While we often read and hear stories of the big companies and larger churches in our communities, statistics reflect that the significant majority of businesses (99 percent in fact) and churches are small.
Blessing of being Small
Perhaps there is something to be said for the blessing of being small that our culture often chooses to ignore. For such a time as this, in the midst of a rapidly changing context of church and ministry, I am blessed to serve as a pastor of a relatively small church. The journey of being pastor has been far from easy, yet it has also been a journey filled with blessings that I could never have imagined decades ago—blessings that have helped me celebrate that I am called to lead in a small church on a Big Mission.
Making Disciples who make Disciples
In the fall of 2017, the book Small Church on a Big Mission: Cultivating Missional Discipleship in Smaller Churches was published by 3DM Publishing as a journal of discovery. It chronicles my discovery of who I am as a beloved child of God and reflects the character and competencies that God has been developing in me over the last fifteen-plus years through a variety of ministry experiences. Most importantly, this is a journal of discovery in the call of discipleship and mission that God has placed on my life. This journey of discovery has led me to celebrate the blessings of being small while engaging in the Big Mission of revealing the Kingdom of God as we make disciples who make disciples.
Go Slow to Go Far
If you are looking for a new program that will provide you with a “let’s grow the church fast” strategy, you might as well stop reading. I have come to realize that when it comes to culture change – you have to go slow to go far. In reality, revolutionary cultural change often feels like it is moving at an evolutionary pace.
3 Next Steps
If you are looking for practical principles for shaping your culture toward discipleship and mission that celebrate the bigness of God’s Kingdom, then I invite you to do three things:
- Get some Information – pick up a copy of Small church on a BIG Mission with its focus on Personal Transformation, Practical Realities, and Purposeful Direction.
- Follow someone who is worthy of Imitation – this was the most important step for me as I received coaching, encouragement, and challenge to grow in my character and competency as a disciple-making leader.
- Avoid the temptation toward Innovation – yep, you heard me correctly. Don’t just grab this book and try to overlay it on your context as a program. Instead, like the disciples who journeyed with Jesus – plan to abide and BE during a season of apprenticeship. Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you and tell you when the right time to move forward applying appropriate Innovation as you use these tools and resources of discipleship in your context.
To connect with Jeff Allen, or to learn more about resources for discipleship and being a Small church on a BIG Mission – go to www.smallchurchbigmission.org or email Jeff at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim gets up every morning, grabs his cup of coffee and heads off to his job at Proctor and Gamble. He’s been working on the production line for years and makes just enough money to get by. But when Jim gets home from a long day at Proctor and Gamble his work is not done. Jim has a call to ministry and pastors a local church in a small town. He has people to visit in the hospital, a board meeting to attend and a sermon to prepare. He is a multi-vocational pastor.
The early Apostles and ministers give us great examples of multi-vocational ministry: carpenters, fishermen, tentmakers, and entrepreneurs in the dye and cloth industry, just to name a few. We can learn much from the limited insight we get of Paul as a tentmaker, Peter and a few other disciples as fishermen, Lydia as a local entrepreneur, and even with Jesus as a carpenter/stoneworker/handyman (Gr. tekton). I’m sure they had some of the same challenges we do regarding how to live in the joy of ministry responsibilities and provide for our families at the same time.
As the church in North America continues its steady decline it’s time to get strategic with the next generation who will lead the revival of change, including how to sustain it. The future of a sustainable church in North America needs to look differently than it does now. And it’s time to take a new look at multi-vocational ministry, seeing every sphere as an opportunity to proclaim the good news by bringing the character of Jesus into it, including the workplace. But how can we be strategic in the kind of work we do as bi-vocational people (or even tri-vocational) so that it works symbiotically with our ministry calling and responsibilities? Simultaneously, how can we look for ways to lessen the burden on the local church in order to multiply ministry?
I entered the ministry as a “starving” artist, having run as far away as I could from a call to ministry. Beginning as a domestic missionary, then overseas missionary, leading to teaching and chaplaincy in Christian Schools, which led to church planting, building networks and starting businesses that further the Kingdom mission. Currently, I’m a tri-vocational leader who gets to work on some amazing teams, including:
- Co-Lead Pastor at Christ Community Church in Buena Park, California,
- Mission Catalyst for Gospel Ventures (a Gospel-centered network that works to train planters and churches to plant more churches in North America and around the world)…
The third strand of my multi-vocational call is working with groups to think around Business as Mission (BAM) as a way to lessen the burden on the local church and multiply ministry. I’m currently learning much of this firsthand in two specific contexts:
- The first is as the Strategic Manager of two farming projects in Africa, raising various animals and crops on 25 acres in an effort to sustain an indigenous church planting movement with a goal to plant a church in every major city in Uganda in the next 3 years. I love giving this example because it was made possible through a generous donor who took a chance before this made sense to anyone else. Three years later this two-property farm is self-sustaining, employs 12-15 workers, feeds the community and gives money to advance church planting ministry.
The Global church has had to think creatively on how to be sustainable out of necessity. Most pastors work jobs during the week and shepherd congregations at the same time. Because the Holy Spirit is growing the global Church at such a rapid rate it makes sense to look globally to see how multi-vocational ministry plays a role in such growth.
- The second context is working domestically with B2 (Benefit Twice) Outlet Stores that has a growing presence in Michigan and is expanding nationally. This business began with the Kingdom in mind. They continue to press into the concept of doing business for the purpose of blessing the community, giving a significant portion of their profits to Kingdom endeavors. This is a radical shift in how we see business intersecting with ministry, having a clear intention to give sacrificially, not just with what is leftover. Duane Smith, co-founder of B2 Outlet Stores, attributes their rapid growth in the last 3 years to this radical model.
When we take the multiplication principle we find in Scripture and apply it to the business sphere, we’re seeing amazing things happen. What would it look like if more entrepreneurs would design businesses to bless people in tangible ways while making a profit that can sustain even more ministry?
Throughout my ministry, I’ve always been intrigued by what others would “count” as ministry and what was outside of that designation. A segmented, practical theology between the secular and sacred leads us to think and act within these lines we draw in the sand. And that can lead to limited imagination in how to live our ministry calling in a multi-vocational way. But what if we were more intentional in lessening the burden of the local church and multiplying ministry by blurring the sacred and secular lines as we step into bi/tri-vocational ministry? Perhaps by pursuing multi-vocational ministry for our livelihood like Paul and the other apostles did, it would become the starting point for deeper trust and more creativity in following the Holy Spirit, while sustaining the next generation of the Church.
A number of years ago I was at a retreat for pastors, and one of my mentors started using the language of “Apostolic ministry” and “Prophetic ministry” and “5-Fold ministry”. He was making a compelling argument that in terms of ministry, that much of the Church is missing it. That many of our churches are not living into the fullness of ministry made available to us through the grace of Jesus Christ.
The text is Eph. 4: 1-13. At the end of this section Paul writes:
“So 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 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4: 11-13
My friend gave the argument that if the churches’ mission was to drive from New York to Chicago, then we are driving in reverse; or at the very least, we have five gears and we are only utilizing two gears. Jesus has equipped his church with a powerful engine but most of us are only utilizing the “shepherding and the teaching” leaders and ministries, we have three more gears that we can use.
I thought to myself, “If this is true, this would have significant ramifications for the ministry of the Church. If this is true than we are neglecting both leaders and aspects of ministry that Christ intended to be utilized in his church. If we are meant to equip his people, then we are not utilizing all the tools. If we are striving for unity, maturity and fullness in Christ, then we should certainly be using the full array of his leaders and ministries. This was a paradigm shift for sure.”
Yet, at the same time I had some significant hang-ups with this understanding of Ephesians 4. Perhaps my biggest struggle with was my understanding of Apostles and what is known as the “Apostolic Age”. I had assumed that there were only thirteen apostles, Jesus’ original twelve (this includes the addition of Matthias to replace Judas) plus Paul.
I assumed that this number was set because the qualifications to be an Apostle was that they had a personal experience of Christ Jesus, and that he had personally commissioned them as apostles. As these thirteen “sent ones” proclaimed the good news of the Messiah, Christ’s church and His Kingdom spread. As each of the thirteen were either martyred or died, the “Apostolic Age” ended.
How many apostles? Answer: Original 12 – Judas + Matthias + Paul = 13
From this perspective, we shouldn’t expect apostles or apostolic ministries to continue in his church today. The other four leaders and ministries from Ephesians 4 could persist, but not the Apostles and the ministries they represent.
However, in examining the scriptures regarding apostles and the continuation of apostolic ministry, I have come to a vastly different conclusion. I believe that the early church understood apostles in two ways; one as being specific to the original twelve and Paul, and then also in a broader sense, with others as Apostles. And therefore “Apostolic ministry” is not only valid for today, but absolutely crucial.
I have experienced this profound shift in ministry philosophy for three main reasons.
1) The Number of Apostles Recorded In Scripture:
The reality is that there are several more people named as apostles then the 13 noted above. I would say you have some additional folks that are DIRECTLY stated as apostles and some INDIRECTLY stated as apostles. First those clearly stated as apostles:
James – (Not the James of the original twelve, but the brother of Jesus). ‘I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother.’ Gal. 1:19
Barnabas – ‘But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd …’ Acts 14: 14
Epaphroditus – ‘But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger/apostle (apostolos), whom you sent to take care of my needs.’ Phil. 2: 25.
2 Unnamed Brothers –. ‘as for our brothers, they are representatives/apostles (apostolos) of the churches and an honor to Christ. 2 Cor. 8: 23b
Andronicus and Junia: ‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Romans 16: 7
Let’s count. If we add these seven folks to the original apostles (plus Paul), that gives us twenty. But I believe scripture adds more, you could say INDIRECTLY.
Apollos: ‘Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos … (vs. 6) … For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession’ 1 Cor. 4: 9
Silas and Timothy: ‘We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.’ 1 Thess. 2: 6
Let’s count. So if we accept these INDIRECT references, which I think the text warrants in every instance, then we must add three more.
How many apostles? Answer: 13 original + 7 direct + 3 indirect = 23.
So, it seems clear that scripture understood apostles both in a specific sense of the original twelve, but also in a wider sense that others were identified as apostles by the early church. Barnabas is a particularly interesting circumstance in that he is identified as being a “teacher or a prophet” in Acts 13 (like Paul), but then identified as an Apostle (as seen above) only after he is “sent out” with Paul.
2) The Test of being an Apostle:
As part of an “Apostolic Age” paradigm, I mentioned that I believed the “test” of an apostle was that they had a personal experience of Christ Jesus. I believe this understanding comes from when Paul is making a defense of his authority:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
1 Cor. 9: 1-2.
But notice, that Paul doesn’t actually say this. He is arguing for his authority to speak into the Corinthian’s lives, his experience of Jesus is not proof that he is an apostle but another reason they should listen to him.
In fact, Paul gives another “test” for true apostleship.
The things that mark an apostle –signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance. 2 Cor. 12: 12
There are a few different places that the early church had to test individuals who were claiming to be apostles. In the church of Corinth, you had people claiming to be what Paul called “Super-Apostles.” In the earlier letter to the Corinthians, he said he would test these arrogant folks with both a “message test” and a “power test”:
But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 1 Cor. 4: 19-20
And then in the church in Ephesus, we are told in Revelation about those claiming to be apostles:
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. Rev. 2: 2b
It seems that this true test, as identified in scripture, is yet another argument for both a specific understanding of the apostles and the broader sense of apostles. If the early church understood only the twelve plus Paul as apostles, there would be no need of a test. They would simply say, “Guys, you can’t claim to be apostles, there are only thirteen and you are not one of them.”
3) The Purpose of the 5-Fold Ministry:
I think the final argument is the Ephesians 4 passage itself. We have noticed that the purpose of the 5 leaders and ministries is to “build up” the church, to bring “unity in the faith” and “knowledge” of Christ; the purpose was to bring “maturity”, that the church would attain the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
That is quite a lofty goal and purpose. Would anyone argue that we have arrived at that place yet? Would anyone want to argue that at the end of the so-called “Apostolic Age” (believed to end around 100 A.D.) that the church had arrived? I don’t think so!
Again, this has huge ramifications. If we have neglected at least two (possibly three) of the five ministries that Christ wants to use in growing his church and kingdom, we are on the highway, driving the car in second gear. We better start rethinking the fullness of ministry that Christ has granted us. We better start praying and pressing in for all that Christ has for us.
In the next article, I will look at another perspective that has been a barrier for many to a 5-Fold ministry viewpoint. Specifically Prophetic ministry and did that cease with the Apostolic Age (or when scripture was canonized). And then in a final article, I will give a picture of how our church is starting to live into this ministry shift.
1. Even though Paul uses the exact same Greek word used to designate others as “apostles,” translations use the word “messenger.” I think this represents a biased towards the “Apostolic Age” perspective.
2. Again, the Greek word “apostolos” is used, but translated something different. If you read the verses in context, I think it favors a more straightforward translation.
3. A highly debated text, but the most straightforward reading of the text favors these two as apostles in the broader sense of the word.
4. In the opening verse of 1 Thessalonians, it is stated that Paul, Silas and Timothy, are the authors of the letter. So when Paul (as the primary author) uses the pronoun ‘we’, we can assume he is referring to these three. All three had ministered with Paul in Thessalonica.
There is a lot of buzz in church circles these days about how important it is for local congregations to look like their community and to become more diverse, both culturally and racially. Some congregations are modeling this value, and others are moving in this direction while still others may feel that they are far from embracing the broad spectrum of people groups in their neighborhood.
Every church can take comfort in this—we are all latecomers to the party!
Acts 11 tells us how the party got started. Some Greek-speaking Jewish believers from the island of Cyprus and the North African city of Cyrene traveled to Antioch, in present day Turkey. Not content to share Jesus with their own kind, they took the audacious step of communicating the good news to, get this, Greek-speaking . . . Greeks! It was a novel, radical, Spirit-led step.
Soon, another Jew from Cyprus, Joseph, aka Barnabas, comes on the scene and brings along a fiery new believer named Saul of Tarsus to disciple converts in this emerging community. Acts 11:24 tells us that a great number of people came to the Lord. From what we can tell, these were people of Jewish origin and Gentile origin; they were from Africa, Cyprus, and Asia. They included people who spoke Greek and Aramaic, and perhaps Latin and other languages. It was a hodgepodge of classes, tribes, tongues and skin tones coming together around the person of Jesus. It was quite a party!
Nearly 20 years ago, I arrived in central California with this picture of Antioch in mind. By God’s grace, I have enjoyed a front row seat in the formation of a special group of people known as Sunrise Community Church. On a typical Sunday morning, our gathering includes a wide range of folks who represent the diversity of our city–people whose first language is English, and others whose mother tongue is Spanish. We sing praises not only in these two languages, but in the varied styles of gospel, country, contemporary and traditional music. We are Latinos from many nations, African Americans, Asian Americans and those of European descent. We are led by a staff that comes not only from California, but from such faraway places as Iowa and Costa Rica. It’s quite a party!
Parties are fun, but parties are also messy. If you’ve ever put on a party, you know that hosting can be a lot of work. And when people you don’t know and who are different from you come to a party, it can be tempting to leave and find another party, one with people that are more like you.
We’ve experienced all of this at Sunrise. Navigating language barriers can be messy. Try reciting the Apostle’s Creed in two languages at once! Naming prejudice and addressing injustice can be uncomfortable. Relating to people who have more or fewer resources than you can be unnerving. Weaving English and Spanish into one sermon can be a chore. In fact, I’ve often felt like I am preaching with one hand tied behind my back. And when people exit the church because they want a church where people are just like them, it can be downright deflating.
But there’s more to this party than meets the eye. Acts 11:26 tells us that it was in Antioh where, for the first time, people began to use a different hashtag to designate this unique group that had formed. They called them #Christians, that is, “Christ-ones.” Something caused people on the outside to see the image of Jesus Christ reflected in this ragtag body. That “something” was a unity that came from the reconciling power of the cross!
That’s not all. The party continues in Acts 13 when the diverse leadership of the Antioch church gathers for a meeting. This team includes Simeon, called Niger (from Africa?), Lucius from Cyrene (definitely from Africa!) and Manaen, who was a childhood friend of the same king Herod who tried to interview Jesus. While they are fasting and praying, the Spirit tells them to send Barnabas and Saul on a church planting mission, a mission to the diverse and unreached Gentile world. God’s desire is to spread the party!
It’s God’s desire that the church would spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in our increasingly diverse world. That means opening ourselves up to becoming more multicultural and multiethnic in our ministries. There are a number of congregations in our Far West region that are doing just that, some in exemplary fashion. Some are graciously hosting ethnic church plants on their campus. Others are developing ministries for their changing neighborhoods. Still others are hiring staff that reflect the future vs. the present make-up of their congregation. What multicultural ministry looks like is different in every community, depending on the context, leadership, history, and flexibility of your local church.
The bottom line is, it’s never too late to join the party of multicultural ministry. It’s a two thousand year old celebration that promises to continue forever. People are made in God’s image. That’s all people! And all people find their purpose in the image of Christ. That’s good news worth sharing!
Written by Pastor Russ Siders
About Pastor Russ // In 1998, Russ came to Tulare with his young family to pursue a compelling call from God, to help start a church that would reflect the surrounding community by communicating the life changing message of Jesus Christ in both English and Spanish. God graciously teamed him up with some tremendous people of faith, and Sunrise Community was born.
Sunrise Community Church is a church in the Central California Classis in the Synod of the Far West.
One mentor used to tell me, “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.”
As I reflect on my leadership over the years, that has proven true in both positive and negative ways.
On one hand, when a leader develops, grows and matures, members of the team are inspired and empowered to improve as well. Members of a team or staff look to the leader to set the culture of excellence and development. They will often follow the example and direction the leader sets with the tone and tenor of their life. In this way, “more is caught than taught.” So if we want our teams to improve, we must start by seeking to grow and develop ourselves. Leaders who want to exponentially maximize their influence create an environment where feedback and growth are part of the culture.
On the other hand, a leader has the potential to slow or halt a team’s ability to function if they become the bottleneck in effectiveness. We’ve all witnessed leaders in both the church and the marketplace impede the growth of their mission because they neglected their own development and equally important, they refused to empower gifted catalytic leaders in their midst. By holding back those gifted to lead out of lack of vision or being threatened by the gifts of those around them, the community suffered or did not experience the vibrant potential growth that was possible.
It is critical that we continually pursue growth in our leadership, and it is essential that we are diligently on the lookout for gifted leaders around us and under our care that we can call out and empower to lead in their gifting. If you are so inclined, set a goal this month by jotting down the answer to 2 questions and committing to take action by Christmas:
– What are 1 or 2 ways you can develop your capacity and talent as a leader?
– Who is someone in your community that is perhaps more advanced than you in a particular area that you have not yet empowered, and how will you encourage and unleash them to lead in their gifting?
God bless you as we hope and strive for leadership in our churches to consistently increase, and thus the Body of Christ increases its ability to follow Jesus for the renewal of the world!