Apollos and the Nature of Missionaries

Tim McLaughlin Jr
4 min readMay 18, 2022

What follows was originally a paper completed as part of my studies through the Antioch School. The objective of this assignment was to demonstrate that I had “developed a biblical definition for missionary and missionary work as taught in Acts.”

In defining the Great Commission as a church-based endeavor rather than an individual mandate, and further describing the church as the direct authority in the work of carrying the mission of the Great Commission, and clarifying that the nature of that work is to establish churches, the natural conclusion is that the work of a missionary is fundamentally to work under the authority of the local church in establishing a new local church in a new local setting. That this is the model we see of missionary work in Acts further cements this understanding.

The book of Acts follows a select few missionaries; it largely focuses on the missionary team that included Paul, whether that was with Barnabas and Mark on the first missionary journey or Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy by the time the second missionary journey reached Europe. Beyond this, there is a brief aside about the work of Apollos in Acts 18:24–28, and little else. However, that aside does indicate that the means we see Paul utilizing were treated as normative during that period.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Used with permission.

Apollos arrives on the scene with skill at speaking, an understanding of scripture (v. 24), established instruction, and a partial grasp on the truth of Christ (v. 25). He is identified by leaders in the church as a potential leader, given further training (v. 26), then commissioned and sent out by a church body (v. 27). When he arrived, he was able to use his gifts and training to help the church that was already active in that area (v. 27–28). We later learn in 1 Corinthians that Apollos goes on to have a significant impact on the early church, to where some misguided believers were grouping themselves by whether they were reached by Paul, Peter, or Apollos (See 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4, and 3:22).

It is helpful to consider this story, as it is the main example we have in Acts of what missionary preparation and sending looked like when it did not directly include Paul. It is easy enough, if all we talk about is Paul’s work, to put his work in one category and our own in another; the case of Apollos contradicts this tendency. That Apollos follows the same basic missionary path as Paul, despite neither meeting Paul nor being sent out by the same church that sent Paul, indicates that the model we see from Paul was expected to be the model used by others as well. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that it is the model we also are expected to use.

Hesselgrave reaches this same conclusion, and defines the model, when he states that “there is explicit teaching in the Epistles which directs us to carry on the same activities in a similar way — namely, to go where people are, preach the gospel, gain converts, gather them into churches, instruct them in the faith, choose leaders, and commend believers to the grace of God.”1 Priscilla and Aquila are part of the church in Ephesus and have been identified elsewhere in scripture as leaders. These leaders find Apollos, instruct him in the faith, identify him as a leader, then send him where people are to preach the gospel, gain converts, and commend believers to the grace of God. Thus, as Paul is sent out by the church in Antioch, Apollos is sent out by the church in Ephesus. Given this relationship to the church in Ephesus and the description that “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace,” we can conclude that he operated under the authority of at least one established local church in his work (Acts 18:27, NASB).

We get very little information in Acts on what Apollos actually did while he was in the field, aside from refuting arguments against Jesus as the Christ and helping the church in Achaia, but given Paul’s description that “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth,” it appears Paul believed Apollos was participating in the same process of establishing churches that Paul himself was (1 Corinthians 3:6, NASB). Thus, we have Apollos either described as, or hinted at being, someone who was trained by the local church, identified as a leader, and sent out by the local church to establish local churches in a different setting, just as Paul does throughout the lengthy descriptions of his work. That which was displayed by Paul and was handed down to Apollos has also been handed to us. The modern missionary has the same job description and model to follow as Paul and Apollos had, as we serve the same God on the same mission using the same means — the church — as them.

1 David J Hesselgrave, “ Church-Planting Strategy-The Pauline Cycle “ in Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. 46. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond

Originally published at https://temclaughlin.weebly.com.

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Tim McLaughlin Jr

Freelance writer and artist, theology blogger, ministry student, church planter, husband and father in New England.