Ed Stetzer in Conversation with Alan Hirsch

The following article is an excerpt from an interview between Ed Stetzer, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim that was first published on the CT site. The book that is referenced is “The Permanent Revolution,” which is officially unofficial required reading for the apostolic thinker.

Why aren’t more theologians writing on the apostolic ministry of the church?

Two things come to mind: Language and our localized notion of the church. As far as language, the word apostle literally means to “be sent.” The Latin form of the word is missio, and it is where we get our word mission and missionary from. Therefore all talk of missional church in de facto talk about apostolic movements.

There is undoubtedly some reservations when it comes to integrating the word apostellointo our vocabulary of leadership and ministry. For whatever reasons, even the denominations that pride themselves on being biblical and using biblical frameworks and language to carry on contemporary discourse about ecclesiology have for some reason felt the need to edit this language out of their lexicons and formal discourse. The word is right there staring us in the face, along with at least eight other people in the New Testament being called apostles outside of the 12.

Whatever reservations are there, the biblical evidence warrants a re-integration of this terminology into our language of ministry and leadership functions within the church. Until the word is accurately translated (rather than transliterated into Latin) we say that we should opt for the language being used in scripture. Since when did we Protestants prefer Latin to Greek??

The second being our overly localized notions of the church. The church clearly has a local expression, no one can doubt this. However, the church also has a city wide, regional and global dimension as well. If we expand our notions of the churches to fit the biblical (movemental) proportions, than ministry and leadership are no longer restricted to the more parochial interests of the local dimension.

It seems that the local dimensions of the church have eclipsed our understanding of the church and monopolized our imaginations. This has, inadvertently, pre-scripted the scope of and nature of what can rightly be called legitimate forms of ministry and leadership. In other words, if the local church is THE model of church, the exclusion of the citywide, regional and global dimensions, the leadership and ministry of the church will be limited to what can happen and take place within that local setting.

Seeing that the apostolic function has a trans-local dynamic built into it’s very nature, a strictly localized notion of the church will inevitably de-legitimize the forms of ministry and leadership within the church that operate outside of the localized parameters – the apostolic being case in point.

From this angle, the apostolic ministry, outside of foreign missions, has literally been off the map for most people. The more localized notions of the church have all but edited this function out of our imagination.

You often use the metaphor of DNA when describing the behavior of APEST in the local church. You also describe use the image of a genetic mutation (I love that) to describe failure to lock into the core DNA of the gospel. Every philosophical/methodological trend in church history serves a purpose for a season, and has distinct strengths and weaknesses. If churches, on the whole, adopt a missional, APEST philosophy of ministry (as you describe in your book), what mutations would you predict we then need to guard against next?

The temptation is always to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Right now, we are pretty much locked in to a two-fold ministry paradigm, that of the Shepherd-Teacher. If the church answers its call to fan out its notion of what legitimate forms of leadership and ministry look like, and integrates the APE’s into the equation, it will have to resist the energies of fragmentation that emerge anytime diversity is recognized and affirmed.

This is one reason what we end the APEST section with an all-out exploration into the apostolic function. The diversity within APEST needs a unifying force to hold it together. Without a compelling external mission coupled by an internal motivation to unity, then wakening the diversity within APEST could eventually lead to dissipation. We need the apostolic ministry to provide that missional focal point around which the diversity within APEST can find a unifying vision and rigorous venture to collaborate around.

But truth is, serious dysfunction will inevitably come when one form of ministry predominates over the others. Partly because one form cannot possibly represent the whole ministry of Christ in the world, but partly because there will be no balancing in the leadership equation and all the dysfunctions will come to the fore. So for example when one form of APEST leadership is dis-located from the others it will tend to monopolize the culture and to have a negative effect in the long run. The one-leader type church is most at risk in this case, but we can all recall organizations that demonstrate the truth of this.

So for instance,

A: If an apostolic leader dominates then church/organization will tend to be hard-driving, autocratic, with lots of pressure for change and development, and will leave lots of wounded people in its wake. As such it is not sustainable and will tend to dissolve with time.

P: If the prophetic dominates, then the whole organization will have a one-dimensional (always harking back to one or two issues) feel, will likely be factious and sectarian, have a “super-spiritual” vibe, or somewhat paradoxically, will tend to be either too activist in to be sustainable or too quietist to be useful. This is not a viable form of organization.

E: When an evangelistic leader dominates, the organization will have a obsession with numerical growth, will create dependence on effervescent charismatic leadership, and will tend to lack theological breadth as well as depth. This type of organization will not empower many people at all.

S: When pastoral leadership monopolizes the church/organization will tend to be risk-averse, co-dependent and needy, and overly lacking in healthy dissent and therefore creativity. Such an organization will lack innovation and generativity and will not be able to be transfer it’s core message and tasks from one generation to the next.

T: When teachers/ theologians rule, the church will be ideological, controlling, moralistic, and somewhat uptight. A rationalistic, doctrine-obsessed, Christian Gnosticism (the idea that we are saved by what we know) will tend to replaces reliance on the Holy Spirit. These types of organization will be exclusive based on ideology like the Pharisees.

You discuss entrepreneurial risk and innovation in ministry and obviously value creative strategies. Given the antiquity of the gospel, why must we continue to innovate and dream up new ways of doing the same things?

The gospel will always be the gospel, and this is the compass by which we navigate our efforts to be risky and innovative. With the ever changing cultural landscape of the West, we are faced with an ever increasing level of complexity. The historical reality of the gospel, and the surplus of meaning within it’s multiple metaphors i.e. redemption, reconciliation, etc., provide us with the linguistic storehouse, as well as the conceptual capacities to mediate the power of the gospel in every age.

However, once the gospel has been planted in a particular context, we have to let the resulting ecclesia begin to work out in its own culturally appropriate ways of how and where to gather, how to pursue biblical forms of leadership, and how to subversively live the gospel in their context. In every age the church has learned to hold on to the unchanging truths of the gospel while mediating that truth in ways that not only affirm the positive elements of their host culture, but eventually subvert the dark sides of that culture that stand to enhance the principalities and powers of the enemy.

If you were interviewing the duo, what question would you like to ask? Answers to your question could be our next post!