Recently I have had the opportunity of attending several of our denomination’s annual gatherings and immediately I recognize what our denominational leaders have long understood about our very congregational structure– there is not one Conference like another.
The culture, the ambiance, the spirit of the people assembled in each conference is distinct and… beautiful. Each conference is an expression of a different orientation toward leadership and love of the church. It makes sense! We migrate towards those with whom we have the most in common.
Which is also a possible reason why our denomination has experienced so much conflict, we just don’t exactly understand anybody else.
Over the last couple of years I have been training as a trainer for five-fold leadership orientation termed ‘5Q intelligence’ by Alan Hirsch, a leadership survey based on the “APEST: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher” description.
If I were to explain the different gifts in everyday language, I would use the example of chocolate–
HOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GIFTS LISTED IN EPHESIANS 4?:
APOSTLE: If an Apostle had an amazing piece of chocolate what would she do with it? Understanding the value of the chocolate she would immediately want to find a way to get that chocolate into the hands of every person in the United States in the fastest, most efficient and cost effective way possible. She would have vision, big pictures, and purpose in mind.
PROPHET: The Prophet would see the chocolate and know that we have been given the role of stewardship. She would ask questions like, “What did God intend for the use of this chocolate and how do we maintain God’s purposes?” She would be attuned to the heart of God, but ALSO be aware of the Shalom of God’s people. She would be mindful that nobody had too much and none too little. She would be a deep listener to both God and people and only cry out after all the dots between God’s intention and the Shalom of the community had been identified (and too often abused).
EVANGELIST: The Evangelist would take one taste of the amazing chocolate and then insist that everyone she knows would (not just should) TRY IT! No questions asked. She believes it! You should too! She infectiously communicates the power of chocolate and everyone should join along. It is hard to get her to entertain any thought beyond her own belief, because she is sure of what she has experienced! (We all know these people from food to phone preferences)!
SHEPHERD: The Shepherd immediately would see the chocolate as a gift to the community. It would be used as a way to communicate care and love to the community. It is a source of celebration and a source of comfort and even a source of reward after challenge.
AND TEACHER: The Teacher would be concerned about the origins of the chocolate. They could give you the historical context for the discovery of chocolate, how its purpose have evolved over history, as well as possibly the chemical make up — the deconstruction and reconstruction of the perfect chocolate morsel would be their utmost concern. It must be rightfully thought out and historically and contextually accurate.
Each gift is different, but each gift is necessary. Where would the chocolate company be without the APOSTLE? Or the TEACHER? No prophet = no integrity. No Evangelist = no sales. And we all have a significant need to have someone who wants to shepherd. Not one gift should be valued above the other.
It would be like the hand not understanding why the foot insists on constantly being covered on long hard walks in the sun. My hands get sweaty fast when I’m working hard– but my feet still need protection from rough terrain. If either my hands or feet insisted the other behave like them– my whole body would feel the hurt.
Looking at the examples above, if someone gave you some chocolate…what would you do with it?
In my brief and not so brief introductions of our denominational Conferences I could venture a guess and describe their characteristics as:
SHEPHERD/EVANGELIST: The spirit of our Conference is that we love being a part of this community and loving and caring for each other, and you should too! Care for the community and promotion of our community is of utmost importance. If everyone could experience what it means to join us, they would instantly understand.
APOSTLE/EVANGELISTS: The spirit of the Conference is the big picture of promoting the gospel in the clearest most efficient way possible. It needs to be easily replicated message so that it can reach the farthest most ends of the earth in the most efficient way possible. We believe Jesus is the good news and therefore there is no stopping us. It is a big vision that is infectiously communicated.
TEACHER/SHEPHERD: The spirit of this Conference carries with it the long storied experience of History and Theology and community. We hope that if we can pass along the importance of our story and the reason for our thinking that our communities will be a light to everyone around us.
PROPHET/SHEPHERD: The spirit of this Conference is aware that God is still active and moving and that God is still full of surprises. There is a passionate desire that we devote ourselves to seeking where the status quo has fallen short of the “BIG-NESS” of God. We hope that our community will be able to communicate how big God is and how deep his desire to be in relationship with everyone is.
Yes, I am only describing four different conferences out of 20 some conferences, but these are the four very distinct conferences I have the privilege of experiencing.
Here are a few questions for you to think about before we move on:
If you reflect on the community you’d feel most at home in as a couple of the APEST gifting – what would it be?
What do you think the make up of the culture of your church/leadership team/conference is right now?
What would it look like for us to engage some of the weaker or more absent of the five – to revive the outside voice, purse maturity through embracing weakness, stay open by exploring other areas of gifting etc…?
The point is not to be exhaustive, but to seriously make a point.
If according to Ephesians, Paul’s most profound description of what the church should be and how according to chapter four different orientations/giftings were gifted for the purpose of UNITY AND FOR BUILDING UP THE BODY OF CHRIST AND FOR MATURITY (which according to biology maturity = reproduction).
WE NEED ALL OF THE GIFTS! (YES I AM SHOUTING!)
We need each other!
There is not one of us that is mature in the sense of Ephesians 4 fully of our own right. If our conferences simply begin to look like everyone who agrees with us then we need each other more than we did before. Which is now! If we are all hands where would the body be?
Not only would I be a foot on my own, but I am broken foot.
But what if we are all just a stupid broken foot on our own? Yes, I said that. (I am currently in a “walking boot” because recently I broke a small part of my stupid foot and it hurts me and holds me back from the fullness of life).
BUT we are a part of a whole body.
The worst part of a broken foot is trying to negotiate how to go up and down stairs in a “walking boot.” But guess what? I scaled a mountain last weekend because I could use my whole body to move with the other three limbs who are unharmed! The walking boot was an afterthought.
That is the body of Christ as meant to be. If we are harmed we look and honor and understand the purpose of the other. The other parts of the body compensate for the injured one.
If the Church is to thrive we need across the board to begin to recognize where the other giftings, according to Ephesians 4, fill in our own gaps towards maturity. This is God’s design for an important reason. God never acts outside of community. It is designed that way. We have been designed that way. The Church has been designed that way!
We live in such a disgusting, despairing, broken world. I pray that in the midst of this darkness the fullness of Christ is calling us back into unity for the maturity of the body– so that we can replicate disciples who love each other, and the rest of the world.
MAY IT BE SO! (YES! I’M SHOUTING!)