who then make more disciples and multiply to the fourth generation and beyond. Generations of self-starting disciples that may never know the name of the apostle who got it all started, is what is on the mind of the apostle. This results in movements being spread, rather than an organization growing. It usually takes growth that goes beyond the capacity of the evangelist’s ability to manage that will result in him/her delegating to others what he or she has been doing. Even still, the evangelist will keep to him/herself what is seen as the most important work. It is hard to live up to the standards of excellence and success set by the evangelist. Sometimes that means that he/she must do it themselves.
When an evangelist evaluates the work of an apostle they will be less than impressed because there will not be large growth or sustained income. To them, it isn’t working. But by those evaluations Jesus and Paul would also have failed. Succession for generations was the fruit of their lives. Jesus said His disciples would do greater works than He did after he was gone (John 14:12). He said it was to their advantage that He depart from them (John 16:7). Paul mentions to the Philippians that their spiritual life was better in his absence than when he was present (Phil. 2:12). These are the songs that come from the heart of an apostle. Those tunes sound foreign to the evangelist and is not something they can usually attain to. The evangelist is usually the key lynchpin in the success of any ministry they started. Both Jesus and Paul died penniless and with few supporters nearby, but were successful in their calling.
I’ve found that traveling overseas with an evangelist is revealing. The evangelist is always so beloved and accepted by other people groups, even though he or she may not be willing to try certain uncomfortable things or eat food that would disagree with their palate. I on the other hand will eat anything set before me from my indigenous friends and am more conscious of violations of cultural taboos. Nevertheless, after some time doing work together in another culture, the people are enamored with the evangelist and feel like they don’t need me anymore. In other words, we both were successful, just in different ways.
We need both success and succession. When they are separate because the gifts are not together one will be the downfall of the other. John Wesley was an apostle and his contemporary George Whitefield was an evangelist. Together they started what became the Methodist movement but they split ways and never rejoined again. Wesley, while quite a preacher, was not the preacher that Whitefield was. George could preach to 20,000 people at a time (a feat verified by none other that Benjamin Franklin). In the moment the evangelist is seen as the more successful, and may indeed be. It is at the end that the apostle’s fruit is seen best. More souls were saved and churches started the year after Wesley’s death than while he was alive and the Wesleyan movements continue to this day.
Near the end of his life Whitefield commented on Wesley’s apostolic designed movement:
“My brother Wesley acted wisely—the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class (small spiritual families led by lay people), and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”
Below is a table accentuating some of these differences between the A and the E.
I believe that we have yet to see the true beauty of these gifts working together. If we can overcome our own egos and value the beauty unique to others because we see the weaknesses of ourselves, then we will see Christ more fully. Even more to the point, the world will see Christ more fully. We will then have success and succession, church growth and movement. To get there we must value all the gifts and recognize their unique differences. To see this happen we must stop confusing the gifts and start valuing them with equal merit.
If you are a likeable entrepreneur that starts and grows something to great heights with incredible fundraising capacity and the draw of relevant and lifesaving good news, do not be sorry that you are not an apostle. Rejoice in your call, like the rest of us do. Don’t be ashamed to not be an apostle. An evangelist is an incredibly beautiful gift and calling in the body of Christ. Embrace it and do not feel the need to be something else.
If you are an apostle and feel rejected and marginalized by the mainstream, do not be sorry for your calling. Rejoice in your call, like the rest of us will… someday.