Working on my next book project, part of my research encompasses my favorite church planter, St. Patrick. Unveiling the likelihood that the “Apostle of Ireland” may have been the first itinerant-apostle to seriously apply the Great Commission to his missionary endeavors was encouraging. The utilization of the term “Great Commission” is most notably attributed to William Carey. Still, Patrick viewed his missionary efforts to the Gaelic peoples as part of the bigger picture of “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Having a passion for disciple-making, church planting, and the gifting of redeemed believers (Eph. 4:11), Patrick’s life enlightens my soul. When researching Patrick and the earlier Church Fathers, it became apparent that the contemporary church misunderstands early missions, missionary roles and attributes, and the foundational importance of the itinerant-apostle.
For clarity, contemporarily, the usage of the term apostle is not without contention. Most often, people equate an apostle with an office. Within biblical Greek, the term apostle (apostolos) means to send. While Christians tend to (rightly) denote the word apostle with the original Twelve disciples of Christ, the word serves a much broader comprehensive function. Interestingly enough, the term carries nautical weight, as a gathering of seafaring ships embarks upon a maritime expedition. The role of the itinerant-apostle/prophet was much like a seafaring entity, leaving one harbor to enrich another.
Early Itinerant Apostle-Prophet
Assuredly, there has been an ample amount of scholarly research concerning the Didache, its authorship, dating, and possible influence on the Gospel of Matthew. While I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying the text, missional disciple-making is the driving force for my interest. Knowing that a first-century disciple-making resource was available to the early church is more than motivational; it’s illuminating.
Without delving into an argument, we’ll assume the abundant scholarly research on the Didache is sufficient. With that stated, the Didache and its “two ways” open the door to understanding the traveling apostle-prophet. Milavec notes, “The oral tradition of the Didache devoted so much attention to the apostle-prophets because it needed to. Thus, they were dealing not with just a rare visit but regular visits.” The wandering prophet in the Didache is uncannily similar to Matthew 10:41.
While the Didache notes the itinerant apostle-prophet should not stay longer than two days to assess honesty and integrity, it is reasonable to assume that they carried letters of authority for lengthier stays, much like that of the apostle Paul (e.g., Acts 9:2; 15:22-29). Regardless, the itinerant-apostle was a traveling servant; this is evident in Paul’s church planting and edifying travels.
Craig Keener notes there were approximately nineteen stops of Paul’s new communities in his second journey. Of the nineteen communities that Paul’s itinerancy logged, he remained in four less than three days, seven less than seven days, and 13 communities less than 14 days. The role of the itinerant-apostle-prophet was more than a mere ekklesia check-up; it was a reproducible disciple-making whirlwind with divine instruction.
It seems highly plausible that Pauls’ role became Antioch’s itinerant apostle-prophet. This credibility exists, as Luke records Paul proclaiming to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). The itinerant prophet made the rounds to encourage the churches and begin new ones. As recorded in the Shepherd of Hermas, “When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God … the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes.”
As well, Luke recognized five apostle-prophets within the Antiochian church community (Acts 13:1). Most notably, three of these “apostle-prophets were commissioned, being ‘sent out’ to plant new churches.” In the spirit of the itinerant-apostle Paul’s journey to Gaul, Patrick would also employ the itinerant strategy.
While previous historians and missiologists have scoffed at Patrick’s usage of offerings or monetary gifts to gain inroads with tribal chieftains, the ends justified the means. Today, we would equate Patrick’s kingly gifts as contextualization and discernment. Patrick knew the extreme dangers of the Barbarian life.
Having been enslaved to the Celtic people as a youth, Patrick was well aware of the endangerments ahead. Traveling the roads alone was not advisable, not with the marauders and rival tribes. Giving a gift to a tribal king would assure not only safety but a guide, translator, and ambassador. Most of Patrick’s provided emissaries became converts.
Patrick knew the importance of receiving permission to perform discipleship among the small extant Christian communities. Permission would allow him access to the unchurched in neighboring tribes. And, as an itinerant-apostle, Patrick utilized every opportunity.
Itinerant Church Planting
Much like the Apostle Paul’s passion, Patrick was known to move to “new areas” and regions “where the gospel had never been preached” One may doubt Patrick’s journey strategy or impact but could never suspect his motive. In his Letter to Coroticus, Patrick confesses:
Church planters are pioneers that pave the way for souls to enter eternity. The impact of the pioneering itinerant-apostle was to bring the gospel and its power to unreached peoples. While the descriptions of Patrick’s life include “many miracle stories … we see that such stories proliferate when the gospel moves into pioneer territory.”
Patrick’s zeal and Confessions show that he was a pioneering itinerant as he moved “from place to place to befriend the various tribal” peoples. As an apostolic-itinerant, Patrick is attributed to planting over 200 churches.However, Patrick wasn’t a mere traveling evangelist; he baptized and discipled an uncountable number of individuals. Some scholars estimate Patrick to have baptized over 100,000 converts. Needless to say, the church needs more like Patrick; it needs more itinerant-pioneers.
 Smither, Ed. Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 57.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Apostle, Apostleship,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 131.
 Garrow, Alan, The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache (NY: Bloomsbury, 2004).
 Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities (New York, Newman Press, 2003), 441.
 Keener, Craig, S. Acts : An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids : Baker, 2014), 2298.
Shepard ofHermas, Book II, Commandment 11, Vol. 2, 28.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he boasts of a five-fold ministry consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—we’re going to call this, APEST (btw, I didn’t make that up and I know how some feel about it—if you’re not an APEST fan, go ahead and tune out, otherwise, read on.). The key to finding leaders who are just dying to utilize their giftings are in your core team or church, and are within the five-fold ministry.
First, let’s look at what Paul writes, “And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV). This is our foundation. Granted, Paul is talking about “offices,” so let’s remember that we’re looking for leaders. Not everyone is an APEST. Some people are gifted according to 1 Cor. 12:4–11.
In this passage, the Apostle outlines how the “fullness of Christ” (4:13) is uniting the fellowship of the saints and their specific gifting to edify (build up) Christ’s church. Let me say this, you have some of these people sitting in your pews (if you still have pews) and they’re gifting is being squandered. Let me help you discern who has what gift and how you can tap into that gifting, creating a missional movement for the kingdom.
Twenty-first century evangelicals have a hard time with this title. Mainly, we were taught in Sunday school about the 12 apostles. None of us should consider ourselves on of them. But the gift of apostleship still exists, in the essence of being hard-wired to edify the church. This one is so important. Church planters get this, as most of them (if not all) are apostolically gifted.
The gift of apostleship is a gifting that inspires people to be entrepreneurs, business owners, risk-takers, imaginative thinkers, and creators—people that are never afraid to step out of the box. In our church settings, it is really important to allow these people to be innovative. However, it is difficult for most pastors to allow those with the gift of apostleship to flourish because they are viewed as a threat. Why? Because they are driven by change and innovation. But, we must realize that God has placed them within our midst. If we can tap into a person with this gift, they can help birth an entire movement.
Those with the gift of apostleship may excel in art, music, sewing (we have those), woodworking, cooking, business administration, or any other creative industry. The idea here is that these folks will be the ones with the ideas for motivation, innovation, and expand structure—they’re inspired by the Lord to create and inspire others. Set these people free! But, keep them close to leaders because they see vision, understand it, and apply it.
We’ve all heard of Elijah calling down fire to consume military opposition (1 King 1). When we think of the word prophet, we think of Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, but God has placed the prophets within the church to edify and build up the saints. The prophetic gifting is one in which encouragement with truthfulness flow. These are straight shooters, sometimes viewed as “hardliners,” and have a heart for the holiness of God. Pairing up a person with the gift of apostleship and prophet can be very effective, yet dangerous.
It can be effective because the prophetic gifted person is very instinctual, emotional, and finds things cut and dry (black and white). It can be dangerous because they can quell an imaginative thinker quickly. However, if they work as a team, using discernment and understanding their unique gifts, they ascertain why they think the way they do. Prophetically gifted people see danger before it happens, but sometimes lean on the more cautious side of everything, and can get depressed easily, especially if they feel their gifting is not utilized.
But, prophets also are those who will be extremely loyal. Pastors love them and they seek out the pastor, often. As long as you are gospel-centered and driven, these gifted folks will be the encouragers to remind the flock that God is in control—nothing fears them. Use prophets in leadership as advisors—they have God’s best interests at heart—sometimes to a fault. Also, prophets are the ones who see giftings in others—usually immediately. These are the people who when they look at you, they’re “reading your mail.” You won’t fool a prophetically gifted person. It is highly likely that someone with the gift of evangelism has this gift, too.
Here is a gift that it seems no one wants. I don’t know why, it’s one of my favorite gifts. Perhaps the term scares people? I guess we perceive that the gift of evangelism is usually set apart for those who love Scripture and “witnessing” to people. While this is partly true, let’s remember that we want to cultivate and find these new leaders. So, do you have someone with the “gift of gab”? This person, if discipled, will make an excellent evangelist.
But speaking to people is not the only side to evangelism. This gifting includes the servant-heart—the Martha. You know, the people who love to set up chairs, cook meals, and talk with others. While some may say that’s the gift of hospitality, and it is, what we’re saying is that we need to cultivate this person—bring out that beautiful servant heart and release it into the community.
Servant-hood evangelism in one of the best models of Christ-like action. Some of you may have heard the term, incarnating into community, so think of it as “fleshing out,” or being Christ to a culture. An evangelistically gifted person can serve in leadership by locating others with this gift. These people tend to be magnetized to those who are like-minded—finding one person with the gift and putting them in leadership, has the potential for a team of an evangelistic movement in community. If you match up an apostolically gifted person and an evangelist…things get done!
So, recently I was working with a cohort of church planters for several hours. When I left, I had felt better than I did and more at rest than when I spent a week on vacation at the beach. Crazy, you say? No, this is one of my gifts. I realize that like a border collie set free to heard sheep, there is nothing like being in your realm! I’m a herding freak! But, don’t associate shepherding with meetings—blah—shepherds are extroverts.
Shepherds are vital to any church or church plant because these are the networkers. These are the men and women who know how to bring people together. They are by nature positive people—optimists. Shepherds not only know how to network and bring people together, but they also are people who have deep empathy, compassion, and a heart for those who they consider family (which in my case is everyone I meet!). Maybe you have healthcare workers, foremen, moms/dads with multiple kids, or managers, these are the people who know how to get things done, but in good ways.
The gift of shepherding is one, which thrives upon everyone getting along and coming together. They seem to get great satisfaction with seeing things “fire on all cylinders.” They’re shepherding gift kicks in without notice. You want these people in leadership; they can help your small group leaders, pastors, and teachers with bringing events and programs together. They can help with social media and will have fun doing it. One negative side note, shepherds tend to be a little OCD. Everything has a place, time, and purpose. Shepherds will inevitably burnout if you do not take care of them, but they thrive on being busy and sometimes stress.
Teachers. What can we say? We have to love those who are patient, loving, and desire to see the skill sets of others come out. Those with this gift love being disciple-makers. They do not necessarily need to be the one that can cite every passage of Scripture and exegete the Bible flawlessly, leave that for the prophet (who by the way, may not be a good teacher—at all! Prophets tell it like it is). If you have a school-teacher in your midst, be careful not to burn them out. They know they have this gift and use it daily.
The best way to nourish a teaching gift is to cultivate it—water it. A person with a teaching gift will thrive and come to life, IF, they have encouragement. The reason is due to their gifting. They pour out so much from their heart and passion that they can easily get drained, but as those who invest in others, gratitude goes a long way. People who may have this gift could be any myriad of person, but look for the person who has great patience, an ability to clarify or portray things, they can contextualize things very well, are very practical and down to earth people, who enjoy staying in the shadows and seeing others blossom.
Utilize teachers for small groups, discipling, counseling, and developing activities. If asked, they may also be very effective at working with the evangelist in a community project—because they have great patience and can express ideas (and the gospel) in ways that others cannot.
Granted, this is not exhaustive, these are just some good observations to help you develop your church’s five-fold ministry in building up the church. If you have these people in leadership, surely a missional movement can ignite. Your job is to assess these giftings (maybe you have one), and then apply them by putting the right people into the right places.
If you have one these gifts and are not being utilized, maybe you need to share this with your pastor or leadership team?