Archive for the 'Apostolic Ecclesiology' Category

Only in the Local Church?

Saturday, July 5th, 2008


I continue to be amazed at the number of people whose paths I come across who have mistakenly been led to believe that if God is calling them toward some form of ministry, doing it in or connected to a local church is their only legitimate option.

It is sad to see such a truncated, warped ecclesiology hold back what could be a wave of highly committed, gifted, apostolic leaders. I am grieved at the wounds that are inflicted by such a view of the Church that is so biblically, theologically, historically and missiologically deficient.

Conversely, it is amazing when the “lights go on” for such leaders, particularly those who are thrashing around trying to find a structure into which they can fit. Too many get stuck in the unfortunate cul-de-sac of local church supremacy.

One of my greater joys is blowing out their limited understanding of where God’s calling can be accomplished, expanding the scope of what he could do with their lives, and helping these men and women find the right venues where they can break out of their shells and soar.

As in every age of the Christian movement, apostolic people need apostolic structures if their contribution to God’s kingdom purposes are to be fulfilled.

Apostolic Gifting

Thursday, June 19th, 2008


I just received a newsletter from some CRM folks who have been faithfully working in an obscure, difficult setting in Southeast Asia for the past 14 years. They have made a phenomenal contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes in their context. Who they are and what they have done is truly extraordinary. These are apostolic, pioneering types who genuinely get their thrills by going where most normal people would dare to tread.

In the newsletter, there was one paragraph which was a stellar description of what apostolic gifting is all about. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They wrote:

“When we arrived in this country, it was a good time and place for pioneering type people. Our personality, skills and gifting are very useful when things are broken down and not yet built. We are the ‘MacGyver’ types who live with a Leatherman Multi-Tool on our belt, a roll of wire and duct tape, and a Mag-Lite close at hand for when things break or go bad.

We travel with our two favorite books in double layer ziplock bags; a Thinline Bible and a Field Medical “What to do when it all goes wrong” Manual. We don’t need traffic laws, and can drive anything from bicycles to tractors and have fun. Beds are fine, and hammocks are better (no bedbugs) and all we need is enough water to scrub the crud off once a day. We like good food, but are fine eating other interesting stuff. Life is good in the the ambiguity zone.”

That is apostolic gifting! God give us more.

The 10-40 Excuse

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008


It’s bogus.

I just learned of another mega-church which is laying waste to people they support who are not directly focused on the 10-40 window. Under the guise of reallocating resources, they are cutting people off who don’t fit their criteria of being on the ground in 10-40 venues.

So what’s wrong with such “prioritization?” Plenty.

1. Such decisions rarely have to be “either-or” type choices. They should be “both-and.” I’ve seen too many situations where a church’s financial support for incredibly effective people around the world and in North America, gets cut and the reason given is that the church wants to reallocate resources where the needs are greatest. However, the real reasons are all too often budgets that are stretched because of elaborate building programs, dwindling attendance, or turnover in a missions committee where control of the purse strings has shifted to people who have a personal agenda.

The church I heard about today which just cut some superb missionaries serving in North America has been engrossed in a 30 million dollar building extravaganza and felt compelled to begin eliminating missionaries. The justification was the 10-40 window.

2. Most such decisions are made by misguided and myopic amateurs who have created policies that may sound high-minded and strategic on the surface but are missiologically naive and are an indication of leadership that doesn’t know what they are doing rather than leadership that knows how to focus on the most unreached of the global population. If they really wanted to be more strategic, they could do it without the human carnage.

3. Such ill-informed decisions often demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of “leverage.” Such decision makers would probably have given Jesus the ax because he never got outside of his own culture.

Patty and I have personally gotten several such “dear John” letters. The most disappointing was from a church that had helped originally send us into a life of vocational ministry, the place where we were married and a congregation that had an incredible reputation for supporting the global Christian movement. In a form letter from someone we had never met, we were told they had “re-evaluated” their priorities and if we ever decided “to live overseas,” we should come back and talk to them and they would reconsider us for support.

4. In my experience, I have never seen a local church cut its pastoral staff or their compensation commensurate with cuts they deem necessary in those to whom they have committed who serve in a missions capacity. People you don’t have to see every week don’t raise as big a stink.

5. When a local church makes such draconian moves which can devastate people already living on the edge, I have never had one pastor or person responsible contact us and be willing to enter into a conversation about the decision. I have never seen a willingness to have these misapplied 10-40 window assumptions challenged.

6. Unfortunately, it is indicative of the fact that local churches are increasingly unreliable and unpredictable sources of financial support for those serving in mission postures. And when they take a valid, useful concept such as the need in the 10-40 window and use it to decimate and wound their existing mission force, it only reinforces the poor reputation that such church-based mission efforts all to often have earned.

I can’t help but believe such hurtful actions, like those I heard about today, grieve and sadden God. But in the larger perspective, I think it is all simply another symptom of the underlying condition of the traditional, institutional church in the western world.

The Dysfunctional Status-Quo

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

 ~Mdavis Uploaded Images Frustration-798907
A good friend in his late 20s emailed me about his frustrating dilemma:

“Our ‘community/organic church’ has been working to define ourselves, our mission, and overall purpose. In the meantime, we are trying to work through some tough issues with one of the local churches that all of us have been previously associated with to one degree or another.

They approached us about a month ago requesting us to consider taking on the responsibility of starting a ‘postmodern’ church service, under their umbrella. Basically, they’re stuck and realize that they aren’t effectively reaching people under 35.

All us have close relationships with various people in the leadership of the church. However, all of us in our ‘community’ are very reluctant to fall under the umbrella of such a local church and we’ve been fairly vocal about that.

Just last night my wife and I had one of the couples in our community over and they informed us that they (more…)

Leadership In Hungary

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Heisers Heisers Metcalfs

Tamas and Zsofia Heiser are with Barnabas Csoport, CRM’s ministry in Hungary, and are moving toward the role of leading that team.

This comes after a church planting experience over the past decade where God used them to birth and give leadership to a healthy group of believers in Zalaegerszeg in the southern part of the country.

While a highly respected pastor and leader in his community, denomination and throughout the country, Tamas is making the move to Barnabas Csoport because he sees the acute need for leadership in the church that is and the church that needs to be in Hungary and beyond. His situation is also another vivid example of an apostolic leader that needs an apostolic structure to accomplish all that God intends for his life. Tamas’ sense of vision and calling has moved beyond the boundaries of one local context. A gifted musician, teacher and great mom, Zsofia plays an integral role in all that has transpired and how God will use them in the future. She fully shares this step into the turbulent world of the missionary.

While Tamas may not be as “frustrated” in the same sense as Eric (February 7, 2006 post in Apostolic Ecclesiology), he’s cut out of the same cloth. He, Zsofia, and their three children are in the process of selling their home and moving to Budapest. They are taking some bold, sacrificial steps to follow God’s leading in their lives, steps that God will bless and through which the Church and God’s kingdom purposes will be enriched throughout this region of the world.

The Naiveté of “Church Direct” Mission Efforts

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

 Downloads Rembrandtpaul
“If the short-term movement has been a trend toward ‘amateurism’ in missions then congregational-direct mission efforts are often even worse….

Most local church people, even members of brand new congregations, have no idea how a congregation does or should start, or even how it is to function – in their own society, let alone in a cross-cultural situation….

It is, in fact, highly unlikely that local congregations will have the resources of previous experience or historical or missiological perspective to work strategically or even effectively in a cross-cultural situation. Most congregations are unable to deal effectively with ethnic minorities on their doorstep. Why would they expect to be able to deal intelligently with those same kinds of strange people at a distance?

If what Paul understood to be needed in his outreach to the Greeks had been easily explainable to the Jewish followers of Christ back in Jerusalem, we would not have needed the detailed information in the New Testament. Rarely, down through history, has the exact nature of the need on the field been readily explainable to the people within the sending cultural situation.”

—Missiologist Ralph Winter

** Painting is Rembrandt’s famous “the Apostle Paul,” circa 1657.

Funding in Other Cultures

Friday, January 19th, 2007

 Images Emptypockets

There are two mantras I see consistently all over the world when encouraging those in other cultures toward raising financial support to sustain themselves in ministry.

1. “But brother, you do not understand. Ours is a poor country. We do not have the resources for such giving.”

2. “But brother, you do not understand. The church and Christians in our country don’t know how to give. Giving is not part of the ethos in our churches or among our people. Asking for such financial help is something foreign and unusual in our context.”

Let’s take them one at a time.

1. Being in personal financial or physical need is never an excuse in the bible for people not giving. Rather, what we actually see is giving being encouraged even in extreme poverty (Luke 21:4, II Corinthians 8:2).

Let’s be theoretical for a moment. Consider that if a person commits to living on lifestyle of the culture around them, it would take just ten others giving 10% of their resources for one to be supported. That’s all. Or it would take 20 giving units at 5% to support one. What this means is there is virtually no excuse for the vast majority of environments around the world for people to give and people to be sustained in ministry provided those being sustained are doing so at the same standard of living as those around them.

Where this construct breaks down is when such people being supported leave their own culture and move into another culture, country or nation. Then costs and the amount needed to live, travel and minister has the potential to skyrocket. In such a scenario, there is a greater need for creative and alternative means of funding particularly if they go to cultures more affluent then their own.

2. It is true that a “culture of generosity” does not automatically exist wherever the Christian movement has gone. Furthermore, an ethos that gives generously toward the extension of the gospel into other cultures and lands is even less the norm. Consequently, it can be an uphill slug to generate financial support via giving in such settings.

However, while it may take longer, it may be part of God’s good plan for the people in that setting to be moved toward a more biblical, engaged use of their resources. In other words, the actual process of educating people about their giving responsibilities serves a prophetic function. It becomes a ministry—by those apostolically gifted individuals who are raising the money—to the
Church at large. It helps to move the followers of Jesus in that context toward a more biblical, generous, and responsible world-view regarding the use of their resources, not matter how meager their resources may be.

An organization that does a good job around the world addressing these two issues is International Steward.

Tentmaking is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

 Thumb 10 1113924776Zy0W6E

A concept that comes into vogue on and off in the world of cross-cultural ministry is tentmaking.

Derived from the biblical example of the Apostle Paul who made tents to make ends meet, the concept of tentmaking generates appeal as an alternative and/or complimentary means of funding people in cross-cultural ministry. Unfortunately, it is too often made out to be something it is not.

1. The biblical example is not the ideal. Paul does this because of the immaturity of the Corinthian church. He is clear that he has the right to expect their financial support but forgoes the right in order not to burden them in their embryonic, developmental stage. Tentmaking is the default posture. Not the norm.

2. The limitations on tentmakers are usually substantial and rarely do those attempting it have a realistic understanding of what they are getting into. Imagine what it’s like to carry on a 8-5 vocation or profession, and then add all of the stress and adjustments of cross-cultural living on top of that. What’s really left for any effective ministry? The fact is, the primary and often only ministry context tentmakers can reasonably expect will be their jobs.

Too often the expectation is that they will be free to serve alongside vocational missionaries or expressions of the church in national settings. That is usually a fantasy.

3. Unfortunately, some of those I’ve seen gravitate toward tentmaking are independent individuals who don’t want to be accountable to others and want to go it alone. I’ve also seen people use tentmaking as an excuse to not raise support, want to insure a consistent pay check, and not have to depend directly on God or donors for their livelihood.

4. I’ve repeatedly heard the mantra that tentmaking is the means of placing missionaries in closed or restricted access nations. That’s simply not true. There is no such thing as a closed country on the face of the planet. Only creative access countries. There is a distinct difference in a tentmaker who is committed to a profession and wants to use it for ministry purposes and a person called into vocational ministry using a profession as a creative means of access in difficult contexts.

Does tentmaking have a place in God’s overall missional purposes around the world? Of course. But there needs to be some honesty and realism about what it can accomplish. There are some wonderful people who have made such cross-cultural jumps and who serve, in word and deed, as the presence of Jesus through their jobs in difficult cross-cultural contexts. But tentmaking is not the panacea that some make it out to be.

Living on Support

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

 Archives Dollars-Pic

Regarding funding through “support,”, ie, gifts given by other to support those in vocational ministry, Alan Hirsch writes in The Shaping of Things to Come;

...mission support is the support sytem of the future. Sutainability and organic growth are at stake.” (pg. 213)

Patty and I have lived on such support for the past 30 years. Recently I wrote about this to CRM staff around the world:
“There have certainly been ups and downs ‘…times of plenty and times of want.’ (Phil 4:11-12). While we have never failed to see God’s faithfulness in meeting our needs, there have been seasons when financial fatigue has set in.”

So is this the only way for those in vocational ministry to be financially sustained? Of course not. There are a variety of factors and combinations that have to be taken into consideration. And there are many ways to creatively provide sustainable funding, regardless of the context. CRM Enterprise is one such a way where business is used directly to subsidize ministry. However, we cannot dismiss out of hand biblical examples and injunctions—such as I Corinthians 9:13—about the right that those who minister have to benefit tangibly from the results of their labor.

Unfortunately, there are those who grow weary of living in such a posture. In my experience, most of the time, they have not worked hard at this. They have refused or failed to see it as an integral and essential aspect of apostolic ministry. And when the financial woes mount, some head for the door looking for whatever can relieve the pressure. Some go to tentmaking. Some seek fees for services. Others justify their posture by blaming changing cultural demographics or the unwillingness of the church in their context to give. The excuses are legion.

An organization that I have found very helpful in getting one’s arms around this whole subject has been the Bodybuilders. They do a good job debunking all the excuses and all the irrational and sometimes emotional thinking that surrounds the topic of support raising for ministry.

There are four books that I would recommend—also recommended in the Bodybuilders most recent newsletter:

“Friend Raising: Building a Missionary Support Team That Lasts” (Betty J. Barnett)

 Webshop Producten Middle Peopleraising

“People Raising Kit” (William P. Dillon)

 Images P 0967248000.01. Ou15 Pe Scmzzzzzzz

Funding Your Ministry: Whether You’re Gifted or Not” (Scott Morton)

 Images P 0830822186.01. Bo2,204,203,200 Pisitb-Dp-500-Arrow,Topright,45,-64 Aa240 Sh20 Sclzzzzzzz

“Getting Sent: A Relational Approach to Support Raising” (Pete Sommer)

Funding from “Behind” For Apostolic Ministry

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

 Cms Graphics Img333 Size2

Missiologist Ralph Winter writes in his editorial in the most recent issue of Mission Frontiers magazine:

“Many jobs are ‘funded from behind.’ That is, some foundation, some tax base, or some set of donors is willing to pay you to deal with an urgent problem or provide a service to someone else (who does not pay).Mission agencies fall into this category. Much of what they do blesses people who can’t pay for the products or services they receive.

Could everything that needs to be done in this world be done with a business approach? Almost. But many highly strategic needs require funding ‘from behind.’ You can’t make “a business” out of rescuing child prostitutes in Thailand, or by setting up medical clinics in the midst of extreme poverty around the world.”

Besides the clear biblical precedents in seeing “support” generated through gifts, Winter’s comments highlight the simple, practical aspect of why “funding from behind” is one of the preeminent means God uses to fund His work. There are many reasons, including a plethora of misconceptions, why people won’t or don’t want to do this:
    1) It requires a position of dependence. The term “faith missions” is not a misnomer.
    2) Independent, self-relient, westerners are not all that good at such a posture. I have lost count of the successful business people whom I have met who long to be missionaries or in vocational ministry, but will only do it if they are independently wealthy and not having to depend on anyone else for money.
    3) It is perceived as “begging.”
    4) It is associated with living in poverty and going through life being needy.
    5) It is hard work.More about this tomorrow.

New Book by Alan Hirsch

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Alan Hirsch
Alan Hirsch has just come out with a new book that I highly recommend, “The Forgotten Way: Reactivating the Missional Church..

In it, he makes a compelling case for the inherent spiritual DNA—what he calls “Apostolic Genius”—that exists in every individual who follows Jesus and in every community of such individuals.

It’s important reading for anyone serious about the future of the Christian movement and what is necessary for us to participate with the Spirit of God in the type of spiritual dynamics that can, and should, affect the course of history.

“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” (Alan Hirsch)

Local churches as eunuchs?

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Church Plant[1]

Historically, local groups of Christians (churches) have multiplied in three basic ways:

1. The groups themselves multiply. There is variety in how this is accomplished: they hive, they divide, and all too often, they experience nasty splits.

2. An entrepreneurial, apostolic person starts a new group. I.e., a “church planter” with the gift of evangelism acts as the catalyst to start a new group or groups.

3. A apostolic team (missionaries), most often part of a larger apostolic movement, begins a new group or multiple groups while maintaining their own sense of community and apostolic, sodalic identity.

There are numerous variations and themes on these three basic models. But by and large, all church planting in any cultural context over the past 2000 years fits into one of these three categories.

It is also true that all three of these models are needed. However, a good historical case could be made for the fact that the majority of such new local church starts have been through models 2 and 3. The oft quoted mantra of “churches planting churches” (mode #1) as the primary way the Christian movement expands is simplistic and shortsighted.

While the ideal is always to build a bias toward multiplying into the DNA of any new group of Jesus’ followers, the reality is that the church in its local, 1st decision form is structurally limited in its ability to reproduce. Hence, the vast majority of local churches struggle not to be “structural eunuchs.” Local churches have their best opportunities for multiplying within their own cultural context, what missiologists call “M-1” cultural distance.

But when faced with cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic and geographic barriers, the church in its local form is structurally ill-equipped to reproduce and models 2 and 3 are needed. Even the very best, missionally committed groups of local believers face such structural limitations. The fact is that the reproducibility of the local church is greatest when in an interdependent and synergistic relationships with models 2 and 3 above. This is the biblical and historical pattern.

“The Whole Church taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World” is the slogan of the Lausanne Movement. Unfortunately, this vision has scant possibility of fulfillment without an accurate understanding of what comprises the “Whole Church.” Such a slogan is devoid of meaning if the definition of Church is limited to those expressions that are local in nature and ignores those essential apostolic structures that do the work in models 2 and 3 above.

Any portion of the Christian movement—because of truncated ecclesiology, lack of historical perspective, or missiological naivete—which bypasses that equal part of the Church in its apostolic, missionary form, does so to its own peril. The inevitable result is a net loss to God’s kingdom purposes in the world and many lives that may remain untouched by the redemptive presence of Christ.

Multiplying Apostolic Orgs

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Conext 06

“It is astonishing that most Protestant missionaries … have been blind to the significance of the very structure within which they have worked. In this blindness, they have merely planted churches and have not effectively concerned themselves to make sure that the kind of mission structure within which they operate also be set up on the field.” – Missiologist Ralph Winter in “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”

I just returned from London where I met with those who lead CRM’s ministry in eight nations where nationals are the leaders and nationals are in one stage or another in being sent as missionaries.

Rather than be a multi-national corporation, we have deliberately determined that CRM will evolve as an international partnership of apostolic entities which are the mission structures Winter describes.

We believe the the results will be exponentially powerful in the multiplication of new kinds of leaders for new kinds of churches all over the globe.

Pictured above are leaders from Venezuela, Hungary, U.K., Africa, the Middle East, Korea, the U.S. and Australia.


Monday, October 9th, 2006


“The tragedy is that Christianity has become ayes-man for the culture,” says Boston’s University’s Prothero. Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend…. a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders.”- TIME, September 18, 2006, “Does God Want You to be Rich?”

Today, as alluded to in TIME, there is a burgeoning interest in such structures due in part to a renewed commitment among the emerging generation to social justice, ministry among the poor, concern for the environment, and other elements of a more holistic, biblical gospel.

However, neo-monastic movements among Protestants are nothing new. Even though the reformers in the 16th century threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water when they overreacted to Catholic orders, Protestants have repeatedly reinvented and reintroduced such apostolic structures throughout the past five hundred years. The most notable thrust came with William Carey, popularly known as the “father of modern missions,” in the 1790s and every succeeding generation has repeated the process, often oblivious upon whose shoulders they stand.

For example, an editorial in Christianity Today, first published in 1988 and republished since, made a compelling appeal to “re-monk the church.” A cover story in the same magazine in September, 2005 gave a fascinating overview of such contemporary movements.

CRM’s InnerCHANGE is just such a neo-monastic structure, a present day “order among the poor.”

Presently, a fascinating issue is what direction will the “emerging church” go? Some of these new missional expressions are evolving toward such neo-monasticism and others toward the church in local form, two structures which are distinct from one another but equally “church” in the biblical, historical and missiological sense. I believe the health and vibrancy of the emerging movement may well depend in part upon its ability to recognize and embrace the distinctives inherent in both structures.

Any hope for the renewal of authentic Christianity in the West will require a plethora of such neo-monastic movements. As in each of the eight great epochs of the Christian movement since Pentecost, such sodalic, apostolic expressions are designed by God as necessities that infuse life, vitality and spiritual power into the broader church and society. They are not aberrations. They are essential.

The Necessity of Functional Structures

Saturday, August 26th, 2006


C. Peter Wagner writes:

“The better mission structure leaders are convinced that their task is the most important task in the kingdom of God. Whether it is Bible translation, church planting, relief and development, evangelistic crusades, church renewal leadership training, or what have you, the leader of the group doing it had better think that is the most important thing in the world. Those who don’t can still lead mission structures, but not as well.”

Two frequent objections to such a view are:

1. Why aren’t all of these tasks innate and generic to the church in its local form? If they were, there would be no need of such specialized initiatives (sodalities) and the egotistical people who all too often lead them?

A REPLY: Many of these functions are carried on by the church in its local expression particularly in neighbor and near neighbor relationships. But universally – throughout the history of the Christian movement and biblical history – specialized structures to carry out such functions have been formed and ordained by God. They are particularly necessary when cultural, social, linguistic, or geographical barriers must be overcome for the function to be carried out. Missiologists would persuasively argue that the church in its local, nurture form is ill-equipped and not structured by God to carry out such roles. It takes the church in its missionary form to fulfill the missio dei in its totality.

2. Such a perspective disrespects all those committed to local church ministry. There is an underlying disdain for the generalists who labor tirelessly in local communities of faith be they lay or professional.

A REPLY: One of my best friends is a family doc. He’s a generalist. And he’s a good one. But he knows how and when to refer me to a specialist. While I Iove and respect his medical acumen, I would never expect him to operate on me if I had a brain tumor or if I had cancer. That’s not his role. But when he works in harmony, respect, and interdependence with such specialists, I get the best medical care possible.

Likewise in the Church—consisting of both the church in its local form and the church in its mobile/apostolic/missionary form—there are different structural roles needed for God’s plans and purposes to be effectively carried out. And we find these structural roles universally, across cultures, across time and involving every imaginable type of church expression. The glorious diversity of this structural mosaic demonstrates the creative genius of God and is not something to be feared or decried.

Paul’s Missionary Band

Saturday, August 12th, 2006

Paul & Barnabas-1

“ it really so strange that Paul, who was responsible for so much of the New Testament’s formal teaching, would not describe the missionary band? After all, he was demonstrating its function at every step.

And he also demonstrates his relationship to the local nurturing fellowships that he and his teams planted – by the way he wrote to these congregations in certain cities.” – Charles Mellis in Committed Communities, pg. 15

One of the frequent objections to an understanding of missional ecclesiology and the structures necessary for its implementation is that the bible does not specifically address sodalic, apostolic entities as “church.” However, this criticism is spurious for several reasons:

First, just because we don’t find the description overtly in the post-gospel writings does not exclude the description from being legitimately applied to Paul and his apostolic band. There is no textual reason that would prohibit all of the biblical and essential descriptors of “church” being equally applied to such mobile, apostolic structures in the same way they are applied to a geographically local, modalic entity.

Secondly, much of the post-gospel writings in the New Testament are actually missionary (apostolic) types instructing local church types how to live, minister and function.

Lastly, as Mellis states, against the backdrop of the 1st century and the common understanding of Jewish proselytizing bands, there was little reason to write about it. Paul and the 40+ people who made up his missionary operation simply lived it out. What they demonstrated by their actions was a ministry dynamic that was a common, well-understood practice of the day.

(Painting “Paul and Barnabas at Lystra” by Flemish master Jacob Jordaens, (1593-1678) hangs in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia)

The Supremacy of the Church Local?

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Bolton Hill Steeples.Sized

“The leadership of nurture structures (congregations and linkage structures) on whom we largely depend for our Christian education have always tended to a mono-structural view of the Church. In fact, our theologians tend to define the Church in terms of this nurture structure.” —Charles Mellis in Committed Communities, pg. 6.

This mindset that Mellis refers to (and then goes on to effectively deconstruct in his book) is what I refer to as “the supremacy of the church local.” It’s that ill-informed concept that says the church in its local form is the only legitimate expression of the body of Christ. In this view, the congregational/diocesan form is the only true expression of what “church” is.

Unfortunately, this truncated view of the church has prevailed, as Mellis notes, in Western theological education except in the field of missiology. While missionaries and other apostolically gifted individuals are often required to endure a classic theological curriculum (including Greek, Hebrew, and other assorted irrelevant subjects) to get duly certified for ministry through an educational system biased toward the scholarly, those headed into pastoral ministry for the church local and its hierarchal “linkage structures” (ie, denominations) rarely have to immerse themselves in missiological studies.

It is a rare pastor who is exposed to the theology of mission or the history of missional ecclesiology. While they may have studied church history from the perspective of doctrine, heresies and apologetics, they seldom examine the fundamental structural dynamics that are essential for an understanding of the health and expansion of the Christian movement. For example, few ever wrestle with a volume such as Kenneth Scott Latourette’s A History of Christianity or any seminal texts on a theology of mission. How many pastors-to-be have been immersed in Newbigin, McGavran, Winter or Bosch?

What can suffer as a result is an understanding and appreciation of those apostolic structures upon which the vitality of the Christian movement has always depended. This lack of understanding is widespread in the West. One sees it across a broad spectrum from the traditional/historic churches of modernity, including the mega-churches—which are particularly susceptible because of their perception of self-sufficiency—to the emerging church movement.

Yet when leaders—pastoral, lay, and those leading apostolic movements—all “get it,” the resulting synergy that occurs from such a biblical, Spirit-directed interdependence is a tremendous thing to experience. And when it genuinely happens, the name of Jesus is renowned among the nations in an Ephesians 3:20 way, “...immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

Why Missionaries Can Be Irritating

Thursday, July 27th, 2006


C. Peter Wagner in his seminal work on biblical holisim, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel writes:

“Mission structures, at least the better ones, do not have a broad vision. They are single-minded and concentrate on one task. Their narrow vision is part of their very nature, not something to be criticized.

The better mission structure leaders frequently exhibit three characteristics which broader-minded pastors need to understand and appreciate (although at times it is difficult to do so).The better mission structure leaders are:

1. Convinced that their task is the most important task in the kingdom of God
2. Convinced that their particular organization is going about the task better than any other similar organization.
3. Have a low need for people and a high dedication to the task.”

“Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate” (C. Peter Wagner)

Celtic Missionality

Monday, July 24th, 2006


The Celtic movement combined a profound commitment to trinitarian theology with a deeply experiential/sensual/visual spirituality. Celtic understanding and practice of community and holism was exemplary. And their missiology was highly incarnational with a remarkable understanding of apostolic structures. A Celtic monastic community’s purpose was:

“… to root your consciousness in the gospel and the scriptures; to help you experience the presence of the Triune God and an empowered life; to help you discover and fulfill your vocation; and to give you experience in ministry with seekers.”

As CRM develops and multiplies such apostolic communities around the globe, this isn’t a bad statement of what those communities of transformation should encompass.

A wonderful example of Celtic apostolic passion—firmly grounded in trinitarian spirituality—can be found in this portion of the famous Celtic prayer, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate:”

We rise today
In power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,
Believing in threeness, confessing the oneness,
Of creation’s Creator.

For to the Lord belongs salvation,
And to the Spirit belongs salvation,
And to Christ belongs salvation,
May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

Paul or Peter? Two Models of Apostolic Leadership

Monday, July 10th, 2006

P Elgre Apostlepeterpaul

In the most recent issue of Mission Frontiers, Dick Scoggins has an excellent article on “Nurturing a New Generation of ‘Pauline’ and ‘Petrine’ Apostles.

It is incredibly insightful, brief and well worth the read. To summarize:

“Pauline apostleship is exercised by pioneering, mobile communities which start local communities of the Kingdom where they do not exist. A second form of apostleship – what I call Petrine apostleship – is also portrayed in the New Testament …[and] is more prevalent than I had imagined.

...there is an apostolic ministry to the unreached (the Pauline), but there is also an apostolic ministry to the exisitng people of God (the Petrine).”

*Painting is Greco’s famous “Apostles Peter and Paul” circa 1592


Tuesday, June 6th, 2006


“The nurture structures down through history have been loathe to provide such channels , and slow to bless those that have emerged. In fact, they have often clawed at the heels of those members who have reached out for deeper forms of commitment.” – Charles Mellis in Committed Communities

Missiologists use the technical term “modalities” to refer to the church in its local, parish, or diocesan form. It’s the cross-generational and the essential structure that conserves the fruit of the Christian movement.

But as Mellis so tartly observes, it’s not the structure that takes new ground nor is it on the cutting edge of the new, particularly when faced with cultural, social, linguistic, or economic barriers. Rather the modality preserves what is and provides a place where all can belong. When healthy, it presses for deeper commitment and vibrant spirituality. It is particularly effective in its own immediate cultural milieu and has a transformation kingdom impact. But when people get really committed, watch out!

Modalities were never intended by God to do what the missionary structures do. To expect local churches to have the same sense of discipline and focus that the apostolic forms of the Church—the “sodalities”—evidence, is an unfair expectation and is usually the result of a truncated ecclesiology. There is no theological, biblical, historical, or missiological evidence that such an expectation of the church in its local form is warranted. It is the expectation of the whole Church, but the whole Church is much more than the modalic structure.

When sodalities are healthy, they do two major things for modalities. First, sodalities renew modalities. Secondly, sodalities multiply modalities. While I cannot unequivocally prove it, I think most of the evidence throughout the history of the Christian movement points to the fact that more modalities have emerged as the result of sodality activity than as a result of the activity of other modalities.

Ultimately, we desperately need more and healthier modalities. Hundreds of millions of those who follow Jesus find their spiritual home in these local expressions of the Church. But we also need hoards of new sodalities.

As a sodality leader, I have a bias. I admit it. That is because in the final analysis, the effects on the world of Mother Teresa and a few thousand of her fellow sisters is exponentially greater than hundreds of thousands of nominal pew sitters. The tragedy is that the pew sitters, as Mellis observes, all to often are the biggest obstacle to what God wants to do through those committed few who have submitted themselves to an apostolic calling and consequently have aligned themselves vocationally with an apostolic structure. May their tribe increase!

The Catholics Got It Right

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

 Wikipedia Commons 8 8F Benedikt-Von-Nursia 1-500X600

The primary engine of spiritual vigor and missional vision within Roman Catholicism has been the religious orders. the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Sisters of Charity, Jesuits, etc … The orders, actually unnumbered, have been, and remain to this day, the backbone of the Catholic Church.

Figures are hard to come by, but best estimates optimistically put the worldwide number of women in orders close to 800,000 and about 200,000 men. The Statistical Yearbook of the Church puts total Catholic adherents at slightly over 1 billion at the end of 2004. That means that those committed to religious orders number around .1% of the total church. That is point one percent.

What is amazing is the phenomenal impact that such a small number exercise. The influence of those called to apostolic vocations far exceeds their numbers. The facts are that:

Most renewal has flowed historically from the orders into the modalic, diocesan structures of the church.
The best popes usually came from the orders.
The expansion of the Catholic Church is due almost in whole to the evangelistic and proselytizing efforts of the missionary orders.

One of the greatest errors of the Protestant tradition was the reaction of the reformation to these Catholic structures. The reformers, in their repulsion against all things Catholic, threw out the proverbial baby with the bath-water. For close to 300 years, the results were a truncated ecclesiology that hampered the Protestant understanding of the missio dei.

Even through there were some notable bright spots in this sad history, such as the Moravian Movement of the early 18th century, Protestants never fully recaptured the dynamic until 1792 with the emergence of what has been labeled in generous hindsight the “Modern Missionary Movement” stimulated by Englishman, William Carey.

When Protestants finally got their act together, the “orders” they multiplied were in typical Protestant fashion and true to stereotypical Protestant organizational culture: chaotic, decentralized, and highly entrepreneurial. While sorely lacking in the discipline, historicity, and hierarchical structure of Catholic orders, these countless sodalic, apostolic entities have had an enormous effect around the world throughout the past three centuries.

It is important to note that while all orders are apostolic entities, not all apostolic entities or structures are orders. That is true of the Catholic church and true of non-Catholic orders as well. Orders, by definition, are a particular sub-set of apostolic movements. They capture perhaps most poignantly the essence of what apostolic structure is all about and how it can accomplish remarkable results with so few people or resources.

*Image is of Benedict of Nursia (c.480-543) developed the leading “rule” that established the paradigm for monastic life and ministry that has lasted for 1500 years in Roman Catholicism.

Apostolic Structures-Why So Important?

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Coptic Crosses - Peter

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.

So why is this so important?

The biblical and historical record shows clearly that apostolic structures are necessary for the overall health, multiplication and vibrancy of the Church. They are not some passing necessity that exist because “local churches can’t get it right.” Rather, they are designed and ordained by God to do things that the church in its local form is structurally incapable of performing.

This issue has significant personal implications for me. I have an apostolic movement that has been entrusted to my responsibility and leadership during this season of my life. So it is sad, at times, to see others in positions of ecclesiastical responsibility and leadership question the legitimacy of such structures.

Sometimes I believe they do this out of genuine historical and theological ignorance. Other times, it may be because they are threatened by the fervency and passion of the apostolically gifted folks who gravitate toward such ministry. And all to frequently, they react with the perception that apostolic people and movements will drain their local congregations or denominations of their most motivated people and resources, which while understandable, is patently unfounded when we view the discussion through a biblical perspective.

Characteristics of Apostolic Structures-An Overview

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

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.

Apostolic Ecclesiology

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

St. Michael the Angle.jpg

One of the commonly overlooked aspects of ecclesiology (the study of the church) in standard seminary and graduate education is the structural component. Usually this deficiency is remedied by good missiological studies which consider the core task of the church in the world.

Unfortunately, most pastors and those preparing for vocational ministry study ecclesiology as part of systematic theology but rarely do they ever venture into the realm of missiology. That’s unfortunate because if ministry in the postmodern world is to have any hope of being effective, it must be missiologically informed.

A biblical and historical understanding of ecclesiology that is missiologically informed invariably embraces an understanding of apostolic structures.

Apostolic structures are those forms of the church—distinct from the church in its local, parish, or diocesan form—that God has always used throughout redemptive history to accomplish specific purposes across geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers.

Such an understanding of the term “apostolic” goes beyond the macro usage of the term—meaning some elevated spiritual office where one has oversight or jurisdiction over some type of territory, religious structures or group of people. It is also distinct from concept of apostolic succession which means for something to considered apostolic, it must be related to one of the original 12 apostles or their successors.

Rather, the term apostolic in its broadest sense simply means sent one. It can be argued that such is the meaning of the term in Ephesians 4. Such a use of apostolic has been synonymous throughout history of the Christian movement with “missionary.”

*Photo, by CRM photographer Peter Schrock, is of a statue of “St. Matthew, the Evangelist” which sits atop St. Isaac’s cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia.