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paul

¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12″ foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

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Cultural Shift – Part 3; Implications For Western Christianity

[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.

The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.

This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?

As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.

What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.

Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.

What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.

The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region.  They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.

As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.

Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.

I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”

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(1) National Congregations Study – 2006-07

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Initial Leadership For Your New Church – Part I

INITIAL LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR NEW CHURCH Part I

“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
(Acts 13:1-3)

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
(Proverbs 11:14)

THE SINFUL SELF-AUTONOMY OF THE CHURCH PLANTER
Having a prayerfully selected pastoral leadership team to which you are accountable going into a new church plant is plainly a good idea in most cases. Most church planters, including myself, tend to be do-it-your-self types. And so in an entrepreneurial spirit we set out to accomplish what’s on our hearts, our way, convinced the plan we have is the one that will establish the new church we dream to plant successfully.

This kind of self-autonomy can be American and western, but it isn’t always very New Testament and Christian. When Jesus sent out disciples He did so two-by-two. When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey they went together under the Holy Spirit unified decision of the other leaders who served the church in Antioch. In Paul’s later missionary journeys he always had at least a few good men with him whom he was benefiting from, and also training for leadership.

What’s the point? The point is that, biblically speaking, leadership teams are incredibly valuable. Having a leadership team doesn’t mean you aren’t the lead planter or senior pastor. It means you value the godly wisdom of others, you recognize that you have inherent flaws and a sinners’ heart that can wander, and that you need to benefit from what God is doing and has done in other Christians if you want to realize your full potential in Christ.

Practical Reasons to Prayerfully Seek a Team

Before I set out to plant a church in northern Utah I felt clearly convicted by the Holy Spirit that I needed to find some men He had in mind who would serve as the initial leadership team over the new church. Prayerfully following His leadership over me as the lead planter proved to be wise, as following the Holy Spirit and the example of Scripture always is. The Lord connected me with three men from different places and ministry experiences who all agreed to serve as an outside elder accountability board to me until local elders could be raised up. Let me share some of the benefits I experienced through having the support of a board of pastors to whom I was accountable as I started a new church:

A POOL OF KNOWLEDGE
Number one, the elder team provided a pool of knowledge beyond my own from which I could glean. Particularly if you’re a young planter with a lot of passion, you probably don’t know as much as you think you do. That is definitely true of me. Being able to bounce ideas off of guys I trusted who could affirm or challenge what I was thinking has been great. Sometimes I’ve stepped back from what would have been poor decisions through their counsel. Sometimes I’ve gone forward with their support. Sometimes I’ve taken their counsel and ended up doing something different than what was suggested knowing I had heard from the Lord. In every case I have had counsel and accountability and a group of good Christian men praying for me. That, my friends, is invaluable.

GOOD MISSIONAL STRATEGY
Number two, having the accountability of an elder team proved to be good missional strategy where I planted. If you’re from a culture used to hierarchical religious leadership structures similar to the LDS cultures where I’ve planted and served churches, you know that many people will be apprehensive if you appear to have gone rogue without any form of human authority or accountability in your life. Many people will actually think you are the cult in the area if you appear to be going it alone. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with committed Mormons who display skepticism about lone-ranger church planters. On the other hand, when I share with these same people that I have an outside accountability board of men who counsel me and help with oversight there’s always a sense of disarming in the conversation. I can tell that they get almost automatically less skeptical, and take me and the work Jesus has called me to do more seriously. So for some people, having an accountability board may remove obstacles to them hearing the gospel.

A GOOD SUPPORT GROUP
Number three, having an outside accountability elder board provided me with a sometimes much needed support group! Now, I agree that there can be no crying in church planting when you’re the lead pastor! On the other hand, I know from experience that church planting is generally hard work. Most of us aren’t planting in a time of revival where we’re seeing mass conversions. It isn’t like the hippy days of old for Calvary Chapel where, from the stories you hear, you can sometimes get the impression that all one had to do was go out on the street corner and yell Jesus’ name and five-hundred people would get saved on the spot.
If that happens for you, great! But more than likely, barring a sovereign revival sparked afresh by the Holy Spirit, planting a church is going to feel grueling! There might be times when you feel like giving up. There might be times when you wish the few people you do have coming to your new church would simply leave because of how they treat you and your family. There might be times when you begin to doubt your call. In times like these you need men to whom you can turn for exhortation, prayer, and sometimes flat out rebuke.

PERSONAL ACCOUNTABIILITY
Number four, an outside elder board has provided a source of not only ministerial accountability for me, but personal accountability. You and I are still sinners even though we are called to the ministry. Paul told Timothy, “God…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace.” What he is saying to Timothy is that not only are we saved by grace, but pastors are in the ministry by grace!

Sometimes when I listen to my own heart and the words of other planters I get the sense that we think we’re saved by grace, but that God put us in the ministry because of our works. We think He saved us in spite of our ugliness, but that He uses us because of our awesomeness. No, brothers! We are in the ministry by grace just as much as we are saved by grace.

As sinners who are in the ministry by grace we are going to need the grace of God often. We are going to deal with temptation. We are going to deal with failure. We are going to deal with the weight of the sin of those we serve. All of this is good cause to gather a good board of accountability elders who can restore us and encourage us in the grace of God from time to time. Don’t go it alone!

*In parts two and three of this series we will look at the kind of men you should look for when establishing your initial leadership team, as well as things to consider when transitioning to a local board of elders. Stay tuned.

Kellen Criswell
Lead Pastor, Refuge Church
www.refugeutah.org
www.refugeutah.tumblr.com
www.calvarychurchplanting.org