What does Jesus send apostles to do?

When people investigate what an apostle is, mainly they wanna know whether Jesus still makes them, or whether they’re just a first-century, back-in-bible-times phenomenon. Especially when they don’t want there to be any more apostles, ’cause they don’t like the idea of Jesus designating leaders himself, with no input from them. (I already discussed this in my article on apostles.)

The rest of the time they’re usually looking for a job description. ’Cause some Christian has claimed, “This is what an apostle does,” and they wanna know whether that’s true. Do the scriptures tell us that’s what an apostle does? Or is this person all wet, and claiming some heretic weirdness instead of something truly biblical?

Here’s the thing: The bible doesn’t spell out an apostle’s job description. Because it’s not actually a particular job. It’s a person.

The word ἀπόστολος/apóstolos means “one whom [God] sent.” That’s a person. An individual. A woman or man to whom Jesus appears, or to whom the Holy Spirit speaks, and is given a mission to go and do. Which mission? It varies.

Yep, there’s not just one vocation, one mission, one job, for all apostles everywhere, to do. Like the military, there are hundreds of missions. The overall goal is to grow God’s kingdom, and the individual mission is gonna contribute to that. (Well, it’d better. Otherwise it may not actually be Jesus who sent this person. Just saying.)

So those Christians who claim, “Here’s what the apostolic office consists of”: Nope. This may be what they do, or their pastor or boss does—and it may be exactly what Jesus wants them and their pastor and boss to do. But is it what Jesus wants every apostle to do? Of course not. There is no single apostolic job description. There are just apostles: Individuals Jesus ἀποστέλλω/apostéllo, “sends out,” with a mission—and missions vary.

Evidence from the bible? No problem; there’s lots. Here, Jesus straight-up declares he sends people with a bunch of different vocations.

Matthew 23.34 KJV
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city…

Yeah, I don’t like how they end up either. Them’s the risks when you follow Jesus. But set that aside a minute and notice Jesus lists three different types of vocations, whom he apostéllo/“sends out.” Prophets to share with people whatever God tells them; sages to share wise advice, help plan stuff, or judge fairly; and scholars who know their bible, can teach it to others, and can confirm the prophets and sages.

And no these aren’t the only people Jesus sends on missions. I’m not making a comprehensive list here. The bible doesn’t make one either.

Jesus designated the Twelve to apprentice with him, so he could train ’em to proclaim his gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise devils. I should point out that was their initial mission.

Mark 3.14-15 KJV
14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils…

Later he sent ’em to evangelize.

Luke 9.2 KJV
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

Much later, when the Twelve found themselves running Jesus’s relatively brand-new church of thousands of people, they decided their primary mission was to pray and teach.

Acts 6.2-4 KJV
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

As our Lord, Jesus has every right to change our mission on us! ’Cause not every mission is open-ended, and we oughta expect to do it for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we actually complete our missions! The Holy Spirit sent Philip to go to a particular Ethiopian; Ac 8.29 Philip did it, shared the gospel with him, and was done. He wasn’t sent to Ethiopia to preach the gospel; the Ethiopian did that, and that’s why Ethiopia is to this day full of Christians. As for Philip, he went off to preach in other cities, Ac 8.40 and apparently stayed in Caesarea and raised his daughters to be prophets. Ac 21.8-9 Missions change—but apostles remain the people Jesus sends on missions. So like I said: Apostles are individuals. Not vocations.

Yeah, sometimes he sends us on big, grand projects. Sometimes he has us found a church, and run it the rest of our lives. And other times, he sends us to go get him dinner.

Luke 22.8 KJV
And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.

If you’re under the delusion that an apostolic job is a big exalted thing with a mighty biblical mandate, and that apostles are huge important people, you may not be aware how leadership works in God’s kingdom. He once had to correct his apostles about that particular false idea:

Matthew 20.25-27 KJV
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

You wanna become an apostle? Then get it out of your head that it’s a big important office. It’s a person, who’s willing to obey and follow Jesus. Become such a person. Start following Jesus. Start serving others. He’ll give you a mission.

Those with apostolic job descriptions.

Obviously there are plenty of Christians who teach no such thing. Particularly Christians who claim they’re apostles; particularly Christians who are big fans of the fivefold ministry model, and wanna differentiate between apostles (which they supposedly are) and pastors (“eww… mere pastors”).

You know, snobs. Which right there should be a big red flag you’re not gonna get some accurate information. More like stuff which exalts them, and lowers everyone else.

A lot of them jump all over the bit in Acts I previously quoted, where the apostles explain to the church that they need to focus on prayer and God’s word. Ac 6.4 That right there, they insist, is their job. Conveniently, it’s a job description which never requires them to leave the office, or interact with the needy and the lost and the rabble. They’re meant to just sit in their ivory tower and do vision-casting, while other people can do the grunt work.

Yeah, no. The apostle Paul made tents. Ac 18.3 He made a point of he, and his teams, having day jobs so that the churches he visited didn’t have to financially support them. 2Th 3.8-10 Any apostle who thinks their vocation puts them above menial tasks, doesn’t have the appropriate heart for serving Jesus, who demonstrated otherwise by washing feet. Jn 13.12-17 And while a number of these apostles will insist they’re not against doing the occasional bit of gruntwork… far too many of them have a team of assistants, interns, and “armor-bearers” around to do precisely that for them. They turned “serving God” into a cushy job.

I’m not saying every minister needs to scrub toilets, or needs a day job. But the more we insulate ourselves from regular people and the toils of daily life, the less we can relate to the needy. And God’s kingdom is particularly for the needy. God didn’t become human and come near so that his ministers could make ourselves distant!

In brief, any apostle whose job description leads ’em to a lifestyle which doesn’t resemble Jesus’s ministry on earth at all, is doing it wrong. Any apostle whose focus on “prayer and the word” removes them from their congregation’s lives, and removes them from the real world, isn’t ministering to the real world. Bluntly, a lot of these self-described “apostles” are really just mammonist robber barons who are hoping the people who donate to their churches never notice how they put great burdens on everybody else, yet don’t lift a finger to help. Mt 23.4 Stay away from such leaders.