Saturday, November 30, 2013

221. Discipleship and Mission: the logic of imitation

I have recently been diving into the work of Rene Girard. Needless to say, it is like tumbling down a rabbit hole. It engages so many other fields and informs so much of the things that I invest my time in. Things like leadership, discipleship, movements, worship, mission, and community all stand in line to be re-envisioned through Girard's mimetic theory.

As I was researching mimetic desire and church planting, I came across this article about how imitation under girds  the logic of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.  Thought I would share.

In regard to this article, it is amazing to me how the logic of imitation in I Corinthians serves to undermine the notion that some "scholars" have proposed in regards to whether or not Paul encouraged his communities to overtly evangelize. I really do think this principle of imitation is a hermeneutical key for multiple topics we tend to wrestle with. For example, I think an exploration into how the dynamics of imitation can illuminate our understanding of inspiration and the formation of the canon would be quite revealing. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Petyon Jones and Church Zero

So I ran into this guy at Exponential this year named Peyton Jones. Turns out, he has a really cool book on APEST. I love this guy, his personality, and his pioneering ways. Peyton Jones founded New Breed Church Planting.  He is the author of Church Zero: Raising1st Century Churches Out of the Ashes of the 21st CenturyChurch.  Peyton is also the co-host of the Church Planter Podcast and Managing Editor of Church Planter Magazine (Free Subscriptions available through this link: ). Here is the Interview. 
TC: Your new book Church Zero deals with a theme that’s very close to my heart, namely the recovery of APEST to the church.
PJ: I actually term the APEST as FIST leadership, using each of the fingers as a metaphor for each of the roles.  I think in pictures, I can’t help it.  That’s why I thought your diagrams in Permanent Revolution were fantastic.  That really worked for me.
TC: Speaking of pictures, you’ve got some funny stuff in Church Zero.  Tell me about your writing style?  There’s a lot of pop culture references.  In fact, more so than most Christian books.  What’s that about?

PJ:  Well, after being on the mission field in Europe for 12 years, I had to start to learn to communicate in pictures.  To say that Europeans are biblically illiterate would be an understatement.  I love them to death, but when I got there, I realized that my standard American way of preaching wasn’t working.  When I started utilizing everything I could from pop culture to communicate the gospel, I started to see the gears turn in people’s brains and the lights came on.  It changed me.  In America, you can still reference Moses and people know who you mean.  Not there. There is a second reason too.  I’m the grandson of a best-selling author, and My wife is an English Lit major with a MA in Creative Writing.  We love books and literature, so when I write, I tend to pick a theme for my illustrations.  It’s a sort of literary device.   For example, in Church Zero I propose that the church is still stuck in the 80s and wondering why nothing is working.  So, most of the illustrations from that book are from the 80s; Heman, Star Wars, Karate Kid, Voltron. Plus, I watched a lot of TV growing up!
TC: The chapter titles themselves are amusing.  For example, Chapter One is titled “This is Gonna Hurt”, Chapter Seven “Blowing Up the Deathstar”, and Chapter Eight “Why Your Church Sucks”.  What kind of response have you gotten from this?
PJ:  People are pretty intrigued by the book.  When they read it they usually agree.  It is calling for a reformation in the church and it doesn’t take the combat boots off.  It comes out swinging and ends by kicking the door down.  They called it “A Punk Rock Approach to a Pastoral Issue”.  I’m happy with that.  It’s meant to be provocative, edgy, and prophetic.  I basically felt as if God asked me if I wanted to be liked or if I wanted to be used.  It couldn’t be both.  I’ve never run after celebrity.  I’ve always been a “keep your head down and charge ahead” kind of guy.  I’m more excited about the ride I’ve been on the past 14 years starting up churches in Starbucks, or the inner city.  I’ve become addicted to planting like other guys are addicted to getting tattoos.
TC: Is that the kind of thing that people can expect when they knock at the door of your training Network “New Breed Church Planting”?
PJ: Well, I think it’s safe to say that it’s the embodiment of Church Zero.  It’s a 1st century style Church Planting network. It’s the kind of network that I wish I had access to when I stared on this journey.  We operate much like the Apostle Paul did in the 1st century. We train people up through doing. We actually take them with us and show them, rather than just make them sit in a classroom.
TC: But the classroom stuff is still valuable right?
PJ: Of course. Paul taught his church planters daily in the school of Tyrannus, using Ephesus as a planting hub. You’ve heard of the 7 churches of Asia? Well, over the two years Paul was there, he sent his planters out to plant those churches. It’s a combination of theory and practicum.
We have a couple of unique distinctives.  First, we value the five roles in Ephesians 4, and we’re also dedicated to reaching the unreached. In that sense, we’re not original, but unusual.
Secondly, we are very missional and frontlines about planting. We go where the need is, not where the money is.  Right now I’m passionate about planting amongst the urban poor.  Plants that serve merely to set up a career for the planter bug me to no end. We always say, “If you want to reach the ones nobody is reaching, then you’ve got to go where nobody is going, and do what nobody is doing.”
Thirdly, we plant churches that plant churches. It’s about multiplication for us.  Paul didn’t have transfer growth issues, and the way we train guys, and where we send them, it doesn’t become an issue.
TC: I raised that because I knew that you also teach planting at the University level.
PJ: Yes, I do. I’m passionate about passing the torch on to this generation. I realize that not everybody can just up stakes and come train at one of our hubs. Although I’m currently developing online education for multiple institutions, we’re making all our training available via the internet at the New Breed Church Planting website.  We’re pretty proud of the fact that all of the profit from the sales of those materials actually pay for the training of another church planter.  That’s something you don’t really see done.  In fact, it’s the only reason we even charge for those materials.  Everything else we do is free, just because we know that church planters are poor.
TC: Right now, Church Planter Magazine is also free isn’t it?
PJ: Yes, we keep approaching ministries to buy bulk subscriptions so that the planters can have it for free.  We are passionate about getting the help to the guys on the ground who need it.  It’s in the iTunes store for the Apple Newsstand, but we’re working on a Kindle, and Droid version as well.
TC: Peyton thanks for letting us pick your brain, and get to know you a bit.

PJ: Well, the contents of my brain made for a short interview, but it’s been my pleasure.  Your work has been a huge help to me as well, and I look forward to what you do next.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Sentralized Conference 2013

Sentralized is about helping the missional conversation move beyond theory. It is about to inspiring and propelling the church to engage in God’s mission in life changing ways. As always, Sentralized 2013 will give significant focus on practical engagement through the stories and personal examples of some of the best missional practitioners around. If you desire to gain a clearer, deeper understanding of the missional conversation, but would also benefit from knowing how to engage your local context, then join us this September in Kansas City.
Just a few of the topics:
Every Believer a Justice Seeker, with Jen & Brandon Hatmaker
The Art of Neighboring, with Dave Runyon
Resourcing God's People for Mission, with Matt Smay & Hugh Halter
Going Deep in The Hood, with Kirsten Strand
A Missional Agenda for Neighborhood Transformation, with Michael Frost
The Story of God: Making Disciples & Building Community, with Caesar Kalinowski

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

218. Some linguistic implications from the word APOSTLE Part 2

In the previous post, we looked at the implications of the word APO for understanding how apostles are wired, and consequently, their approach to ministry. Pauline apostles tend to launch out (separate) from the center and pioneer something at the edge. Petrine apostles, however, tend to mobilize the center towards the edge to achieve missional impact.

So how does the impulse to APO show up in the Petrine form of apostolic ministry? If Petrine apostles tend to stay at the center, in what ways does the APO surface in their ministry? While there are many ways to explore this, I want to suggest that the tendency to "separate" shows up in Petrine forms of apostolic ministry through a decentralizing of the organization for missional impact. That is, Petrine folks will often seek to diversify the organizations efforts to reach as many people and places as possible. Rather than trying to attract as many people as possible to the center (a staple feature of evangelistic ministry), Petrine apostles will seek to build a strong center in order to resource the edge. For a Petrine apostle, the center is not an end in and of itself. It is a generative focal point to fuel the movement. In other words, Petrine apostles see the center as a tool for mission, and the mission will tend to be multi-cultural and city wide, often leaping into other regions and spheres of influence.

Both Pauline and Petrine apostles are entrepreneurial, but their entrepreneurial energy tends to gravitate towards two be applied in two different spheres. Pauline forms of apostolic ministry will tend to focus entrepreneurial energies at the edge, while Petrine apostles will tend to focus their entrepreneurial energies at the center, mobilizing the organization itself to be entrepreneurial. This is why we say in our book The Permanent Revolution that Petrine apostles are more aptly described as being intrapreneurs. They focus their energies within the organization helping to mine its resources and mobilize the organization for entrepreneurial ventures. This often requires an organization to diversify (APO - separate) its focus and resources.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

217. Some linguistic implications from the word APOSTLE Part 1

It is amazing what kind of implications you can draw from the etymology of a word. I have been grinding over the word APOSTLE the past few weeks, and have had a few epiphanies about the word and its implications  about apostles and their  approach to ministry.

The word apostle is actually a conjunction of two words: APO = "to separate" or "withdraw" and STELLO meaning "sent."  Lets camp out on this word APO first. 

This notion of "separating" is a staple feature of apostles and how they approach their callings. Relationally speaking, apostles typically do not have a problem separating from the group. In fact, this separation from the group is often a prerequisite to being sent. Take Acts 13 for example. The Holy Spirit says "separate" Paul and Barnabas for the work I have called them to. In order to be sent, you have to make a break from the group. People who are wired as apostles typically adapt to this kind of separation from the group pretty well. In MBTI frameworks, most apostles tend to be a "T." That is, they have a penchant for creating distance between themselves and the people who will be effected by their decisions. Granted, this can be a vice if it is not tempered with love, compassion and wisdom. However, when it comes to being sent, this capacity to "separate" oneself and move forward is actually a strength. It allows the apostle to more readily make a break from the group and pioneer into new frontiers. This is more readily seen in the more Pauline type apostles who like to leave the center and pioneer something out on the edge

In the next post, I will look at how this impulse to "separate" shows up in the more Petrine types who tend to focus their ministry within the center in order to mobilize people towards the edge for missional impact.   

Saturday, May 04, 2013

216. Forge America

It is only within the past few years that I have really come to realize the necessity of being part of a larger network. There are a lot of church planting networks and organizations out there. A lot of good ones, and some, according to who you ask, not so good. The great thing about a network is that it facilitates relationships. This may sound overly simplistic, but relationships 
can be a gateway to so many other things. Networks are a strategic environment where everyone gets to be influenced, as well as be an influencer. 

I recently had a great opportunity to hang out with a great network of missional practitioners. The Forge America team at Exponential is a blast. Not only do they know how to throw a good party. these folks are all about serving the missional movement in our day. They think grass-rootsy (a fettish of mine) and have real servant hearts. They really do champion the idea of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for God. In fact, after reflecting on the nature of their organization, it hit me one day that Forge is a lot like Android/Google. They don't mind you hacking in to their stuff and innovating with it, and actually design their organization and content to facilitate this very thing. They truly are a centered set kind of organization, I love it. 

After a few discussions with their leadership, it seemed like a great fit for me to link up with them and join their team. Really excited about the future possibilities of hanging out with them how I will be influenced by the great folks in their network. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

215. A peek into the Fuzzy Front End of the Permanent Revolution Part 4

In looking at the metaphors Paul uses to describe his apostolic function and role, it is an interesting exercise to think about how these terms relate to one another in the realm of authority. There is a certain social currency afforded to founders within the group by virtue of them being the founders. Whether they want to recognize it or not, founders have a certain level of authority within the organizations they found. The group looks to the founder with a certain sense of obligation and gratitude. The group exists, after all, because of the founders efforts. Without the founder, the group would not have formed, and those within the group would not have access to the life and resources that have emerged within the context of that group.

So founders, whether they like it or not, have a certain level of social currency within the groups they found. How and when they choose to spend this currency within the group will determine whether or not that currency increases or decreases in value (a topic for another post :-) My hunch is that Paul was aware of the social currency available to him as a founder. I think the metaphors Paul uses for his apostolic role within the communities he has founded points to a taxonomy of social currency that is made available to founders of new communities. I suggest the following framework as a heuristic for distilling the kind of social influence inherent within the apostolic function of planting new churches. See the picture below to the right.

The nature of metaphor, as Aristotle says it, is the similarity of dissimilarities. In other words, metaphors help open up new relationships of meaning. When Paul says he is an ambassador, he trying to open up the Corinthians mind to how his role as an apostle is similar to what they understand the role of an ambassador is. To say that Paul is an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5) is to say something different from saying he is a father ( 1 Cor 4). Yet each of these terms clearly point to a certain relational terrain Paul sees himself navigating as a founder of the Corinthian community. Some terms like father draw on certain facets of Paul's social currency, while other terms draw on other facets of that currency. Each term does something different. As such, these different metaphors affirm different facets of that social currency, as well as provoke within the Corinthian community various frameworks by which they are to perceive Paul and his role as a founder among them.

The diagram to the right was my first attempt to arrange these metaphors into a framework that accounted for the various degrees of social currency each metaphor may have evoked within the Corinthians. So for example, when you look into the metaphor Ambassador, you will find it connotes a sense of authority derived from the one they are representing. This is perhaps the most authoritative metaphor Paul uses with the Corinthians. I have sense rearranged this list into the following order.

1. Ambassador
2. Father
3. Slave
4. Foundation Layer
5. Planter
6. Partner

These are listed in descending order as to the perceived amount of social currency Paul wold have been leveraging when he used this term. To frame your role as an ambassador draws more social currency than to frame ones role as the foundation layer. There are notions of representative authority in ambassador that are not present in the metaphor of foundation layer. Ambassador points to a source of authority beyond itself, while simultaneously sharing in that authority from a representational perspective. Foundation layer points to a source of authority tied up in the skill, craftsmanship and wisdom of the designer and builder. The one who lays the foundation has a right to say how others should build upon it. their authority is inherent to their activity of foundation laying, not an outside source. This is why founding authority is not unique to Paul as an apostle. This kind of social currency is available to founders of all kinds, whether they are church planters, founders of non-profits, entrepreneurs of new businesses or whatever. It is a sociological phenomenon related to the group dynamics.

And just in case you think founding a new community is an opportunity to secure a new source of authority, take note of the kinds of difficulties Paul encountered in his efforts to found new communities. Founding authority is unique, but so are the challenges associated with the task of founding something new. The cool thing about Paul's letters is that they provide us a window into how to steward the social currency that emerges from founding new communities. In fact, I think 2 Corinthians is the largest window available to us in this respect.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

214. A peek into the Fuzzy Front End of the Permanent Revolution Part 3

As I reflected on the metaphors Paul used to describe his relationship with others, I also came across language that was not so egalitarian. While Paul leaned heavily on egalitarian metaphors, he also recognized that by virtue of his role as a founder of new communities, there was a certain relational matrix that emerged from this kind of activity.

By virtue of being a founder, there exists a certain degree of authority built into the relationship between the founder and the community that was founded. It is built into the nature of founding things. Said another way, it is axiomatic to Pauline forms of apostolic ministry.

Paul frames the nature of this relationship with the of parent/child metaphor in I Corinthians 4:14-17 when he says:

I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.

Paul uses this metaphor of father/child to describe his role as the catalyst of planting the seed of the gospel that gave birth to their community. Paul is a parent to the Corinthians in this respect. By virtue of Paul's role in the development of the community, he occupies a sphere of influence that only a founder(s) can occupy. This sphere of influence is, it should be noted, only reaches into the communities he founded. So Paul does have this kind of relational currency with those communities he has not founded. Looking at some of the metaphors Paul uses to describe his role in the communities, we can discern a certain relational terrain associate with the landscape of apotolic ministry. Some of these metaphors are:

1. Foundation Layer - I Cor 3
2. Father - I Cor 4
3. Ambassador - II Cor 5
4. Founder - I Cor 4
5. Worker - II Cor 6

It is important to recognize that while Paul occupied a unique sphere of influence in his communities, he did not lord it over them. So for example, listen to what he says in II Corinthians

Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand...

So while Paul is a parent to the Corinthians, he is not paternalistic. While he occupies a sphere of influential authority in the communities he founds, his posture towards them is not authoritarian. Paul was able to find, as Michael Gorman would say, a way of exercising authority in a cruciform way. That is, his authority in those communities originated in the gospel, and was expressed in alignment with the values of the cross - weakness, humility, sacrificial love etc.

The next post will attempt to outline how some of these metaphors relate to one another with respect to spheres of authority. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

213. A peek into the Fuzzy Front End of The Permanent Revolution Part 2

This is one of the earlier diagrams I was working on at the forefront of the project. I was fascinated by all the metaphors Paul used to describe his relationship with the communities he founded. This first diagram was centered around the metaphors that communicated a more egalitarian relationship. Paul had no reservations about referring to himself as a:

1. Fellow Worker
2. Brother
3. Disciple
4. Partner
5. Priosner
6. Soldier
7. Slave

All of these metaphors can equally describe any one in the body of Christ. You do not need to function apostolically to own these terms. This is important to recognize when looking into the nature and function of apostolic ministry. Paul is first a brother in the Lord, then a "father" in the gospel. Paul is first a disciple of Jesus, then a leader for Jesus. Paul is first a partner in the gospel, then a steward/custodian of the gospel etc.

There is an egalitarian nature to Paul's ministry as an apostle. He is not an elitist. He is a fellow worker in the gospel, right along side of the communities he plants. However, as we will see in the next two posts, he does use metaphors that help frame his role as an apostle among the communities he founds. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

212. A peek into the Fuzzy Front End of The Permanent Revolution Part 1

Warning: You are about to enter a "PLUG" zone. One of the coolest projects I have been a part of in the past 10 years was co-authoring a book entitled The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church. It actually took about 2 1/2 years to collect all the ideas, synthesize them, and formulate them into a coherent format.

Alan helped out tremendously with the coherency factor. As an INTP (mbti) he is a more systemic thinker than I am. He is more prone to accuracy and symmetry. As an ENTP, I lean towards accuracy, but my sweet spot is in seeing things from multiple perspectives and scavenging for new ideas and information. Our strengths  turned out to complement each other quite well. Essentially, I populated the text with concepts and ideas, and Alan helped hone it into a coherent, systematic presentation. It made for a great partnership in producing the book in its final form.

Most creative projects start in what is often termed the "Fuzzy Front End." That is, they begin on a canvas cluttered with disparate, seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts.

My first canvas was this little green book that I found one Saturday on the side of the road as I delivered packages on my FedEx route. Clarksville is home to the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. This transient population sometimes produces piles of "junk" on the side of the road. When soldiers get PCS'd or get deployed, sometimes they leave things behind for their former landlord to "manage" for them. On that Saturday, a random soldiers G.I. notebook made its way from the curb to my little black duffle bag I carried with me on my routes. I ripped a few of the pages out that had writing on them, and from that Saturday on, I began to populate the canvas with all things related to five fold and the apostolic.

So this little green book marks the beginning of an epic journey for me. The graphic on the front is what I drew on my lunch breaks at FedEx. The next few posts will be snap shots of some content from this green book. Some of this content made it into the book, some of it didn't. Either way, it is a peak into the fuzzy front end. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

211. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 4

In  II Corinthians 3, Paul is looking to contrast his style of ministry with the super-apostles style of ministry. Perceiving themselves as "agents of transformation," they couldn't help but position themselves as central focal points in the community.

Paul comes against this style of ministry not just because it is false, but because it hinders the community from accessing the transformative power of the Glory of the Lord. Their superior rhetoric, manifestations of power, and letters of recommendation may at first seem to be a necessary component of leadership. I mean, who doesn't want to communicate well, demonstrate the power of the Spirit, and accelerate the establishment of our credibility through organizational legitimacy?

Paul does not have a beef with any of these things in themselves, it is HOW the super-apostles are utilizing these things in the community. If your rhetoric, gifts/charisms, or reputation stands in the way of people developing a fascination with the Glory of the Lord, then your style of ministry will ultimately bring death. It is the Glory of the Lord that provides the dynamic power to perpetually transform.

Paul understood this as both a follower and a leader. Notice the "we" language in 3:18 so characteristically debated in the book of II Corinthians. Paul includes himself with the community as one who needs to look beyond himself onto a greater, more glorious object of affection. Both the leader and the follower are perpetually transformed "from glory to glory" by beholding the Glory of the Lord. Notice the diagram below.

Paul is both a leader and a follower. He is both disciple and rabbi. Paul puts himself in front of the Corinthian community as an object of imitation because he too orients himself towards the glory of the Lord. He too is transparent and weak. To imitate Paul is to learn how to look towards Jesus and be shaped by the patterns of the gospel. To imitate Paul is to learn how to develop the patterns life that focus our attention on the Glory of the Lord. To follow Paul as a leader is to pattern ones life after The Pattern which he himself patterns his life...the gospel. So Paul is not just inviting the Corinthians to follow a leader, he is also, simultaneously, asking them to follow a follower. In doing so, the Corinthians would learn how to both lead for, and follow after, Jesus. this is essentially what Paul did with Timothy.(I Cor 4:15-19)

Seeing this logic within the text, I have no problem with leadership, using the language of leadership, or training other people to be leaders. The catch to this is, what style of ministry are we modeling for other people to imitate? Paul knew that superior rhetoric was quick way to establish legitimacy in the Corinthian context. He intentionally scaled back his rhetorical devices so as to side step the Corinthians tendency to be more fascinated with the container than the content. (I Cor 2:1-4)

Paul was quick to deflect attention off himself by exposing his suffering and weakness. When it came up as a point of contention to de-legitimize his apostleship, Paul utilized the gospel to legitimize his ministry. He essentially says "The reason I am legit is because the patterns of my life mirror(imitate) the patterns of the gospel."(II Corinthians 4) Ultimately, it was the gospel that funded Paul's apostolic legitimacy.

So question: what do you tend to lean on when it comes time to "legitimize" your ministry? Numbers, rhetoric, invitations to speak at other churches, charisms??? How we seek to legitimize our ministries will shape the style of ministry we engage in. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

210. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at how Paul, in chapter 3 of II Corinthians, contrasts the super-apostles “agent” style of ministry with a more gospel centered style ministry. Paul likens the “agent” style of with the ministry of Moses. At first, this style of ministry is appealing. It has a certain glow to it that attracts attention.

However, over time, as people get closer to the leader, they will begin to notice that the leader has weaknesses and inadequacies.  The “glory” of the leader begins to fade. In the eyes of the follower, they become all too human and mundane. Most leaders know when their followers begin to lose their fascination with as a leader. The leader can sense when their followers are no longer impressed with them.

In order to compensate for their fading “glory”, the super-apostles were putting a “veil” over their face to cover up their weaknesses. In an “agent” style of ministry, when you lose your glory, you lose your following. So in a James Bond like fashion, the super-apostles enacted the “secret agent man” lyrics:

“Ah, be careful what you say, you might give yourself away”

In an “agent” style ministry where the leader sees themselves as the source of transformative power, secrecy and distance become the key leverage points for the leader to secure their status of leadership and influence in the group. Eventually, their weakness and humanity will shine through, exposing themselves as empty vessels. In hopes of prolonging their gravitas, the super-apostles, have to conceal(veil) their fading glory and focus attention on external devices of legitimization (in this case letters of recommendation.)

In contrast to this “agent” style of ministry (which corresponds to the ministry of Moses) Paul says that there is a new style of ministry which finds it’s legitimacy in the new covenant. This new style of ministry can be framed around the concept of “agency.” The goal of agency is to bring source and recipient into a direct, unhindered relationship. [1] In order for an apostle to function as an “agency” they must find ways to divert attention away from her/himself and onto the transformative glory of the Lord.[2]

The difference Paul and the super-apostles is not so much found in WHAT they presented. Both Paul and the super-apostles talked about Jesus. The difference in their ministries is best located in HOW they presented themselves. What made Paul’s style of ministry different from the super apostles was that he positioned himself, not as an “agent” of transformation, but as an “agency” through which the power of the gospel could be mediated. In contrast to the “secret agent man” strategies of the super- apostles, Paul was transparent about his weakness, sufferings and inadequacies. Instead of “veiling” them, he openly discussed them. Rather than seeking to become the communities focal point of attention, Paul’s willingness to be open about weakness enabled him to redirect the communities attention away from himself and onto the glory of the Lord, the true source of transformative power.

Paul’s style of apostolic ministry mirrored the weakness and power, death and life, suffering and victory contained within the transformative power of the gospel. It was this mirroring of these patterns of the gospel within Paul’s life that authenticated his apostleship and ministry. In this way Paul could put himself in front of the community as a model to imitate, while simultaneously pointing people beyond himself to the transformative power of Christ.

It is crucial to understand the role of transparency in apostolic leadership because starting new communities from scratch throws us into group dynamics of power and authority. In the formative phases of a newly founded community, the apostle can become idealized as they shoulder the responsibility of infusing the community with vision and meaning. This makes the leader vulnerable to the often unspoken process of what some call “transference” in which individuals unconsciously project onto a leader their hopes and aspirations that often come with authority figures, particularly parents. [3] Like a Hollywood actor, apostles will unknowingly step into roles that have been pre-scripted and transferred onto them by the newly formed group, making them the repositories of unrealized hopes and expectations. [4] Not making good on these expectations can create significant disappointment in the relationship.

These expectations, while making the leader-follower relationship somewhat precarious and fragile in nature, also present a unique opportunity. Whenever a leader shows any promise of coinciding with these latent expectations, it provides the spark for charismatic authority to emerge.[5] Without pre-existing organizational structures to fund the apostle’s legitimacy, it is charisma that provides the initial currency for leadership to emerge and function. Because charisma primarily stems from the perceptions of the follower, the leader is limited as to how they can negotiate it’s emergence. Charisma neither exists in the follower or the leader, but rather between them. It is relational in nature.

Charisma can, however, be stewarded. When stewarded in the way of Jesus, it can empower both leader and follower alike. However, if stewarded poorly, the leader can nurture unhealthy dependency and frustrate the growth of both individuals and the community. As Heifitz notes, “The pitfall of charisma, however, is unresolved dependency. People can fail to move on, to discover their own ‘magic,’ their own capacity to flourish and lead. They may not realize their capability for self-governance…For the charismatic it feels good to be idealized. For his constituents, it feels good to have someone who assures deliverance in the long run, and in the short run provides direction, protection, orientation, the control of conflict and clear norms.”[6] Charisma brings certain benefits to the tasks of leadership. It can generate a following, but in the long run, it cannot generate a sustainable movement. 

The apostle’s leadership will, initially, foster a certain level of dependency in the embryonic phases of the communities development. This dependency is necessary and unavoidable. However, this dependency should be strategically (and carefully) dismantled over time.

When a leader is transparent about their weakness and suffering, in essence, they are refusing to put a “veil” on. Unlike Moses who, when he perceived his glory was beginning to fade, covered his face, genuine apostolic ministry (an all new covenant ministry for that matter) is characterized by a perpetual “unveiling” of the leader’s weaknesses and inadequacies.

Transparency from the leader forces people to negotiate their own God-given capacity to assume responsibility and take ownership of their own role within the development of the community. It allows the follower to reclaim the power they have vested in the leader and re-deploy it within their own sphere of influence.

In Part 4 we will look at how Paul can legitimize his leadership while still pointing the community beyond himself and onto the Glory of the Lord. 

[1] .” II Corinthians Anchor Bible Commentary Series Victor Paul Furnish p. 62
[2] Recognizing this aspect of apostolic ministry helps us solve the riddle of why the first person pronoun is virtually absent from the entire first section of II Corinthians. Paul is using a literary device to reinforce the concept that apostolic ministry is about directing attention toward the Agent/Jesus and not the agency/apostle. The focus of the discussion is on the apostolic vocation in general and not on specific apostles.
[3] Putting a New Spin on Groups: The Science of Chaos by Bud A. McClure p. 96
[4] Leadership without Easy Answers by Ron Heifetz p. 247-488
[5] On Fire: Charismatic Leadership and Levels of Analysis. Katherine J. Klein & Robert J House. Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 183-198. 1995 JAI Press
[6] Leadership without easy answers by Ron Heifetz p. 247

Monday, February 18, 2013

209. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at the dilemma Paul faced in Corinth when it came to legitimizing his apostolic ministry. Without the conventional letters of recommendation from toher organizations, Paul faced a significant challenge of how to legitimize his ministry in the face of criticism and insult. 

Paul works with several metaphors in II Corinthians to bring clarity to what legitimate apostolic ministry looks like. However, before we look at those metaphors, it would be helpful to start with the work of Jeffrey Corfton. In his book The Agency of the Apostle, Crofton provides us with an initial framework to orient ourselves around the metaphors Paul uses to describe the nature of his ministry in 2 Corinthians. He makes the careful distinction between the concepts of “agent” and “agency.”

“An agent is one who acts; an agency is a means through which another acts. To name the apostolic ministry through the role of agent is to direct attention to the apostles themselves as actors; to name the apostolic ministry through the role of agency is to focus on the means by which God works through the apostle. An agent orientation assumes that apostles are the actors; that they are essentially in control as distinct entities. An agency orientation assumes that God acts through the apostle, that God determines the parameters, the scope, the purpose, the means of that ministry; it diverts attention away from the apostle as an individual to apostle as channel, a vessel, a window upon the divine character.”[1]

In this understanding of apostolic ministry(and ministry in general), God is the Agent and apostles are the agency. Apostles are merely the conduit, the empty tunnel that serves as a connection point between a powerful source and an open recipient. 

This role of agency is what causes the unique experience of feeling very weak and inadequate, and yet at the same time feeling a sense of powerful and authority. Paul frames his own apostolic experience with the similar metaphor of “treasure in earthen vessels.” In this metaphor it's important to recognize that the content is separate from the container. That is, the treasure is separate from the clay jar, but it is that very same fragile, weak, vulnerable container that provides the vehicle for the transformative power of the gospel to become mobile and accessible to others. So in this sense, authentic apostolic ministry is characterized not just by power, but by power in weakness, life in death, and victory in defeat (2 Cor. 4).[2] 

Paul introduces this metaphor of “treasure in clay pots” because there were “super-apostles” (the word super is 'hyper' in the text...a thought worth pondering) in Corinth that thought apostolic ministry was legitimized by the form and appearance of the container rather than the power of it's content.[3] Paul’s hang up is primarily with the super apostle’s style of leadership and ministry. 

To catch the surge of Paul's polemical discourse on the super-apostles, you actually have to reboot back to chapter 3 where Paul introduces the topic of legitimacy. This chapter is often a riddle for commentators. Contrary to the conventional understanding of this passage, Paul is not giving us an introductory lesson on the difference between the Old and New Covenants. He is making a contrast between two styles of ministry. In a typically rabbinical form of midrash, Paul levies his weightiest argument against the  hyper-apostles by correlating their style of ministry with the ministry of Moses!

In drawing attention to their written letters of recommendation, superior rhetoric and their supposed manifestations of spiritual power, the ministry of the hyper-apostles were essentially functioning like an Agent, the source of power and transformation. In effect, they were concealing the true nature of the gospel and obstructing the community from beholding the transformative power of the glory of the Lord. In essence, their style of apostolic ministry was diverting attention away from Jesus and onto their own "weighty" credentials.  Paul says that this style of ministry has more in common with the ministry of Moses than the gospel. It has an effervescent quality that is sensational at first, but fades over time and produces no lasting effect.

Paul is sharply critical of this style of ministry because it diverts the attention of the community away from the Lord and onto the apostle, obstructing their view. This essentially conceals, or as Paul would say, it veils, the transformative power of the gospel. When leaders draw more attention to themselves and their pedigrees, it is flashy and exciting on the front end. But just give it some time. Eventually, the people will become disenchanted with that leader. As the community begins to see their all too human weaknesses and deficiencies, the glory will fade and the people will begin to search for another leader who can dazzle them with their rhetoric and charisma. 

In Part 3, we will look at a framework for how Paul frames his relationship to the gospel and the community. 

[1] Agency of the Apostle by Jeffrey Crofton p. 61
[2] For an in depth discussion on how Paul’s Apostolic ministry mirrors the gospel, see Death in Us, Life in You: The Apostolic Medium by Steven J. Kraftchick in Pauline Theology Vol. 2 1& 2 Coritnhians p 156-181
[3] It is interesting to notice that Paul’s main beef with the super-apostles is not with their doctrine. “Looking back at the evidence overall, one is struck in particular by the fact that there is no direct information about the ‘doctrinal’ stance of the opponents, not even in 11:4. Whatever doctrinal basis the actions and attitudes of Paul’s rivals may have had, the actions and attitudes themselves are what Paul attacks, so the personal dimensions of the conflict are much more apparent than the doctrinal aspects of it.” II Corinthians Anchor Bible Commentary Series Victor Paul Furnish p. 53 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

208. Apostolic Ministry and Legitimacy Part 1

Proximity to power has a way of skewing our perception. This is especially true when it comes to the task of leadership. And even more so when it comes to starting new communities centered on the gospel and mission. Confusing one’s role as a steward of power with being the actual source of power is possibly the most fundamental vice that leaders flirt with.

Every apostolic leader needs to be rooted in healthy metaphors and paradigms that can help them differentiate the power of the gospel from their own role as a representative of that gospel. The power in the gospel can be focused towards a particular goal through leadership, rhetoric, and even charisma. However, let's be crystal clear about this, that power does not originate in the leader. No, the leader merely focuses the power by functioning as a conduit through which it can travel. There is a difference between stewarding power and being the source of power, and this distinction weighs heavily in Paul’s mind as he writes to a church where his legitimacy as an apostle has been called into question.

II Corinthians provides us a window into a complex dilemma that Paul was confronted with in his ministry. Paul essentially broke ties with the Antioch church after his confrontation with Peter about table fellowship with the Jews. The ramifications of this incident in Antioch reached far into the future and across geographical boundaries. It would ripple outward all the way to Corinth and pose quite a challenge for Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle.

Once Paul essentially branched off from Antioch, he also made himself suspect in relation to the church in Jerusalem. This may not sound all that important, but it had social and political consequences or Paul’s mission. Without the Antioch or Jerusalem church, he was suddenly on his own. There were no institutions willing to sponsor or vouch for him.

This was not that big of a problem for Paul seeing he was breaking new ground in most places with the gospel. The nature of his message and the signs and wonders of his ministry afforded him a level of legitimacy on the front end of his apostolic endeavors that funded his initial leadership role in the communities he planted.

But what about when he left that new community and other people came in behind him, calling into question his legitimacy? Those looking to exploit a newly formed community as a platform for their own power base and agenda would either have to align with Paul’s pre-established role, or de-legitimize him as a leader. 

This is exactly what happened in Corinth. Leaders came in behind Paul with letters from other churches vouching for their legitimacy as apostles. They were superior in rhetoric, and according to their letters, they were superior in their organizational pedigrees. They came highly recommended by the leading churches of their region. These leaders were highly qualified, well networked, and had the resumes to prove it. They were sporting the “high pro glow” of organizational legitimacy, and were quick to point out that Paul had some serious deficits in this weighty area of leadership credentials. Their central claim was that Paul is not a legitimate apostle because he has no organizational one would vouch for him (his style of ministry had no flare either, and this did not help matters). In short Paul's opponents said he is incompetent in almost every category of leadership that counts

Paul writes II Corinthians with the aim of legitimizing his apostleship. He cleverly frames an apostle’s relationship not only to the gospel, but to the community as well. In doing so, he provides a framework by which all legitimate apostolic ministry is to be tested and weighed. 

In Part 2, we will look into this framework and explore some of its implications.