Church planting movements and apostolic leadership
In my last post on church planting movements I suggests planting churches around new believers. This in turn requires a different of leadership. It requires apostolic leadership. By apostle, here, I do not mean the foundational twelve (plus Paul) who laid the apostolic testimony upon which the church is built. I do not mean people who knew the Risen Christ and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave an infallible and ultimately canonical account of the Truth akin to the prophetic word in the Old Testament.
I mean instead pioneering church planters who oversaw the planting of networks of household congregations.
Consider Paul. He plants churches, sometimes after two or three years, but sometimes after two or three weeks. Then he moves on. But he retains a strong interest and involvement in the churches. He visits them. He writes to them. He corrects them. He encourages them. He sends people to appoint leaders and to remove leaders. It is hands on involvement. The churches he leaves behind go astray, but Paul is there to correct them.
We have a notion of an ideal church leader that reflects a traditional of a church of 100 people with 45 minutes of oratory each week. But leaders of small, household congregations will very different. The main criteria will be character (just as it was in the Pastoral Epistles). We think leaders must cope with every potential heresy and every potential pastoral problem. But this assumes new church plants are wholly independent and self-sustaining. This need not be if they are connected to a wider network where people can be supported in their leadership.
I was talking to Mark Moore, the leader of a TCH-affiliated church planting network in Dallas, Texas. How do we replicate quickly and thrust Christians into leadership without risking heresy and heartbreak? The answer is that Paul did it and then produced half of the New Testament to cope with the fall out. In other words, apostolic leaders provide the support and correctives needed as you go along. Hirsch says an apostle is ‘the custodian’ of the gospel. We do not wait until all possible precautionary measures have been taken beforehand. That way stagnation lies. That will kill church planting movements before they get off the ground. David Garrison points out that seminaries, far from keeping grassroots churches free from heresy, have more often been the source of heresy. The underground house churches of China have no seminaries and only a few short-term training centres. Yet Tony Lambert’s assessment of them is this:
It is my conviction after over 20 years’ first-hand contact with the house churches that the heart of the movement is thoroughly biblical, evangelical and led by the Spirit of God … They accept the full authority of Scripture as the infallible Word of God, the atonement of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation from sin and all the evangelical certainties of the historic Christian faith.
Enfranchising every Christian
But apostolic leadership is not the starting point. The key ingredient is every member seeing themselves as a church planter. Apostles then become a support structure for this . (Perhaps the problem is that people who write, speak and strategise about these things are apostolic by nature so they respond to their own first question, ‘What do people like me do?’ and build structures around the answer to that question.)
What of the ‘fivefold ministries’ that many advocate? People take the five ministries describe in Ephesians 4 and argue that these are ‘must have’ complimentary ministries that are found in all successful movements. Sometimes this is an argument for apostolic leadership of the kind I have advocated above. Nevertheless, I am not persuaded by a neat fivefold . It smacks of modernism which always want to systematise organic realities. The fivefold ministries are no more exhaustive and complete as the various lists of gifts. (People distinguish between gifts and ministries in defend the unique status of Ephesians 4, but this smacks of special pleading.)
Where has apostolic leadership been?
Why has apostolic leadership been missing all these years? Perhaps it hasn’t. We have a of church as a large gathering that requires a high level of rhetorical skills (the ability to deliver 45 minute sermons) and a high level of leadership or managerial skills (the ability to lead a small to medium size business). Perhaps these are apostolic skills, but we only have one – that of large congregations – in which to direct them. Apostolically-gifted individuals leading such churches often innovate. They may use their apostolic gifting to grow churches, often at the expense of other smaller local congregations. But such people are forced to function, not as pioneers in church planting, but as pastors concerned with maintenance. Often the route they take than enables them to take on a wider role that matches their gifting is through involvement in parachurch organisations.
The main problem, however, with this of church and therefore of leadership is that it disenfranchises many potential church planters (every Christian?!) because they are not apostolic! They cannot lead a large congregation. They do not have the oratory, nor the leadership acumen to lead a small business. So they think they cannot church plant.
 Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 1986), 153.
 David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (www.imb.org/cpm, 1999), 47.
 Tony Lambert, China’s Christian Millions (Monarch, Rev. Ed., 2006), 180-181.