Monday, April 16, 2012

190. Apostolic Ministry and Team Formation Part 1


A friend of mine named Doug Paul recently had a blog post about how the "WHO" of church planting is often more important than the "WHAT" of church planting. What Doug was basically getting at is that having the right people on the team of an initial church plant takes initial precedence over your cleverly devised plans of having strategic missional impact.

Coming off of a church plant this last year that did not quite make it because of team related issues has positioned me to process a lot of things related to the importance of "WHO" before the "WHAT." I too concur with Doug that the WHO should take precedence over the WHAT. This is not to diminish the  importance of strategy for a new church plant. It's merely to say that there is a cart and a horse issue here going on between the WHO and the WHAT. The WHO is the horse and the cart is the WHAT.

So do we see any primacy being given to the WHO in the New Testament when it comes to apostolic ministry? We most certainly do!  How about when Paul and Barnabas have a parting of the ways when it came to the issue of whether or not John Mark should be included on the team for their next journey? This is clearly a dispute over the WHO.

The clearest example I can think of however takes place in Acts 1 when the 11 Apostles were assembled together with the 120. The issue of who was going to replace Judas as one of the 12 was front and center. Jesus had ascended and was no longer around (physically speaking.) The 11 Apostles were in the process of transitioning into their role as leaders of the movement Jesus started which put them in a new season of life and ministry. They were on the front end of something new...the very first "church plant" if you will . Success in this venture was highly critical to say the least.

Before we get to the heart of what Acts 1 has to say to us in relation to the WHO of church planting, I want to take note of several things that are helpful to keep in the background as we process Acts 1 from a church planting perspective.

1. The 11 Apostles did not have a WHAT yet. Yes they had been discipled by Jesus, but they themselves were a bit confused about how things were going to unfold. For all they knew, Jesus was going to restore the kingdom of Israel and they would all be promoted to sitting in the thrones that were promised to them by Jesus in Luke 22:29-30. They were doing a lot of praying and waiting, but they really did not know WHAT was supposed to happen next. They were only given instructions to wait.

2. They were not actually given instructions to replace Judas. This is a bit of conjecture, but the text does not reveal it to us, so I am making a leap here. But the point is, Jesus did not leave them instructions to replace Judas and fill the empty slot. Instead, Peter takes the initiative and says that they should find someone to add to their number. It is almost as if Peter is imitating the actions of Jesus when he spent all night in prayer and selected the 12 from among the other disciples. Make of this what you want, but I think it is worth noting that Peter assumes the role of a leader and makes a decision to add someone to the team. This is what leaders do.

Well, so much for footnote observations. Now for the meaty stuff.

Acts one has given me a really good framework to assemble some key principles when it comes to the WHO of church planting. The following are some principles I have formulated that may be helpful to those of you who are in the beginning phases of wrestling with the WHO and WHAT of a new apostolic venture.

1. Peter starts off by explaining how Judas betrayed Jesus and consequently left a slot open on the team. This may seem obvious, but it is worth noting: everyone knew that the team had clear boundaries about who was in and who was out. You did not join the team by accident or by mere association. The leadership team of the 12 Apostles was clearly defined by both a number and a name. In referring to Judas Peter says in 1:17 that "He was one of our number and shared in our ministry." Peter understood the team to be made up of 12 people and that those twelve were a part of a specific "ministry."  There was a clear line to be crossed if you wanted to be on the team. The same should be true of apostolic ventures today. Naming the leader(s) and being clear about who is in and who is out with respect to leadership helps give the community a point of reference by which to gauge themselves in relation to those in the community who are putting themselves forth as models for imitation. Leaders define culture because by definition leaders have followers, and this means imitation is taking place. Without imitation, a culture can not form, and leaders are the ones who step forward and provide a model for imitation. Without a clear number and name for the leaders in the community, the followers will be paralyzed and the culture will morph and mutate towards any or every influence that comes to bear on the community.

2. Perhaps the most important thing to glean from Acts 1 are the qualifications Peter sets forth about who can join the team. Peter is really clear about this. The new team member would need to have been with them from the time of John's baptism to the time in which Jesus was taken up from them at the ascension. What is Peter getting at here? Why did the new team member need to have been around Jesus for the 3 1/2 years of his ministry in order to be a part of the team? One of the critical issues Peter is dealing with here has to do with whether or not the new team member has had adequate exposure to the teaching, training and tactics that the other team members have had in relation to the founder of the movement. Think about it, you are about to add someone to a team of 12 people who have spent the last 3 1/2 years together. They have all been discipled into a certain way of living and leadership in the kingdom modeled to them by Jesus himself. Those 12 people are now going to be tasked with representing the leader and continuing the movement that he started. Jesus built a particular culture with and among the 12. To add someone into that mix of 11 leaders who has not been acculturated is a recipe for division, something you definitely dont want in a start up venture. Jesus clearly taught that a house divided against itself can not stand, and this new team member is essentially going to be joining the leadership "oikos" or "household" of the 12. When you are about to launch out into the frontier and set your face towards the enemy, you need a level of unity and oneness on the team that can withstand the pressures of pioneering work. Peter was making sure the new team member would be on the same page and that they would not be inviting someone into their leadership culture who had not been adequately exposed to their cultural ethos of leadership and discipleship. 

As a side note, think about what it would have been like to be James, the brother of Jesus at this gathering in the upper room. He was in the group of 120 and was likely there when this whole process was taking place. How politically incorrect it was that James the brother of Jesus was not chosen to be a part of the team!! He wasn't even nominated!!! Talk about an awkward moment!!! Jesus' own brother didn't even qualify to be one of the 12!!! This just goes to show that decisions about WHO are really important when it comes to doing frontier work!!! Like some other the other members of Jesus' family, James did not follow Jesus form the beginning and therefore did not have adequate exposure to Jesus as a leader.

This was not an indictment on James' capacity or competence as a potential leader in the Jesus movement. It was merely an issue of exposure and experience with the cultural architect of the movement, the revolutionary leader named Jesus. 

3. Just so we don't get the idea that it was all about a mastery of scripture (teaching) skills (training) or strategy (tactics), Peter mentions something in his prayer that tips us off to deeper issues related to character. Peter says that the Lord is the one who "knows the hearts of men." Not only was there issues of exposure to the 3 T's, there were also issues of whether or not that person had the right heart to carry the weight of that leadership position. Did they have the right character in order to represent the leader of the movement? Since they could not know the hearts, they relied on the Lord's providential power to select the right person to join the team...they cast lots. How should we understand and apply this to apostolic ventures and team issues today....you tell me :-) That's why there's a comments feature below.

4. Lastly, its interesting that while neither James nor Barsabbas joined the team, they both feature in Acts 15 (vs 13, 22) as critical leaders in the Jerusalem council. James still gave input among the other 12 apostles and leaders, and Barsabbas was still chosen as a "sent one" to be a delegate of the Jerusalem church and its decree for the newly planted Gentile churches. Not making the team does not limit your potential as a leader. It just means there is another time or team for you to join.

In the next post I will be going deeper into principle number 2 and the importance of unity teams doing frontier work.



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