The Apostle Shepherd Partnership


Kimberly Culbertson is a Shepherd Teacher who recasts the story of identity and community. She has taught in the inner city of Chicago, founded a publishing company, and designed group life strategy for both Axis at Willow Creek Community Church and for the newly-launched Mission Church. These days she works as Forge America’s Director of Communication & Care, where she gets to help equip missional leaders all over America, and blogs at, where she journeys alongside some amazing women in pursuit of healthy identity. As wife to Ben, mommy to Jack, and family-by-choice to Christa, Zeke, Zekie, and Elli, she spends her energy to move her family toward a full life. Kimberly is a recovering approval addict, a paint brush loving workaholic, and a walking billboard for hope in all its many manifestations.

We Culbertsons are an adventurous family.

In just over a decade of marriage, we’ve moved into Chicago to teach at an inner-city high school, adopted some family-by-choice, started an independent publishing company and snarky Christian literary journal, moved to help plant a church, and then moved again to become apartment missionaries in Schaumburg, Illinois.

After this last move, we started to refer to ourselves as gypsies.

We go wherever we think God is sending us. We take risks. We dream big dreams and start new groups, businesses, and missional endeavors. We start over, and then start over again. Maybe someday we’ll settle down, but that day is not today.

Each night, my husband Ben follows bath time with an “identity check”—He and our son stare into the steamy bathroom mirror and Ben says, “Jack Solomon Culbertson, Baby of Adventure! Dad, Dad of Adventure!” He includes anyone else in the house (Mom, Latte (our dog), neighbors, select stuffed animals of adventure… ) and then concludes, “Identity Check complete! Moving on to sleep uniform station…” This is one of many ways that Ben is creating an environment where Jack can try new things, take risks, learn, fail, and try again. Ben also tells whoever will listen that he is “world-schooling” Jack (his play on the idea of home-schooling).

I’m sure it will come as no surprise, but Ben’s an Apostle on the APEST.

What does tend to surprise though, is that I am not. Despite how much I enjoy our adventurous life, Apostle tends to come in 4th or 5th on my APEST evals. What never changes is my strong top two: Shepherd Teacher. (I know, I know: Who let this girl on the blog?!)

I am Shepherd Teacher, but I’m still pretty adventurous. Part of that is Ben’s influence, and part of it is that I just don’t like to be bored. I’m not obsessed with safety or the status quo, which is how STs are sometimes characterized. I am just really attached to healing, love, and clarity.

And honestly, my shepherd-teacher is a big part of what makes our apostolic, adventurous family work. As an apostle, Ben is a pioneer, an innovator. He’s constantly dreaming of the next thing, and when he catches the vision for a new adventure, he’s off and running. He cares deeply for people, but he’s not always AWARE of them. Sometimes he says things without thinking about how people might receive them. Sometimes in his zeal for the mission, he’s running away from them while they’re talking. Or running over them to get to point B (Metaphorically of course).

Long before we were married, Ben launched a campus ministry at our college. As we became friends, I was often the person who would come to him and point out the person on the sidelines, the guy whose feathers were ruffled, the girl who was confused about where we were going. I am constantly pointing out people to Ben. I guess it really helps him out, because he married me 😉

Over the past fifteen years, this pattern has held true in my professional and ministry life as well. Whether I was launching a new school-within-a-school initiative at my high school, crafting a unified national team to impact the Christian publishing world, or partnering in a thriving missional ministry swimming upstream at the local mega church, I have enjoyed the richest and most fruitful seasons of ministry whenever I’ve partnered with apostolic leaders. Together we’ve been able to catalyze movement that doesn’t bulldoze people. And personally I prefer being part of exciting change that doesn’t leave a trail of disenchanted people in its wake.

If you are an apostolic leader, do you have strong shepherds in your ear? They can slow you down to see the people you’re leading for in the first place. Ask them to point out

  • Broken connections and division that may be taking root in your team
  • People who are underutilized, and people who are burning out
  • People who have had breakthroughs or big wins so that you can celebrate them
  • People who are losing the vision and need recalibration, and people who really get the vision who could be doing more

If you value and listen to the shepherds in your community, they’ll see potential greatness in people you might discount, which is valuable. But what is perhaps more valuable is that they may see the personal or team disaster that may be brewing early enough to address it before it blows up.

I’ll leave you with this: You don’t have to be an APE to be a mom-of-adventure. And you don’t have to be married to a shepherd to appreciate having one around 😉

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Release the APE is a blog for practitioners committed to giving you vision and encouragement around planting (apostolic), sharing your faith (evangelistic) and bringing justice and healing to the world (prophetic).

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