Characteristics of Apostolic Structures-An Overview

St. Pete Church

Apostolic structures, or “sodalities” as missiologist Ralph Winter defines them (see the post and article on April 18, 2006), have a unique set of characteristics that sets them apart from “modalities” or local church structures:

  • Sodalities are primarily task-oriented and focus around a shared sense of mission, often narrowly defined.

  • They help modalities be healthy and to create new modalities.

  • Sodalities frequently multiply modalities as well as more sodalities.

  • Apostolic structures are 2nd decision structures. In 1st decision structures, a person belongs based on a decision to follow Jesus. In a 2nd decision structure, (while including the same initial commitment as first decision people), people make an additional vocational commitment. It’s a commitment based on giftedness and specific calling.

  • The life span and life cycle of a sodality is typically longer than a modality because the sodality can enforce discipline. People can be “fired” from a sodality for not doing their job. That is a standard that the church in its local form rarely attempts.

  • While sodalities can form within denominations in the Protestant movement, they are frequently trans-denominational.

  • The impetus for renewal and spiritual vitality most commonly flows from sodalities into the modalities.

  • The issue of commitment is a critical factor that distinguishes these two basic structures that make up the Church.

A biblical, historical, and missiologically informed ecclesiology realizes that sodalities are as equally “church” as the church in its local form and are part of the same body but with different functions and structure. Apostolic expressions of the body of Christ are as legitimately “church” as the parish/diocesan/congregational expressions.

We know from history that during eight great expansions and declines of the Christian movement, when churches in their local form and churches in their apostolic form work together in mutual interdependence, the overall movement flourishes and advances.

It is not a question of either or. It is not an issue of one structure having supremacy over the other. Both are needed, necessary and valid.

4 Responses to “Characteristics of Apostolic Structures-An Overview”

  1. Innes Says:

    Hi Sam

    Glad your daughter is getting better.

    I am quite new to the whole sodalic/modalic terminology, but was really getting into it until something you said “pressed one of my buttons”, so I just had to rise to the bait :-)

    You defined the “2nd decision” as “an additional vocational commitment.” Do you think this is really so? I agree with the second commitment, but not so much with the vocational restriction, which seems so “old school” to me. I come across many sodalics (and am one myself) who express their sodalic hearts and callings in their existing vocations, whether as a doctor, teacher or software engineer. I sense a shift to a sodality that is inclusive of the non-vocational minister as well as the vocational. This shift is opening the doors to “be like Jesus” in the marketplace as well as the Sunday service.

    Maybe my real question is this: “how do we equip non-vocatioal sodalic networks?”

    Disclaimer: Please don’t get me wrong, I value vocational ministers, but I also value the body of Christ and equipping all believers to be ministers (in the broadest sense of the word). I see vocational ministry as the default choice (and advice) for many young Christians. For many this has completly the opposite effect that was intended. Rather than raising up “sent ones” we create “cogs for the machine”.

    The other “old school” criteria for sodality that I struggle with in Winter’s article is the lack of diversity…Winter suggests (although it could have been more of a reflection of the times) that the 2nd decision should be gender or age group specific. Again I find this an overly restrictive definition, as I am experiencing cross gender/age group expressions of sodality here in Glasgow.

    Thanks again for sharing your ideas,


  2. Sam Says:


    Thanks greatly for your comment. I very much appreciate it.

    There are many ways I would like to respond and veins of this issue that I would love to explore. Perhaps I can do so in future posts. Of course, I would prefer a lengthy, more personal conversation in one of the pubs surrounding the university in Glasgow. But they will have to wait for the next time I’m in Scotland.

    Let me say first, that what you’ve written is a very good corrective to what I posted. I was neither clear nor precise and you caught it. Let me attempt to be more accurate.

    As I stated, apostolic structures exist to better empower and enable those with apostolic gifting to fulfill such calling. They are by definition, 2nd decision entities.

    But invariably there are people with such gifts who may work that out in other venues. Such commitment, that is inherent in apostolic giftedness, is not restricted to sodalities. I say this, though, with some caveats:

    First, like all gifts, we see apostolic giftedness scattered broadly throughout the entirety of the body of Christ, both within modalities and within sodalities. The fact is that the one structure, the sodality, is more conducive for the outworking of the giftedness than the other.

    Does this mean that pastors or leaders in local churches cannot be “apostolic” or exercise such gifts in that context? Certainly not. They can make a significant contribution in any local church setting, but there are several dynamics that invariably take place if they stay in that structure:

    1. Those apostolic leaders who have the best chance of thriving in a local church—regardless of the type of church be it high, low, big, small, traditional, free or emerging—usually have obvious pastoral gifting in combination with the apostolic.

    2. The common pattern is that apostolic leaders may try to stay connected to the church in its local form and its ministries in a community, but invariably create an apostolic structure or structures alongside or outside which they can access in order for their giftedness to experience its full expression. They either attach themselves to something that already exists, or they create something new while remaining in a pastoral or a leadership role as layperson.

    The type of thing that you are referring to as a “network for sodalic types” who are remaining in vocations and professions may be a version of this.

    Secondly, as with all spiritual gifts, there are corresponding roles which are expected of all those who follow Jesus irrespective of giftedness. There is an extent to which all are expected to be “sent ones” (John 20:21) and to live lives of missional intentionality. Such missionality can and should be expressed through an array of professions and vocations. But such a general response out of biblical obedience should not be confused with those who are genuinely gifted apostolically.

    General missionality becomes apostolic, and requires apostolic gifting, when significant cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic barriers have to be bridged.

    Can that be done with people in professions, such as tentmakers, who cross such barriers not in “vocational” Christian ministry? Most certainly. That’s been true throughout the entire history of the Christian movement. But as you stated, it is not an either/or proposition. In every era, God has used both to accomplish his purposes.

    Lastly, let me add that there have always been included in sodalities those who were involved in other professions but who were deeply committed to the apostolic movement. In the Roman Catholic orders, these were sometimes referred to as “Third Orders.” In the Celtic movement, the core of the Celtic communities were monks/friars who were apostolic in their calling, but all sorts of other vocations were included in the broader community/movement.

    It seems logical that any person with apostolic gifting has two vehicles through which that gifting can be expressed: involvement in a modality and involvement in a sodality. Involvement in either can be vocationally or while maintaining another vocation. It just means understanding the expectations and even limitations of these choices and how each is a response to God’s individual calling on a life.

    Let me add some quick thoughts about your comments about the “old school” feeling to what I posted.

    First, I don’t think people should pursue vocational ministry unless it is the absolute last thing possible and God draws them into it perhaps kicking and screaming. It should never be the “default” position. The default is pursuing a job and/or profession and being in word and deed the presence of Christ in that role. That’s normal for 90% of the men and women in the Christian movement who God definitely calls to be, as you wrote, “like Jesus” in the market place.

    Secondly, my take is that whenever God is on the move in a culture, there are two dynamics that happen interdependently. One is that men and women in the marketplace are invigorated and we see movements among laity. That is almost always linked somehow with movements among those whom God sets aside vocationally. It’s a both/and proposition.

    And finally, I’m unclear about the reference to Winter on the gender/age selectivity. I’ll have to go back and re-read him to figure that out.

    Again, thanks for the comment.

    Didn’t mean to get quite so long-winded but it was late at night, couldn’t sleep and this was the result.

    Look forward to meeting you sometime when I’m in Glasgow to visit CRM’s NieuCommunities team.

  3. innes Says:

    Hi Sam

    Thanks for your reply. We should definitely get together the next time you are in Glasgow.

    One thing that struck me reading your response was the concept of an apostle to a profession or a vocation. You said “General missionality becomes apostolic, and requires apostolic gifting, when significant cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic barriers have to be bridged.” For many churched people some or all of these barriers are experienced in the work place. Maybe more so in Europe than North America (at the moment)*, Christians find themselves in alien environments when they step through the doors of their office, school or hospital. Some of them are literally crossing cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic lines as they make house calls in ethnically diverse areas. Some of them it is a spiritual barrier as they struggle to live a life of Biblical integrity in professions where the “ends justify the means”. Some of the areas we have explored in the last year are in the area of equipping our people to cross these barriers. How does a nurse or physio be like Jesus when they are working in a crumbling health service, where “social” (drug, alcohol & food abuse) illness is increasing, where not only their patients but their colleagues are losing hope? The same goes for teachers and other professionals.

    Sorry, cut short…need to go, but I will keep processing this.

    • I am making some huge assumptions here: cultural Christianity still seems to be acceptable in America where it is alien in Europe. In Europe organised religion is viewed with suspicion and cynicism, whereas (from a European perspective…so you can correct me :-) ) organised religion (at least on Sundays) is still socially acceptable and possibly even assumed for “professional” people.
  4. Mitch Glaser Says:

    Hi Sam,

    One of these days we need to meet. We have many friends in common, including Ann McCusick, Jeff Branman and we are both Clintonies…and Piersonies?!.. and Fuller grads. I am lecturing on evangelism and though your summary on this subject was great. I have been told that CRM and CPM have many similarities. Blessings on your ministry.

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