Saturday, March 10, 2012

188. Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship Part Four

Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,

This blog is basically dedicated to all things apostolic and missional discipleship. I rarely enter into personal reflection for two reasons. (1) I am an NT (mbti) and the personal side of things is not that appealing to me in a public venue. (2) This blog is a way for me to chronicle my learning in relation to the outworking of my apostolic vocation with a distinct emphasis on being and making disciples and the challenges that revolve around church planting. This focus lends my thought process to more of a strategic, rational, utilitarian side of things. In other words, this blog reflects more on the mechanical, logistical, paradigmatic, process oriented side of the apostolic venture.

However, I occasionally break out of the mold and populate this blog with personal reflections and observations in my own biography. This is one of those posts. So if you are a regular reader and keep coming back for the conceptual, paradigmatic nature of the blog, this post is a momentary detour from the typical genre on this blog. Consider it a discipline of personal reflection.

It was not till 6years ago that I "discovered" that my primary vocation in the body of Christ is that of being an who is sent to pioneer new expressions of ecclesia in movemental forms. Oddly enough, the guy that helped me in this discovery is Alan Hirsch, the guy I just got done co-authoring a book with entitled The Permanent Revolution. His book The Shaping of Things to Come, for the first time in my life, afforded me the language and conceptual framework I needed to locate myself in the broader spectrum of the ministry callings in the body. After that discovery, I had this overwhelming sense that I needed to spend all of my time researching, studying, and living more fully into my vocational identity as an apostle. This is actually what launched me into a maven mode of accumulating the ideas that lead to the formulation of the material that became The Permanent Revolution.

Before I read The Shaping of Things to Come, I had already been a part of an urban church plant in Montgomery AL with an organization called, at that time, Montgomery Inner City Ministry (since then it has been re branded as Compassion 21) This ministry was seeking to plant a church in the most violent, crime ridden government housing projects in Montgomery. their strategy was to target the most darkest neighborhood in a city, plant a church there, and move on to other projects having taken the toughest ground first. This approach lit me on fire! I started out volunteering and ended up becoming a summer intern. I played the role of "Timothy" (ironically) to a guy named Jonathan Mosby, who was playing the role of "Paul" in the church plant.As an intern, I spent the summer following him around and imitating his methods and practices of evangelism and shepherding. (not to mention doing all the menial tasks no one else wanted to do. Jonathan always reminded me that the word "intern" means...its always "your turn") After the internship, I went back to college, graduated, did an one year internship for campus ministry in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama with the University Church of Christ with a a dude named Craig Kelley (who is now plating a church in Auburn California with Stadia called Gold Country Church.) At the end of the first year in this internship, I felt a strong calling on my life to go back to Montgomery Al and work full time with Jonathan, Ken Kilpatrick, and a guy named Lynn Briscoe to do what, upon hindsight, I would now call saturation church planting in the housing projects of Montgomery AL. I was hired on as an "evangelist" and assigned my own neighborhood in the toughest projects of the city...Trenhom Court. My office, my ministry, my evangelism, my spare time...all of it...was spent in Trenholm Court housing projects. It was there I learned the art of doing cross cultural evangelism and incarnational ministry. Translating and incarnating the gospel in ways that the hood could engage it and make sense of it was where the battle was to be waged in that context. I

Needless to say, I learned a lot. It was one of the most invigorating, enlightening, (and challenging) experiences of church planting/ministry I have had. I would not trade it for anything. Lots of hard battles, long hours, lots of tears, coupled with fatigue, exhaustion and a hard learned lesson on the value of sabbath are just some of the experiences that helped shape my character during that first church plant. It was not rare to having shootings in the neighborhood where I would have to take cover in someones house or behind brick stairwells. I learned how to do what we coined as aggressive benevolence where we proactively met needs of people we were working with (what I wold now call Persons of Peace) instead of functioning like a government agency in the community dispersing goods with no relational context. I learned how to be powerless and yet earn respect in a cultural context that prized violence, toughness, and essentially being a bad ass at all costs. I learned how to love people who were just down right wicked (child molesters, gang leaders) and believe in people who repeatedly struggled with failure (drug addicts, teenagers and kids struggling to make sense of life in a jacked up environment.) I learned to read the Bible a an apostle. Really, I will never read the Bible the same again. There is something about the frontier and the edge that develops your hermeneutic beyond the more one dimensional reading that takes place at the center. Missional

As a student of the life of Paul, I am starting to appreciate that formative time when I was allowed access to some leaders who were obviously farther along than I was in doing church planting and evangelism in a cross cultural context. I wanted to be the hero in the beginning....I am just being honest. But what I really needed was not to be Batman, but to be Robin. To be the guy who learns form a more experienced person, a more mature person than me so I could one day be, not the hero, but a more mature and effective leader. essentially, I needed to intern, to apprentice myself to another leader who could provide a model for me to imitate.

We see this same pattern in the life of Paul and Barnabas. Most apostles have a strong need for achievement and have a pretty strong appetite for adventure. When you put these two things together, then you have a recipe for pioneering leadership. However, the timeline of Paul's life reveals an interesting pattern as to how he evolved as a leader and what kind of evolutionary development took place that led him to become an effective church planter. Take a look at this time line below.

It is interesting to note that after his conversion, Paul demonstrated the same itinerant, zealous fervor in evangelizing that he demonstrated in his itinerant ministry as a bounty hunting Pharisee. However, whats interesting is that when he escapes Damascus through a hole in the wall and comes to Jerusalem, he undoubtedly does the right things i.e proclaiming Christ and convincing the Hellenist in the synagogues, but the way he went about doing it actually causes the church in Jerusalem some unnecessary drama and conflict. His boldness is a virtue until it emboldened the opposition unnecessarily. It's funny because the text says in Acts 9:30 that "When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Troas." The word "sent" is actually "ex-apostelloed" which means "sent away" or even exiled. Ironic isn't it, Pauls first missional "sending" is actually characterized by being expelled from the Jerusalem church because of all the drama he was causing. 

What is really funny is that Luke is quick to tell us that the net result Paul being ex-apostelloed is this: "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." (Acts 9:31) So basically, even though Paul was bold, courageous, and pioneering, his style of leadership was not seasoned enough to navigate the unique challenges of proclaiming Jesus in Jerusalem context. Paul needed time away form the "center" to mature and formulate his ministry in a context more amenable to the phase of development he was in as a disciple and leader. That place was Tarsus for him. 

It's interesting to note as well that, as far as we know, Paul was not planting churches during his time in Tarsus. He was learning the art of evangelism and proclamation. However, notice that Paul is not being discipled by anyone yet... It is just Paul flushing out his impulsive desire to let everyone know about the Christ. We get a glimpse int the nature of his ministry in Acts 9:28 where it is characterized as "coming in and going out." This is a classic spatial pattern of an evangelists ministry in relation to the local community. It is like a bee leaving the bee hive, going out and gathering pollen, and coming back into the hive, just to leave and do it all over again. Paul spends the next 10 years in Tarsus.....that's a long time!!!! 10 years in his home town evangelizing. 

After about 10 years, for some reason Barnabas feels led to go and get Paul and brings him to Antioch. It is here that I believe Paul gets discipled by Barnabas in the context of a missional community. It is important to notice that almost 12 years have gone by since Paul's conversion. Paul may have popped out of the baptistry proclaiming Christ, but it was in a very raw, almost barbaric form that seems to have triggered unnecessary opposition and drama. Paul's apostolic ventures do not truly take shape until he has been discipled by Barnabas in a multi-cultural missional community (Antioch) that obviously had a been strongly shaped by prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1) 

The prophetic side of the Antioch community shows up not only in the description of the disciples there, but in also Barnabas's leadership characterized in Acts 11:23 as "encouragement" to "continue" with the Lord. The notion of encouragement is obviously a staple quality of the prophetic ministry (I Cor 14) as well as motivating people to remain faithful to their covenant with the Lord. The word "continue" in the text is the same word as "abide" in John 15. The principle of covenant oneness with the Lord comes to the fore here and is a classic feature of prophetic discourse and ministry in the O.T. scriptures. The prophet is looking to help close the gap between God and his people. Barnabas prophetically energized the community in Antioch and as a result, they experienced evangelistic fruitfulness. The impact of Barnabas's prophetic ministry actually translated into evangelistic impact, Luke says it like this "...and a great many people were added to the Lord." Addition, not multiplication, but this is the net effect of prophetic energizing around the gospel. Barnabas is basically a prophetic evangelist who is stirring the Antioch church towards covenant faithfulness to the Lord.  

Another sign of the prophetic nature of the Antioch community is their proclivity to meet the tangible needs of the Jerusalem church, that is, to do incarnational ministry. It seems that the Antioch church was a magnet for prophets because it says that "in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch." While there, a prophet named Agabus announced that a future famine was on the horizon. Like most communities with a significant number of prophets in it, they have a high intolerance to set idle in the face of a tangible need. They proactively take the initiative to send physical relief to the churches in Judea. They dabble in some social justice :-) 

If we zoomout for a moment and look at the evolutionary development of Paul's life, we see three things: (1) Paul had an intensive exposure to a prophetic leader named Barnabas for over a year (the word Barnabas literally means Bar=son of and Nabas = prophet in Hebrew). (2) Paul had an intensive exposure to how the prophetic ministry operated in a community, but he gained this exposure within the context of a discipling relationship with Barnabas. (3) Paul had significant exposure to a missional community which was predominantly comprised of prophets and teachers. In essence, Paul is a learner in this phase of his life, not a leader. It is not until Acts 13:13 that Paul appears to take the lead in his relationship with Barnabas. However, even here it is Barnabas that takes the lead on the first leg of their journey to Cyprus. Paul is still a follower and learner up to that point.  

Noticing this evolutionary development of Paul's life helps debunk our often misinformed notion that Paul was an effective apostolic leader and church planter from the beginning. This is definitely not the case. In fact, the exact opposite is true. His initial ministry was not apostolic at all. It was primarily evangelistic, and a coarse one at that. It is not until 10 years after his conversion that he enters into a discipling relationship with Barnabas. It is this strategic relationship, along with his immersion into a multi-cultural missional community, that cultivates Paul's potential as an apostolic leader. The pioneering, movemental history maker of Christianity  reveals a humble, slow start. 

How silly of us to expect people who have not been discipled to suddenly be effective leaders and church planters. How crazy of us to expect apostles to be wildly successful at planting missional communities when they have not had any exposure to missional communities or how the foundational ministry of the prophetic operates in a community. Barnabas, and the Antioch church provided a rich context for an apostle like Paul to be equipped and established for the adventurous and outright intimidating challenge of pioneering a movement of disciple making and missional communities across the North Western region of the Roman empire. Like all great leaders, their greatness was forged through frustration, failure, isolation, suffering and a period of time where they were trained and exposed other great leaders who invested in their development. 

Now back to personal reflections... 

I can see how I have greatly benefited from my exposure to people like Jonathan Mosby early on in what I now call my apostolic ventures. The more I reflect on my pathway of learning, the more I see the need for even someone like myself who, having co-planted in the past, "solo-planted" most recently, and am looking to lead another plant in the near future, to have adequate exposure to people and environments that have already demonstrated a level of competency and effectiveness in building a discipling culture and planting missional communities. This may sound foolish to some for me to say this as I have written what I hope to be a defining text on apostolic ministry. But I am not in the business of perpetuating the classic hero myth of leadership. We need to dispell this myth by truth telling. We have had enough of the false, unrealistic expectation of the solo-hero who appears out of no-where, fully formed and effervescently effective. Not even the greatest apostle was able to live up to this image. Paul's life tells an entirely different story.

As an apostolic leader, I want to be an example to other apostolic people and say that, just like Paul, we all need to be discipled and exposed to ways of being better apostles and leaders. The journey to becoming an effective apostolic leader may take 10 years, or 5 years.  It is different for everyone, but we are all on a learning journey. The important thing is that we remain open to learning and the leaders that we exposed to. We are disciples first, then apostles.  

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