When Jesus was alive, his followers were called disciples. Disciples are followers. Disciples are learning, growing, developing based on their proximity and relationship to whom they are following. In the evangelical church, we talk about discipleship. We talk about following Christ. To be a disciple of Christ, one must therefore have a relationship with Him. Jesus as part of His incarnation, left us His words. The scripture, especially the gospels, are filled with knowledge of Jesus as recorded by those who were physically with Him on this earth. Jesus also left us the Holy Spirit, so that we would have a comforter, and a counselor. We know Jesus through His Word, and we experience Him through the Spirit. We have relationship with Him in this way, because He lives.
After Jesus died, twelve of his disciples were called Apostles. Apostles are “sent out”. Apostles are sent out, emissaries with a message for the world. Apostles are evangelists, spreading good news. Jesus choses as his emissaries, ordinary men who had been disciples. They were not wealthy, particularly well educated, politically powerful. They were fiercely loyal, utterly dependent (on Him), and willing to suffer and die. Jesus gave the apostles tremenous power (through the Holy Spirit) to do good works on his behalf. He gave them a mission – to make disciples – in all the world. A mission that we are still carrying out to this day. Jesus did not tell his apostles – go therefore and kill anyone who doesn’t convert – he did say go therefore and make disciples. Our church leaders today are apostles. This includes pastors, elders, teachers – those who provide a message.
In modern times, the church sends out missionaries. They are, in fact, apostles. They are evangelists. Most of them are, like the first apostles, not wealthy, particularly well educated, or politically powerful. Many of them are bivocational – they travel to a far land, work in some vocation, while spreading the good news in their spare time. They are often persecuted, intimidated, unappreciated, and disregarded by those they come to serve, yet they keep on. The apostle Paul was perhaps the first missionary. The model that he defined, lives on today: He was funded by churches, bivocational (a tent maker), he traveled from place to place starting churches (a church planter). He worked with indigenous people helped them form a congregation, established disciples, established local leadership and then moved on to a new place – continuing to correspond with and assist the churches he founded. When those churches become self-sustaining, they then can send their own missionaries.
So where are you on this continuum? Disciple? Apostle? Missionary? Well?