7 Marks of the Apostolic Mission

From the book of Acts, we note seven marks of the missions of the Apostolic church.

7 Marks of the Apostolic Mission

In my study of the book of Acts, I have noted the following seven marks of the Apostolic movement. They form my missions manifesto - a set of aims, intentions, and priorities - that undergird all my engagement in ministry.

  1. Pneuma-Centric

Everything the Apostles' did was under the leadership and by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Lk 24:49). The Holy Spirit was the center of all vigor and vitality for them. The wisdom of the Spirit was crucial to all their ministry strategies and His power was inevitable to all their ministry successes. The gracious working of the Spirit both in the planning and the execution of all ministries is thus of paramount importance to them. His manifestations - not only that of the conviction of sin and regeneration of sinners, but also signs and wonders through His manifold spiritual gifts - attending their ministry is not a peripheral aspect, but a very crucial one. One which is not only to be welcomed but earnestly prayed for with confident expectation today. More than any other thing, a truly biblical movement should be characterized by the attendance of the Spirit - His power and His presence (1 Cor. 2:4-5; 14:24-25). Hence being Pneuma-Centric is of topmost priority to me.

2. Apostles' Doctrine  

Apostles' taught and practiced sound doctrine (Acts 2:42). By doctrine, they did not mean merely holding to orthodox theological convictions regarding God, Christ, or salvation. Rather, by doctrine, they had both dogma and praxis in mind (Tit.2:1-2; 1 Tim 1:10). Doctrine is not merely to be assented by one's intellect but obeyed in life. Hence all doctrine was for discipleship (Matt.28:20). They did not teach any theology that cannot be obeyed by their hearers. The aim was never to produce scholars of the Scripture, but slaves of Christ. Upholding this principle, I only want to teach others only that would make them better in their obedience to Christ.

3. Gospel-Centered

The Apostles were so radically transformed by the gospel that it changed everything for them. Their worldview thus became gospel-oriented. Thus everything, whether pertaining to theology or life or ministry, was seen through the lens of Christ and His cross-work. This is most evident in the epistles they wrote, where every single issue the churches faced is resolved in light of the gospel. They either made a direct application of the gospel or found an aspect of the gospel which they then teased out and unpacked its practical bearing on the issue before them. This gospel-centered life and ministry is so instructive for Christians, especially leaders of the church. Underlying this evangelical philosophy of life and ministry is the deep conviction that the gospel changes everything - at present, individuals, and one day, when Christ comes, even the whole cosmos.  

By gospel-centered, I mean the gospel is the center around which all of my theology, life, and ministry are oriented. In other words, it speaks of the center of a structure. By pneuma-centric, I meant the Holy Spirit is the center from which all of my theology, life, and ministry receive life and power. In other words, it speaks of the center of a dynamic. Both are not essentially different as the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom.1:16). Though not different, a logical distinction is made between them to emphasize both aspects and lose none.

4. Urban Focused

Most evident in the missionary journeys of  Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, is a strategic and intentional aim of reaching cities. Paul specifically targeted cities in his missionary labors, knowing that reaching cities was crucial to reaching a region. Reaching urban centers is crucial for any missionary movement, due to demographic and cultural reasons. While in the last few years, due to the impetus of many in the West involved in urban missions, there have been some who emphasize intentional urban church-planting missions in India. However, all that is done in the name of urban missions in India is sadly one which diffuses all the advantages of urban missions rightly done as we find in the book of Acts. Rightly done, reaching a city should result in a greater spread of the gospel to the surrounding culture and the nation at large. However, the way Urban missions are done in India, with its extremely Westernized emphases, these churches cannot reproduce themselves even in the nearby villages, forget the remaining nation. All they have been able to do is create small churches in which a few yuppie folks can find a subculture that justifies their Western (often worldly) lifestyle.

Two aspects of the apostolic missions in Acts are to be recovered if urban missions are to be saved from this peril of Westernization. The apostolic movement produced churches that were indigenous on the one hand and pilgrims on the other hand. Yes, they were in urban centers and the believers of that city showed general solidarity with their surrounding culture. Hence people could relate to these churches. But just because these churches were in urban centers did not mean they embraced all the worldliness of these cities. For they were also pilgrims. This combination of them being indigenous pilgrims made them both people to whom their neighbors could relate and also be people who stand out from their neighbors.

Both these aspects are missing in today's urban missions in India. By emphasizing so much on Western cultural ideals, these churches look more American than indigenous churches. By embracing Western culture uncritically, these churches look more worldly to Indians than pilgrim churches. An average man on the street, the real residents of the city, and not the highly mobile yuppies, cannot relate with and would not enter these culturally and linguistically sophisticated churches. Hence such churches cannot be reproduced anywhere outside the city, be it in a nearby town, or a village in another part of India. They targeted cities claiming that it would be advantageous to spread the gospel more effectively. But by planting such Westernized churches they are stuck to these urban centers where alone they can find Westernized yuppies. Recovering the indigenous pilgrim principle of apostolic urban missions alone can save urban missions in India.

I pray to engage in urban church planting for all its apostolic strategy in effectively reaching a region for Christ. However, I also want to implement the indigenous pilgrim principle of the apostles and not the highly Americanized "urban missions" model of English churches which is only interested in sycophantly transplanting the American church to Indian soil.

5. Missional Culture

The community life seen in the book of Acts is truly missional. Wherever the first-century Christians went, they engaged people with the gospel (Acts 11:19-21). This is different from simply being evangelistic, in the sense that they were doing so in a very cross-cultural and incarnational way. Being gospel-centered made them totally different from their own cultures, yet being missional made them deliberately incarnate themselves into the worldview of the surrounding culture to engage the people with the gospel.

Being missional thus means the mission of God so molds everything you do that you are always living on the mission. Whether talking to your neighbors or working in your office, everything can be done in a missional way. The mission of God to spread His glory and kingdom, through His Son Jesus Christ, is then, not one of the things you believe and live for, but that which so characterizes all your life. When an individual or a church, deliberately chooses to adopt the posture and practice of a cross-cultural missionary, to engage the people and culture around them with the gospel, it becomes truly missional.

A decentralized approach to disciple-making, an eschatological understanding of God's work in the world or sometimes referred to as kingdom perspective, etc., are some of the other marks of being missional. A missional understanding is crucial to ecclesiology. The way we organize as churches should be around the mission of God. Rather than making missions a department among many others in the church, missions should be the cornerstone and touchstone of all ministries. Not only the way we organize but the way we engage people, disciple people, conduct our lives, and work in the world are all massively altered by a missional understanding. Inculcating and infusing a missional ecclesiology and culture is a crucial priority in my understanding of life and ministry.

6. Church-Planting Movement

Chuch-planting in Acts, though organized and under the leadership of the Apostles, was still a movement and not an institution. The movement dynamic was such that any and every member of the movement could reproduce the whole movement. This made the movement grow in exponential and vigorous terms. Take for example the fact that some unknown disciples, and not apostles, planted the church in Antioch. Organized yet acting like an organism was the key to this growth. This is an important priority that if missed would lead any movement to be a dead, merely traditional institution as the first generation leaves the scene. Leadership while crucial to any movement should understand the body dynamic of the ministry of the church. It would take the whole church with all spiritual gifts at play to fulfill the Great Commission and hence it cannot be confined to a few key individuals. When every disciple plays their role, uses their spiritual gift, volunteers to spread the gospel, and becomes a disciple-maker, then it's hard to not see the birth of a movement.

7.  Prayer-Marinated

Luke mentions prayer 32 times in the book of Acts revealing how central prayer was for the apostolic church. Whether it is for power, boldness, signs and wonders, release from prison, when appointing new leaders, sending missionaries, receiving guidance, or bidding farewell, prayer was the only means of dependence on and communion with God for the apostolic church. The real distinctive of the apostolic movement in the book of Acts is in fact their prayer life. Even if they had access to all of the above marks, but were as lazy and slothful as we are today in prayer, then the story would have been just the same as today. But thank God, the apostolic church was a church of prayer, knowing the power and joy of God through prayer. The book of Acts is thus the picture of what happens when the church prays as she ought. More than anything else in life and ministry, let prayer - communion, and dependence upon God - be prized by me.