The word apostolate means to be sent or a sent people. For the apostolic the mission of God (and not the mission of the church) is front and center. When we think of apostolic we are thinking of a church and/or a leader that understands their call to their context. They are not afraid to get involved with their neighborhood nor do they have reticence when it comes to making new connections. They understand that God does not have a mission for the church but rather God has a church for the mission. An apostolic vision is one that takes into consideration a biblical view of mission, its own tradition, its own experience and the context in which it exists.
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Leadership is all about helping an organization overcome challenges in order to grow and make an impact. In their book Leadership on the Line Heifetz and Linsky identify the challenges that leaders face as either “Technical” or “Adaptive”. Technical challenges are those to which an answer already exists and simply requires a leader to learn a skill or get some consulting from someone who has dealt with that issue. Adaptive challenges are those to which a solution has not been found and to which a leader and a team must innovate their way forward in order to live into an answer. In the post-christendom culture of the west the church is faced with an adaptive challenge. The old “tried and true” responses no longer work and we are left scrambling for innovative ways to overcome our challenges and make a meaningful impact in the world we now find ourselves in. For a church planter to lead the way forward they must be able to lead in innovation. They must be able to build a team and harness the creative gifts and energy of that team in order to live into answers that do not exist yet.
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The pace of change that we currently live with requires us to quickly learn to gather information, interpret the information and make the necessary changes in response to that information. The days of one size fits all answers and static programming are over. Because of the diversity that surrounds us, each context is nuanced and unique and must be understood on its own merits and on its own terms. This requires leaders who are able to adapt on the fly. It means we cannot get blinded by our own assumptions, must always have a learning and listening posture and cannot be paralyzed by a fear of failure.
Pastoring in our culture is extremely difficult. To be the innovative and adaptive leaders that we have to be means we will experience failure and disappointment. The word resilient is defined as: “Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions" or “Able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed.” This means we must have the courage and the grit to continue on after experiencing disappointment and the internal wherewithal and faith that keeps us focused on our sense of calling and mission and not give in to the urge to give up.
We learn in Genesis chapter 1 that creativity and sabbath go hand in hand. If we are unable to care for our own soul and body then we will get exhausted, and nothing kills our ability to create more than exhaustion. In our broken world the levels of need that we are confronted with are endless. If our identity is being placed in our ability to help or assuage those needs then we will inevitably burn ourselves out. There are far too many stories of leaders who have let their sense of calling turn into an idol and in the end lost their family, health or life as a result. Sabbath matters and leaders that will be able to stand the test of time and build something that lasts must be able to care for themselves.
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Starting a new faith community means we must have the capacity to initiate and cultivate meaningful relationships with others. Being relational is less about being extroverted and more about being able to make and keep connections as well as harness those connections towards a common purpose. Building teams, connecting with people in your community and networking with the influencers in your context are all essential to the planting process.
Eugene Peterson does a brilliant job translating John 1:14 in the Message bible. “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Incarnation literally means “In the flesh.” Jesus’ willingness to enter the mess of humanity reminds us, that though the message of the gospel is universal the application of it or what the gospel does must be fleshed out anew in each unique context. We must learn to change our posture towards our culture from the privileged host to the humble stranger, or as renowned missionary Leslie Newbigin puts it in his book The Open Secret, “We must learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness” (1995, 5). This is the posture of incarnation.
It is the world and not the Church that is the object of God’s love. The people that make up the church are simply the ones who are invited into God’s mission to redeem and reconcile all of creation back to God’s self. To lead in this work church planters must understand that they are called to follow God’s Spirit into the work God is already doing in their community. To be Spirit-led simply means to join God in God’s work of reconciliation and new creation in the community. It means we are not inviting God to help us do our thing but rather we are being invited to listen and join God in what God is already doing.
One of the things that sets a church planter apart is his or her ability to inspire people and organize them around a common mission that is making a meaningful impact in the lives of people that live in their context. Often times people who have a passion for bringing gospel transformation want to commit full time to that effort and think that church planting is for them but the ability to organize people around a shared mission is what distinguishes someone as a planter and is absolutely necessary for the task.
In our overly commercialized society people are inundated with voices and stories that seek to move them. Church planters must be able to share the gospel in meaningful ways with the people they feel called to. They must be able to tell a compelling story that inspires people to contribute to a common vision. The church is a gathered and scattered people. It requires a leader who can gather, inspire and send people out to bring gospel transformation.
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