Monday, December 3, 2012

“Creating Apostolic Community” by Garris Elkins

Creating an apostolic community requires more than just reading good books on the subject or having discussion groups at the local Starbucks.  Creating this kind of community requires providing traction points that will actually initiate change. This kind of cultural shift will eventually touch every area of our lives and ministry, and if initiated and facilitated properly, will provide the traction needed to move us up the hill into the high ground of our preferred future.

Recently, in the church movement I call home – the Foursquare Church – our leadership took the bold step to revisit who we are historically as an apostolic movement birthed under the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson. I am proud of our leadership for taking these first steps.  This decision required courage and vulnerability.

As church movements experience the passing of strong, apostolic leadership, like an Aimee Semple McPherson, those who follow and assume the role of leadership may or may not be apostles themselves.  Organizationally, this change of gifting is not a hindrance to developing an apostolic church structure. As long as an apostolic environment is affirmed and honored, and apostolic leaders are allowed to rise, God can accomplish his will in any group, association or denomination.

Initiating an apostolic community will test our existing thinking and challenge our current systems. There are typically three directions one can take at this juncture:

1.  We can PROTECT the past at the expense of the future.

Historically, movements have gathered around a common theology or shared experience.  This gathering has created ways of thinking and ministry that focus on protecting our theology and our experience against any future threat that challenges our historic reality. 

This mindset gathers people to its way of thinking and then builds defensive systems to protect against a challenge of the historic status quo.  Living inside this protective box begins to lock-up the potential and vision of an individual, a church or an organization.  An apostolic leader will push people and organizations beyond their current zone of comfort to experience what God has planned for each generation. All of this is done under apostolic leadership without violating the essential truth and doctrines of the faith. Apostles help the Church differentiate between the essentials and non-essentials of our calling.

2. We can IGNORE the issue and carry on with business-as-usual

What can make this organizational shift towards an apostolic environment so difficult is when we define how we “do church” as sacred and see any challenge to our self-defined sacredness as a threat.  These perceived threats are either marginalized or eliminated.  In some cases, the very message God wants to deliver was within a person or idea we considered threatening.   

Apostolic thinking gathers around mission instead of preferences.  They gather around the mission of bringing heaven to earth that is expressed in the fullness of the Gospel of the Kingdom.  This Gospel of the Kingdom is multi-faceted – it is a body, soul and spirit Gospel that ministers to all dimensions of the human experience.

Just as the natural body is constantly in a process of change and flux in order to stay alive, so it is with the Church.  Ignoring the signs of decline in any area of the health of our natural body will lead to sickness and disease and even death.  In the Church, ignoring the signs of sickness in any area of our spiritual Body will lead to dysfunction and disease. Apostolic leadership requires frequent Body-physicals to ensure that what we are doing is producing life and not assuming that continuing to do the same thing unexamined will bring the promise of life in our future.

3. We can ENGAGE a process of adjustment that aligns us with our future

The change required to align us with authentic apostolic community will hinge on how we choose to see ourselves.  This personal reassessment will require an adjustment in our thinking before we can see correctly.  Correct thinking will change the lens through which we see our assignment and calling. 

In my Foursquare church family we have functioned under the Godly influence of many strong pastoral gifts.  Some of these pastoral models have also been apostolic as they functioned within the Foursquare Church.  Names like Jack Hayford, Roy Hicks, Jr., Ralph Moore and Wayne Cordiero would fit this definition. These men saw something beyond a single view of the Church.  They saw a larger Kingdom image and some of what they saw has brought us to the very conversations we are having today.

In the Foursquare Church, where we are revisiting this conversation, I am not sure re-titling our pastors is necessarily the answer.  Maybe the answer is simply revisiting our history and validating it once again. Once that validation is made we can then take steps to make sure we have an environment that continues to release apostolic leaders to do what God has called them to do. Our investment in these leaders will be seen most clearly in how willing we are to remove any organizational barriers that would stand in their way.

One night almost 25 years ago, I was flying in a small plane with my pastor, Roy Hicks, Jr.  As I said before, Roy was an apostle in our midst.  It was about 2:00 a.m. and Roy and I were flying all night to get back to Los Angeles. 

We were somewhere over southern Mississippi when I asked Roy a question.  “Roy, if tomorrow you were leading the Foursquare church – what would you do?”  Roy answered as we both continued to peer straight ahead into the ink-black night sky.  He said, “I would do away with a lot of our structure, take our money and give it to 50 lighthouse churches in 50 states and let them do what God had called them to do.”  The phrase, “lighthouse church”, was Roy-speak for a church led by an apostolic leader. I think today, 25 years after that late night flight, we are in a better place to have this conversation. 

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s California, the term, “A Planned Community”, was coined.  A planned community is created on a plot of undeveloped land. It is designed and built from scratch. Some of these communities were out in the desert where only jackrabbits and sagebrush grew.  The planners laid out the city streets.  Individual house plots were assigned. City office footprints were penciled in along with each individual house and their assigned address.  Everything was under the plan.

As some of us revisit the concept of an apostolic community, we will need to go back to the original God-planned community of faith Paul addressed in Ephesians 4.  In this original plan each of the five equipping gifts are in place and doing what God intended for them to do in a planned community.  Living in community is the healthiest when we know our own street address and how to find our way home again. It is the job of apostolic leadership to make sure each generation understands God’s original blueprint for our community of faith.

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