If I came to your church next Sunday, I’m sure I would be impressed. The music, the preaching, the smiling faces, the facilities would inspire and refresh. However, because of the way I’m wired, I would not be content. There’s a whisper I hear anytime I’m on the inside of Christendom that says, “This is great, but what about all the people out there.” I may even lose track of the sermon for a minute thinking about the trailer park I passed on the way or all the people gassing up their boats at the marina or the story of the broken home I’d heard the week before. As a member of a church, if I voiced these whispers, I might be seen as off the reservation. A trouble maker who needs to get with the program. Or a contrarian that can’t be pleased, always pointing out what we’re not doing, instead of what we are doing. Now, some people are just off the reservation, trouble makers, and contrarians who need to be corrected. But what if God gives these whispers to a segment of every church so that the church could have some outward energy? What if we as leaders heard these whispers and considered them God’s leading and potential open doors for our church? What if God has given you all the tools you need for expansion of the kingdom in the form of that person always pointing out where ministry is not happening in the community? I believe He has done all of this and more through the different gifting in every church.
Ephesians 4:11-12 says,
“And HE GAVE some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…”
The person I’m talking about is the first in the list, the little “a” apostles. They are God’s gift to our church to stretch our thinking outside the walls.
If we’re describing the church as a flock, here’s how I think each of these descriptors would play out: the apostles are always looking for new territory, the prophets are warning of danger, the evangelists are passionate about adding more to the flock, the pastors or shepherds are concerned about taking care of the sheep we have, and the teachers are given to guide the flock in truth.
Today’s church seems to have grown heavy on the last two, shepherds to take care of what we have and teachers to teach us what we don’t know. And the other three are relegated to itinerant ministries at best, taught to set down and shut up at worst.
Are we missing valuable pieces to what God wants our church to be? How do we recognize and empower little “a” apostles for the building up of our body?
Here’s a few things I’ve learned about the work of the little “a” Apostle:
- He/she feels the needs of the community, the way others feel the needs of the church. They experience the drive to church differently. They see the world differently. Their perspective will open the eyes of others to ministry opportunities.
- He/she wants the church to grow wider, more expansive in influence. They are interested in reproducible processes & fast moving systems. Don’t put them on the long range planning committee. The urgency of expansion to new fields is the greatest need.
- He/she does not want your money. Most pastors hear an idea from these people & see big dollar signs,. But money is most likely not in the apostles mind when they’re sharing ideas. However, if you give them a little money, they will do more with it than you can imagine. Like the apostolic leader in Africa that our church pledged $100 a month to, hoping they would get some chairs & a roof on their building. Six months later, they’re still sitting on the floor with no roof, but a church planting movement is happening in an unreached area 10 hours away.
- Just like in Acts, the little “a” apostle naturally builds relational networks that make kingdom expansion possible. Tap into it, by asking them if they know anyone in that neighborhood or area you’d like to reach or the apartment complex or the city government. If they don’t, you’ve said enough. Step aside & watch them work their relational networking powers for the good of your church in no time.
- He/she doesn’t want the credit, just the experience. Shepherd/Teachers will think this leader is looking for glory or influence. They’re not. The African leader in the above story, called me a year later to say, “Come & see what YOU HAVE done in Africa!” I didn’t even write the check, but he was more than willing to give the credit away.
- 1-3% of your congregation thinks outside first. They don’t say it out loud, because they don’t want to seem contrarian, but their heart is to see the church out there: at the trailer park, the local bar, the gym, the coffee shop. They are God’s gift to expand the tent of the church.
- Many of these folks have heard no so many times from church’s that they are serving alone. They would love to serve their church, but they cannot say no to the needs of the community. I’ve met them at local jails where they’re leading discipleship groups, serving on community boards, starting new things to make life better for underprivileged neighborhoods. You asked them if they’re doing this through their church, & they’ll say no with a frown.
How can I as a church leader recognize and empower the little “a” Apostle:
- Listen to their ideas just like you’d listen to the health related prayer requests of a senior adult member. They are just as serious to this person.
- Say yes. “Could we start a Monday night service for restaurant workers?” “Could we start a small group at the Tattoo Parlor called Labeled?” “Could we adopt nursing home residents with no local family?” “Could we start a food pantry at the local trailer park?” Find a way to say yes with limits to the risky, off the wall ideas every now and then & see what happens. Consider it the Research & Development arm of your church.
- Give them outside of the building research & ministry projects. “We’re thinking of starting a new campus in ____. Could you find out the potential in the area?” “I’ve heard there are a lot of Asians in _____ neighborhood. Could you verify that for me?” “The coffee shop owner is asking about us doing a Bible Study at their location on Sunday morning. Could you pray about leading that?”
- Don’t let them kill themselves. The danger for the little “a” apostle, is that they see every good opportunity as possible. Help them set boundaries.
What are other strengths of the church that can be found in the apostolic gifts? What ways have you seen this gift set utilized to grow the kingdom?
For more info on the little “a” apostle:
- The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century by Alan Hirsch.
- Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World by JR Woodward.
- Three Overlooked Leadership Roles, 2008 Leadership Journal article by Alan Hirsch.
- Five Fold Ministry Test – Spiritual Gifts tests based upon Ephesians 4:11-12
- Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Church Out of the Ashes of the 21st Century by Peyton Jones
I’ve heard this saying over & over again for the past 15 years or so from Pastors and church leaders from all different perspectives of ministry. But I haven’t seen much about how to expand the SENDING capacity of a local church or a real change in strategy to developing SENDING capacity. Many pastors are frustrated because of the inability of the church to penetrate the lost culture. Cycles of transfer growth are disheartening to many, both OUT (people leaving one church to join another church that has more or different) and IN (the only growth being people coming from other churches).
Let me suggest we must add a SENDING mindset to our idea about church life. Recently I got calls from two churches that are large & “successful” asking what church I knew that could do ______ ministry, because they didn’t have anybody that could do it. I thought, you’ve got more people than 99% of the churches in the area and you don’t have anybody that can be sent into the community to meet a need? The answer: Yes they do! Now, I know every church can’t meet every need. That’s why we network & affiliate. And I know that some pastors are trying to send, but the season the church is in may make it difficult. But the challenge is, do we see the church as a body to be sent? Do we see mission as a necessary component to spiritual & church growth? Do we see sending capacity as a measure of success? Do we see the people of the church as ambassadors of Christ to bless the community? Do we see our role as an equipper of the saints to do the work of the ministry? It’s a mindset.
Here’s a simple mindset exercise that I was taught by mentor & friend Jim Gerlach that helps me remember my role as a sender/equipper. In preparation, am I thinking:
They’re coming, how do I get ready? or They’re not coming, how do I get ready?
In the first question, we’re thinking inwardly, how do I communicate the message to these people I know, how to meet their needs best, my presentation, what people will think of ______, making sure everything’s perfect, how do I shield criticism, etc. Necessary & not bad stuff. But the second statement pushes me to recognize the reality: there’s a world out there that is unreached, so how do I get the message to them? This helps me shift my thinking from meeting these people’s needs, to sending these people on mission / equipping these people for mission in our world. How can I get the message out creatively to different population segments? etc. Balancing these two questions is the work of the leader that desires to create sending capacity as seating capacity grows.
And in most of our communities unfortunately the second statement is coming true. They’re not coming. In my community, less than 10% attend an evangelical church. Most pastors are shocked at that stat. I was too, because I was so focused on getting ready for those that are coming. We must change our mindset if we will continue to push back darkness in our world.
How do you create sending capacity? What other questions should we be asking?