Thursday, July 5, 2007

Your Gift Makes Room for You

The discussion about church leadership gifts continues...

If an apostle is the founding leadership gift of a church (in an area or in a culture), as I have purported in earlier posts, we could well say the fledgling church is led by an apostle. What do you call such a leader? To be technically accurate, he would be called an apostle, but as is often the case, a term's definition evolves through use. It seems to me, few places today would use that term, and would instead call him "pastor." We could make a case that once a congregation is established it would be more correct to call the leader an elder or bishop, but then Acts 20 indicates the terms bishop, elder, and pastor are largely interchangeable. Is it possible to describe an apostle as a pastor? Isn't that a confusion of terms since both apostle and pastor are listed in Ephesians 4?

It would seem so, except for a few verses: 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1; Galatians 1:19; & Acts 21:8. If one takes the Apostle John to be the author of all the Johannine epistles (as I do) and understands James to be the first Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, a biblical case for seeing any of the five-fold gifts as capable of exercising the church leadership office begins to emerge. The long and short of it-- the office (or even the effective utility) of elder/bishop does not describe the gift that is expressed by the individual in it. Sometimes the elder/bishop will be an apostle (as in the formative stages of church establishment), sometimes a prophet, or an evangelist, or even a pastor/teacher. I think the same kind of thing is true for the deaconate. For leadership, it's the function of preparing God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, rather than the title of office that matters.

A corollary is that some folk will be gifted in similar ways as are church leaders, but will not thereby automatically qualify to be church leaders. Church leaders are full of the Holy Spirit, tested in service, of good reputation with all, and good managers of their own families among other things (at least at the time they qualify). Some will be more gifted than others. If some are given to these gifts, it follows that some will not be. But be assured of this: when a tempered individual has been gifted in the ways leaders are gifted, his gift will most certainly make room for him.

7/6/07 Addendum:
An interesting take on the subject.

10 comments:

  1. In a previous post, you commented to Dan about our A/G connection. The tenets of Faith and the doctrine still course through my veins. I have on a few occasions taught series of lessons on the 'gifts'. However in times past, I would speak of the apostolic ministry continuing today, w/o elaborating on the possiblity of modern day apostles.

    If today's ministries include; pastors/teachers, prophets, and evangelists, why wouldn't there also be apostles? I believe you are right on it, when you speak about the definition of terms.

    On a different note; Why is that folks get so caught up in titles? Whatever the title, they should still be servants of God and man.

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  2. While I have always believed apostles exist today (because my Baptist heritage taught me to believe the entire Bible...we were not cessationists) it was not until I became affiliated with the AG that I noticed all the uproar about the five-fold ministry gifts. Last time I read Hebrews 13, there was a verse in that chapter that said Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever...

    I'm with Sis. Cala though...there is too much emphasis placed on titles, and not enough emphasis placed on our job to SERVE all mankind!

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  3. The sculpted banner over the front door of the Bible college I attended (NCBC) said "not to be served but to serve." I think it cited Mark 10, but it could have been Matthew 20, I don't remember. Regardless, a good motto for all who labor in the gifts of God, whether vocationally or bi-vocationally, to live by.

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  4. I believe that it is better to think of the 5 fold ministry in terms of functions or giftings or anointings for ministry rather than titles.

    I believe that there are prophets and apostles functioning in the church today, but those that I have seen actually ministering at that level never use those titles themselves.

    Some will say that they are called to a prophetic ministry or an apostolic ministry in birthing new churches without specifically using the titles.

    I have also observed that there are some who are using those titles openly and I must confess I am uncomfortable with folks calling themselves such.

    Now Deacon, Elder, and Bishop seem to be New Testament titles. My question- where did the title of Priest come from? Not really NT is it?

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  5. Michael,
    I agree with you about titles. I don't think it’s worthwhile attempting to calibrate office title with the gift expressed by the one holding it. If John was satisfied to be called an elder, and Philip a deacon; elder, bishop or deacon should be good enough for any of us. Titles can get pretentious very quickly, which is why Jesus warned us about such things (Matthew 23:8-11). I don't see any problem with one understanding his gifting, or even with others recognizing it in him by using it’s biblical name (i.e. he's an evangelist or an apostle). However, I don’t see what could be gained by assigning titles according to gift with all the confusion surrounding the matter. As you said, these are best understood as anointings or functions rather than titles.

    Generally, I don't think these gifts require super high levels of spirituality in order to be recognized, or that they are rare. I don't believe they are on a hierarchical scale that would put an apostle a couple of notches above an evangelist, who in turn would be a notch above a pastor/teacher. These designations are about function not authority, so I don’t see the appellation of apostle, or prophet, in terms of authority over other giftings. Perhaps the way to think about this is a leader being called an “elder who is an apostle,” or “an elder who is a prophet”: eldership designating his recognition as a church leader, the five-fold designation recognizing his gifting. Regardless, such recognition would never need to be formal.

    The church very quickly in it’s history became hierarchical which is what IMHO led to the squelching of the five-fold gifts as well as the priesthood of all believers (everyone gifted in someway). I believe we need closer connections between leaders and the folks they serve, more humility from clergy (who often act like the church is their own little arena in which to pursue their egocentric “visions”), and to actually consider love of the brothers, by word and deed, as the highest virtue in our churches.

    It’s obvious this topic has more left in the tank. I guess I’ll have to post on it at least one more time!

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  6. SLW,

    I agree with you substantially.

    "These designations are about function not authority, so I don’t see the appellation of apostle, or prophet, in terms of authority over other giftings."

    I agree that they should not be esteemed above other functions. For sure there is no organizational authority invested in the prophet, teacher, or evangelist function.

    However, I do believe that inherent within the very function of pastor and apostle is some authority. Pastor over a congregation and apostle over new immature churches and even later some authority as an overseer over pastors in the church es planted.

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  7. Michael,
    In the schema I've been presenting, any of the five-fold gifts that is placed into eldership does have the authority of an elder/bishop in it's field of endeavor, whether in the local church or a foray into a virgin mission field. Not a dictatorial authority, but that of a builder of souls. Although it's possible to envision a prophet or an evangelist who isn't in such a position, I think I'd have to agree with you that it is virtually necessary (and therefore inherent) for an apostle or pastor/teacher to be so.

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  8. I wanted to comment on this, maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong. One of the comments said

    "However, I don’t see what could be gained by assigning titles according to gift with all the confusion surrounding the matter. As you said, these are best understood as anointings or functions rather than titles."

    My comment is this...

    Aren't these titles necessary though? Lots of people are called "Doctor" but I need to know what kind of doctor you are before I take an asthmatic child to a foot doctor.

    I understood the comment about feeling uncomfortable when you hear someone calling themselves by a title. But isn't that just because of how many false prophets and false teachers there are out there? Just because so many have turned something God gave us into something untrustworthy, doesn't mean that those titles are bad. Just because the devil mimics it with his own spin, doesn't mean what God put in place should be thrown out. A quick glance at Pauls writing shows that he introduced himself each time as "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God"... various phrasing in each book.

    Not only could these titles be used as an aid to the church (knowing where to look for specific callings) but it could be beneficial for those in the calling as well. (If you say you're a prophet, you'd better be willing to prophecy, and you'd better be flowing in the anointing when you DO).

    It just somehow seems wrong, ultimately, that someone could not boldly stand up and say "My name is John, an evangelist of Christ Jesus" without having half the congregation instantly think "If he were REALLY an evangelist, he wouldn't have told us he was."

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  9. @flyawaynet
    No, we shouldn't give up on descriptive, biblical words to explain or promote Christian experience. I don't think that is what I'm suggesting (I thought I was suggesting the opposite :-)).

    You certainly raise good points, but in doing so, also spotlight the difficulty that sorting this out after 1900 years of disuse and misuse entails. The Assemblies of God has issued a position paper on the subject of apostles and prophets which concludes (basically) that the formal designation of minister for one qualified for church leadership does not prevent the functional use of the terms apostle and prophet. Whereas as I personally would be comfortable enough with someone of proven reliability being recognized as an apostle or prophet, I do see the wisdom in the A/G approach.

    It is a bit strange, but the designations, evangelist and pastor, don't cause any problem with most Christians. I guess they don't seem quite so high-faluting to us.

    Ultimately, my aim in all this discussion has been to bring to light the biblical concept of functional gifting in church leadership, while avoiding the snares of pretentious title seeking and bestowing. Your next to the last paragraph really states well why it's important to get a handle on all this. Not doing so hampers the gifted and those being served by those gifts.

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  10. I got caught up in my thinking I think. I'm sorry. I did see the first part of your comment, but only responded to the last part. We do agree all in all. I just went on a tangent.

    If anything, I need to preach that little sermonette to myself. Because I'm the one usually sitting there thinking "I would have thought he was a prophet if he hadn't have told me so."

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Any comment in ill taste or not germane to the post may be deleted without warning. I am under no obligation to give anyone an opportunity to call me names or impugn my motives or integrity. If you can't play nice, go somewhere else and play.