Gandalf the Grey – Tolkien’s Apostolic Archetype

2 08 2008

(Warning: If you don’t enjoy fantasy you probably want to skip this post.)

Ever since my friend Luke Crook forced my to read The Lord of the Rings in 7th grade I’ve been enamored with the character of Gandalf.  What is it about him that resonates so deeply with me?  As I’ve been studying the nature of apostolic ministry I continue to be struck by the similarities between Gandalf’s role (and the role of the 5 wizards) and the developing biblical picture I’m getting regarding God’s apostles.

Here are a few parallels:

“The Wandering Wizard” – Gandalf is itinerant and insists on building up other groups but being beholden to none.  He takes REAL responsibility for his role in providing guidance and strategy without settling down in any one place (the flaw of Saruman).  In the Silmarillion there is an interesting narrative about the White Council (Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman etc.).  Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the leader of the White Council but Gandalf refused because “he would not be subject to any summons”.  He will not be rooted to one institution because it would interfere with his ability to serve many (this also must be true of apostles) which leads to my second point.

“Servant of the Secret Fire” – My favorite scene in The Fellowship of the Ring is when Gandalf faces the Balrog of Morgoth.  Gandalf is already visibly shaken by being hit by a counter spell at the tomb door and suddenly Legolas cries out Ai! Ai! A Balrog!  And you know when the powerful, wise, hundreds-of-years-old elf freaks out you’re in serious trouble.  But when Gandalf faces off with the Balrog on the bridge he tells the creature “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” and the second I read that for the first time I was entraced.  Tolkien has amazing literary restraint.  He tells you very little about the history of Middle-Earth but just enough to give his works a sense of almost endless depth and history.  Now I’m a big enough geek to read Tolkien’s other books and notes and I know that Gandalf was sent by the Valar to Middle-Earth to counter the growing threat of Sauron.  But Gandalf’s self-identity as a servant of something secret and unseen by those who knew him is exactly the kind of self-identity needed for an apostle.  Apostles are not superstars they are servants of the unseen Kingdom of God, not building fortresses like Saruman but on the move, tirelessly serving and building up the forces of God’s people to face their enemy which leads to my final point.

“Stormcrow” – Gandalf was given the name Stormcrow by some because his arrival always seemed to be perfectly timed with a season of war of either expansion or defense.  Likewise God’s apostles often arrive to shake up foundations and move God’s people forward which can be unsettling for those who are desperately trying to defend the status quo.

There are many others but I thought I’d list a few and expose my hopeless geekdom for public display once again.

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Becoming an Antioch Church

31 07 2008

God has impressed on me lately the importance of not neglecting the Antioch model so I want to simply introduce some observations and how this tiny, new church plant was responsible for the single greatest church expansion in the history of our faith.

In our effort to plant and grow churches, in the past 50 years we have gone through 3 major model shifts –

Pastoral model – This is where someone with a 5-fold pastoral gift plants a church and stays there, growing and maintaining it for life.  This has and always will ultimately result in the decline of churches because there is no chance for exponential growth and the number of churches is always limited to the number of Pastors.

Evangelistic model – This was kicked off with Bill Hybles church plant in Chicago and has been reproduced a thousand times around the world.  This model is where a 5-fold evangelist plants a church and restructures it around their ability to enfold thousands of people.  If Billy Graham would have planted a church it would have been like this.  These churches tend to be 1000+ but are even more difficult to reproduce then pastoral churches because there are fewer 5-fold evangelists.  This model results in the fast decline in the number of churches the slow decline in the number of church goers and very fast decline in the number of devoted disciples since evangelists do not have the gifts or calling to thoroughly train disciples.

Church planting Churches model – Very recently there has been a call for churches to plant churches.  New churches are both better at evangelism and contextualizing the Gospel in emerging cultures than existing pastoral churches.  While this is smart strategically this model tends to carry with it the same problems as the above two if the model for church being used is based on finding the right 5-fold gifted person.  If they chose a new model (actually an ancient model) not basing a church on a person and his gifting they may become an Antioch church and learn how to reproduce in a way that expands the church.  I have the most hope for this model.

So what is the Antioch Church Model

Acts 13

1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

  1. The gathering of prophets and teachers.  It is important for the prophets and teachers of a church to spend time together before the Lord seeking his will for the church
  2. Sending out the most called and gifted of the group.  Any church that wants to see this kind of expansion can NOT be dependent on their most gifted members but must be preparing to build itself up (Eph 4) as they are equipped by those gifted members so they can send their best out and not suffer.
  3. Spiritually and financially support the Apostolic team you are sending out.

I know many of us have been trained not to pay any attention to Acts to find models.  We’ve learned well that what the Spirit of God did in Acts and what the Spirit of God inspired Luke to write in Acts should have no bearing on our models but we should instead follow what the spirit of Brian McLaren or Mark Driscoll says or trust in our own limited understanding of the Bible and our context to discern how to structure the church.  But I believe church structures must flow out of divine revelation and then work toward strategy because it is given to apostles in our day to understand what models and forms will result in the proper functioning of the church.  We cannot and should not divorce form and function because one leads to the other.

I’d encourage you to dig into Antioch and see if these elements are true of you and your church and for the sake of the Kingdom, consider the impact of this tiny, obedient body.





The Challenge that will Transform the Church

28 06 2008

There is one simple challenge that a church can take that will once and for all

  • Shift the mission to disciple-making
  • Cause the church to be structured into small bodies (missional communities)
  • Release the 5-fold ministry to focus most of their energy on expansion

I’ve mentioned this challenge in several of my past posts especially here and here but I just discovered that it was posed by an episcopal priest named George Martin in the publication “Today’s Parish” where he wrote –

“Perhaps pastors should imagine that they are going to have three more years in their parish as pastor—and that there will be no replacement for them when they leave. If they acted as if this were going to happen, they would put the highest priority on selecting, motivating, and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible of the mission of the parish after they left. The results of three sustained years of such an approach would be quite significant. Even revolutionary.”

I want to work with ANY church leaders willing to serious consider taking this challenge. We need to STOP planting churches that are improperly structured requiring endless maintenance by full-time workers and the lack of serious discipleship and deep community that are their natural byproduct. It’s very simple. Structures that really make disciples, foster community and release the 5-fold are available if we’ll have the courage and fortitude to leave the familiar paths and take this ancient neglected path back to sustainable Kingdom expansion.

Please talk to me if you want to explore this.





The Slippery Slope of Extrabiblical Eccelesiology

24 06 2008

A quote from Richard Hanson in Viola/Barna’s book Pagan Christianity perfectly summed up a concept I’ve consistently encountered.

95% of my conversations with others about HOW to do church seem to center around this practice of reading their current model back into the biblical text.

Hanson writes –

“It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practice usefulness, and them read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of these institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined they had such a meaning.” – Richard Hanson

This is so important to me because I believe, without this practice, so many true believers would fully embrace the design of the church given by the 1st century Apostles. But so many of us have decades worth of training which spins biblical teachings into a defenses for our current church practices. If we can at least get over this and admit that there is no biblical basis for the

  • worship service
  • weekly sermon
  • career clergy
  • church buildings

and that these are man made inventions that should only be used if we truly believe they will enhance our commission fulfillment, and not distort the Apostolic vision of the church. Only then will we finally have the flexibility to rediscover the Apostolic methods that lead to explosive, deep, natural, unstoppable Kingdom expansion.





Parts of the Apostolic Team

20 06 2008

I’ve written in the past that ALL the members of the 5-fold ministry should function as an itinerant team to found new works and build up existing ones. This strategy will lead to the explosive expansion experienced in the 1st century church.

One question people continually ask is how these 5 gifts function. Enter Mike Edwards’ excellent post on Apostolic Expansion. Mike has an apostolic ministry in our DiSC network (Discipling in Simple Churches).





What to do during a Small Gathering? Rediscovering the Forgotten Gathering of the Body

14 06 2008

As I’ve explored the various ways of doing discipleship training I’ve discovered that one of the main reasons our model differs from others is because we have very different purposes and practices for the small gathering (missional community, body church, cell, community group etc.).

I want to lay out what we do during what we simply call “The Gathering” and then make a few observations on how this impacts our overall church model.

We believe there is only one Gathering actually described and prescribed in the New Testament for the local church body (the one that met in homes during the New Testament). This Gathering was (and still should be) one of the greatest distinctives of the Christian church. In the book of Acts we know they gathered in homes and at the end of the epistles Paul was greeting churches that met in those homes, but what actually happened INSIDE of those homes when they gathered?

Fortunately for us, one church royally screwed up their Gathering(s) so badly that Paul was forced to spell out specifically what should and what should NOT happen during The Gathering. This was the Corinthian church and the passage that described the practice of the Gathering was 1 Corinthians 11-14. As we’ve studied this passage here is a sample of the elements we’ve gleaned and put into practice during The Gathering:

  • 1 Cor. 11 – It starts with the Lord’s Supper as a love feast where everyone brings something to share and eats together remembering our Lord’s death and resurrection. This feast is celebratory in mood and is like a rehearsal dinner for the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
  • 1 Cor. 12 – We then clean up together and form a circle demonstrating that each gift or part is equally important for what is about to take place.
  • I Cor. 13 – Everything about this body and about The Gathering is done to demonstrate the unfailing love we have for one another as a spiritual family.
  • 1 Cor. 14 – Christ takes his position as the Head of the Body in a very real and physical way as we invite the Holy Spirit to come and various people bring what they felt led to bring “a song, a teaching, an interpretation, a revelation etc.” (1 Cor. 14:26)

Paul then ends this section by clearly telling the Corinthian church they have no right to ignore his prophetic teaching on The Gathering even saying that if someone ignores this teaching “he himself will be ignored” (I Cor. 14:38 )

So I want to be clear that we do NOT do The Gathering because it fits our ideal model of church. We ONLY do The Gathering because we believe it is the biblically prescribed way the church MUST gather.

However, as we have gathered this way we are beginning to understand how this form is unique and how it was carefully designed to achieve the proper function. This form of gathering:

  • Elevates Christ alone as the Head
  • Allows all gifts to be equal
  • Creates a family atmosphere (in a home around a meal)
  • Allows Christ freedom to move and speak
  • Forces us to depend on the moving of the Holy Spirit
  • Creates an opening for the prophetic word
  • Demonstrates our love for one another in very practical ways

Two major observation I want to make at this point are –

1. This is NOT a worship service, a replacement to a worship service nor does it have any relation to a worship service. When people put it into that category its disastrous. If you must put it into a preconceived category it should be as a spiritual discipline. Just like you have rhythmic spiritual disciplines in your life The Gathering is a weekly spiritual discipline the church (body) does together.

2. In this Gathering there is no leader but Christ. One of the most amazing things about the mess that was the Corinthian Gathering, where people were talking over one another, was that Paul never told the “leader” to get control of The Gathering. It’s an astounding omission!  When I hear people planting Missional Communities or Community Groups all the emphasis is on “leader training” and “leadership development” for these small groups but you are setting up these groups to have a human head. Christ must be the head of the body. That does not mean there are not elders or leaders. They are VERY important but they should NOT lead during The Gathering. They are equal participants.

We’ve acknowledge the following progressive implications of this model

1. This requires all body members to be at a high level of personal discipelship to do The Gathering
2. We need extremely powerful discipleship tools that work repeatedly
3. This is why BEFORE we can start a Body we have to start a Discipleship Training Center
4. After 20+ weeks of intense training a disciple can begin to participate effectively in The Gathering

Side note on Missional Communities – I realized that one of reasons my MC friends don’t get too jazzed about starting a DTC (Discipleship Training Center) is that they do systematic teaching during their Missional Community meetings, during leadership training and during worship services. So adding a 4th training process was over kill. In our model the DTC is where the systematic teaching and training happens. Although a lot of great teaching happens at The Gathering, we never prescribe training there. For us to set an agenda for The Gathering would violate Paul’s basic form which would turn it into a functionally different meeting.

Questions for discussion –

  • How can we ignore The Gathering as prescribed in 1 Corinthians in favor of other meetings?
  • How can Christ be the functional head when every Missional Community or Community Group has a designated “leader(s)”?
  • How can a “managed” or “led” meeting demonstrate the gifts as equally important?
  • Isn’t what the world needs to see is Christ’s Body? Why replace the biblical concept of body with the currently popular concept of community? Isn’t something lost here?




Live with us for a season at Storyhill

6 06 2008

Checkout the page I’ve added to give everyone info on the opportunity of living life with our family for a season – Stay at Storyhill.

Families, young marrieds, singles all welcome!  God’s been really challenging us to open our lives and demonstrating to us that discipleship involves being spiritual fathers and mothers which requires giving people greater access.  This is an attempt to be obedient to that calling and to see what God will do.