Definition of an Apostolic Leader


An Apostolic Leader is gifted, taught and commissioned by God to function within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church, and is committed to establishing and extending the Kingdom of God in the earth. Such leaders reflect the character of Christ, spiritual maturity, and an ability to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Apostolic leaders have a grace that has come to them in the form of a call to be one of five types of leader: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and/or teacher. These leadership roles are not limited to functions within the church but can be validly exercised within all domains or spheres of influence in contemporary society e.g. Business, Government, Justice, Religion, Creative Arts, Education, Health, Media, Sport and Welfare, etc. Collectively the domains are known as the marketplace.

Christ’s ministry fully demonstrates all of these five roles. We as members of His body, receive one of these five appointments, relying on one another for those areas we are not gifted in.


The New Testament clearly outlines the gift of the apostle in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Also mentioned in Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. The Apostle Paul and Christ’s apostles spoke of the gift as essential for the healthy function of the Church and training of the Saints.

C. Peter Wagner briefly defines an ‘Apostle’ as a: “Christian leader who is gifted, taught, and commissioned by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the Church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” This is by no means a comprehensive definition.

A thorough study must be done to specifically understand what the term ‘Apostle’ means. ICAL Council Members, Drs. Ron Cottle and John P. Kelly have written a series entitled: APOSTLES: WHAT ARE THEY? Using the original Greek and Hebrew, they outline the term for more clarity.


By Dr. Ron Cottle and Dr. John P. Kelly

There is much discussion on what the word ‘apostle’ means and how to describe an apostle. Some of the confusion is because apostles don’t all look or work alike. Some focus on world missions, some on the marketplace, and others on the local church or a network of churches. However, they all share at least three basic characteristics: Apostles are Ambassadors, Generals-Governors, and Patriarchs.

This series of teachings will begin with the Ambassador Apostle. The next two months will focus on Generals and Patriarchs. These teachings will become part of the ICA Prospectus.


One day Jesus called aside His twelve disciples and after He had given them authority, He commissioned them apostles: “When He had called unto Him his twelve disciples, He gave them authority…and the twelve apostles….” (Matthew 10:1-2).

A. Jesus Himself Chose the People and the Title

It was Jesus alone who chose the name “apostolos” for those whom He called, authorized, and sent out. Among the earliest uses of the term were the Greek historians who used it to describe an admiral over a fleet of ships sent out by his king to discover, explore, conquer, and establish his government in newterritories. Jesus’ choice of the word reflects this meaning and stresses its emphasis on “one sent from
another” or a fully authorized representative, ambassador of the sender. (Lyssichus, Or., 19:21; Demosthenes, Or., 18:107) So, Apostles are fully authorized representatives or ambassadors of the one who sent them.

B. Apostles Were First Disciples

It is important to note that the people chosen and authorized to be apostles were already disciples—mathetes. That is, they were not just pupils learning facts from their teacher, or even students learning principles from a professor. They were disciples who were incarnating the character and essence (psuche) of their Master. Like Timothy with Paul, they took on the isopsuchos—same soul or DNA of their Lord (Philippians 2:20). Jesus led them to a mountain and there poured into them Himself. He did not release them until they were thoroughly filled with His vision and values. Only when they were ready did He release them for the task and turn His attention to “teach and preach in their cities.”

C. The Difference between Disciples and Apostles is the Impartation of Exsousia

What is the difference between committed disciples and commissioned apostles? Exsousia! This is not power as the KJV translates it. Rather it is “the right to power” or authority (Matthew 10:1-2). When one is sent out as an apostolos, he is the full delegate and representative ambassador of his sender. He carries in his person the full authority of the one who sent him.

D. Apostle equals Sheliach

Jesus did not think or speak Greek, but Aramaic-Hebrew. He took the Greek word apostolos because Greek was the universal language of the Roman Empire. But He filled it with the content of the Hebrew Sheliach. What then is a Sheliach? He is one commissioned and authorized to fully represent his sender. He represents in his person the one who commissioned him.

Eliezer, the Syrian slave whom Abraham commissioned to bring a wife for Isaac, was the first Sheliach mentioned in scripture (Genesis 24:2ff and 15:2). He was already an elder and servant (zakenand ebed) in Abraham’s house. As such, he was selected and appointed by Abraham himself to be his emissary. He placed his hand “beneath Abraham’s thigh” to take an oath of loyalty and faithfulness. Only after this did Abraham send him out. While on his mission, he was as Abraham himself as he negotiated for Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife.

So, while Greek apostolos gives us the form of the New Testament apostle, it is the Hebrew Sheliach that provides the content. A Sheliach-Apostolos is the full representative of his sender. As the Rabbis said: “The Sheliach of a man is as the man himself” (Beraita 5:5). Gerhard Kittel says: “The Sheliach (of Jesus) is as good as his Sender in all he says and does in the execution of his mission” (K., TDNT, 1:415).

The ancients called thisplenipotentiaryrepresentation—fully empowered. This is the true meaning of “representative government.” Kittel adds “The emissary of the King is as the King Himself” (K., TDNT, 1:416).

An Apostle is an Ambassador of the One who sent him.

© Dr. Ron Cottle and Dr. John P. Kelly

Apostles are Generals and Governors

By Dr. Ron Cottle

Growing out of the basic identity presented in Section One, there are two important expressions. The first is the apostle as general or governor. In 2 Corinthians 10:4 Paul says:

“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty….”

Warfare in this verse is strateia and it is “military service.” We are at war and God has provided equipment (hopla) that is powerful and fit for demolishing enemy fortifications erected against us. All this equipment is most effective under the command of a full representative of the King—an apostle-Sheliach on assignment and under orders. In the NT this person is a strategos, warrior-strategist, a general or governor in his assigned sphere.

As His representatives, God gives apostles commissions and goals; as apostles we devise the strategy to accomplish them. Some translations of strategos in the NT are: Praetor/Governor; chief magistrate or captain of the Temple—both are Caesar’s representatives over either a territory or a temple. This person served as an officer of the government of Rome and was commissioned by Caesar to be “in charge” and responsible only to the government. If he served faithfully, he had the entire might of the Roman Empire behind him. If he served unfaithfully or abusively, he was subject to recall or banishment by Caesar but never by the subjects of his assignment. See Luke 22:4, 52; Acts 4:1; 5:24, 26; Acts 16:20, 22, 35, 36, 38.

A strategos was appointed by Imperial authority as its official, authorized representative. As such, he was “in charge and responsible” to the Emperor for the legal operation of the Provincial government or the Temple government, whichever was his sphere of assignment.

In Nehemiah 2:5, Nehemiah asked the king to send him (Shalach) as his authorized representative-ambassador and “man in charge” to rebuild Jerusalem. He was asking to be an apostle-Sheliach on mission. In 2:6 the Word says, “So it pleased the King and he sent (Shalach) me.” Letters were given to others already in the field and on assignment by the King so that they might recognize and assist Nehemiah in his mission.

When he arrived, he took charge and became Governor (Pechad—overseer or Bishop) over Artaxerxes’ work in all Jerusalem and Judea. The other rulers in the region dealt with him as with a head of state. Here we have a strong example of what an apostle really is. Nehemiah was a strategos, an apostle-Sheliach to Artaxerxes to establish and maintain governmental order. Apostles today are God’s representatives commissioned to maintain His government in their assigned spheres. The apostle does not necessarily run a church or micromanage its departments and activities. But he exercises the authority necessary to keep the ministry of his assignment true to its Kingdom purposes.

I saw this work first-hand in China recently. We helped to start a university there. The communist government of China appointed one of their own leaders, a communist party member, to serve as president of the university. He has ultimate authority over the 20,000 students, the faculty, the Board of Directors, the 300 acres and 50 major buildings, the founder-chancellor, and his staff. He speaks for the government on all matters of policy and strategic planning. He does not interfere with the daily administration and instruction of the university except to keep them directed on a path approved by the government.

He is the strategos, an authorized representative of the government sent to maintain order. That is what an apostle of God is: God’s appointed, anointed, authorized ambassador to maintain right government (shaphat) in his sphere of ministry.

© Dr. Ron Cottle

Some excellent resources on the topic include:

Apostles Today by C. Peter Wagner
Moving in the Apostolic by John Eckhardt
Apostles and the Emerging Apostolic Movement by David Cannistraci
Implementing the Apostolic by John P. Kelly, an 11 hour DVD course.