AND SOME APOSTLES …

A call to recognise God’s master-builders in the Simple-church movement.

Man on construction site.
Man on construction site.

We are just about to have a much needed multi-story car-park open near the beachfront of our town of Yeppoon. It’s suddenly starting to take shape and is looking great. However, the spurt of obvious progress was no doubt preceded but a couple of much longer hidden stages.

Starting with the planners and engineers, who probably laboured over this for longer than the build. Then there was the clearing of the old site and the laying of sufficient foundations to support the visible, usable finished form.

The apostle Paul saw the Church taking a similar journey. Starting with the prophets labouring over the picture of what Jesus saw. This community in the earth that he would build, that “the gates (councils) of Hell will not prevail against.”

Then walking together with the apostles (the Master-Builders – 1 Cor 3:10), those with the gifting to actually see the thing come together, adding substance to the vision. Starting with the clearing away of the old and the laying of true foundations. Servants of Christ, gifted with patience and perseverance.

Both of these foundational gifts of Christ to his Church are “big picture” ministries (unlike the pastor and teacher and, to some extent, the evangelist, who are much more locally inclined) and Paul seemed to think that without them we would look in vain for the thing that Jesus was after. And in fact history has shown that without the big picture we finish up building short-term structures that the gates of Hell have a field-day with.

All of these gifts have been given to the Church until we rise to the fullness of Christ’s intent for his church. Without the whole five, and especially the first two, we are doomed to keep building structures that will never fully reflect Jesus nor hold the multitudes that are yet to come in.

SO WHY, IN THE SIMPLE-CHURCH SCENE, AREN’T WE TALKING MORE ABOUT THEM?

Especially when there are so many working among us!

Three reason’s I can think of:

  1. They are already among us – we just don’t often acknowledge them as such. Indeed most of those that I know don’t feel a need to use that terminology. They are not into titles and are much more focused on doing what they are gifted to do. Making disciples for Jesus and motivating and teaching the rest of us how to do the same. They shun unhelpful publicity and prefer to work in the background. That doesn’t mean, though, that their gifting is not recognised and sought after. They are simply not followed for their name or preaching skills but for the fruit they produce. We need, however, to up the game as far as our support for them because they are not meant to come begging and we owe it to them as unto Christ.
  2. There are elements of the simple-church movement who have a hard time with leadership. Having moved away from front-led church some are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Especially if they (i) have an underlying independence that has not been dealt with or (ii) have sat under the kind of controlling leadership that was stifling and needed to be escaped from anyway. The problem, however, is not “leadership” in itself. Leaders will and need to rise in every group. Indeed Christ has gifted them to us. Without them there is no movement but just an encamping around grievances, pet doctrines and “fellowship”. True servant leadership is to be embraced, honoured and walked with.
  3. A third reason is the perception that anyone who claims to be an apostle is self-serving and false. And the truth is that, as Paul discovered, some are. Some indeed seem to need titles (Reverend, Father, Pastor, Apostle, etc) in order to maintain respect for their ministry. To many though, such titles, though they may carry them, are unimportant.  They see such references as merely job descriptions and are more interested in the job. Which they are carrying out to the best of their ability, answerable first to Christ and then (if they are wise) to those they work among. They deserve to be recognised and appreciated.

Simple-church is for many a part of God’s movement of the church back to the simple, relationship-centred and easily multipliable model that Jesus birthed. However, unless Jesus is allowed to build, with the team of his choosing, it will be far from simple and we will end up frustrated and disillusioned. Paul wrote that “God was kind and let me become an expert builder. I laid a foundation on which others have built. But we must each be careful how we build, because Christ is the only foundation. (1 Cor 3:10)”  We need to have the same “kindness” toward the “expert builders” that God has placed among us. We will never rise to the fullness of Christ’s vision for his Church on earth without those that he has appointed to help us do so.

He has give “Some to be apostles…”  Let us acknowledge them, receive them, love them, feed them, and honour them. For the sake of Jesus and his Church.

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Letter to a Reluctant Prophet

By Chip Brogden www.theschoolofchrist.org

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Dear Friend,

It is with a certain fearfulness that I respond to your inquiry, for I am not an authority on such things. I can certainly relate to your reluctance at being identified among the company of the prophets when so many false apostles, prophets, and teachers abound. I wish I could point you in a proper direction, but I can only point you towards the Lord. It is He who selects His messengers, and I have nothing to offer you by way of what to do.

At most, perhaps you can look upon me as an example of what NOT to do, and take some word of counsel from a weak brother who has made many mistakes and endured many failures along the way. Perhaps you too will have to make even the same mistakes in order to learn, yet following my advice could perhaps help you to avoid the unnecessary heartache and cruelty inflicted upon yourself and others when thinking that you are doing God a service.

I would counsel you, first of all, to be a Christian. Do not spend too much time focused on that which is prophetic. Do not come to others as a prophet, but as a child. Let Christ be your obsession, not the prophetic word. For “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” There need not be turmoil in your heart about your calling; it is clear that you are among those that are “the Called, according to His purpose.” And what is His purpose? That you be “conformed to the image of His dear Son.” That, above all, is your first calling.

Many are eager to wear the Prophet’s mantle, but are reluctant to bear the Christian’s cross. This cannot be. Given the choice between Christian or Prophet, choose Christian. Serve God as the earthen vessel you are, in the place you find yourself to be. Perhaps the Lord will indeed use you in some prophetic way, but if not then at least you have been faithful with the “one talent” you have been given. God will not give five talents to those who cannot be faithful with one, and will not give ten to those who cannot be faithful with five.

If you are a Christian first you will remember that Continue reading “Letter to a Reluctant Prophet”

The Parable of the Two Motors

This a helpful parable from Robert Fitts about the role of leaders in the local church.

ENGINE 1In every car there are two motors – one runs on gasoline and the other on electricity. The gasoline motor is huge in comparison to the electric motor; but it is the tiny little electric motor that is designed to start the gasoline motor, and the gasoline motor is designed to provide the power to move the car. As soon as the big motor engages, the little motor disengages. If it did not, it would burn out in a matter of minutes.

The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are servants to the Body of Christ to act as initiators (starters) to get the body functioning. Just as the starter motor disengages as soon as the big motor starts, so it is with the wise leader. If he stays engaged he will burn out, just as a starter motor would do if it did not disengage after starting the big motor.

As long as the little starter motor is trying to move the car by the power of a single battery, the car will never function as it was designed to function. It is only the 350 horsepower motor that was designed to move the car, and it is only the Body of Christ that has been designed to build up the Body unto the measure of the fulness of Christ. Only as the Body of Christ is released to minister to itself will it ever attain unto the fullness of the maturity in Christ.

Robert Fitts – The Church in the House (a Return to Simplicity) www.robertfitts.com

GOODBYE PASTOR PHIL

Rev Phil badgeWhen I first began as a Prison Fellowship chaplain out at Capricornia Correctional Centre I was issued with a name badge, reading Rev Phil Walters. Being a bit embarrassed by the ‘Rev’ tag – I was neither officially nor in character ‘Reverend’ – I covered it up and ordered a new badge, more appropriately reading ‘Pastor’ Phil Walters. However, having mislaid that badge, I now need to order a new one. Which brings me to a slight dilemma. Because I have come to a stage, with all my recent questionings of modern church practice, where I’m not comfortable with any titles, be they Pope or Pastor.

I must say that I have never really been comfortable being called ‘Pastor’. Perhaps it is because I’ve always struggled with the clergy/laity thing, which is an awful division that developed in the church very early on, creating a false old-covenant style division between the professional ordained elite and all the rest. A hierarchical model of leadership which is foreign to the New Testament.

Jesus made it clear that we are not to get hung up on titles. Surely this was his intention when he said

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:810

I suspect that he knew very well our propensity to exchange the lower-case ‘function’ for an upper-case ‘office’ complete with title. So that someone who pastors become Pastor Someone. Then Senior Pastor Someone. Or Associate Pastor or Youth Pastor or Worship Pastor etc etc. The church is full of it. Apostle This, Bishop That, Most Reverend The  Other.

Where is such use of titles in the New Testament? Did Apostle Paul write to the Corinthians and tell them he was sending Pastor Timothy and Youth Pastor Titus to catch up with Senior Pastor Aquilla and Associate Pastor Priscilla? It’s a nonsense. And it perpetuates an unhealthy divide. Nowhere in the New Testament are people addressed by their functions in that kind of a way.

Of course the excuse we make is that it is a way of ‘honouring’ our leaders. But if we need a title in order to be honoured surely something is wrong. Should I not be honoured for what I am regardless of title? My son-in-law is a much respected and sort after plumber but we don’t need to call him Plumber Dennis. Why should he not be ‘honoured’ in similar vein to how we ‘honour’ pastors? Is his profession less honourable?

Pastor Only Parking2On the contrary I can hide behind a title, use it as a smoke screen to hide my insecurities or the flaws in my character, even pull the old ” Do not speak against the Man of God” thing.

No, no. The people I serve, in whatever function I have been called, are my friends and my fellow companions in the work of the Kingdom. This was Paul’s attitude to those around him and it should be mine. They knew him simply as Paul (or at the most ‘brother Paul’, a term he uses for Peter as well) and so I should be known simple as Phil.

So goodbye ‘Pastor’ Phil. And hello Phil, a pastor … and a father, husband, lover,  prison chaplain, events person, radio presenter, blogger, brother in Christ and friend of all, etc etc.

(Thank you Jon Zens for the photo, from his latest book A Church Building Every Half Mile)

IN DEFENCE OF APOSTLES AND PROPHETS

This is a comment that I made the other day on the Simple Church Journal, a useful site that I came across recently. It was in support of an excellent piece by  John Marcus in defense of the need to honour and restore the vital ministries of the apostle and prophet in the house church/simple church scene, where there sometimes seems to be a fear of any kind of leadership other than the leadership of the Holy Spirit. 

While I so agree that we must get away from the adulation of men, the “I am of Paul…Cephas…Apollos” syndrome that Paul corrected the Corinthians on, we also must avoid the “I am of Christ” group that he also rebuked. It sounds very spiritual to take that position but I’m not sure that Jesus gave us such a purist option.

After all “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” (Eph 4:11) Paul’s great balancing revelation however is that Christ gave these ministries, not to gather people unto themselves but “to prepare God’s PEOPLE for works of service”, to release that great ‘people movement’  that was birthed by the Spirit to go and fullfill their true calling. But I contend that it is not going to happen just by us sitting in in our living rooms and ‘allowing the Holy Spirit to lead rather than men’, as if the Spirit is restricted and cannot lead through men.

Truth is there has never been a move of God where there was not key men or women in some leading role, whether it be a Moses, a Wesley, a Zinzendorf, an Edwards or whoever. These leaders, although they were rarely acknowledged as such, were actually apostles and prophets, men who carried a bigger picture than just the local fellowship. This is their foundation laying function; to establish Christ, not just in the individual lives of gathered believers house to house, but as the Head of God’s Government over the nations, person by person, street by street, city by city.

It concerns me for instance when I hear homechurches refer to themselves as local churches when Paul, with the bigger picture, seemed to see all the saints in a local area as the local church, encompassing a variety of ways of meeting but with an eldership over the whole town that carried a much bigger vision than the smaller ‘house to house’ gatherings, vital as they were. I believe that that is God’s bigger intention and that only the restoration of true servant apostles and prophets can take us into that fuller expression of Christ.

I’m passionate about home church/simple church but I tend to believe that until we welcome the restoration of apostles and prophets among us we will finish up where we’ve come from, “of Paul… of Apollos… of Cephas” with an elitist and marginialised group maintaining that they are “of Christ”.