You can’t make footprints in the sands of time with your butt, and who wants to make butt prints in the sands of time?” – Unknown [A slogan for Apostles]
As we start to see a restoration of the five equippers in Ephesians 4 come to reality in the missional church, including the APE’s, and as we re-imagine how to approach leadership, certain questions arise. What does an Apostle do? What is their role? How are we to understand the nature of an Apostle?
To understand the role of an apostle it is first helpful to understand the nature of the missional church. Jurgen Moltmann gives us some help here, in that he enables us to recognize that the starting point for mission is not the church, but God himself. Mission is grounded in the very being of God. He says,
“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.”
In other words, there is mission because God is a missionary God.
This is substantial, because apostolos “apostle” literally means “a sent one”. In other words, our missionary God is a sending God within his own being – The Father sends the Son and the Spirit, and the Son and Spirit send us. The entire church is filled with “sent ones”, people have been sent into the world for the sake of blessing the world, as articulated in God’s call to Abraham, as well as in Jesus’ words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). So in one sense, all are “apostles,” in that all are sent ones. And as we all live as people whom God has sent to live in the world for the sake of others, some will start to recognize that they are endowed by the Spirit to help others recognize their “sentness” and they become equippers who start to equip the entire body in this way.
Apostles are sent ones. They are sent by God to cultivate the growth of His kingdom, to see more of heaven come to earth. They awaken people and communities to join with God in the renewal of all things by making disciples, who in turn make other disciples, who multiply ministries that bless the world. They seek to help people understand and live out their calling as sent people.
Apostles, or what I like to call dream awakeners, help people and communities discover and live out their calling in life. This often begins by helping people to connect Sunday with Monday, by embracing their “secular” calling in the world as a disciple of Jesus, thus making it sacred. Apostles [dream awakeners] first help people understand their identity in Christ, including the fact that they are “sent ones,” and as they help them understand who they are, they then help them discover what they are to do. The who always precedes the what. We see this example in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Corinthians and other churches.
Apostles take personal time to spend with people, recognizing that people do not choose their calling, but it is something they discover. Some of the questions they help people ask themselves relate to God: What is God doing in and around me? What is the Spirit prompting me to do? How does Jesus’ mission inform my calling?
Other questions dream awakeners help people ask themselves relate to the unique way God has made them: What do you enjoy doing? What do you think you do well? What do other people think you do well? Do you enjoy working with things, information, or people, or some kind of combination of these? They also seek to discern if a person’s calling is primarily in the church or in the world.
When I meet an actor in Hollywood, my first inclination is not, “Oh, I wonder if they could join our drama team?” If one has a goal to build a mega-church, this might be the mentality. But the desire of the dream awakener is to help people live out their calling in the world for the sake of the world, so they seek to help the faith community rally around this person’s vocation in such a way that the person lives his or her calling for the sake of others. In this way the dream awakener is a missional leader, as they help the people of God remember that the church exists for the sake of the world, not herself.
Some of the ways in which they embody this gift in the church is they help people to capture the mission, vision, values, strategy and marks of the church. They engage in systems thinking and systems renewal, creating an atmosphere where good things can run wild in a synergetic way. They cultivate the growth and multiplication of leaders, mid-sized communities, ministries and churches. They explore ways to network with other churches and movements to see the transformation of their towns, cities and countries. People like Paul of Tarsus, John Wesley and John Wimber demonstrate what a mature apostle might look like. They are movement starters. God has given apostles [dream awakeners] to the church to equip God’s people to do His work. They are priests who minister to fellow priests. The reason God has placed these gifted people in the body is so that the entire body might be fully activated and equipped to be Jesus’ hands and feet in our world today.