I’ve heard some people talk about being an apostle and others about being a disciple. I just thought they were 2 terms for the same thing. However, recently, I’ve looked at both and realized they are mutually enriching terms.
During rebuild 5.0, one of the speakers spent a while speaking of discipleship. I was used to using the term apostle more and at first I thought, “hey this sounds like apostolate.” But then the speaker emphasized the root meaning (etymology) of disciple: a disciple is one who is taught by another, one who chooses to learn deeply from another.
Apostle on the other hand means one who is sent. In classical Greek it meant either a boat sent or an ambassador. It specifies being sent “apo” from another; an apostle could not send himself.
To be an apostle, I need to be a disciple. Yet an apostle is beyond a disciple.
We need to learn at the feet of Jesus before we go out as those sent by him. No leader would send someone who doesn’t know him as his ambassador; he might cause problems, to say the least. An apostle who is not first a disciple is a fraud.
As youth ministers (or youth leaders), we’re called to be apostles to those in our ministry. Yet we must first be disciples of the good Lord. Being a disciple goes beyond learning the Catechism or memorizing the Bible (not to undermine those as useful elements of formation which they are). A disciple takes his way of life from the master, not just his teaching. Christ’s way of life must be our model as disciples.
If we really adopt Christ’s way of life, we can become true apostles. But here comes the tricky part for many youth ministries: we also need to help the teens become disciples and eventually apostles. We need to take them on as our disciples to later send them out as apostles.
I think these two terms show us a theological distinction which we can apply in our ministry: we can have disciple-time and apostle-time. They lead our youth groups from icebreakers and bible study; they lead our youth groups to be centers of active Christian life. If we see our ministry as making disciples and apostles, we won’t be satisfied with just getting kids to show up.
Christ sends all Christians. Being a disciple is the first step for being an apostle. Be an apostle! Be a disciple first!