Wednesday, December 28, 2011

183. Discipleship and the Fivefold Ministry of APEST in Ephesians 4

In our book on APEST and the apostolic vocation entitled The Permanent Revolution, we discuss the different impulses that run through the various five fold ministries of APEST in Ephesians 4. An additional slant on the five fold that we did not include in the book is how the various APEST ministries tend to approach discipleship. Because the different APEST ministries embody and express the various components of Christ's ministry while here on earth, then we should expect to see the various five fold ministries emphasizing certain aspects of discipleship contained within Christ's discipling ministry.  They each value and demonstrate a particular facet of Jesus' work on earth, so it is only natural that their interest in discipleship will be shaped by their inherent values. In other words, discipleship is attractive to the various APEST ministries for different reasons. So here are my thoughts on how each of the five view and value discpleship.


Apostles, because they have an impulse for missional extension, see discipleship primarily as a mechanism for multiplication and leadership development. When you hear apostolic people talk about discipleship, it is typically from he angle of multiplying disciples and ensuring quality leadership to shoulder the movement. This particular feature of multiplication is undoubtedly front and center in the practice of making disciples. If discipleship is done well, then it will always lead to multiplication and leadership development.  This view of discipleship springs from the apostles values of reaching people in the most efficient and effective way. Multiplication from a movemental standpoint is far more effective than addition.


Prophets are looking to close the gap between how things are and how things should be. As such, discipleship is typically attractive to prophets if it is utilized to bring about tangible, concrete changes in the people and the status quo. Discipleship, then, for prophetic people is often a way to bring reformation and restoration to the people, places and power systems. Prophets value integrity and congruence between God's values and our values, between God's reality and our reality. If discipleship is cast in terms of bringing alignment between us and God, and therefore leading to a shaping and reforming of the present reality, then typically prophets are all in. However, the prophetic impulse is not necessarily concerned with the quantity of disciples so much as with the quality of disciples.


Evangelists, because they value conversion, see discipleship as a way to retain people who have been converted to Jesus. The evangelist is always looking to bring more people in, but if the quantity of people exceeds the quality of people in the community, then efforts to integrate people into the community will be undermined by issues related to maturity and selfishness. Most evangelistic leaders see discipleship as a way to get the community up to par in order to maximize retention and mobilize for outreach. Like the apostolic, they are looking typically focused on quantity, but they are typically not thinking in terms of multiplication, but rather addition.


Shepherds value nurturing and protecting.  As such, shepherds tend to view discipleship as a means for personal transformation and spiritual development. They find great joy in walking with people through a maturing process. Discipleship is attractive to shepherds because it provides a vehicle to stay close to the sheep and be in touch with their needs. This is why shepherds are often content with small group ministry functioning as a vehicle for discipleship.


Discipleship is attractive to teachers because it poses an opportunity for them to provide instruction and explanation to scriptural truths. Teachers are obsessed with learning and explaining things. Discipleship for a teacher is about rooting people in a biblical worldview and developing biblical literacy. There is typically not much emphasis on quantity either from a multiplication or an addition view point with teachers. They are concerned with quality understanding. If quantity comes into view, it is the quantity of people they get to "teach," which in their mind, is often equated with the act of discipleship. Jesus however, would beg to differ on this point I think.

So here is a summary table:

So which one is right? Well, as Alan talks about in his book The Forgotten Ways, the apostolic provides the optimal environment in which the other ministries can function. If we apply this to our discussion of discipleship, it is the concept of multiplication and the development of leaders that provides discipleship with the over arching field of meaning in which to organize and integrate the other features of discipleship. So mission once again comes to the fore as to how we understand the various aspects and features of Jesus' ministry expressed through the APEST ministries.

The emphasis of the teacher on biblical literacy and worldview finds its most fertile application when in the context of discipling people for multiplication. The emphasis of the shepherd on personal transformation finds its most optimal application when functioning within a broader, over arching mission to in turn allow that transformed life to influence other peoples lives. The prophetic emphasis on reformation and restoration finds its most potent force of change when wedded to the apostolic function of missional extension. Reformation without multiplication only amounts to revolution. Revolutions are short and die out when the leaders are removed. If discipleship can facilitate restoration, and restoration can be framed around the larger, more systemic function of multiplication, then the revolution could possibly become a permanent revolution, but not without the integration of the apostolic vocation and person, who, out of their own giftings, bring the issue of multiplication and leadership development front and center.

This is why the apostolic is said to be first, and foundational, in the church. Without the missional, extending focus on multiplication then discipleship will devolve into moralistic, informational, monastical, hermetical and local dimensions. That being said, if the apostolic impulse for multiplication functions autonomously and does not allow itself to be influenced and honed by the other giftings, it will take on a thoroughly mechanistic, utilitarian approach to discipleship that seeks to exploit human capital for the sake of achieving the mission. So while mission and multiplication should take priority among the other features of discipleship, it should not become the exclusive feature. Without the other five shaping the practice of discipleship, then it is hard to imagine how we can say that we are discipling people to look like Jesus. We need all five in order to demonstrate the fullness of Christ in the world. This is, after all, why the five gifts were given to the church, to re-present the full range of Christ's ministry in and through the body of Christ to the world.

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