I was in a conversation last night that made me reflect again on this idea: we can all be involved in missions, and we can all make disciples, but we do not all have the apostolic gift. We are not all missionaries.
The “apostolic” gift I am here equating with the task of going someplace new, where the Gospel is not, crossing a linguistic or cultural boundary, and starting a work that ensures everyone in that place has a chance to hear the Gospel. We see a fuzzy picture of the apostolic function in Paul happening in Acts 19; and we are reminded of the apostolic function when Paul says (Romans 15:20) that it’s his ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known.
While I believe it’s possible to teach anyone to make disciples–indeed, that we are each commanded to make disciples–I’m not sure it’s possible to teach anyone to do this apostolic task. But I believe that apostles can come from anywhere and everywhere. And I believe that apostles aren’t just “born”; they are in some part gifted and in some part mentored, coached and developed.
I don’t think there’s any shame in “not having” the apostolic gift. I freely confess I don’t especially see that gift in me. I’m a good teacher, and I serve others, and I’m good at what I do in research and communication, but I just don’t see the apostolic gift. But I am involved in missions and in movements.
I don’t think we do anyone any favors when we say anyone can be a missionary and everyone should be a missionary, because I think that phrase is a little too fuzzy and people have too many ideas of what it means.
I prefer to say that anyone can make disciples and everyone should – at the very least, of their family – and that everyone can be involved in movements and some of us are gifted to catalyze and start them.
(And, last note: I don’t think “apostle” is some kind of position of authority. I’ve seen several word studies that would conclude it is just the opposite. And of course, we are all called to serve one another, to wash each other’s feet, not to lord it over each other.)