Crisis in pastoral leadership: Are the apostolic and prophetic offices being restored?
This is part 2 of The Christian Post's article series on the crisis of leadership in American Evangelicalism. Read part 1 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.
Amid seemingly unending church and ministry leadership scandals and the exposure of unhealthy structures and institutions that enabled them, are long-lost offices of the Church being recovered?
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20 that the Church, the household of God, is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.”
In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul continues that the Lord gave fivefold offices for the edification of the Church, specifically “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.”
Yet many Christians today have no theological or experiential grid for the first two offices listed, perhaps because the canon of Scripture is closed and the apostles who were alive during Jesus' time are no longer walking the Earth. This view, which is called cessationism, holds that after the death of the last apostle, spiritual gifts like prophecy and the office of a prophet are no longer operating. In practice, however, some churches and denominations adhere to degrees of this view, allowing for certain expressions of the gifts to operate in the church. Others have admitted to believing in the continuation of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirt but being, for all intents and purposes, "functional" cessationists.
With such a theological paradigm, the absence of the offices of prophet and apostle in the contemporary church has yielded an often top-heavy congregational structure that is led by a pastor. Teachers teach the Bible in Sunday school. When many think of the office of evangelist, guest preachers and the-late Billy Graham and his stadium crusades come to mind.
To dive more deeply into these ecclesiological issues, The Christian Post spoke with Ron Myer and Larry Kreider, two leaders with DOVE International — an interdenominational global family of churches and ministries on six continents. CP also spoke with Pastor Derwin Gray of Transformation Church, a nondenominational Evangelical congregation in Indian Land, South Carolina.
The interviews explore what has gone right and what has gone wrong in recent years, and where they see God taking the Church at-large in the coming decade.
Substantial paradigm shifts are occurring for many Christians, they say, and sincere believers would be wise to heed what the Holy Spirit is doing, even if it seems unfamiliar.
How have the fivefold offices gotten lost and how are they being reclaimed?
According to Kreider, a major issue afflicting the Church is what he calls “clergy-laity mentality.” He describes it as a pervasive mindset where the paid clergy leads the church and they are called “pastors.” They do most of the ministry work and laypeople serve the ministry of that pastor.
But whatever terms are used, DOVE International contends that leaders in the local church are more like elders or overseers.
"We do believe that all five of these gifts are needed. And on a broad-based level, you need the apostles and prophets working together, hearing from God together. To use military terminology: apostles [are] the generals. The prophets being the seers, they’re the ones getting the intel [from God],” Kreider asserted.
For a local church, there needs to be impartation from all those gifts, equipping from all those offices.
Yet, this is strange doctrinal territory for many people, as it was for Myer.
“In my upbringing, there was nothing ever spoken about apostles and prophets. There was no grid for it,” Myer explained. But that all changed as he became “filled with the [Holy] Spirit and into an understanding that Ephesians 4 is here to equip the saints for ministry and that the equipping of the saints is a primary role of the Church."
"To equip people to minister to those who are not part of the Church, not just to minister to each other," he detailed.
The apostles are the builders, the church-planters, those who are trainers and equippers.
And the prophetic is to come alongside them to help guide and speak to that — what is the Lord saying right now in the present, Myer said. He added that all five offices are needed to work together so that the Church can hear the full counsel of God.
“I think somewhere along the line we slipped into [the church mode] where it’s easy to just have a pastor to lead the church. So we’ll just call him a pastor," Myer said. "And in some cases, you have evangelists — that’s their primary gift — but they only knew pastors, so they put the term pastor on them. But they’re frustrated because they're not functioning as a pastor because that is not their primary gifting. People put that label on them, and then they’re trying to be somebody that they’re not versus truly functioning in who they truly are."
Myer believes that God has given a "greater definition" that brings "greater freedom."
"With greater freedom then comes greater function," he contends. "With greater function comes the ability to be who God really created them to be. We’re working to usher in and continue to expand the Kingdom of God, His way of doing things, as we pray, 'Father, let Your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.'”
If the fivefold gifts can work together to see each and every believer functioning and bringing the Kingdom into their workplace, in the marketplace, into their school, a greater expression of Jesus is manifested in society, he maintained.
What are small-a apostles?
Kreider believes that an apostolically inclined small-a apostle is motivated by and is thinking on a macro, big-picture level, and wants to see the Kingdom of God extend across their city, state, region, nation and world. As with any other spiritual gift and vocations, this gifting is to be called out and affirmed by others in the Body of Christ.
To function in these gifts, one needs to see the giftings in others, Myer added. It’s not just someone who prophesies or carries a prophetic gift, but someone who trains up and pours into others so they can mature spiritually.
For those who are hesitant to embrace this thinking because they have concerns about what has been referred to as the New Apostolic Reformation or the abuse or misuse of spiritual gifts, the DOVE leaders urge Christians to revisit the Word. The New Apostolic Reformation is a phrase coined by C. Peter Wagner to describe a movement within Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity reclaiming the apostolic and prophetic offices.
“I think what has happened is that when the church is run by pastors and administrators, it has played right into the clergy-laity mentality that has ruined the Church," Kreider said. "When you read the book of Acts and the Epistles, you see God using common, ordinary people. You see them being resourced through apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers."
The title “pastor” is used for ministry and church leaders today, even those in pastoral roles, but are not particularly pastoral-gifted people, he added.
“If they lead a megachurch, they are probably apostolic. But since we don’t have room for this language, I think it holds us back from expressing the heart of Christ to people and to be trained to full maturity and fulfill the call of God that is on their lives,” Kreider said.
In fact, the first time he went to a Pentecostal gathering, he sat in the back row so he could leave early “in case it got too crazy.”
Myer added: “For those who have had negative experiences, and there are certainly plenty of them out there, my response is: I’m sorry you had a negative experience. There’s no excuse for it."
For those who get hung up on titles, DOVE International shies away from them and leans more toward adjectives.
“I’m not ‘apostle Ron,’ but I do apostolic ministry,” Myer said, defining it as “being a spiritual father to a number of people who I pour my life into ... with one goal, to see them succeed and be all that God made them to be.”
These gifts need to be in operation until the return of Jesus, he maintains, to bring the Church to full maturity and bring as many people into God’s Kingdom as possible.
The clergy-laity mindset trap
Although careful not to blame any particular person or group for the creep of the clergy-laity mentality, Kreider and Myer said that those in clerical roles think they are the paid professionals who need to do all the ministry and that the laity is not equipped to do it.
From the laity side, they argue that the thought process is one that always defers to clergy who are paid to do it, and therefore, they do not have to minister.
“If COVID has done anything, it has helped much of the Body of Christ realize that when two or three gather in His name, He is in the midst of us. And we believe there is a place for larger gatherings, but the focus is on the two or three,” Kreider said.
“We have great hope for the Body of Christ. It has been a mess, we agree with that. We’ve all been a mess. But He is leading us by His Spirit, and we’re excited about the future of the Body and the future of the Kingdom.”
While not all churches are top-heavy or afflicted by this clergy-laity mentality, Myer believes that amid all of the changes that the pandemic brought, the circumstances have come to model what the fivefold ministry should look like and what true apostles really are.
“There are some places in the world that you can’t even use that term [apostle] because of the abuse and control in the past versus a spiritual father that wants to see those around him succeed. That has a heart and a passion to plant, but then to empower and release those around him,” Myer said.
“I think we have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate what are the gifts of the Spirit and they are to bring about change, to help people, to see them transformed, to help them with problems and to demonstrate the love of Christ.”
In May 2020, Myer said he sensed the Lord tell him that “in times of uncertainty, you’d better be sure what you’re certain about.”
“Anytime we’re in chaos, that which we really believe will be challenged. And it shouldn’t be changed, because if it’s built on God’s Word, my circumstances don’t change what I believe. I continue to believe until my circumstances change,” he said.
“I think the opportunity of the fivefold ministry is ... that even when there’s chaos around us, even when there’s a storm around us, there can still be peace in the midst of that. We can still walk in confidence; we can still walk in security.”
Kreider emphasized that American Christians tend to think about the United States, but the truth is that the Church is part of a global Kingdom.
“There’s nothing new under the sun," he said. "We’re believing God for good things in our nation, obviously, but we know there’s a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, and that’s what we stand in."
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