The Cost of Apostleship
This subtly offensive statement was one I have heard a lot. For a little while, I hosted a weekly dinner where I invited some non-Christian friends from a nearby Starbucks to eat with a few from my church.
It didn’t go very smoothly. For these church friends, talking to people outside our church community was pretty hard. Some saw it as a challenge to grow. Others saw it as an unattainable “gift” I had.
“I just can’t imagine taking the risk of starting something.”
This one I hear all the time from pastors and teachers, searching through an ever shrinking pool for the perfect church job. These statements depict the reality of today’s church for so many. We are constituents and employees of the institution.
Many churches seem to have forgotten the two most basic impulses of an organism: reproduce and adapt.
Or to use more Biblical language:
We have forgotten how to be an Apostolic movement.
The Other Missional ConversationThere is a conversation happening in the broader church about what it means to be missional. In other words how does the local, day-to-day life of the church flows out of the eternal mission of God. It’s inspired a lot of good theological reflection. However, it has occasionally been co-opted to rebrand many ingredients of church-as-usual.
There also is a parallel conversation happening within a growing segment of the church on what it means to recapture what Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim refer to as “The Apostolic Imagination.”
In their book The Permanent Revolution, they make the case that the book of Ephesians serves as a sort of “constitution” for the Church. Key to understanding what the Church is and how it functions is the APEST: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers who equip the church to carry on the work of Jesus in the world today.
While an Apostle is a specific role within the APEST, the Apostolic impulse drives the church as a whole. This word Apostolic means that the church is always being sent out. It is constantly spreading, recalibrating, translating and reinventing itself for new cultures and generations.
The Apostle, herself or himself, is the individual that most embodies this core impulse. They are the people who are always starting new things and seeking out new opportunities to carry out the ministry of Christ.
Hirsch and Catchim’s call is important, exciting and persuasive. I consider myself and unlikely and unnatural Apostle, only functioning in this role for the time God deems necessary. This personal experience has shed light on at least five costs of Apostleship.
Five Costs of Apostleship
1. Apostles will often be bootstrappers.
You gotta eat.
By definition, an Apostle is creating something new. Raising support has its place, and a church that can fully fund their workers is a huge blessing. However, for reasons to be explained below, the Apostle will often be bi-vocational.
We already know this from scripture. Paul was a craftsman, often building and selling tents. Peter had been a fisherman, and may have continued to cast nets for his dinner.
You sell one thing in the meantime to enable you to pursue your larger goals. The secular start-up world has a word for this: Bootstrapping.
A lot of people are talking about being bi-vocational these days, but I’m not sure we’ve counted the cost as a church. Too many church “professionals” have no idea how they would survive in the secular marketplace.
Getting from here to there is going to be costly. We need seminaries that also teach vocational skills, anything from plumbing to computer programming. We need existing churches to help pay for retraining their leaders to thrive in non-church related businesses. We need church leaders to reevaluate their expectation of a 40-hour week related solely to the work of the church.
2. Apostles will be misunderstood
An Apostle should fully expect to be misunderstood, maligned and even persecuted by religious insiders and offended outsiders.
Some insiders will naturally be offended. The act of trying to create something new can often be taken as an offense to what already exists. The Apostle can easily be misunderstood as saying “Your church isn’t doing it right. That’s why I’m here.”
Some outsiders will be offended. The Apostle is creating relationships and environments in the hope of leading people to reevaluate their very reality. The Apostle can easily be misunderstood as saying “Your understanding of reality is dangerous. I’m here to fix you.”
The true Apostolic calling is about constantly creating opportunities for real people in a specific time and place to respond to Jesus’s claim that the kingdom of God is at hand. For the Apostle, there is always new places, new people groups and new generations that need to hear.
As lives are changed, some will come to understand who the Apostle is and why they do what they do. Being misunderstood along the way is unavoidable.
3. Apostles are often unsettled.
Since the apostle is constantly working to birth something new, they seldom can settle into what currently exists.
This is not to be confused with an insatiable appetite for adventure. It is not a lack of capacity to find joy in the present. It is simply the recognition that “sent-ness” is a verb. It will sooner or later result in being sent again.
Unsettledness does not necessarily mean un-groundedness. The apostle will find grounding in the consistent practice of spiritual disciplines. The apostles relationships will be forged in deep connections that come from shared life-changing adventures.
It does mean that the apostle addresses their current task or mission with the additional clause “for the time being…”
4. An Apostle must share responsibilities
The inevitable result of what we are describing here is that the Apostle can’t do it all.
This is why Paul traveled in teams. This is why Peter’s team instituted deacons and Timothy installed elders.
This is also, according to Hirsh, Catchim and a rising chorus why an Ephesians 4 must be understood as being a sort of “constitution” for the church. An apostle may kickstart a church or movement. Seeing it grow into the full measure of Jesus will require prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
As a bi-vocational church planter, I deal with this every day. There are events I cannot coordinate and people I cannot pastor. We only have a church because so many others are stepping up.
5. Many of the things apostles try will fail.
The great thing about being an apostle is trying new things with new people in new places. The
reality of these is that only some of them will “succeed” (by any definition of success).
In Church Planting world, you often hear the lament that 80% of new churches “fail.” Similar stats can be found about new businesses.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that we lament the failure of church plants. What if instead, we expect and prepared for some failure?
Not everywhere Paul preached resulted in a thriving church community. The fact that he kept going and tried new things is a testimony to his mindset.
In the end, the role of an apostle has to be understood as a vocation. It is something that you can “not not do.”
Apostles keep “apostle-ing” whether they are paid or not. They try something different when they fail. They try something new when they succeed. They keep at it because it is just who they are.
The cost of Apostleship, for the individual and the apostolic church, is high. But not nearly as high as the cost of a slow death.