The Greek word translated apostle is apostolos and literally means “one who is sent.” A true New Testament apostle is a believer divinely sent to a certain place or places to establish churches. He lays the spiritual foundation of God’s “building” and is somewhat comparable to a “general contractor,” as Paul, an apostle himself, wrote:
For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it (1 Cor. 3:9-10a, emphasis added).
A “master builder,” or general contractor, oversees the entire building process—he envisions the finished product. He’s not a specialist like the carpenter or the bricklayer. He may be able to do the work of a carpenter or bricklayer, but probably not as well as they can do it themselves. Likewise, the apostle has the ability to do the work of an evangelist or pastor, but only for a limited time as he establishes churches. (The apostle Paul usually remained in one place from six months to three years).
The apostle is best at establishing churches and then overseeing them to keep them on God’s course. An apostle is responsible for installing elders/pastors/overseers to shepherd each congregation he plants (see Acts 14:21-23; Tit. 1:5).