"Apostolic fathers" is one of those phrases that create pictures in all of our minds. For some it provides the drama of the early church, their fight for faith, martyrdom and the scriptures. For others, it raises the deep longing to get the fathering that has so long been desired-especially true for many church planters and leaders. For me, I was so honored, graced by having an apostolic father who walked me through my evolution as a church leader. I am absolutely certain Dudley saved me from the ruin of ambition, absence of wisdom and into the value of the bigger story.
When I speak of "apostolic fathers," I am speaking of apostles who are fathers both to individuals as well as churches. This is never a position/title nor is it an imposed role. There is a God connection that creates a long term journey together, not to create ongoing dependence but true fathering life. Here are some thoughts:
- Genesis 1 and 2 draws us into the divine intention that fathers are to 'be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth". This apostolic heart was planted in us from the beginning-even before the fall,
- "... A man shall leave his father and his mother..." true fathering prepares his sons to leave home, to engage in marriage, establish their own families, have their own kids. These apo fathers do not create ongoing dependence but empower the children to leave home - a moment of much celebration,
- "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country & your kindred & your father's house to the land that I will show you.'" This Genesis 12 text is such a pivotal piece of the Old Testament puzzle. It is a call to take the family out from the known story. However God goes on to tell Abraham that he will be the father of "many nations". God never intended the apo father to simply make one big growing catholic organization. Rather to seed "many nations" just as Terry Virgo and New Frontiers is doing,
- "Timothy, my true son" the greatest legacy any apo father can leave is the sons and daughters of his ministry who are now walking with great fullness, confidence and fatherly endorsement into their future. As Jacob blessed each of his sons in the latter part of Genesis, so too apo fathers should invest into sons, raise them up "in the ways of the Lord", journey with them to ready them for when they leave home, bless them to go to live their dream but remain in the wings for those informal dad / son moments. I am so saddened that so many apos see their organizations as their legacies, therefore these must be kept / maintained at all costs, leaving many 'sons' feeling betrayed and used. It should not be.
- " I became your father in Christ Jesus..." Whilst Paul said this to the Corinthian church, not every church had an apo father so intimately involved with their journey. The weakness of the modern church seems to be that 'many churches equals success'. I am not sure that is true. It would seem that the apos did journey closely with some churches but never to create long term dependence nor become territorial and possessive. As with fathering, it is close intimate involvement initially but progressively release them to other voices and influences.
- "Apostolic oversight" is not a biblical phrase. I fear it has become more than it was ever intended to be. There can be no layer of leadership between the local elders and the Father. That leads to control of the worst kind. The elders then simply become management of an external requirement rather than God lovers who hear His voice personally and clearly and lead the community with the faith that "comes from hearing the word of God". I believe the biblical image is one of "our partnership in the gospel" - Phil 1. This is a picture of walking alongside rather than being over.
- "To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae" Paul writes this from prison. Epaphras comes to faith in Ephesus. He heads back home and plants a church. Soon however he runs into difficulty with false teaching so appeals to Paul for help. Paul writes this beautiful epistles, loaded with truth and gospel life. However, Paul does not pretend to be this church's father - grandfather if anything. However he is of huge assistance in their journey through his "blog, twitter, facebook, book". In this very real world, every church may not have 'their own apo father', but they can learn from those whom God is raising up around the world to fulfill this most necessary role.
I hope this has helped. There is a better way. Better that coaches or mentors. Better than apo oversight and control. Better than impersonal distant organizations. Simply apostolic fathers who journey with you and your church, readying you to leave home, empowering you to live your story. I do like that very much.