How to Spot an Immature Apostle and What To Do About It

This is the first in a series of articles on recognizing immaturity in fivefold ministry and what to do about it. If you have no idea what fivefold ministry is, check out Alan Hirsch’s brief descriptions here, or JR Woodward’s video introduction here.
“Gather your top eight to ten leaders,” he said, “and start investing in them. Then they can begin investing in others… and off you go!”
It was great advice… for a church with hundreds or thousands of people. But I was planting a church. A slow-grow, make-disciples-and-multiply-from-the-ground-up church. I barely had a dozen adults. My “top leaders” were, like, two people. Maybe one and a half on a bad day.
Church planters are almost constantly bumping up against limitations. The pressure of Not Enough. It’s common to feel a constant, desperate desire for people to just come along and get stuff done.
So when a gifted person comes along who is willing and competent and starts getting stuff done, it’s really easy to be enamored and just let them go for it!
But unless we also have a way of evaluating how mature these gifted people are, we are asking for trouble. Why? Because putting people into positions of leadership before their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster.
[Tweet “Putting people in positions of leadership b4 their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster.”] One of the most devastating mistakes we can make as church planters is to assume that giftedness is the same thing as maturity.
So how can we avoid this scenario? How can we be more discerning about the people we release into leadership?
This is the first article in a series on recognizing immaturity through the lens of fivefold gifting (sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers).
We’ll talk about apostles first.
How can we recognize an unhealthy apostle? And what should we do about it if we spot one in our church?

You Might Be an Apostle If…

Before we talk about immature apostles, let’s just talk about apostles. How are they Christ’s gift to the church?
Apostles are “sent ones.” You need some of these people in your church! Here are some signs of apostles in general:

  • They have big ideas–a lot of them.
  • They don’t give up easily.
  • They see the frontier and want to take new ground.
  • They have a history of starting things, especially churches, ministries, or businesses that advance the kingdom of God.
  • They see opportunity everywhere.
  • They tend to attract a lot of people to their vision.
  • They can easily envision how to build organizations and people.

I have a friend who is gifted as an apostle. She has seventeen new ideas before breakfast each day. She is always thinking about what to build next, how to extend the kingdom of God into new places. She networks with leaders all over the country. She’s awesome!

Signs of an Immature Apostle

But apostles don’t come from the factory mature and ready to lead. Like the rest of us, they start out immature, and their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.
[Tweet “Apostles don’t come from the factory mature and ready to lead. @bensternke”] My apostle friend also struggles to focus on one idea instead of chasing new ones just because they’re new. She often makes hasty decisions in an effort to “keep moving.” She has a hard time relaxing and being with people when there’s no agenda. Here are some signs of an immature apostle:

  • They can’t discern between good ideas and “God ideas,” between the constant flood of innovative thoughts and the ones that God is giving them to do.
  • They jump around from one idea to the next, unable to stay focused on one thing.
  • Eventually, people stop following them because they don’t want to give their time and energy to something that will probably change in a few weeks on the apostle’s whim.
  • They can’t “turn it off” (i.e., take a day off).
  • They have trouble being part of a group they’re not leading.
  • They tend to have very little patience with needy people or those who won’t “get on board.”
  • Their projects tend to produce relational carnage; people often feel hurt and used by an immature apostle.

Maybe one or two people are coming to mind? Chances are high that you’ve met an immature apostle. It’s likely you have one in your church right now! It might even be that you’re an immature apostle. If so, keep reading—today is the day of salvation!

Two Things NOT To Do with an Immature Apostle

Before I talk about what to do with an immature apostle, I want to outline two temptations every church planter will feel when they encounter an immature apostle: the temptation to use them, and the temptation to reject them.

1. Use Them

One of the strengths of apostles is that they have a lot of energy and ideas and get stuff done. It is so tempting to conveniently ignore the evidence of immaturity in order to keep the productivity flowing! Especially if we’ve found a good way to “motivate” them to keep up the good work. This is the temptation to use immature apostles.
Yes, they’re immature, but look at how fast we’re going now! We haven’t crashed so far, and it’s so fun to have some momentum finally. Eventually we’ll get around to maturity and health, but for the sake of the vision, maybe we should just ride this out a little longer.
Bad idea. In using an immature apostle to advance your agenda you’re behaving like an immature apostle. If you submit to the temptation to use people, you’ll never be able to bring anyone to maturity.
[Tweet “If you submit to the temptation to use people, you’ll never be able to bring anyone to maturity.”]

2. Reject Them

When you begin to see the harm that immature apostles can do to the body of Christ, the second temptation appears: to reject the immature apostle.
It can feel like an easy, clean solution to simply marginalize immature apostles. Keep them out of leadership, keep them out of the loop, stop responding to emails, give them less and less time until they finally get discouraged enough to leave the church.
Ironically, this temptation is also a way of using the immature apostle to advance your agenda, to keep the vision “pure” and unsullied by immaturity.

What To Do with an Immature Apostle

But our job as equippers in the church is not to “get things done” or avoid conflict and messiness. Our job is to bring the church to unity and maturity, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
So if we don’t use them or reject them, what do we do if we find we have an immature apostle in our church?
We disciple them.
We bring them to maturity so they can become the gift to the church they’re called to be.
After all, this is what Jesus did with the ragtag bunch of immature apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers that were his disciples.

How To Disciple an Immature Apostle

So how do we disciple an immature apostle? In some ways, we disciple them like we disciple everyone else: we love them by offering them an abundance of grace and truth.
But discipleship looks different for an apostle than it does for a shepherd or prophet. The grace and truth they need takes on a certain shape.
So what does grace and truth look like for apostles?

Grace for an Apostle

Here are a few notes on bringing grace to an apostle:

  • Apostles need an environment where failure is OK and expected.
  • Apostles need to know they aren’t just being pacified, but truly welcomed and released.
  • Apostles need an environment where new ideas aren’t a threat.
  • Apostles need a low-control environment. Do not micro-manage them.
  • Apostles need a “big vision” atmosphere. They need to know that what they’re involved in is significant.
  • Apostles need real, honest, tough critique of their ideas (yes, this feels like grace to them).

Truth for an Apostle

Here are a few notes on bringing truth to an immature apostle:

  • Apostles need to learn compassion. Challenge them to care for others as they lead.
  • Apostles need a high-accountability environment, especially when it comes to following through on their ideas.
  • Apostles need to learn to wait for the “God idea” in the midst of the sea of good ideas.
  • Apostles need to learn to be patient and trust that God is working, even when they’re not.
  • Most apostles will need accountability to take a weekly Sabbath.
  • Apostles need to learn to disciple and develop people while they are working on projects (their tendency will be to use people to accomplish the project, rather than use the project to develop people).

A Discernment Tool for Apostles

I can’t remember where I first saw this, but the following is a simple tool for helping apostles hone in on vision and keep people at the center of their project.
Write down all the apostolic dreams and ideas you have and rank them in order of priority. For the top one to three ideas ask these Who questions:

  1. To whom am I called?
  2. Who is going with me?
  3. Who is the Person of Peace?
  4. Whom am I discipling?
  5. Whom am I holding accountable?

Questions for Discussion

How about you? Have you had experiences with immature apostles? What have you learned about discipling apostles? If you are an apostle, what has been most helpful in your growth?
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About the Author

Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke is an Anglican priest, church planter at The Table, leadership coach/consultant with Gravity Leadership, and also helps churches and nonprofits hone their messaging and cultivate their online presence with Lifesize Digital. He lives in the Indianapolis area with his wife Deb, their four kids, and a little dog named Edith.

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