The Sin of Sheep Cloistering

17 12 2008


As we go into cities and challenge people to make disciples in the city through the development of a city-wide training center, people with a deep commitment to one institutional church sometimes wonder if this activity is “sheep stealing”.  We believe every disciple and every body of believers needs access to the all the 5-fold gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) in order to mature.  Today, instead of receiving equipping from all five (as Paul commands for church maturity in Ephesians 4) we are led and equipped by only one of the 5-fold gifts (the teaching church, the evangelist church etc.).

Because institutional churches are often based on a strict hierarchy where everyone ranks under the Senior Pastor who has only one of those gifts, if I were to attempt to shift your allegiance from that man’s ministry to another man’s ministry, I would be considered a “sheep stealer”.  Under Paul’s apostolic structure this allegiance shifting was an impossibility.  Paul believed Jesus alone was the head of church and Christ’s under shepherds (elders) were over all the believers in that city.  So if you were a Christian and you lived in that city you were automatically under that group of elders and you were equipped by ALL the 5-fold ministers in the city and ALL the 5-fold ministers traveling through the city.

What Paul was dead against and preached against was the practice of sheep cloistering in a city.

1 Corinthians 1

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Then later he writes in 1 Corinthians 3

3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

So the real sin and danger is that one man would cloister sheep into a single pen, under his ministry alone, and structurally and functionally cut those sheep off from the ministry of others in the city with equipping ministries.  Sheep instinctually want to be cloistered but the 5-fold during the 1st century (Apollos, Paul, Cephas etc.) continually pointed them to the one unifying head of the church, Christ.  In our day the 5-fold actually feed the sheepish desire cloister.

How have we drifted so far from the apostolic structure of the church that what is considered a sin today “sheep stealing” (equal access to equipping God’s sheep) was considered a virtue to Paul and what is considered a virtue today, sheep cloistering, was considered a unity destroying sin to Paul and the first century Apostles?

There is a structure that gives all the sheep in the city access to all the 5-fold equippers and aligns them under one unified head.  I pray for the return of the city church with one mission (making disciples), with one label (Christians) under one head (Christ).



12 responses

17 12 2008

I recently read the first two chapters of your Tyrannus Effect, and have a read a few of your posts here…. What I’m wondering now is this, How do you foresee preventing the creation of a central ‘disciple-training center’ from turning into just another institutional, “ownership-based ministry”? I completely agree with your points on making a return to what we see in scripture, where instead of tons of individual churches in a single area, each with their own identity and agenda, we see ourselves as simply part of the church as a whole. However, the conclusions that you’ve drawn from Acts 19, where Paul was meeting in a hall for a year, seem like a bit of a stretch. I don’t see him setting up a central, “discipleship-school” there at all, only meeting in a semi-public place where he could explain the gospel to people. Yes he was discipling people, but it was a temporary situation. He did something similar in Athens, at the aereopogus, but neither was really an example of him setting up some special “training center”. (I don’t read anywhere in Acts 19 that they in fact rented this space…) Nor do we ever see some repeatable, “training process” like you described. Making disciples of Jesus, and training people to do things like make coffee at a Starbucks, are apples and oranges my friend. We are not trying to carbon copy little foot soldiers for God.

I completely agree with the call to make disciples for Jesus, and not church audience members, but this idea that the way to do that is to create a “center” in the city, is just not as Biblically mandated as you suggest, nor is even very well thought out. People should be being discipled within their local gatherings of believers, which if we are abandoning the man-made, institutional model of church, isn’t “centralized” at all. Seems like any attempt at making a central anything is to turn right back around and start appealing to the need for special buildings, or a campus, and staff members, etc., which would simply be recreating the institutional church for the umpteenth time…. Putting an emphasis on the five-fold ministry and rejecting the idea of a hierarchical leadership with make no difference if we turn around and embrace the same infrasctructure used by the IC. Such methods invariably lead back to a business-based way of doing things. Maybe not right away, but eventually they always do. To me, it seems a bit contradictory to be advocating a return to the implementation of gifts like apastolic gifting, (which I’d agree with), which is primarily a gifting that involves going and circulating, and then simultaneously calling for the creation of centralized places for people to be “discipled”. All in all, it feels like another attempt at finding short cuts to doing what is really not a simplistic process…

17 12 2008

Hey Daniel, I’m glad you’ve gone deep into what I’ve written but unfortunately there are HUGE gaps in what I’ve written and it only represents a small fraction of what/how we practice these things and most of the conclusions you’ve jumped to are understandable but not accurate (we should have a phone conversation) but just to give a quick picture –

1. City-wide discipleship training is not a new institution. Our “training center” is a weekly email list of trainings happening throughout the city. It won’t get more complicated than that.
2. We don’t rent buildings typically (I agree with your assessment that this was a special circumstance for Paul)
3. We don’t hire staff
4. We don’t have a simplistic discipleship process that is cookie cutter. We utilize MANY different tools but we start with building a foundation. That’s not the end of discipleship its a beginning. We build deep community, engender mentoring relationships, involve various training intensives all of which would take a LONG time for me to describe and most of which I haven’t written about yet.
5. We are not advocating “the creation of centralized places for people to be “discipled”. Our word “training center” has nothing to do with a place. It’s knowing and utilizing all the training that is already happening in a city and encouraging more city-facing training.

But the biggest conclusion that I’d like to correct is your statement – “Putting an emphasis on the five-fold ministry and rejecting the idea of a hierarchical leadership with make no difference if we turn around and embrace the same infrasctructure used by the IC.”

This seems to be the basis of your critique is not seeing a way to release the 5-fold in a non-institutional or hierarchical way. This was very simple in the 1st century and nearly impossible today as everyone thinks in terms of hierarchy and institutional development guys like Frank Viola seem to believe there is an either/or here. There is not. If we have time to chat we can discuss this but there is a way to fully release the 5-fold ministry and never develop another institution or hierarchical leadership structure.

The only substantive disagreement I think we do have is whether the discipleship process should be intentional and somewhat systematic. You would seem to suggest we should be less intentional than Starbucks training. These are useful comparisons because someone who gets hired at Starbucks will receive more clear intentional training than 99% of Christians who choose to give their lives to Jesus and this is a terrible oversight and a tacit betrayal of the Great Commission. “Teaching them to obey everything” is a command that has been entirely ignored by the vast majority of Christian leaders in our day and its results are clearly evident in the lives of Christians throughout the West.

18 12 2008
Jonathan Brink


I get what you are trying to accomplish. But something stuck out to me here. From a pastor’s standpoint, putting aside the “mine” mentality, the 5 fold part appears a little daunting (maybe there’s a better word). It requires collaboration that a pastor is not used to, nor even trained to do.

I actually like Jesus’ model of 1 working with 12 better. We built our model at Thrive on that and it just seems easier.

Your take?

19 12 2008

Sure, great questions.

1. Can we model our ministry after Jesus’ ministry instead of Paul’s. I think we need to be really careful and discriminating here. There are two huge differences between Jesus and us – 1) Jesus embodied all the gifts including the whole 5-fold ministry and 2) Jesus’ mission did not include things like churches in cities etc. (it was more narrow). Ephesians 4 suggest that Jesus separated his gifts into the 5 mentioned and that when the 5 equip the church, the church (not an individual person) can attain the “full stature” of Christ. If a 5-fold teacher leads a group of 12 he or she will impart very different dna than if a 5-fold prophet were to disciple a group of 12. We all need all 5.

2. Are Pastors able to handle this level of collaboration. Not if the structure is one pastor over one church (but who designed that kind of leadership structure in the first place? Not Paul.). If you do ministry in and through an apostolic team (like Paul and his team) then this kind of collaboration is perfectly natural. If someone senses a “call into ministry” and immediately joined an apostolic team working with multiple city churches and hundreds of small body churches (that have no staff or single leader) than 1) that person will only minister in their area of gifting 2) they will not be isolated as a lone leader 3) they will impart dna to disciples who are balanced and have equal access to the other 4 parts.

19 12 2008
Jonathan Brink

Jeremy, I would suggest that “we” can’t model Jesus but the Holy Spirit working through us can. Wasn’t this essentially the message? And this is why I tend to shift towards Jesus’ approach rather than Paul’s. Perhaps Paul’s gets separated unnecessarily.

My concern is that in breaking them up into compartments, we miss what the God can do through the individual, which is what Jesus revealed. There is no place where Paul says, “You only have one gift.” Why because the gift was in essence the fruit of the Spirit working out in the person’s life.

And it is deeply important, I think, that we allow Jesus to build the church, and we stick to making disciples. Wait, didn’t you recently say that?

20 12 2008

Jonathan – You’re right, that the bible does not limit us to one gift a piece, and I suppose that’s why at this point I’m a bit leary of taking the whole 5-fold ministry concept to a point that is too rigid or “box-like”. I actually see many more than five giftings described in the bible, and it is never done so in a formulatic way.

That being said, putting the emphasis on an individual, or a small group of individuals, (which let’s face it is the norm in churches today…) to have ALL the giftings is an even grosser error!!! Instead of the Body of Christ having many parts, that are interdependent on each other, you have one, or a few parts, trying to do the jobs of all the others, with the rest just coming along for the ride. What a wacked out body that would look like! But that is what the modern day church functions like.

Jesus did not exemplify some kind of “clergy model” by having 12 disciples, no, He was actually modelling that in order to disciple people, you have to live closely with them. They have to be able to see you, to know you, to live alongside you. And to do that of course limits the amount of people you’re able to “minister to” that way.

Jesus taught that we are not to be like the world, that we are not to lord our authority over otheres, but to be like Him, a servant. Jesus washed his disciples feet, he prayed for them, he served them constantly. His disciples did not pay Him to be their Lord (as we justify the salaries of our pastors today), He did it out of love, He even went to the cross purely out of love. Jesus did not benefit in any earthly way from the what He did on earth, and neither should we. That is what I’d call following the “Jesus-model”…

Jeremy – I’ll try and give you a call sometime, it’d be good to talk about this stuff….

20 12 2008
Jonathan Brink

Daniel, you said, “Jesus did not exemplify some kind of “clergy model” by having 12 disciples, no, He was actually modelling that in order to disciple people, you have to live closely with them.”

I’m sorry but I’m gonna have to completely disagree with you on this one. The problem we encounter is not 1 person working with twelve. It’s when we create kingdoms of followers who we never release.

Jesus’ model was extremely simple. And yet nothing we do looks like it. The church is beginning to discover that discipleship has been lost and does not really look like Sunday.

20 12 2008

Jonathan – Perhaps we’re more in the place of trying to describe a similar thing in different terms, I’m not sure…

To me, I’d say that creating kingdoms of followers who we never release is exactly what happens when you have any kind of clergy/laity distinction. In fact, such a disctinction within the Body is completely dependent on having followers who are not released….

At this point I realize that Jeremy has already emphasized this point when he said: “Because institutional churches are often based on a strict hierarchy where everyone ranks under the Senior Pastor who has only one of those gifts, if I were to attempt to shift your allegiance from that man’s ministry to another man’s ministry, I would be considered a “sheep stealer”. “…

It is this addiction to having some form of hierarchy that is the underlying the force that prevents us from experiencing discipleship like we see in the New Testament. We can try and come up with any number of ‘revolutionary’ concepts, terms, or discipleship workbooks, but as long as we continue to cling to the false security that a worldy, hierarchical system promises to give, we will be missing out on all God wants for us….

22 12 2008

Jonathan, you’re not going to get one bit of disagreement from me about living a life of active dependence on the Holy Spirit so the life of Christ can live through us. I spend half my time training disciples or training disciples who will train disciples to do this.

My question is how is the 5-fold ministry released in your model. If I came out for 3 weeks could I train a cross section of people from several of your communities who need equipping in a particular area. Could you send 5-fold ministers to us? Can you receive training from other 5-fold equippers in your city who are not in your community? Is there a clear mechanism that releases the different Eph. 4 equippers?

28 06 2010
T. Latrice

I was able to fully grasp the essence and spirit of what you said in your article. It’s clear reformation in the church is necessary. The spirit of “me, me, me” is so thick in the house that many leaders will not even allow Christ Himself to enter in and lead.

We need all five. God appointed the five and the third appointee was the pastor. There’s two other offices missing generally in the church today: Apostle and Prophet. These two roles are essential in establishing and guiding. However, they are often times made to sit below the Pastor and follow his/her commands. We should be sitting under Christ not Christ’s creations.

I understand what the spirit is saying through you sir. :0)

Does anyone care about the truth (freedom) anymore. When the truth is hindered people are held captive because of lies.

Be Blessed!

21 08 2013

Wow this blog was so interesting !!! I love it!!! Please tell me how to get more reading material on this apostle who is a God ordained minister! And not by man! The 5 fold gifts rise up!! Amen

30 04 2014
How is A United Body of Christ Equiped? | Fellow Citizens With the Saints

[…] A lot of people in the church talk about sheep steeling, but it’s time we start talking about the sin of sheep cloistering. […]

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