Now, being a New Testament people by ecclesiology [but a whole bible people by theology], we watch the journey of these apostles with interest. Understanding that the way to interpret the book of Acts could be either descriptive or prescriptive, I have asked many leaders who espouse a one-man leadership model who and how they interpret the Acts of the Apostles through their lenses. Each reaches a place of honesty after trying to argue for their guy [Peter or James]. The scripture gives no clear mantle of ultimate authority to anyone but Jesus. It seems that the fact of ‘relationship and gift recognition” was quite sufficient for brothers to journey together. Peter gets up on the day of Pentecost… “The Peter stood up WITH THE ELEVEN raised his voice…” Acts 2:14. The other apostles were seemingly totally satisfied that he was the man, with the anointing, for that occasion.
The captivating Acts 15 is worthy more conversation than this paper allows. One sees the convo developing around sharp dispute and debate…after much discussion… Here a brotherhood is happy to convo together to find the mind of the Lord. This time it is not Peter or even the great Paul who leads the closing wrap up. It is James who provides insight, theology and clear leadership. Yet he was not the over riding “apostle for all nations”.
Galatians 2 helps with this journey of discovery. From Gal 1:11 to Gal 2:11, we see how Paul responds to this matter. Firstly, he recognizes in the Jerusalem apostles a framework where he wants to be accountable. He chooses to go to Jerusalem “to those who seemed to be leaders…” 2:2. If there was a “top leader” surely he would have sought him out. But he describes the scenario as being very fluid, open ended and changing. He then adds, rather cheekily “As for those who seemed to be important… those men added nothing to my message…” 2:6. Then the part I love, “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they [plural] to the Jews… When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face…” 2:9 – 11
What we have in this text is weighty:
- There was no one clear leader amongst the apostles in Jerusalem,
- They operated in mutual consensual team – Peter, James and John… as well as Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, [they could disagree over John Mark…]
- Paul wants to be accountable to other apostles,
- They recognize the grace gift upon Paul’s life,
- Peter James and John want Paul and Barnabas to be part of a ‘brotherhood’ – now the difficulty is that we struggle to find bible words to give architectural shape to this evolving wineskin. Whilst this is ‘abiblical’ we are to be careful that we do not create something in our systems minds that will shoot us in the foot down the road. So the struggling scaffolding words we have used to describe this Gal 2 picture includes:
- A Fellowship of Apostles,
- A Koinonia of Apostles,
- A Forum of Fathers,
- A Band of Brothers…
- Other? – I guess we are going to need to get the God heart on the matter first before we lock ourselves into the vocabulary.
Last year we were away as an eldership team. As we sat around the pool chatting about the future, the question was asked; ‘ Can we architect the future using only bible words?’ We all sat rather challenged for a while. I remember hearing the story told of the diamond grader. This person would arrive at the office daily with the remarkable job to grade these beautiful stones. The process was a simple one… on the desk was a stone as perfect as the graders could determine. The grader would put the eyepiece to his eye and examine this stone with some patience and intent. He would put it down, and pick up the first ungraded stone and take his time to examine it against the first “perfect stone”. He would place it in the appropriate tray and pick up the second stone and do likewise. After just a handful of these stones, he would return to the ‘perfect stone’. The reason is obvious. Each stone will be measured against something. If is not the ‘perfect stone’ each stone will begin to be measured against other imperfect ones. The parallel is obvious. If we do not keep returning to the scriptures, we will interpret this pivotal moment in the modern Apo narrative against other most unhelpful measures. These could be the corporate world, missionary organizations, megachurches, other apo households and we will struggle to find the Father’s “perfect” blueprint for us in this third phase.
How does one move from being “a network – one leader, one place, one way” to becoming “ a movement – many leaders, many places, many ways”? These are my tentative proposals:
- We are to accept the power role and part that pioneering apostles play. God has raised them up in times past and will do so again in the future.
- By their very gifting and revelation they will tend to present a “one way” approach to doing church.
- They will have sons. To simply “do ministry” is to leave a legacy of memories. To leave sons is to leave a legacy of momentum and continuous enlargement but not surrender to promoting a global brand.
- Sons must become fathers! One does not even have to spend much time dwelling on the natural parallel to see any other option as ridiculous. We are all a little suspicious of a 34-year-old still living at mom’s home, like a teenage son. We will all suspect a dysfunctional family… Sons are designed by the great Creator to grow up and become men.
- Each son must leave home to get his piece of the pie – to go and fight for his inheritance. In 2 Cor 10 esp vs. 13, Paul speaks of the sphere / field God has assigned to us. We only have what God has given us. Never more nor less. The joy is that we can explore and fight for what God has given us – not each other but against the realm of darkness. And I suspect we will need each other to get this achieved.
- The pioneering father I want to suggest, should not hand over to one man, to operate the way he has. This has not worked as a model for an apo future for there is NO APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION. The new leader will reduce the household to the size of his sphere and not see the joy of the size of the informal togetherness of a multiplied brotherhood. If however there is no fear or resistance to this becoming a denomination then a one man succession model may work well [the Vineyard story is an example if this]
- The second generational picture of the scripture is clear – no apostle operated alone. This tendency to go out alone is very vulnerable, truly dangerous and weightedly unbiblical. Jesus sent them out two by two…
- The love and trust developed after years of journeying together, creates the platform for a new form of leadership pattern. I remember my father in the faith, Dudley Daniel, saying to us in the 80’s that title or position can never give us true recognition. The only God endorsement comes from “relationship and gift recognition”. We must show enormous caution when the right to speak, minister, lead is based on a title. That is denominationalism! Our true authority comes from being [or not] an Ephesians 4 grace gift to the church… not because we are “on team”.
- May I take this a step further by saying that anytime we need to set in a middle management we are teetering outside of Scripture. To set in “national or regional coordinators” or the like is to set oneself down the road of denominationalism. The texts used to justify this approach are normally around the Davidic model. The only difficulty with that is that it will almost always lead to a hierarchy. If that is not the chosen destination then simple biblical obedience is demanded.
- Alan Hirsch introduced me to a book called “The Starfish and the Spider”. This is a management book that argues for a more partner driven, decentralized model of leadership. The spider dies when the head is cut off. The starfish multiplies when this takes place. The church of Jesus is being prepared for the last of the last days. The church that survives in the dark days of sustained persecution will be one that is not built around “one leader, one place, one way”. We should be in a place that if the head is chopped off, the body will multiply.
- May I add in here, the attempt to make the translocal ministry look like or work like a local eldership, is both unbiblical and very unhelpful. They are two very distinct and different governmental designs for two very different mandates. Not in heart but in ‘how to’…
- There is no APOSTLE TO ALL NATIONS – this is not a bible grace gift. Not even Paul was that.
- Could it be that the pioneering father should hand over leadership to:
- Emerging apostles who already have some form of a track record? [Jesus handed over to the 12]
- These [EA] should have been groomed to mature under his watch. Jesus does this wonderfully.
- Sentimentality should be redirected to a vision of multiplying families or apostolic households,
- Loyalty needs be seen as a commitment to:
ii. His word,
iii. The mandate,
iv. Each other…
v. Not to a system or even a history,
- The local church must once again become the central focus of our ecclesiology. She is why we do what we do…As much as the gospel is the center of our message, we are to ensure that the Eph 4 giftings live for the benefit of the churches, to bring them to wholeness and maturity. It is not the churches that are there to endorse or uphold the system.
- Strong vibrant growing base churches once again become the nodes on the nets. If the early church did not start organizations or systems, how did they get “the job done”? It seems like these key strategic churches like Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus became the central hubs of service, resourcing, training and impact. Amazing that in an age of such limited communication, the apostles were still so effective. It seems like this was done because of the churches they operated out of. A great example of this can be found in Acts 19:10 This went on for two years so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Paul spent two totally focused years getting the base in Ephesus strong, stable, strategic.
- Spheres should be allowed to be developed, without the notion of them being “our churches”. I find it wonderful that Paul was clearly the father to the Corinthians church, however he was adamant that they did not get embroiled in the chats about “being of Paul, Cephas, or Apollos…”
- The elders are the highest human authority in the local church. They have the God responsibility and freedom to decide who they wish to partner with in a translocal journey [Phil 1:5] Rigby Wallace has a cool set of 4 questions that each eldership should ask in this regard.
- A “Fellowship of Apostles” [or a better name?] can emerge under the founding apostle’s enlarging eye and can begin to partner together.
- All must be prepared to let God remove the old ways, systems and even the name but not the DNA. That should remain in our hearts no matter what the name is [or isn’t]. It is very dangerous to try to interpret the future through the model of the past. It was brilliant then but it will not be wondrous for tomorrow. A new dawn, a new day, a new way… that is what the apostles of the book of acts had to face… as we have to now or we will see: ‘History repeats itself, has to, no one listens” Steve Turner
- As the Father reveals his blueprint for this chapter, so He blurs the lines moving all from a closed set, restricted, convergent group to a divergent open set of partnerships, alliances and allies – wonderfully more kingdom. The sense of belonging need never be lost, as it now remains relationally real and not hidden in the folds of artificiality that a system can present.
- The final and pivotal matter is that of leadership. If we are not building an organization, denomination or corporate model, we can and should sculpt more of an organic, fluid, changing, evolving brotherhood that is truly held together by the “relationship and gift recognition” that we see in the scriptures. There does not need to be a “pope”, “an apostle for all nations” even one “team leader”. There is no picture of that in the New Testament. All these men are now fathers in their own right. As each develops their own sphere, they can find each other and be comfortable to let leadership be led by the moment, occasion, and journey. It may well be that 3 or so apostles emerge as the point of the arrow. Whoever hosts the event / occasion has captaincy on their shoulders and then Peter stood up with the eleven… This was not now his movement but his moment. The others saw it and supported him. The rest is history. These brothers can meet regularly, [even including others from other flows, and streams] deeply enjoying the delights of their ‘mateship’ which lays the platform for the weighty times of energetic convos and even disagreements that lie ahead…
The next chapter of the journey has just begun…