Modern Day Pauls?

masksMany tout themselves as modern-day apostles and church planters like Paul, but where’s their Antioch?

Although Paul functioned as an apostolic church planter, his self-expressed credentials included the fact that he continued as an elder – meaning he remained grounded in and part of the local leadership of his home church in Antioch. All too often we ignore the fact that Paul was commissioned and sent by his local church on his apostolic missions, but only after having proven himself over many years in the context of that local, functioning fellowship.

He would then return for a season to his home church in Antioch at the end of his various apostolic, church-planting journeys (except for his last, where history says he was beheaded in Rome), before being sent out again.

Beware of gifted but itinerant men and women who want to “help” your local church as modern-day Paul’s, but lack ongoing community with, roots in, commission from and accountability to another functioning local church.

Some of us have been around long enough to see past incarnations of such floating, unattached “ministries” to local churches.

In the 70’s and 80’s, they proliferated within the Charismatic movement – mainly among those who were certainly gifted but nonetheless could never succeed at finding healthy church with accountable community in their own lives.

Often, they were authors or good aspirational communicators who had exciting ideas, but only answered to themselves. Sometimes, however, they’d form loose associations where they only answered to each other in lieu of having any Antiochs in their lives – which only tended to reinforce the shared theological or dispositional idiosyncrasies which attracted them to each other in the first place.

Without exception, over time problems emerged with each and every of them – and with the churches that affiliated with them. (And I mean that – I can’t think of a single one who did not fall prey to one disqualifying problem or another, often related to pride or just becoming increasingly weird!)

There’s too much of this stuff starting to emerge again today, especially within the “organic” church community. It is fraught with danger, unbiblical, and will only lead to disaster.

~ Jim Wright

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32 responses

  1. Jim – Like following your posts. You through me a curve ball calling out “especially within the organic community” part….do explain.

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    • The idea of an itinerant church planter or even self-named “apostle” is actively promoted by certain elements of the organic church community, but without the balance of any Antioch in their lives. In fact, there is one “organic” church web site where you can ask for a “church planter” to contact you, yet some of the referrals from that site do not have any Antioch type fellowship to provide any roots, commission, accountability or community in their lives.

      I don’t see this focus on floating, unattached “church planters” as much in the traditional, institutional church environment. There, you more often find the slick hired “consultants” who peddle their church planting and church growth formulas. But at least there, you know what you are getting (if you are foolish enough to hire them and buy into their formulas).

      I updated my blog to try to make it more clear.

      I’m not sure if I answered your question. If not, let me know.

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  2. well said. i tend to think in some areas there are no antiochs. so in that regard im wondering if people want to help it should be much more on the level of brothers than apostles or leaders or experts. Put another way to the degree there is no antioch, dial back promoting oneself as some sort of church planter or missional expert so to speak. Antiochs have to start out of something afterall and people need hope authentic church life can come about even if they don’t have an american organic church planter to call on. I totally agree that sometimes/often people gathering around a leader who is attached to a known and recognized traditional/institutional church can end up much better than if the leader was an independent self proclaimed organic church planter. That said I don’t think we need to raise the bar so high, that it seems there are only a few good men in distant lands that can help start or grow something healthy and organic.

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  3. The updated version is much more clear, Jim. Thanks for adding that. I agree with everything you said, and perhaps in a future post, I would love to hear your thoughts on what accountability looks like for independent ministries. That is, if you think a church can be independent (or perhaps non-denominational might be a better word) and still maintain accountability and community with other congregations. This seems to me a topic not only relevant but vital.

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  4. It seems like discernment is no longer relevant. It is God’s church and when we make it “ours” we hire people to “keep up with the Joneses”. I agree with you on being careful about these loose cannons but once in a while God still sent a servant of His that has no attachments.

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    • Yes, God can use (I question if He’d send) someone with no attachments. But I have yet to see an instance where this didn’t start well, but end in disaster. It may take years for the problems to become evident, but they will emerge. Again, I know of no exceptions in nearly fifty years of experience and observing this phenomenon play out time and again.

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  5. I have to say the church I attend now seems to have a steady flow of outsiders coming through when I would rather hear from our local pastor on a more consistent basis. I suspect most of the itinerant visitors are ‘anchored’ somewhere, so your primary point may not fit, but still there seems to be a preference for the latest (charismatic) teaching from the lead churches rather than for the steady teaching of the Word. Could this fit the passage about “itching ears?”

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  6. We may also consider that Paul was better connected than merely Antioch; he associated with other itinerants/apostles. This is a marker to be watched, as those who isolate themselves into a circle of friends carry a “yellow flag”; if their “Antioch” is also isolated or sectarian, than a “red flag” for them.
    An itinerant worker should NOT come as an “ideas” man. Working among the ekklesias cannot be about the newest ideas cooked up by clever minds. Instead, the worker reminds brethren in things for which are already known in/among the churches (even from Acts 2, forward).
    Let’s not forget that it is the Holy Spirit who is to be doing the sending, along with the ekklesia confirming & cooperating in Christ’s Spirit. Not every “sending” will become somebody’s textbook example; the Spirit of God is not bound to a mechanical methodology.
    There is need for us to track closely with all itinerant workers (including Paul in his day, who stumbled in a big way once or twice). Communicate among yourselves in love for the sake of the work of the Gospel!

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    • Marshall, your comment also reminds me that Paul spent a lot of time in the places he traveled, sometimes years. He was willing to invest a great deal of himself into a city. He was not the kind of itinerant preacher who swept in for one or two meetings, took an offering and disappeared. Paul was not only connected to other churches in other places, but he made it a point to develop a long term connection with the places in which he ministered.

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        • Don and Tom,
          yes, more than a “cameo appearance”. And if they request that a collection be made for them, best not to.
          Of course, all this invites the opportunity for you to get to know a traveler or 2, but not to raising them upon a pedestal in your mind. We remember what the Master says, how we are all brothers. Neither ought you give them grief through weeks of verbal examinations, as the Kingdom of God does not consist in so many mere words (that quickly lead to sin): yet fail not to examine their deeds (even as you are doing one for another).
          This is a Family member visiting from afar. Paul dialogued [dielegeto] with those together in Acts 20, and such is the way of Christ with His brethren; so please don’t request a monologue “presentation”.

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  7. I think the facet that brings confidence has primarily to do with relationship. Not gifting or ability…be it in preaching, teaching, or moving in the gifts. It has to do with confidence in the godly character, sound doctrine, track record. This flows out of relationship. I seek to work with folk I know and trust. In the early church the network was much smaller and the pace of life was slower. People were connected.

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  8. Jim-

    Could you point to some examples of people who you believe are doing this well, i.e. functioning in an apostolic role while remaining rooted in/affirmed by a local body?

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    • Chris, good question. Those who are fulfilling the apostolic role, in my mind, are functioning as church planters and master builders (to use Paul’s phrase) who are expanding the Kingdom of God into new cultures, sub-cultures and communities where it has been weak or absent (as opposed to starting churches that just re-shuffle the deck of existing Christians in an area). They also are not then staying around to build that church around themselves, but allowing indigenous leadership to emerge from fellowship in the local church.

      The folks I know who are doing this would never, ever accept or allow anyone to call them an “apostle” because it is their spiritual DNA to work behind the scenes and build others. Thus, you will not hear of them, see flyers or web sites promoting them, or be exposed to self promotion. You may hear of what they are doing, but never under the title “apostle”.

      Those who assume or expect the title of “apostle” today, in my experience, are never really apostles. Seriously, in over forty years of walking with the Lord and being a leader in the Body of Christ, I have yet to encounter a self-named “apostle” who is one.

      Having said that, I know folks who are doing the work of apostles, but even if I listed their names here (and they would be horrified at me doing so because they have no need or desire for recognition), you would not know them. They are the nobodies of the Kingdom, joyfully planting, building and then leaving behind local communities of healthy fellowships in the places that the professional church-plant consultants and denominational church-plant programs wouldn’t want to go.

      These true apostolic laborers are firmly rooted in a local fellowship where they have peer relationships and have proven themselves worthy and mature enough to go onto the frontlines and plant and build up other fellowships. They are sent because they have been successful at establishing healthy fellowship in their own ekklesia (the Greek word often translated “church”), and they are just continuing to do in new areas or cultures what they have already proven themselves called to and gifted at in their own community. Even when they go to new areas that are too far from their home fellowship to stay in community there, they are in constant touch with home and periodically return to give an account, renew their batteries, and keep their vitally needed relationships in tact. This is as important to them as the ministry God has given them, because they know that without that foundation of healthy fellowship themselves, they can’t reproduce healthy fellowship.

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      • After reading several of your articles, I’m curious as to what you consider an authentic apostle to look like? It seems that you associate the calling of an apostle primarily as someone who starts assemblies and is submitted to a local assembly? I’d like to hear your understanding of the calling in more depth if you have time.

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        • I’m still figuring it out. I’m sharing what I have learned as I learn it, but there is still much that I don’t understand. Any thoughts or experiences you might have would be appreciated!

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          • I’m sorry it took me so long to reply, but there’s so much to say about the calling I don’t know where to begin and don’t want to turn this into a book. Do let me stay by saying that i see two different ideas right now, both being close, but both missing the mark. On one side, the IC side, people claim and promote as apostles anyone with a following, gifting of leadership, or charisma without looking for the tell tale signs of the calling. On the other side, the non ic’ers, people want to claim and promote as apostles those who become known for planting our beginning fellowships, again without demonstrating the tell tale signs of the calling. An apostle is always a leader, but only an extreme few leaders are apostles. As part of their calling, an apostle may start new fellowships, but very few who begin new fellowships are emissaries.

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  9. Jim, I write this in the light of thoroughly appreciating your posts. I agree with the spirit of what you have said as a general warning, but have some reservations, in that it casts doubt on all “ill-connected” ministries. It is true that historically we can see that Paul had the church in Antioch as a base and from his contact with them we can deduce the ideal relationship of church planters to a church. Having said that, we cannot make the historical account of this a precedent for all circumstances. Few churches today are anything like the early churches and many choose to live apart from what have become institutionalized Antiochs where the Spirit may be greatly hindered, while seeking a better way.

    What would Paul have done if his first church was one of our modern churches where we experience little mutual submission? Surely the connection to be tested is the person’s connection to Jesus and not a church, although both are ideal. This can be done by testing the teaching with the word of God and seeing if they have fruit in their lives. Jesus’ ministry began like this with little evidence to home church (the “church” of His day) connection. I feel that today it’s easier to find oneself in the mess of being in tradition bound, institutionalized or spiritually bankrupt churches like Jesus was, than in the Spirit led church of Antioch. While having accountability to a body is ideal and should be sought by all, it is not a prerequisite to being used.

    If interested, my latest post touches on today’s problems in the Church http://realchurchlife.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/hierarchical-leadership-the-main-hindrance-in-the-body-of-christ-part-3

    Rob Morley

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  13. I think that at better idea than “hire” a person to come and “fix-us-up and inspire us”, would be to send someone from your church to visit, preferably live in for a while, with wellfuncioning churches/groups and come back with some new wine to share. And ideally some from them come to us and come home with some of that very nice honey we have.

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  14. I am amazed to read the old comment thread since subsequently I did move on to a different fellowship which has virtually no itinerant “apostles” speak in the main gathering…the few that do are announced well in advance and their credentials are presented…which have, so far, always included ministry in a specific assembly where they usually attend.
    You caught me with a word I’d missed before…aspirational…had to look it up…ambitious; desiring success. I guess I had thought you meant inspirational…much more positive overtones in the context of communication.

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