An engagement of 4 parts:
JR draws the discussion of polycentric leadership, culture, and the Ephesians 4 text into the whole of the Biblical story. This link to the Biblical narrative is tremendously important and proves to be a major strength of this section. To start us off, we are introduced to Jesus as the archetypical culture creator in chapter 10. It draws on the life of Jesus as the prime example for the culture creators we find in Ephesians; apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. All these in practice contribute to and facilitate our participation with God in the pursuit of shalom on this planet and in our contexts.
In this section JR is definitely in his writing sweet spot. His years of practical, earthed discipleship shine through as he describes just who and what is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. As JR unpacks each, the common thread is that each is shaped by it’s goal of facilitating God’s shalom in our time and place. A stark reminder as our goals do end up shaping us. If the goal of a church community is merely to survive and maintain a status quo, or be different just for the sake of being different, the structures will communicate this reality. As we learned in part 2, our structures are theological statements.
In the church world (though it could just be my context) it seems that we are quite good at equipping people to become teachers and pastors. Our seminary’s and Bible Schools do well to empower and train people to be those kinds of leaders. I have heard some amazing sermons and read some amazing books in my time. I have also participated in conversations with some amazing pastors whose gifts have indeed healed my soul. This is significant and should not be understated. Yet, JR argues that they should not be the only leaders and culture creators in our communities.
Many writers and bloggers have rightfully stated that we do not empower our apostles, evangelists and prophets enough. As a result our church communities suffer. I can go over a seemingly endless line of stories that point to this reality. Painful stories of where our communities have failed empower and encourage apostles, evangelists and prophets. This is of particular concern as these are the leaders who often find themselves pulled into places beyond the metaphorical walls of church communities and into a Post Christian world not familiar with Jesus. This is one important point of engagement that this book offers. Church communities need a healthy understanding of apostles, prophets and evangelists. Further yet, church communities need to create cultures in which these gifts are allowed to flourish. The interplay of all 5 cultural equippers creates a missionality that empowers communities to pursue shalom. It is difficult for this to happen if we are only formed by our teachers and pastors.
It also raises another set of questions too broad for me to engage in this post but very important to engage when working through this material. Do we ask our vocational pastors, because they are paid, to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers too? What are the implications? Is bi-vocationalism the answer as many in the missional conversation claim? Do institutional churches which pay pastors miss the point? Can institutional churches which pay pastors participate fully in polycentric leadership structures? Important questions for me, as I am a full time paid pastor. Another post for another time perhaps.
I was thankful for the engagement and definition (or ‘re’ definition) of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. JR offers stories and contemporary examples which encourage the reader to think about what each culture creator could look like in their particular context. In the name of praxis (or practice) the ‘living it locally’ section at the end of each chapter on the 5 different equippers plays on a compelling strength of this section. It offers practical examples of what each equipper could look like all the while pointing to the ‘goal’ of facilitating or pursuing shalom in a particular time and place. Our goals shape us, and our structures are theological statements.
This section of the book is an encouragement and a blessing and offers the stinging challenge, “how do we empower our apostles, prophets and evangelists?”
My review of Part 4 and Conclusions drops next week. If you haven’t done so yet, check out the reviews of the first two sections. Links found at the top of the post.