If itinerants are designed as normal functions among the churches and in church planting; if they are necessary in fulfilling Eph 4:11-13, then how will these people be raised up? Shall it become a new seminary major? Apostling 501? While this assembly line, university model seems efficient in transferring knowledge, is that what is needed? Can we train apostles, evangelists and prophets any better than we produce pastors with this method? How will their function among troubled churches become a restored norm for helping churches rethink what they are doing, repent where needed, and return to following Christ more faithfully and fruitfully?
First and most importantly, we must pray for laborers to the Lord of the harvest. It must be His work, and we are fully dependent on Him, helpless without Him. Yet, we are invited to participate. We are not without responsibility to act in faith. I suppose if we could go back to the beginning and use our current models back then, the logical approach might have been to set up the Seminary for the Nations in Jerusalem, so that the Apostles who walked with Christ might more efficiently train an army of these workers. Saints from across the known world would come to Jerusalem to train, and then be sent out.
But if we are going to pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up workers; if we are completely dependent on Him for fruit, then we also ought to listen to the record, to what His word says on the matter. So, let’s set aside our logic for a moment and seek first to understand from scripture how itinerants were developed in the NT era.
Paul trained Timothy by working together itinerantly in relationship under actual ministry conditions.
“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.” (see II Tim 3:7,10-12)
He trained Timothy, not in a classroom with blackboards, but in everyday life, the blackboard being Paul’s life exposed to Timothy through every circumstance: intimately, transparently, in everyday trials as they worked together to plant and serve churches. And, it wasn’t just Paul and Timothy. There was a whole team travelling together. This took approximately one or two years to equip Timothy (see his itinerant travels below). But Timothy was functioning the whole time while being trained to further develop his calling.
Timothy is then told to pass this on.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
The “many witnesses” are what we saw in II Tim 3:10-12. Timothy would teach what he had been taught in the way he had been taught it. In relationship with others, in everyday ministry, under difficult situations and circumstances always demonstrating faith in God in action under duress. Timothy does this work itinerantly, working alongside not only fellow itinerants, but also alongside another of the Ephesians 4 group, pastor/teachers. Here’s a brief chronological outline of this model:
Acts 16:1-4 Paul finds Timothy in Lystra, and Timothy begins teaching believers with Paul there. (52AD?)
Acts 17:14 Timothy in Berea (53AD?)
Acts 17:15 (see I Thess 3:1,2) Timothy in Athens (54AD?)
I Cor 16:10 Timothy in Corinth (59AD?)
Phil 2:19 Timothy in Philippi (64AD?)
I Thess 3:2 Timothy in Thessalonica
I Tim 1:3 Timothy in Ephesus (65AD?) (apparently Paul calls Timothy before his work is done, and so sends Tychicus there
II Tim 4:12 Tychicus, another itinerant, also continues the work of the traveling seminary (Titus 3:12) We have a goodly number and pattern of such folk in scripture (Paul, Timothy, Titus, Silas, Barnabas, Epaphras, Tychicus, Mark, Apollos–along with some two dozen others that are well known to bible students).
In fact, when Paul leaves Achaia, he has enlisted additional itinerant workers: Acquila and Priscilla (whom he leaves in Ephesus, Acts 18:18), Erastus (Acts 19:22), as well as Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29). At some point, Sosthenes travels from Corinth to join the work in Ephesus (Acts 18:17; I Cor 1:1, Corinthians being written from Ephesus), as do Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor 16:17). In all, Paul names more than 80 associated workers. These were not men under his control, but men also involved in the work, all of whom at one point worked alongside Paul.
The “seminary” seen in the NT traveled among the churches, living with the local leaders, training the saints, the servants and the itinerant team members as they lived and worked together (a major part of leaders needing to be “given” to hospitality is to facilitate this OJT training process). Just as Paul describes his development of Timothy in II Tim 3:7,10-12, sharing their lives with them on an intimate level, in experiential ministry together, under the difficulties, trials, and struggles that present themselves.
Much of the time, these local leaders functioned on their own, with no itinerant trainers/fellow laborers on the scene. They learned to carry the load, struggle with their own journey and the care of others, to become perplexed by situations and know what they don’t know, yet gain the learning that only comes from being “in harness” and making some mistakes. They would also train up new elders in the same way, working together. The lives of leading servants, saints and itinerant teams modeling and imparting lifestyle as well as knowledge publicly and house to house, are wed and interwoven in relationships. That was all they knew as a model of transferring transformational processes and truths.