¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12” foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

22 replies
  1. Chuck Musselwhite
    Chuck Musselwhite says:

    Great Post Miles! Being a church planter I am pretty dismayed by the attitudes of planters who have never done anything, never served anywhere, who come off with the attitude that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Fortunately God has a way of humbling every man who will stand in the pulpit and teach. Those who don’t submit to it often don’t last long.

    I am an ardent supporter of church planting but it has to be done in such a way that will glorify God and not demean other churches.

    Reply
  2. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    I believe the distinction of being apostolic in calling & calling oneself an apostle is an important one. I tend to be wary of those taking on the title. Why is this necessary? If I’m doing the apostolic work it will be seen without my announcing it.

    I’ve been a church planter & worked with church planters. I’ve also served as a janitor & errand boy along with other things. I’ve been privileged to start up a couple of continuing ministries overseas, so in that sense, I can claim that title of ministry pioneer. But why? I will never be more than a servant of the Lord with or without a title or position (my current status). Although I’m a proven pastor, I don’t expect or require people to address me as such. I’m just me.

    But there’s something else that concerns me about the current focus on church planting being some type of “cutting edge” calling. As a full-time missionary in SE Asia, I saw the need for equipping those already called & doing church planting – national & ex-pat both. This is the great need in “most of the rest of the world” – equipping those already doing the work.
    Just some thoughts & observations from my view of things, not an authoritative word. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Trip,

      Such a good point. Just like we say when we ordain men at CCEsco – “We’re ratifying what God has already done and recognizing what you’ve already been doing.” So much better for others to recognize your call by the work and not by the words you’re constantly proclaiming about yourself.

      “I will never be more than a servant of the Lord”

      AMEN!

      Reply
  3. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Good word, Miles. All those sent of God should have the heart of a servant. Two comments:

    One pet peeve of mine is that I see a lot of churches conducting discipleship classes which they call leadership courses. Discipleship is learning to become a follower of Jesus whereas leadership is … well, becoming a leader of men. Obviously, they aren’t mutually exclusive, yet I think the emPHASis is on the wrong sylLABle. The emphasis in the culture is on leading and being out front and being someone who is to be reckoned with. The emphasis in the kingdom is being a servant. Entrepreneurs emphasize their independence, whereas servants are those who are connected. Which leads to my second comment –

    I think a lot of people take titles to themselves not out of pride and thinking they are something, but out of insecurity and thinking they are not much. They are hungry for affirmation and being seen as someone significant, and they believe that exalted titles will cause something to come to them that they haven’t earned. Miles, you didn’t become the pastor of CC Escondido after Pat because you were someone to be reckoned with, but because you had fallen in love and had given your life away to them.

    All too often, titles are about power. When power becomes the focus in the church, the church becomes all too like the culture of business and enterprise. Let’s not be blinded by power in the church.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Tim,

      I love when people hand me a “business card” that was clearly printed at vistaprint.com, and it has some specialized title that they made up for themselves.

      I do think that the affirmation of an individual’s call is very important. I know that it was incredibly important for me, when I was sensing a call to the ministry as a high schooler, to have those over me affirm or confirm that they recognized God’s call in my life too.

      As I’ve talked with a number of younger guys in various [assisting] ministry positions, I’ve observed a certain restlessness in them that I do not think is necessarily a bad thing. Some of these guys would make great missionaries, planters or head pastors, if the leadership of their church would send them out. Unfortunately there are quite a few older leaders in evangelical movements, such as Calvary, who are holding on to younger guys to long.

      I’ve heard some senior pastors say, “So and so is not ready to pastor, he’s only 28.” All the while they themselves forget that they were 22… 23 when they planted or began lead pastoring. I think (merely my opinion) the “So and so is too young” play is actually a cover for “this guy has some talent, I want to keep him around, it would be too hard to train up another individual like him.”

      Sorry – kind of rambling.

      Reply
      • Tim Brown
        Tim Brown says:

        Hi, Miles – a couple of things come to mind:

        Affirmation is critical. I know that the CC model has tended toward the ‘rugged individual’ style – the guy who has heard from God and could care less what man would say to him. This sometimes results in guys who ‘went’ w/o being ‘sent’. I had this mindset, and yet I longed not just for fellowship and connectedness, but for affirmation, too. If that makes me weak, I am happy to be weak.

        As for being ‘too young’ or ‘not ready’, along w/ wanting to hold on to talent, I think that we really do think that so-and-so is too young or not ready. The older a movement becomes, the more stock it puts in theological and professional training. When we were young, someone out of high school could go and plant a church. But no more (for the most part). There is Bible College and maybe seminary, interning and assistant pastoring. You’re right – we forget how God used us. When everyone else would have said that we weren’t ready, God used us! God always throws someone in over their head. Maybe we’re reluctant to do this.

        Maybe, too, we feel a responsibility for those we sent out that Pastor Chuck never did. We were released to the Lord and the word of His grace and the work of His power. If the ones we send fail, that will reflect poorly on us. Possibly, our thought is: If you are going to represent me, you’d better be ready. Maybe we should have a greater sense of releasing someone to the Lord and the word of His power. It used to be that if you were called, you could go. Now, you may be called, but it’s not time to go. I get both perspectives, but I think we’ve lost something along the way.

        Reply
        • Miles DeBenedictis
          Miles DeBenedictis says:

          I agree. I think we have lost something along the way.

          I was speaking with David Guzik a few years ago about his observations of those going through the Bible College program in Siegen. He made a comment that has stuck with me; something to the effect that the guys he was training in the bible college and intern program were not risk-takers. He was concerned that they weren’t willing to risk failing by stepping out. He want on to explain that he partly felt it had to do with the fact that the ministries they were coming out of were cranking along with million dollar campuses/sanctuaries and multiple hundreds, if not thousands of people. Thus, they had an expectation that if they didn’t have that they couldn’t “go.”

          I think that his observations were right on a number of levels. I see the same aversion to risk among a lot of the guys I teach at CCBC in Murrieta. The same aversion to risk is seen in some of the sending pastors too. In a lot of ways you’re probably right, we really do need to trust the Lord for people. Especially if we believe that God is the ultimate planter.

          It is funny how your perspective changes as time goes by. When I met my wife, we were engaged after a month and married after 6. If a young couple comes in my office now with the same plan… I’d probably try to discourage them 🙂 oops!

          Reply
  4. Jeanne DeBenedictis
    Jeanne DeBenedictis says:

    I just love this blog and hearing from all of you… so interesting, informative, and often convicting. I want to say, well done guys.. keep up the good work, thank you for your servant hearts and willingness to be a bit risky. I am praying for you all today.
    ps.
    Good post Miles.. and great responses from the rest, thanks again one and all for sharing your insights, wisdom, thoughts and ideas. Grace and peace to you.

    Reply
  5. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    I love this article. Tim and Chuck both have great points about this as well. I think all guys who enter into ministry (pastoring a church/planting, or otherwise) have a bit of pride in them at the beginning. I think we all have an element of thinking that we know what’s wrong with ministries we’ve seen, and that we will do those things in all the right ways when WE are in charge. My experience has been that experience itself tends to show me the foolish areas of pride in my heart where I’ve thought that I knew way more than I actually did. The humbling moments the Lord has brought into my life through getting my hands dirty in ministry gives me a little bit of patience for the guy with no experience struggling with pride. I know that as they step out, the Spirit will use actual experience to humble them. And for sure, to your point, those who are in leadership need to seek to pass on not only the courage of Jesus and Paul, but their humility and servant-heartedness as well to emerging leaders whom the Lord desires to train and empower through us.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Anyone can jump in to correct me on this one… but I’d define it as “living as a missionary in your home culture and local community.”

      I think a lot of people would say, “Yeah, I’m that,” if you were to ask them. But the reality is that we don’t tend to live like that. We often see that as an ideal to aspire to, and think that we are actually doing it.

      If an individual is to live “missionally” they their spending habits, free time decisions, and unbeliever interaction would be similar to someone who was actually living on a foreign field, for the purpose of bringing the gospel to those who are not saved.

      Reply
  6. CJ Kelly III (@PastorCJ3)
    CJ Kelly III (@PastorCJ3) says:

    I’m reading, even if I don’t always comment. 😀

    Miles, I can’t agree more.

    I think that pride manifests itself in various ways. For the younger guys, it can be “I’m gonna show those old dudes how it’s done”. For the older guys, it can be “What do the young bucks know about ministry? I’ve been doing this for XX years.”, and all the points in between. Humility is gonna be key to any longevity in serving the Lord. I really wish I would have understood that earlier on.

    I’m pumped that church planting has come back into a more central focus in recent years. I do think however, that it can become the “vogue” thing, and you’re gonna end up with a bunch of knucklehead rogues who think they’re gonna go plant a church and end up creating messes. I think that a well organized and executed leadership and support system is crucial to healthy church planting, at least if you want those churches (and those leading them) to last. We need church planters, for sure, but if those planters don’t understand and don’t embrace the concept of longevity, than theres a stronger possibility of a crash and burn, I think.

    Anyway, great thoughts, Miles. I appreciate these posts so much, and I’m grateful for Cross Connection!

    CJ

    Reply
  7. Don Steigerwald
    Don Steigerwald says:

    Apostles are a gift to the body of Christ through the Body of Christ.

    1 Cor. 12: 27-30:
    Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I to you a more excellent way.

    The gifts are given TO THE BODY and THROUGH the Body, not to people individually.

    That is: the gift of Pastor is not given to a man, but through a man.
    Same for Apostles and the rest.
    The gift is not given to the man, but to the body, by way of the man (member of the body).

    WE have the gift of Apostle, Prophet, Teacher, through men God has called. (This is to only name a few of the gifts; the positional ones, through all men and women in the Body, the Lord through pours out His gifts.)

    If someone is called to be an Apostle, then they are a gift given to the Church, through
    the Church. There is only One authority and His Body is His fullness. For someone to claim to be an Apostle while excluding themselves from the Body from whence they came, is contrary to the order in which God pours out His gifts.

    If one desires to be great, LET THEM become your servant.

    Great article Miles,

    Thanks

    Reply
  8. Peyton Jones
    Peyton Jones says:

    Hi there Miles. I read your post and let me begin by saying that I agreed with everything that you said in principle. Therefore, in view of your response to my video blog, I’m guessing that you misunderstood my message. I’m guessing that you wrote this before you had a chance to read my response to your comment on the site.

    Perhaps I could have been clearer in what I said, nonetheless, your blog emphasizes what I was trying to say…namely, that there are 5 roles to build up the body, who are hard-wired somewhat differently, lending them to misunderstand each other. Nonetheless, BECAUSE they are wired differently, as they work together, they make up a complete picture of the ministry of Jesus (Eph 4). If you’d kept watching the series, you’d have seen me talking more about the 5 roles working together in order to effectively plant. Ironically, the book that’s currently on it’s way to the publishers is about the 5 roles networking together to take the world by storm.

    For the record, New Breed never approves anybody without the approval of their sending Pastor. I was just communicating (albeit clumsily) the most common feeling relayed by almost every planter we talk to when they first speak to their sending Pastor.

    Miles, I don’t know you…but I’m sure you’re a great guy serving Jesus with all your might. Hope this doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. You’re right down the street from me…let’s do coffee sometime.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Hey Peyton,

      I just watched parts 4 & 5 of your videos, and really I do agree with most everything you shared.

      American – especially independent – evangelical churches tend to have a more lone, charismatic, entrepreneurial leader model. Many in Calvary are definitely of that vain. There is a genuine lack of partnership, and in some ways the older generation (in my experience) is a bit skeptical of such collaboration.

      My entire up-bring has been under an education model that favors “group work.” Therefore my[our] generation (the later part of Gen-X and all Millennials) fully grasps the idea of working with others who are strong where we’re weak. I believe God has created and gifted us in such a way that we must do that if we’re to be effective. In many ways, God forces us to be a body by making us reliant upon one another. So, I’m fully onboard where the 5 roles are concerned. Ephesians 4:11-12 happens to be incredibly important to me personally and for the vision/mission of our church here in Escondido.

      For the record (on my end); This article was not directed at you or New Breed… your videos just happened to the spark laid upon a pile of sticks that have been coming together for awhile.

      By the way, the only reason I hadn’t seen 4 & 5 was that only 1-3 were showing up when I caught a link to your videos. Coffee? Sounds good to me. As long as you don’t require crazy drinks that require 80 syllables to order, like Fusco.

      Reply
  9. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Good stuff.

    Trip, you said

    “As a full-time missionary in SE Asia, I saw the need for equipping those already called & doing church planting – national & ex-pat both. This is the great need in “most of the rest of the world” – equipping those already doing the work.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more…and yet I see this as the great need, not just “the rest of the world”, but also for the church here in America. Equipping those who name the name of Christ is such a vital need…to know Him, and to serve Him by living for Him right where they are, in simple obedience to the truth and vibrancy of His word.

    As I say a lot, quoting an old dead guy…”The world isn’t looking for a better definition of Christianity, they’re looking for a better demonstration of it.”

    Great seeing you on here, Trip!

    Reply

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