This article was originally published by The Mennonite

First things first: God first sent apostles

Ervin Stutzman

Mennonite Church USA

And God has appointed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers … —1 Corinthians 12:28

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.—Ephesians 4:11-12 (TNIV)

Joining in God’s activity in the world, WE develop and nurture missional Mennonite congregations of many cultures. —Mennonite Church USA Statement of Purpose

Many Christians assume that the day of apostles is over, that the need for apostolic ministry died along with the original 12 sent by Christ into the world. I choose to differ. As long as there are communities that need the transforming power of God’s good news offered through Jesus Christ, there is a need for apostolic ministry.

Stutzman_Ervin_2In The Shaping of Things to Come, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch make a convincing case for the apostolic function, whereby leaders pioneer new missional churches and oversee their development. Further, these authors suggest that congregations need the ministry of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, just as they did in the apostle Paul’s day. Frost and Hirsh believe these five categories of leaders carry out the social functions of entrepreneurs, questioners, communicator/recruiters, humanizers and systematizers. A full-orbed leadership team, including the role of apostle, is needed in order to fully establish new communities of the kingdom.

Seth McCoy, pastor of Third Way Church in St. Paul, Minn., says that their church has “been inspired by Ephesians 4:11 to build a shepherding team of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher to remain in the tension of faithfulness and mission.” This new congregation in the Central Plains Mennonite Conference seeks to “disciple and empower contrast communities of peace, justice, sharing, submission, equality, simplicity and agape love to engage in the mission of reconciling all things to God.”

Alan Roxburgh, in Evangelical, Ecumenical and Anabaptist Missiologies in Conversation (2006), proposes a paradigm of leadership that contrasts the operating models of a typical pastor with that of a missional pastor who functions in an apostolic way. In The Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality, Roxburgh further asserts that “discipling and equipping require a leadership that demonstrates encounter with the culture in action. “This is the role of the apostle,” and “pastor, as apostle, is foundational to all other functions,” he says.

I pray that we can recapture the missionary spirit of the early church, when Christians were a minority who lived on the margins of the empire. George Hunter in How to Reach Secular People (1992) suggests that the “situation we face today is much like what the early apostolic church faced.” He shows that these believers (1) faced a population with no knowledge of the gospel, (2) turned the hostile persecution into a positive attitude toward the Christian movement, (3) witnessed to an empire with entrenched religions and (4) invited people to join the messianic community and follow Jesus as Lord.

Starting new churches is one of the primary expressions of apostolic ministry. For this reason, I am heartened to see the renewed interest in church planting within many different cultural groups in Mennonite Church USA. At a recent church planters’ retreat sponsored by the mission program of Virginia Mennonite Conference, there were six languages of prayer represented, with people from at least 10 different countries of origin. This same phenomenon is evident in many other areas of our country. See the April issue of The Mennonite for a map depicting the locations where new churches are getting started.

The renewal and growth of Mennonite Church USA will depend on our commitment to put first things first—affirming the office of apostolic ministry on which God founded the church. If we hope to move from maintenance to mission, we need apostles who can lead the way.

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