How To Disciple An Immature Apostle (APEST Series)

Have you ever noticed how some people are just wired up to start things? They’re always thinking about building something that doesn’t exist yet, and what it would take to get it off the ground.

They often gravitate toward entrepreneurial endeavors, like starting new businesses and planting new churches. These are people the Bible calls apostles, and as wonderful as they are, they can also make a terrible mess, especially if they’re immature in their gifting.

It’s important for us as leaders to be able to recognize the immature apostles among us, and disciple them to maturity so they can fulfill their ministry in the Body of Christ.

But discipling an apostle is a lot different than discipling someone gifted in another way, so let’s talk about the unique challenges and opportunities of discipling immature apostles.

This article is part of a series on discipling the APEST giftings, and adapted from an article I originally published for the V3 Movement. Here are the links to other articles in this series:

Five gifts for the church

We get the term “apostle” from the Apostle Paul. It’s what he calls them in Ephesians 4:11-13, where he is laying out five different gifts that God gives his church. These gifts are actually people that God has gifted and then given to the church to build it up and bring it to maturity and unity.

(This is sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers. If you’ve never heard of this, check out Alan Hirsch’s brief descriptions, or JR Woodward’s video introduction.)

Paul’s assumption is that the church needs to grow into the fullness of her identity in Christ, and that these five gifts are crucial to that happening.

In other words, we need apostles in our churches if we’re going to grow into maturity. The problem is that mature apostles don’t grow on trees. Apostles normally come to our churches immature, in need of encouragement and shaping. How can we do this faithfully and effectively?

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?

The word apostle signifies someone sent as a delegate or messenger on behalf of someone else. Apostles are “sent ones,” gifted to establish the church in new places. 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 all of us, they start out immature, and their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.

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.

Perhaps you know a couple people like this. (Maybe you are someone like this?)

One temptation we encounter with immature apostles is to simply use them for their energy and capacity. We know we can rely on them to “get things done” and it’s tempting to ignore the immaturity to keep the productivity flowing.

The other temptation is to reject immature apostles. When we recognize their ability to make messes in our churches, it’s easy to just marginalize them, keep them out of leadership, just stop responding to them and hope they leave your church.

But instead of using them or rejecting them, we disciple them. That’s what Jesus did with his immature followers… So how do we disciple immature apostles when we find them in our churches?

How to disciple an immature apostle

In some ways, what apostles need to grow in discipleship is the same thing that everyone needs: an abundance of both grace and truth (this is one of the main competencies we train for in our formation course).

We calibrate grace in discipleship by offering connection and compassion in an authentic relationship. We calibrate truth in discipleship by holding reality in front of others non-anxiously.

This calibration 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?

Offering grace to an immature apostle

Here are a few things I’ve learned about bringing grace to an apostle in discipleship:

  • 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 they’re involved in something significant.
  • Apostles need real, honest, tough critique of their ideas (yes, this feels like grace to them – it shows you’re taking them seriously).
  • Immature apostles don’t realize they need it, but they need to know that you value them for who they are, not just what they do.

Offering truth to an immature apostle

And here are a few things I’ve learned about 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 merely 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 (yes, that means a 24-hour period where they do no work – this is remarkably difficult for immature apostles to embrace).
  • 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).

We hosted a FREE webinar with Alan Hirsch called Why Every Church Needs To Activate APEST… ASAP! Alan has been writing about the importance of fivefold ministry for awhile now, and has some important perspective on how activating APEST can revitalize mission and discipleship in your church.

Questions for reflection and discussion

Do you know an immature apostle? Reflect on your experience with them.

  • What did you find frustrating? What was invigorating?
  • What have you done well? What mistakes have you made?
  • After reading this article, what is your next step in discipling this person?

Have you ever intentionally discipled an apostle?

  • What have you learned in this process?
  • If you are an apostle, what has been most helpful in your growth?

Leave a comment below to join the conversation!

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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  1. Karyn McDaniel on November 21, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Can you help me understanding what you mean by “Person of Peace”?

  2. Ben Sternke on November 21, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Great question, Karyn. It comes from Luke 10, when Jesus sends out the disciples – he tells them to look for a “person of peace.” – Here’s an article that lays out how we look at it:

  3. Suze Fair on November 21, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Super helpful. #1 child is Prophet/Apostle and moving more and more into both roles. As parents of adult children — we’re constantly looking for resources that aid and assist these FULLY GROWN PEOPLE (who we still feel deeply responsible for) becoming more like Jesus.
    Thanks for doing that for us, with this.

  4. Ben Sternke on November 21, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    So glad to hear it was helpful, Suze!

  5. Paul Koshy on November 22, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Hi Ben, great article. Thank you.

    Got a few questions for you:

    1) In your experience, how common/rare are apostles (immature or otherwise)?

    2) How did you develop this analysis? And what proportion is from your own experience of discipling immature apostles?

    Thanks, Ben. I really look forward to the next one.

    Best wishes,


  6. Ben Sternke on November 22, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Great questions, Paul. I’d say that apostles are maybe 10% of the people I know? That’s just a guess. And I developed these thoughts on apostles from my own experience and through debriefing with others who have experience discipling immature apostles. Not sure on proportions – kind of an intuitive thing I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  7. Nathan on December 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Oh man I can identify with almost everything written here! Great article and great series. I’ve read a lot in this area and have never seen this perspective taken (how to disciple an immature_____). Love it! Already sent this and the prophet one to others in my church planting team, and will sent them to my missions ministry team as well. Thanks for the work guys.

  8. Ben Sternke on December 14, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Glad it was helpful, Nathan!

  9. Dave on March 7, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    I’m curious if you have suggestions for creating and sustaining a “low-control/high-accountability” balance. This is the first time I’ve put those two ideas on the same teeter totter, and I’m wondering how to keep it from tipping too far either way.

  10. Ben Sternke on March 11, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Hey Dave – good question. Low-control/high-accountability is a pretty big paradigm shift for most of us! I think we may have addressed this in a few of our previous podcast episodes:

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