One of the results of being in a truly apostolic church is that the New Testament experience of community is being restored. One of the main anointings of an apostle is that of fathering; an establishment of authority based in relationships rather than legalism, position or denominationalism.
As denominations slowly (or in some cases, rapidly) crumble, the growth of true apostolic networks is becoming more real and more important. In the “good old days” when someone moved away, whether to go into some kind of ministry or just for employment or family reasons, they could be released knowing that the denominational covering would look after them.
Because of the deep relationships being developed within congregations that have discovered apostolic grace, it is vital that people enter into the community of faith correctly and that they leave correctly. If this is ignored there will be a tearing of relationships, a breaking of hearts, and a rupture of community.
There are four words that help describe the dynamic of apostolic community, none of them popular in our self-centred individualistic culture.
In order to enter into the Kingdom of God, and hence into community, we have to surrender everything to Christ. In some ways this is a life-long process; as we grow closer to the Lord we discover more and more parts of our lives that have to be handed over or surrendered to Christ. The Bible calls this process sanctification.
Sins have to be repented of and stopped. Relationships have to be healed. And the thousand and one idols we carry in our hearts that we secretly depend on to give us strength have to be handed over to Him.
People who have an attitude that they are OK with God on their terms rather than His terms will never fit into the community of faith. That’s not because you have to be perfect to be acceptable. No, not at all! It’s quite the opposite really; the people who fit most into the rag-tag army that is the church are those who recognise that they will never in this life be perfect or good enough, except by the grace of God.
Surrender to God is a process of constantly letting go until the only thing we cling to is Christ.
In Ephesians 5:21 Paul exhorts us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The soul infected with the virus of rebellion or self-empowerment will shrink from these words. But those whose hearts are alive with the concept of community will embrace it.
The apostolic revelation is that everyone needs to be a spiritual son (or daughter) to a spiritual father (not a gender-specific term). I’ve written at length about this, as have many others, so I won’t labour the point here.
Community happens when we submit our own personal preferences and desires to the direction of the community. We willingly allow others to speak into our hearts for encouragement and correction with the desire that together we grow closer to Christ.
To submit means that we allow our hearts to be knitted with others. It means we give up our own rights to self-determination, but we gain the love, support and grace of a true body of Christ.
Again this is a gradual process as we take baby steps of trust.
Somewhere along the path of surrender and submission we discover that we belong. This is my community, these are my people.
Belonging is a two way street. In a sense the congregation “owns” me, but equally I “own” the congregation.
Our hearts have become united in the love of Christ.
Our focus no longer is on what I get out of church, but on the mission and ministry of us, the people of God.
One of the ways you know that you belong is that other places, conferences and events no longer hold the same appeal as they might have once. Margaret and I rarely go to other churches when we are away because we know that no matter how good the church, no matter how great their community is, it’s not where we belong. That’s not a judgement that other places are inferior; we just do not belong there so our experience is not what we expect.
One of the dangers of “belonging” is that we can become a closed community that implicitly excludes the outsider. The true community of faith is constantly reaching out and inviting others to join in and journey to belonging.
The word apostle comes from the Greek word apostello which means to send. Apostles are people who have been sent on a mission and have the grace to send others on their behalf. This flows from their fathering anointing.
When a person has been in an apostolic faith community, the time may come when it is right for them to leave. It is important that the community then exercises its apostolic grace to send them.
We have seen that people often decide to go somewhere without reference to what the community, pastors or group leaders think. They determine “This is what I am doing,” and off they go.
Two things happen when this occurs.
1. The person or family leaving struggle either in their work or ministry, or else in finding a church where they belong. The problem is that they have left without being sent and have gone without a blessing that might have helped them to flourish. Rather than being under authority, they leave on their own authority.
2. The faith community is hurt, and continues to experience hurt, because a part of the fabric of the community has been ripped away. It goes through a grief process because it has not had the chance to let go properly. Because an apostolic community is a “sending” community its identity is violated when members leave without being sent.
What is the difference between leaving and being sent? The heart of community is submission one to another, that is of open hearts. If someone is a part of a community, the issues need to be discussed openly in the community, before the decision is made. Pastors and cell leaders should be aware of and invited into the decision. This could be as simple as asking a cell group to pray with a family as they consider a job offer that would take them away; but it must have the option of the group saying “We think this is a bad direction.”
Being sent means that we give the community a chance to pray and to bless us as we go. That simple step means that we go with blessing and favour and have God’s grace with us rather than having to go in our own strength.
Surrender, submit, belong, sent. These four words are the cornerstones on which apostolic community is built.