And you also are being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5
On the morning of February 4th, 2001 I began writing the first draft of this article. I had finished six pages when I had to leave to meet some friends for coffee.
I drove to my friend's home, and when he got into my car he began telling me about a dream that a nine year old boy had had early this same morning. The boy's name was Joshua.
In Joshua's dream he was standing outside a temple and God was standing beside him. God spoke to Joshua and told him that the temple had to be destroyed because the people were not worshipping the true God; they were worshipping other things.
God told Joshua to kick the temple with his heel. Before he did so, Joshua yelled at the people inside, warning them about what was going to happen. Some began running out of the temple, but there were some that stayed in the temple and who wouldn't come out. They were standing under their idols when the temple started to collapse and Joshua saw the idols that they had made fall on them and crush their heads.
It's a shocking picture. From one perspective it may not make sense. Surely nothing like this could exist in our churches? Sadly, this isn't the case. The LORD intends to shake all that can be shaken, that what is built by Him alone may remain. Old things, things that no longer respond to His Spirit, must come down before new things can rise from the dust to replace them. As Graham Cooke put it,
We cannot hold onto our old order and still progress to a new level of anointing. When a new paradigm unfolds before us, it will always take us back to ground zero. Paradigms do not build on each other; they replace each other. God loves this! We start again with a new dependency rising out of fresh inadequacy. ("A Divine Confrontation")
The renewal of what is called "five-fold ministry" is about rebuilding foundations in order to extend the kingdom. Extending the kingdom involves both works of power and works of weakness. Paul is the best human example we have of apostleship, and he "gladly boast[ed] in weakness." The ultimate model for apostolic ministry is Jesus Himself, who was "crucified because of weakness, but lives because of the power of God" (1 Cor.13:4).
Most of us understand works of power. The Vineyard movement and contemporary renewal have been founded on signs and wonders, healing and prophecy. Fewer among us understand the way of weakness, because it rarely seems "efficient" and it demands personal sacrifice. It flies in the face of the theology of Christendom, born in the realms of wealth and power. It doesn't sit well with "word faith" people or any other form of triumphalism.
Lenses and Perspective
Frost and Hirsch run the five-fold gifts through the grid of organizational and social research. While at first glance this may seem pedantic, it is really helpful (see the article Five-fold ministry and new movements). They make the following connection:
This is helpful for a few critical reasons:
1. it pushes us to see the function of these gifts in any church team.
This latter point is quite important. In conversation with a friend about this article, I realized that perspective is everything. When I first began thinking about these things five years ago I saw everything from the perspective where the church was at the center. But over the years my vision shifted. The church lens was exchanged for the lens of the kingdom of God (see Guder, "Missional Church" ch.7 as well as Beyond the Either-Or Church). Now my primary lens is God working in and through all things: the Lord of all working in our culture to establish His kingdom. This shifts the apostolic task considerably. Apostles are meant to lead the church in mission, and that means apostles need to attend strongly to two things: culture and their context, and the voice of the Lord. As Ron Martoia put it,
"The apostolic mirror says what do we see out there in our "sentness" role as a church. Most churches are very focused within their four walls. The word apostle means sent one. The church isn't to be gathered except to be sent out. As we go out into the culture, what do we see and hear that will enable us to address ministry in ways that are culturally sensitive? In other words, the apostolic mirror reflects to us all the culture context can show us.
A few years ago I was at my daughters baseball game and when she wasn't at bat or on bases I was reading in Jimmy Long, Generating Hope: A Strategy for Reaching the Post Modern Generation. He begins his book by describing how he went to University with the idea of becoming a Meteorologist, specializing in hurricanes.
Hurricanes are complex weather systems that are governed by two primary types of wind: feeder bands, the conflicting and multiple currents that generate the many funnels that form and cause all the destruction; and currents, the wind force that actually determines the direction of the entire storm. The current is like an invisible river channel, a foundation that directs the storm.
When I read this I thought of the church and emerging culture. The cultural shift is like the feeder bands of the hurricane. It's easy to focus on the powerful things that God is doing and become caught up in that excitement. When we do this it's easy to miss the narrower context and direction, the foundation, the current that acts as a channel for the storm.
If the whirling storm is the cultural shift, an expression of chaos, new life and rapid change, the context and direction is the work of God in building His kingdom and the ekklesia: "I will build my church." God's work in the broader culture is always meant to create an opportunity for the kingdom. The work of apostles is to recognize what God is doing and implement strategies to build the foundation (1 Cor.3:10 ff).
As these things played through my mind I continued reading in Generating Hope until I came to this statement two chapters later: "When the sky is the limit it's easy to neglect foundations." The Lord stopped me short with that one.
"When the sky is the limit it's easy to neglect foundations."
Graham Cooke refers to "wise master builders" as those who build, and don't merely bless. Too many leaders prefer to merely "bless" the work of ministry around them rather than invest their lives in building solid foundations. We settle for "power" and don't pursue "presence." We want results quickly and don't want to spend the time investing our lives in a solid foundation. We are content with a new building program, and cease to ask, "For whom am I building? How long will this structure last? Will we serve the structure, or will it serve us?" Frost and Hirsch push the question further. "If we do ministry, we won't have time to do mission; but if we do mission, we will be forced to do ministry."
There is a biblical picture of the work of rebuilding that is a parable for our time. Nehemiah is an apostolic builder. His name means literally, "Yahweh comforts." His story begins in the book of Ezra and then continues into the book with his name.
The period covered by these two books is roughly 110 years. The period of rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel, inspired by the preaching of Zechariah and Haggai, was twenty-one years. Sixty years later Ezra brought a revival and proper teaching on worship. After thirteen years Nehemiah came to work on the walls. Some scholars think that Malachi also lived and prophesied during these years.
"You see the distress we are in,
These verses are a picture of the work of God in times of change and renewal, as well as a call to the apostolic work of laying new foundations and rebuilding the wall. The wall, as we know from the New Testament, is composed of living stones.
In our time the church has largely lost alignment with the purposes of God, becoming a defensive structure against the world, rather than an offensive army on the move, taking back ground from the enemy. As Reg McNeal put it, "We are insular. We’ve built a parallel universe. Instead of intersecting all the avenues of culture (arts, government, finance), we’ve built a separate domain. We have our own music awards, radio stations, bookstores, cruise ships. We eat with people like us, vacation with people like us. We go in for port calls but we scramble back."
Unfortunately, because the church has been mired in ways of doing and being that are more grounded in culture than in Scripture, leaders have unwittingly encouraged passivity and "church" has become a spectator sport. We are in desperate need of a new reformation. Rick Joyner comments that "Spectator sport" Christianity is another cause for much of the lukewarmness that now prevails in the church. It is also a primary reason for many of the problems that churches experience with people becoming disgruntled, or even worse, bored." (Megatrends in the New Millennium)
Ultimately the question is not, "How do we turn members into ministers," but, "How do we turn members into missionaries?" How do we get them away from the committees and meetings and out into the world making friends with their neighbors?
The swirl of discontinuous change we are witnessing is showing how weak our foundations have become. We are not impacting our culture. The LORD is raising up an army of builders and restorers, those who see and perceive what He is doing and who can bring realignment with His purposes, releasing His people from captivity for the sake of the world.
As the church in our day is captive to culture, so the Temple in Nehemiah's day lay in ruins. The people of God had been in captivity in Babylon for generations. But God raised up prophets and apostles (though in those days the term had not yet been coined) to call His people to faithfulness and eventually to lead them in restoration of worship. Much more than this, however, as God regathered His people He was restoring their identity as a people called for the sake of the world.
Nearly eighty years before Nehemiah returned to the land, the Lord raised up the first apostle of restoration in Zerubbabel, who was appointed by King Artaxerxes of Babylon as the governor of Judah. As governor of Judah, Zerubbabel was responsible for rebuilding the Temple. But the word of the LORD to him was not to trust to his own resources or abilities.
6 The angel answered and said to me,
The first word of the LORD cautions Zerubbabel to depend on the LORD. The second word declares that it is only by grace that God's work is accomplished, and also that it is God's intention to be gracious in this work. He has not forgotten His people ("Zerubbabel" means literally, "God remembers.")
"Who has despised the day of small things?" In our time the LORD is shaking all things that can be shaken, and many churches are experiencing profound discomfort. Leaders don't know how to lead. People don't know who to follow. Old lenses no longer provide perspective. We lack vision. The wine is bursting the old skins, because it is the LORD's intention that no structure that limits His purpose shall stand.
To the eyes of man these may seem to be small things. When old foundations are crumbling and new things are being birthed they can seem small and insignificant. The old things have great stature in our eyes because they were structures that the LORD indwelt in power. The old things were good things for a time, until they became mired in methods and technique. The cloud began to move. But as the old walls crumble, the LORD is releasing new vision and creativity - Moses passes the torch to a Joshua generation. Joshua isn't interested in coming to meetings: he is out to capture cities!
"For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel."
The seven eyes of the LORD are also mentioned in verse 9 as seven eyes that are on the stone that the LORD has laid before Joshua. Zerubbabel stands upon the wall with a plumb-line in his hand, to evaluate it, and see where it is bowing or bulging. The plumb-line will discover exactly how the work is going. Where the wall is crooked it must be pulled down, and where it is straight it will stand. Zerubbabel represents the Spirit of God in this, for when God assesses His work, it is with exactness. "The time has come for judgment to begin, and God's own people are the first to be judged" (1 Peter 4:17).
A house can be built in many ways, and it's not uncommon for contractors to cut corners. What can seem adequate can completely fail inspection. When a building inspector determines that a house isn't up to code, the work stops. Nothing else is done until the work conforms to code.
Much of what we know as God's building has been built upon weak foundations, foundations that in fact are not up to code because they were conformed to culture rather than the Lord's design. Compromise with the Empire and work centered on human wisdom have become the foundation of many communities. The common solution is "more and better." But just as "no one puts a new patch on an old garment," so small adjustments are not the answer. "Band aid" solutions don't help the victim of a cataclysmic event. In the same way, shoring up the old building will only make the whole structure unsound. Rather, we need to start anew.
In volume 7, No.4 of Living Water magazine Randall Kittle recalls an an old Cary Grant movie called Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. He relates the story like this:
"In this movie he buys an old house that is in need of some major repairs. He has a building contractor come out to give him an estimate for remodeling. To his surprise, the contractor hangs a rock from a string and looks at the house (makes a plumb-line) then matter-of-factly says "Tear it down." The shocked look on the owner's face causes the builder to explain. "We can't repair it' the foundation is crooked. It's leaning. You''ve got to tear it down and start over."
A few days before I began writing this article in 2001 the front page of our local paper shocked me with a word from the LORD. There on the cover was a church steeple, with a huge backhoe in the foreground, and the crumpled remains of a wooden building spread out before it. The caption read, "Out with the old." The picture showed a mess of tangled and broken wood. Graham Cooke, in A Divine Confrontation, comments that, "Order is always birthed out of chaos. When chaos surrounds us, the Holy Spirit broods over us...and God is creating a new masterpiece."
"Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."
In 2001 Rick Joyner remarked on the need for a new kind of leader. These leaders will not be concerned about appearing successful. They won't be worried about the size of their ministry or who gets the credit. Rather, "A new breed of leader is going to arise who will fulfill the mandate of true New Testament ministry to equip the people, and allow them to do the ministry. A true .. leader is only successful if he or she is raising up others who can do what they do." Megatrends in the New Millennium
Facing the Opposition
"Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me." Nehemiah 6:14
Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall that had been destroyed. He wept over the destruction of the city wall and repented for the sins that had led to the fall of Jerusalem. It wasn't long before his attempt to change the status quo met with stiff resistance. Tobiah and Sanballat opposed Nehemiah's actions, as did Noadiah the prophetess and other prophets. These were the religious and political leaders of his day. They became distractions to his work and opposed him.
Os Hillman of "Hope's Gift International" writes,
"Whenever God does a new work it is met with resistance by those in the established religious community, and sometimes among those from whom we would expect support. Jesus met the same resistance when He began His public ministry. When God begins a new work that cannot be easily explained based upon prior experiences, many make the mistake of assuming it not to be of God. The very people who should embrace and encourage the work become the source of skepticism and opposition. God tells us that His ways are not our ways. He does things in ways beyond our limited understanding."
If we are looking for popularity or to build a following, going off in new directions isn't likely to give us what we seek. If we are looking to walk in faithfulness to the call of the Lord, and to respond to what we see Him doing, we are likely to be misunderstood and even rejected by those established in authority. It's not a fun place to be. But we will be sowing the seeds of the future, and if we keep our hope fixed on God we will eventually experience the fruit of our labor.
The place of transition between the old and the new is a place of profound insecurity. The old ways no longer work or have ceased to make sense, and the new ways are still unclear. Our very sense of self is shattered. Before, we identified ourselves with a certain role or function.. I am .. a pastor, a teacher, a mechanic, a businessman.. but our new identity is yet unformed. If we have withdrawn from a position or a system where we were well connected and well known, we can no longer rely on the rewards of that position or system. If I am not identified with this task, then who am I?
"We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.
Sometimes the best map will not guide you
This is why the movement from old to new is so difficult. It requires us to learn a new level of dependence on the Lord. We can no longer find our identity in the familiar ways. The seed has not yet risen from the soil, and we may even think it is decaying. Confusion is common; but when we are confused, we are about to learn something new.
The temptation is to turn around and go back, to fun for the familiar. We don't readily embrace confusion. It's easier to tweak the system than to acknowledge that it is hopeless and make a new start. We need to embrace the emptiness and break through our addiction to the culture. As Richard Rohr puts, it, "It's likely to take at least forty days to get our shoes off." We need time to unlearn before we can begin learning.
This is no longer the spirituality of the temple, but of the open road or of the desert. Desert places are profound places of learning and discovery. We find that we see things we never saw before. Once we get beyond the anxiety and fear, our eyes are opened to possibility and our vision of God begins to expand. Graham Cooke writes, "When the old wineskin is dying, the new wineskin is birthed by those who are not afraid to be insecure."
The more you see the less you know..
A New Way of Building: from the Bottom Up
Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built.
Then I said to the nobles and rulers, and the rest of the people,
Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built.
Then I said to the nobles and rulers, and the rest of the people,
One of the astonishing things about chapters 3 and 5 is that virtually EVERYONE is involved in the work of rebuilding. There is no apparent distinction between leaders and people. There doesn't appear to be an overall coordinator, and no single person can take credit for the raising of the wall.
In fact, even Nehemiah and his servant worked together on the wall. Nehemiah himself did not take the portion that was rightly his (5:15) and personally fed 150 at his table daily (5:17). In the process of working together the people of God rediscovered community.
In a recent paper, Richard Ascough notes that Paul avoided hierarchical, externally imposed models of leadership in favor of promoting self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive groups. He comments that, "Paul’s leadership style could thus be characterized as involving what modern scientists call 'chaos theory.'" Chaos theory is a biological model that sees an organization as a living, self-organizing web of relationships. (Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Fall 2002), p. 21 - 43)
Notice that I did NOT say "the people of God discovered teamwork." That might not be inaccurate, but we tend to understand teams in a secular corporate sense: a team is a group of people coordinated by a competent manager. A team is not the same as a community. Rather, when five-fold gifting is functioning as it was intended, it can be very difficult to tell who is leading. Leaders may be invisible, encouraging, empowering, and equipping as they work alongside others sharing similar tasks.
Students of leadership argue that there are really only two types of organization: leadership cults, and leadership cultures. The latter style of organization creates leadership through trust and mentoring. The former uses perceived knowledge and authority to create distance between leaders and followers, and tends to rely on titles and charisma to keep people in line rather than empowering individuals to discover their own talents and potentials. These two types of culture cannot co-exist (see "Leader to Leader" magazine and Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, p 22. )
There are two types of ministry environment. In one environment a team or teams are formed to assist leaders to develop and implement their vision (purpose). In the second environment a community is formed around a shared sense of passion (belonging). In the team environment success is understood as empowering the group to reach agreed goals. In the community environment success is understood as empowering individuals to belong and to reach their creative potential.
In the team environment roles tend to be set in concrete and leaders are indispensable. In the community environment leaders may be invisible, and leadership roles and functions are often shared. At different times in the life of the community, depending on need and context and the empowerment of the Spirit, various ones take the lead depending on their competencies, deferring to the voice of the Lord. The key qualities in this context are humility and discernment.
In "The Search to Belong" Joseph Myers suggests that we "abandon committees, skip teams, and embrace communities." (See also George Bullard).
"We shape environments, as opposed to creating groups. When the environment is healthy, people will find connection on their own and form groups spontaneously. This approach gives freedom and responsibility to individuals, because people will experience belonging and a sense that this helps them with their life... It also helps keep our controlling nature at bay!" Myers, p.76
We need to discern the body. Jesus is no longer an individual; He is present in the gathered power and weakness of the community, where each part contributes to "the fulness of Christ," "the fullness of Him who fills all in all." Sadly, professionalism and the ethos of consumerism are a way of life in many churches. No wonder we have many congregations, but few communities. (See also the evolution of the clergy). Sandra Cronk, the Quaker elder, writes in "Finding and Nurturing Ministers," that,
"The professional model assumes that ministry is primarily a skill or body of knowledge that is offered to recipients. These skills are part of a job. But in earlier years Friends saw ministry much more as a way of being and relating. Ministers were recognized for their skills, to be sure, but they were leaders more because their whole way of being pointed toward God or conveyed God's love and caring. Their words, actions and relationships were their ministry. In this old Quaker conception, ministry is not just a matter of doing but of being." (Festival Quarterly, Winter/Spring 1989)
The professional paradigm compartmentalizes life into private and professional spheres, and makes ministry a task. It prevents a full and authentic relationship with another human being in which redemption can happen. Conclusion
Change is messy, and few of us readily embrace chaos, confusion and uncertainty. These dynamics challenge us to surrender, to sit still and admit we are powerless, and allow new ways of doing and being to arise. Frequently we feel that we are off the map, and our cultural ethos of leadership tells us that leaders always know where they are and where they are going. Take a look at John the Baptist. He was the greatest transitional leader in history, and he had doubts. (See also "Kingdom Leadership in Postmodern Culture".
Our over dependence on leaders and highly rationalized structures has prevented maturity in the body of Christ. In the first two centuries AD the church grew and spread like wild fire apart from buildings and programs because all God's people carried the good news. The church was a living movement in the power of the Spirit. The emerging church, in fits and starts, is attempting to recover the dynamic of that day.
New wine requires new wineskins, otherwise the skins will burst and the wine is lost. The Lord Himself is bringing change to structures. His heart is to see all His people released to serve Him, for the sake of the world. Our old structures contributed to isolation and irrelevance, and became idols which we served, instead of tools to help us connect with the lost world. But old structures are breaking down as God releases new understanding and calls a new generation of builders who are not invested in the old wineskin.
Nehemiah is a type of the apostolic builder. He walked with integrity, courage, and wisdom, trusting the LORD. He walked as an equal among brothers, although his social status gave him the right to privilege. He saw beyond the value of "team" to the need for community. He modeled courage and faith in the face of opposition. Because of this he was instrumental in rebuilding the temple as a place where God could dwell.
"The God of heaven Himself will prosper us;
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© 2005 Len Hjalmarson. Last Updated on September 9, 2005