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Thursday, 29 November 2012

So...where does this leave us?

Having discussed principles and patterns of leadership and taken a fresh look at Ephesians 4 ministries over recent weeks, where does it leave us in terms of the pattern that is emerging for us at Community Church Huddersfield where I lead the leadership team.

Well we have (or are beginning to see emerge) a combination of different types of leaders contributing to the leadership and government of the church - pastoral, strategic and operational leaders. The titles and labels we might use are not important; it is about getting the right people with the right gift into the right roles. (For some roles especially, there are other factors beside gift, e.g. respect and credibility among the people, experience, etc). We are learning the dance of leadership (see earlier posts) together and we are prepared for it to get a little messy and experimental. There is a senior leader (me at the moment) who seeks to give the lead in choreographing this dance, but largely works it out with people as we go along rather than just imposing a plan, and it's essential he understands that his role, with all the leaders, is to be releasing and empowering of others. There is leadership (and authority for the responsibility) but there is not hierarchy.

As for apostolic input: we are open to drawing from different apostolic, prophetic and other ministries across the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit connects us. But there is one apostolic ministry who we look to and have relationship with more strongly than others. He is not 'over' us as this is not a hierarchical relationship; but there is genuine relational accountability that avoids the danger of autonomy. The relationship is based on mutual respect and honour, combined with honesty and openness that can allow for frank and challenging discussion. We increasingly want to see his input and relationship being not just with the leaders but with the church, as much as is practically possible. He will bring his gift to bear in helping us realise the different gifts we need to equip us.

Above all, we are trying to focus on the fact that church is primarily a family, not an army or a company. All leadership and authority is seen in that context and so is about nurturing, empowering and the passing on of an inheritance. And genuine love and authentic relationship are to be at the heart of all leadership.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Apostles and Church Government (2)

I believe that the apostolic gift brings to the church a strong sense of the heavenly and supernatural realm, and of our kingdom mandate and mission to bring heaven to earth. It carries a strong sense of the presence and power of God. As I have indicated, I believe that it is possible for a number of people to have a measure of this gift in the church, but that there are some who are called to be apostles.

As such they not only have a sense of heaven's agenda but they have an awareness of heavenly strategy to achieve the mission. They are people of revelation and strategy - they are both stewards and administrators of the gospel (Eph.3:5,9). They are pioneers, not just in the sense of planting churches (a common misconception), but in terms of breaking open territory (geographical, cultural, situational, relational) for a culture of heaven to come in, and only in this sense are they 'first' (1 Cor.12:28) and not in terms of hierarchy or rank. In relation to the church, they are architects (1 Cor.3:10) - visionaries and strategists - and fathers (1 Cor.4:15) - drawing churches and/or ministries together, influencing the culture of church/teams and passing on an inheritance of revelation to others (I have come to see fatherhood as key to understanding the role of apostles). Together with prophets, they bring stability and strength to God's house; they are foundations (Eph.2:20)

As such they will have a charismatic authority according to their grace gifting, but it does not require them to have a governmental authority to every church they influence. Even when they do contribute to the government of a local church, it is (as a father to the family) in a relational context and with an empowering spirit, and the nature of how it is exercised changes as the church grows and local leadership becomes more established. Indeed, because all apostles have something to add to the body - all are ours (1 Cor.3:21-22) - a church may well draw upon a number of them, though I feel it is likely there will be a primary one and who that is may change at different stages of the church's journey (1 Cor.3:5-6). I am suggesting this as an outline of a possible pattern which I feel does not violate principles.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Apostles and Church Government (1)

In relation to leadership of the church, I have posted over the last few weeks about using the Bible to 1) identify essential principles and 2) as guidance for fluid and flexible patterns of leadership that we adapt to different contexts and stages of our journey, and not for 3) justifying inflexible prescriptive practices. I have also recently posted about taking a new look at Ephesians 4 (five-fold) ministries on that basis and argued against any hint of hierarchy but instead for mutual service through diversity of gift.

Bearing this in mind, I want to say something about apostles and the government of the local church. I suggested that a church needed to be characterised by all five of the gifts, and that there may well be people who have a measure of apostolic gift in the church without them being apostles or without it implying they have any governmental position.

However, I do also believe that there will be people who carry the apostolic gift to such a measure that they are apostles, and they may have an input to a number of local churches and a wider ministry. I believe that God has been restoring such a ministry (along with prophets) as a key ingredient for the building of his church; but I also believe that we were too quick to get prescriptive about how apostles should function, and it was too often related to hierarchy and a wrong view of authority.

I don't intend to reflect too much on the nature of the apostolic ministry here and have just realised this will need a second post (I aim to keep these posts short as seed-thoughts rather than treatises). But here let me say something about their relationship to the local church, and I am thinking in terms of a possible pattern, not a definitive prescription. Some apostolic ministries will be governmental (not all in my opinion) and that means they contribute to the leadership of the church in terms of direction and decision-making; but that leadership must be through relationship and be non-hierarchical. Think fathers and family, not generals and army, and not managing director and company.

One of the key things about fathers is that they want to empower their children, not control them or even just direct them. They want them to grow up and become independent (in a good sense) while still choosing to maintain and value relationship with them. And the  nature of fatherhood changes as the children grow.

Enough for now. One more post about this tomorrow (hopefully) and then an explanation of where this leaves us in the local church I help lead.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Monologue or Conversation?

I am really enjoying blogging. It has been good for me in helping to shape my thoughts during a period of perspective shift. My hope is that it is also helping those who are part of the church family I help lead at Community Church Huddersfield to get a little clearer on what I have been trying to communicate and lead us into.And I am pleased if it has got other readers interested and stimulated their thinking, even if they arrive at different conclusions to me.

However, there is a danger that it is just my monologue. It is me telling everyone what I think. And for a long time now, and especially in recent months, I have believed in the importance of learning through conversation. I believe powerful things can happen when people of sincere faith talk openly and frankly together with a desire to learn more about God's ways and be led by the Spirit (see Malachi 3:16 and Acts 15).

Christian, and Christian leaders especially, have too often indulged in monologue, and stifled healthy debate. Preaching and instruction certainly have their place, and we should learn when it is time to be quiet and just listen to those we can learn from. But we can also learn through conversation and dialogue. Blogging can either encourage the monologue and the culture of the opinionated; or it can stimulate conversation.

I want to encourage the latter. So can I encourage my readers to feel free and confident to comment - a question, an observation or a constructive criticism? Such will help and add to my thinking and determine future posts. I am learning through this process and I want to learn through you.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministry - A Fresh Look (4)

I have been arguing for what some might call a more 'democratic' view of the gifts listed in Ephesians 4. If that just means non-hierarchical then fine; but I would avoid the term as it suggests something of this world's political systems and we are the people of God's different kingdom. I am just wanting to discourage the use of the pedestal, and encourage mutual service and the recognition of all measures of gift.

However, I would also want to be clear that I think it is nevertheless vitally important to recognise when people do have the measure of a gift to the point that we would call them an apostle,a prophet etc (some call these 'offices' but I find that a clumsy and archaic term). The names and the labels are not the important thing, but the functions and roles are essential for the equipping and perfecting of the church, and the people who fulfill them should be honoured.

For us to recognise different types of gift, and the different measures and spheres in which they operate, there needs to be a culture of humility - knowing what we are not - honour - recognising and celebrating what others are - honesty and love, so that we can work this out in context of a strong community/family (see Romans 12 for insights on this). Working out what it means for church to be family is the key to the function and the release of these and all gifts and callings.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (3)

Finally continuing with some reflections on ministry and leadership.

I mentioned in my last post on Ephesians 4 ministries that we might find measures of each of the gifts (v.11) across a church community, a local church. Some readers may have been fine with that until I mentioned the apostolic gift. In my own church history, we have so magnified this gift as a governmental 'position', surrounded it with a unreasonable aura and put apostles on pedestals for the unreachable, charismatic few. By doing so, we possibly ended up with a distorted perspective and even a damaging practice.

A little anecdote then; recently I received an email from a young man in the church who expressed that he felt he had an apostolic gift. My response is telling. In the past, I would have been worried that I might have to let this guy down gradually and gently as I helped him to realise he may well not be able to reach such dizzying heights. In fact, this time I thanked God and encouraged him because I thought he might well have a measure of that gift; in his case he does have a strong awareness of the heavenly, supernatural realm which I think is one mark of the apostolic gift and something we need more of. It does not mean he is necessarily going to become an apostle in the sense of a pioneer and builder of churches, a father to other ministry gifts and churches or a steward of the mysteries of the gospel (though he might). But we should nevertheless make space for and honour the measure and aspects of this gift that people in the local church have.

I say this not to dishonour those who are apostles (for they are vitally important) but to de-mystify the gift and de-pedestal the person, and thereby re-focus on the dimension of ministry and the perspective of church life and mission that this gift area brings to the body.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Olson on Christian Humanism

Just a brief departure from my reflections on leadership and Ephesians 4. I read this article, loved it and wanted to share it. It is also a departure from my usual attempt to keep the posts short - but it's worth it! It is taken from the final part of a series on 'Christian humanism' on the blog of Roger E. Olson (see my blog list to the side of this post). This passage provides a basis for something I strongly and happily believe - we are to live differently from this world, but not look down on this world; we are to have a positive view of humanity, but recognise it is only by the work of God's grace within that we can share in his glory, which is 'man fully alive' i.e. becoming who we were truly created to be. This means living the way of a kingdom that is radically different from the values of this present world order, but which is actually an invitation to be truly human through the grace and glory of God's new world order.

"The incarnation lies at the very root of Christian humanism; Jesus’ humanity is displayed as true humanity—humanity in union with God. Humanity freed from corruption; pristine and more—transformed by the energies of God. The image and likeness of God being restored and made whole, liberated from bondage to sin and decay and corruption. This is what Greek church father Irenaeus meant by “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Humanity fully alive is seen in Jesus; through our union with him we can experience a partial restoration of our humanity, humanity healed and restored. That’s deification. Not that we become God or gods but that we become truly human through the gift of God’s grace imparting his own life to us. That’s the gospel: that we can be more than forgiven; we can be transformed, deified, humanized, made whole.
The original plan of God was for the church to be God’s new humanity in the world. Marxists have dreamed about a new humanity through revolution. Others have hoped for a new humanity to emerge through education and technology. Those dreams have failed; the majority of people in today’s world, living in the aftermath of the “genocidal century” that was supposed to have been the “Christian century,” have given up hope for a new humanity. The challenge facing Christians is to recover that hope through the church and show the world that humanity is not a disease on the face of the earth but the glory of God—when made fully alive through Jesus Christ.
That is what I mean by Christian humanism, my friends. Not taking fallen, weak, sinful humanity and exalting it to replace God. Not making idols out of ourselves as we are. Rather, Christian humanism is exalting the man Jesus, who was also God, as the model of true humanity and living out the promise that he came to give—that we all might also be like him in his humanity—satisfying God by being glorified by God through the Spirit of Jesus in the church.
My assertion is that when we allow God to do his work in us by renewing and restoring the divine image as it was in Jesus, God is being satisfied. We are blessing God, making God happy, if you will, making God sigh with deep satisfaction, making God dance, not by achieving something on our own or doing something apart from his will and power and without his gifts, but by cooperating with his grace, allowing it to transform us into his new humanity.
Now, before concluding, I want to make something else clear about Christian humanism. It’s not just we, God’s people, who possess God’s truth, beauty and goodness as if God and his gifts were our private possessions. To be sure, we know God more fully through Jesus Christ, but even he is not our private possession. We are simply ones who volunteer to be citizens of God’s new city, the new humanity God is growing through the incarnation and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We’re the vanguard, if you will, but not the owners of God’s kingdom. God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are at work in the world outside the church as well as in it and sometimes more obviously there. God is at work wherever truth, beauty and goodness are found. Especially evangelical Christians have a habit of building walls between ourselves and the world of culture; Christian humanism reminds us that God loves humanity and has never left himself without a witness among people. The image of God in humanity has never been obliterated and God’s common grace is everywhere at work even where God is denied."
Roger E. Olson 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (2)

We have seen that the Eph.4:11 gifts point to the need for diversity in ministry for the church to reach maturity, and they are each given to serve and build up the body. I have found that people in the church connect with and even carry some measure of 1-2 of the gifts more than others. Some love the clear and structured thinking of the teacher, and are themselves wired that way. Others love the profound and soaring vision and unpredictable spontaneity of the prophet (I am dealing a little in stereotypes here as there are wide varieties of each of these gift, but bear with me for now) and they relate to that perspective and approach.

In fact, I've come to think that we should expect to find these 'gifts' to some degree or measure across a church community: you will have people who tend to the prophetic and others more pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic or with a teaching emphasis. We give the name apostle, prophet, teacher etc. to those who clearly carry one of these gifts to such a measure that we can see there is a calling and gifting in them to help equip the body in that dimension. And that need not have anything to do with a leadership role, or a governmental role. It is about gift and ministry (serving the body) not leadership or governmental authority. That's a separate issue (which I will look at with specific attention to the apostle soon).

The value of this pattern - a valid way of looking at it but not one that I want to be prescriptive about and which may work out differently in different settings, and as our understanding develops - is that it stops us from looking at people in 'positions' up above us or outside of us (though it is wise to draw upon gifts in the wider body and not just our local church) but instead liberates us to look for, to honour and to release the gifting that is among us as a church community, without all the complications of position and authority that have muddied the waters in the past. It discourages hierarchy and encourages diversity and mutual service. Let's start to honour the pastoral, teaching, evangelistic  prophetic and, yes, even the apostolic gifting that is among us!

Here's a diagram I used to teach on this recently. Of course, Jesus is our model for all these ministries.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ephesians 4 Ministries - A Fresh Look (1)

This is going to take more than one post. But let me make a start. It's worth repeating that I am convinced that God has been restoring these gifts (in Ephesians 4:11) to his church over the past 40 years, but I also feel that groups can be too prescriptive about them, and how they should function.

The first thing to point out is that although we use the term 'ministries' for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, the passage does not do that. It refers to them as gifts (v.9). In fact, they are to prepare, equip or perfect everyone in the church for the work of ministry (v.12). As I am arguing for a less prescriptive approach to the NT, I won't fuss about this; but we must be careful, because the whole idea of having a 'ministry' has become tangled up with getting a position, a recognised leadership role, even a title. And this totally misses the point of the principle here. These gifts are to equip and empower everyone to do the work of ministry/service. They are not superstar 'ministries' for the church to admire; they are to equip the body, not impress it. If we could translate the the word for ministry (diakonia) as we should - service - so that these 'ministries' are seen as servants (along with all in the church), that might help.

Another relevant principle here is that of diversity. It seems to me that one of the key thrusts of this about the church, the body of Christ, coming to maturity, to the fullness of the stature of Christ (vv.11-13). A mark of maturity is balance, to be well-proportioned, to be whole and complete (v.16). Therefore, diversity is required for maturity. These gifts are not to do with positions or leadership roles in the church. (They may or may not be in leadership; I suggest we should take government and leadership out of the equation.) They are to do with the diverse gifts, perspectives and strengths that the different people bring: prophets help the church to be more prophetic, pastors help it to be more pastoral, evangelists, more evangelistic etc. If one is more dominant it's like a colour TV where one colour only is getting through  - the picture is all red, or all green for example.

When we begin to look again at this passage being not about positions but perspectives that each gift brings to bear on the church and its service, we can perhaps make room for a new pattern of how they work in the church to emerge. More on this in my next post, I hope.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Scripture, the Spirit and Restored Truth

Last week I was suggesting that we look at authority and church leadership from an understanding of the Bible that allows for a creative and open space for us to work out together how it can operate within parameters set by New Testament (NT) principles. If we keep Jesus as the central subject of Scripture, and then its big story and big themes in the foreground, we are better placed to understand those principles and then free to develop, adapt and change the patterns of government and leadership according to different contexts, demands, and the leading of the Spirit at any  point on our journey as a church family.

That last clause indicates another key factor in working out truth and spiritual principles - the corporate leading of the Spirit: understanding what the Spirit is saying to the church at any one time (Rev.2:7). We cannot understand Scripture without the Spirit (1 Cor.2:13-14) and without him, the letter of scripture kills! (2 Cor.3:6). Now working out what the Spirit is saying to the church requires that we are in dialogue with others in the body of Christ and not just retreating into our own little groups thinking we understand it all. And we will have to learn how to disagree agreeably!

But along with many others I believe that in recent years, one of the things that the Spirit has been speaking about and restoring to the church relates to the equipping 'ministries' set out in Ephesians 4:11-13; and especially, to apostles and prophets. (There are some commentators who believe that the restoration of these two 'ministries' has been the key factor in what has been called 'the restorationist movement' of the last 40 years, and that this has helped changed the face of Christianity in the UK.) 

The problem is that groups which recognised this came up with some very clear-cut and defined ways of understanding how these 'ministries' work in a NT-church - with different groups coming up with different patterns (One of the problems is that if we take a prescriptive approach to the NT, then we end up with lots of different prescriptions each claiming to be the right one!). Tomorrow, I hope to use the principles and patterns approach (as opposed to the prescriptive approach) to look at the Ephesian 4 gifts afresh.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

At the Centre - Bible or Jesus?

Crucial to us understanding the Bible rightly (on anything) is to know Christ. Because the Bible is all about him.

Before blogging any more about how to interpret the Bible, or how we use it to understand leadership etc., let me point you to something someone else has written. Now and again you stumble across something that so resonates with where you're at on your own spiritual journey. This is one of those, written by a Christian blogger I have recently begun to read and enjoy.

My journey is not exactly the same as his as I would  not have considered myself as part of a institutional religion or the professional theological Academy. But it is possible to be part of a genuinely spiritual, grassroots 'movement' and yet make the same mistakes, when we put the Bible and our understanding of it - our doctrine - at the centre, instead of a living relationship with Jesus. (I speak for myself only and not for anyone else who's been part of that movement).

It's much longer than my own posts, so make yourself a coffee, or pour yourself a whisky, and enjoy - its worth the time taken to read David Flowers on Christ the Center - The Journey from Religion to Relationship.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Using the Bible - Creative or Conforming

Briefly today: I think what I am doing here in relation to using the Bible to understand patterns of leadership and church government (and I will try to do more on this next week) is illustrative of how we are to use Scripture ('all Scripture is God-breathed and useful...'2 Tim.3:16) under the new covenant. Although there are boundaries for belief (doctrine) and behaviour (ethics), those boundaries are determined by the trajectories set in motion by New Testament principles (I will write more on this soon). Within those boundaries, and then through our God-given minds and imaginations, and our relationship with the Holy Spirit and one another, we are liberated to be creative in working out our practices and the implications of the principles. This is so much better than trying to replicate a prescribed pattern, or conform to a rigid code. The very dynamic of Scripture and Spirit sets us free to work things out together, to join in a creative dance, not slavishly follow a marching band. Just a thought.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bible and Leadership - Patterns and Principles

I have been suggesting that the Bible provides us with fluid and flexible patterns for church structure and leadership that can change and develop according to the culture the church is in, but that there are principles to do with the identity, nature and function of the church that must not be violated  in doing so. Time for some examples.

By nature the church is to be an organic and charismatic community so if we build church in such a way that it becomes an institutional organisation then I think we are beginning to violate principles (There are a lot of terms there that need unpacking but the general point is valid). Given the radical changes in the new covenant, such as the priesthood of all believers, any development which creates a divide between supposed clergy and laity, with vestments, titles etc. is a violation of principles. As is the development of hierarchical leadership, or the politicisation of the church if it gets embroiled with State power, as it first did under the emperor Constantine. 

In contrast, there are ways of ordering local church communities and their leadership for which the New Testament practice is instructive but not prescriptive, partly because of its cultural location. So exactly what we call leaders is not paramount. What are called elders in the NT provide pastoral leadership.  But there are other kinds of leadership and the diverse gifting/perspectives they bring - and Ephesians 4 is vitally important here - are needed to equip the church. Exactly how they work within and toward the churches is not prescribed. The idea of an apostle being 'in charge' of the churches and 'over' the elders in their churches in perpetuity is not prescribed and cannot be justified from the NT: it was much more a case of apostles and elders working in partnership that seems to be the pattern, only requiring a more authoritative approach when things were going wrong. This will be worth exploring more. 

Some worry that such a flexible or loose approach is too vague, but trying to replicate early church, first century practices is much more problematic. And is a faulty way of understanding biblical revelation. With on-going dialogue between Christians, and openness to the Holy Spirit to lead us, this approach of developing patterns without violating principles is a good and valid one.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bible and Leadership - Gnats and Camels.

Start with the Bible's big story - from creation to new creation - and its central subject and character - Jesus - and its big themes, e.g. the kingdom of God, the gospel of grace, heaven coming to earth, God dwelling among people, God revealed as Father, redemption (freedom), restoration etc. Let those shape your thinking and practice and you are in a far better place to understand specific texts of Scripture which people - often with a genuine desire to be 'faithful to the Word' - actually use to perpetuate structures and models of leadership that are restrictive and archaic. We end up holding on to early church patterns and practices that were actually attempts to work out in its first century cultural context what it meant to be church community, many of them borrowed from its Jewish roots.

The church is of course one of those big themes and chief actors in God's redemption story; it is God's chosen and called out people, those who had been transformed from slaves to sons, living as a covenant community in an always alien and often hostile environment, as a prophetic sign pointing to God's new order that has broken in on the world. As long as we do not violate essential principles to do with the identity and nature of this community e.g. its organic and charismatic nature, the priesthood of all believers in the new covenant, its identity as the family of God, its function as a body with all contributing their spiritual gifts, the serving and empowering nature of its leadership, its destiny to reflect the fullness of Christ etc. then we are free to develop patterns of leadership appropriate to the cultural context we are in (as long as they are true to the different kingdom in its cross-centred spirit of service).

Sadly we have often strained at gnats and swallowed camels. We have strained at gnats of biblical exegesis of passages in order to insist our practice or model is the true biblical one, and totally missed the point of what the church is all about by dividing over the ensuing arguments. Tomorrow, I will get a little more specific on what patterns might violate principles and what things were mainly culturally determined.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Bible and Leadership

Back to blogging at last! And really wanting to continue to say more about new patterns of leadership and authority. Conversations and dialogues that I have been engaged in over the last couple of weeks have helped to stimulate and focus my thinking. I am hoping the next few posts will help those of us in our local church community to understand more about the perspective shift that is taking place for us in this whole area of leadership and church government. But I welcome constructive comments from any readers of this blog that will help us get clearer - I am committed to learning through conversation.

When approaching the subject of authority and leadership (indeed, any subject) as people who believe the Bible is inspired and authoritative Scripture, we must take seriously what it has to say. But we must also take seriously what is involved in reading Scripture. For example, we must recognise that the Bible is written as the stories of communities in historical contexts, not just as a finished list of dogmatic propositions; that we have to understand the cultural contexts of those communities and discern the principles and truths in their stories; we then have to understand how those principles and truths are worked out in our cultural contexts; we need to see the big story of Scripture and how its big themes and central subject - Jesus - affect our understanding of specific texts; and  we must acknowledge our own cultural and religious assumptions that we bring to the biblical texts as we read them, and be open to them being challenged; most of all, we must recognise our need for the Holy Spirit  to open the Scriptures to us as he leads us into all truth; and that we protect ourselves from subjectivism in this, by staying in conversation with other members of the body of Christ, including those who come from totally different perspectives.

Always remember that it is possible to diligently study Scriptures and yet totally miss the point! (John 5:39-40)

Over the next few posts, I hope to show that when we look at Scripture taking the above considerations into account, we do not end up with a prescribed model never to be departed from, but we are liberated into flexible and fluid patterns which nevertheless can give fresh expression in our contemporary context to the radical principles of God's different kingdom.