We are in a unique moment of Church history. The Lord is defining and redefining many things. He is defining the current expansion of His Kingdom that can appear radically new, exploratory and unfamiliar to some. He is also redefining our assumptions and releasing fresh revelation to help us reconsider old ways of thinking.
One morning, while I was processing the idea of defining and redefining, the Lord took me to I Corinthians 12:28. The text reads, “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” He then said, “Look at the word 'first.'” I knew He wanted me to unpack the definition of the word to see below the surface of my assumed understanding.
Most of you know the word “apostle” means, a delegate, a messenger, one sent for forth with orders, and most commonly, “a sent one.” That understanding is not what caught my attention. It was the word “first” placed in the text just before the word apostle. That word in Greek is “protos.” From it, we get our word “prototype.” A prototype is defined as a first, a preliminary model of something.
The use of the word “first” (protos) in I Corinthians 12:28 in connection with an apostle is defined as first in a sequence of time and place. Apostles were the first to be sent out. The word does not apply to a hierarchy in leadership where the apostle is above the other gifts. I went on to read each instance in the New Testament where the word first is used in connection with an apostle. I discovered there is not a single usage of the word to denote a hierarchal structure of a top-down model of leadership.
The word “apostle” did not originate with the Church. It was a word used by the Roman government to describe the first ones sent to a conquered nation to set up the government of Rome. These apostles brought the culture of the Roman Empire to recreate the culture of Rome in the conquered nation. This transformation was so complete that a Roman citizen could visit any conquered land and still enjoy the familiar government, culture, and entertainment of Rome.
When Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12 that apostles were first, he was not creating a spiritual hierarchy. He was describing someone who would be the first one in the sequence of events that would venture into new territory, and with the blueprint of Heaven in hand, establish the order of God’s Kingdom.
I remember when the Lord asked me to change how I led our church. He showed me a totem pole and helped me understand a top-down hierarchy of leadership was not His original intent. For that model to grow upward in its narrow structure of leadership, the person on the top had to die, get transferred to a new assignment or fall off in failure. It could only grow upward by addition, not outward in supernatural multiplication.
The Lord asked me to lay the totem pole of my leadership model down on its side so that all the gifts on our team would be grounded on the same level playing field of our overall mission. I was still the senior leader, but no longer in a hierarchal model where everything needed to be filtered through me before it could be birthed.
Then the Lord said, “Now, let your team run at the speed of their faith.” Immediately, I saw apostolic potential released in our team. New ideas and new ministries were birthed. We moved beyond the old model of addition from a top-down form of leadership and began to release outward expansion through supernatural multiplication when all the gifts were getting equal traction. New territory was discovered, and our team entered new places of ministry in our city and began setting up the government of Heaven.
We are in a moment of time when some of our assumptions will be challenged. None of us have the complete picture. Stay humble and teachable and don't allow a defensive spirit keep you trapped in a place of assumption. Lay down your totem poles and set God’s people free. Once people begin to run at the speed of their faith anything is possible.