The Apostolic Movement in the Emerging World

by Bill Easum

The word “Apostolic” or “Apostle” has been used many ways over the centuries. Some think it refers only to those few disciples who had been with Jesus plus Paul. Others see no reason to conclude that the role of Apostle came to an end with the death of the original apostles. Others use the term to signify any major Christian leader who has a significant influence over a wide number of churches. Still others see Apostleship to be a spiritual gift that defines entrepreneurs who start new ministries such a church planters. I tend to adhere to all of the above because I believe we are living in a time of leaders and movements so profound they can only be called “Apostolic.”)

From time to time, I write about movements that I see emerging. The last three movements I wrote about were local churches establishing and staffing church planting centers within their churches, congregations with more than one location, and churches and organizations whose goal is to reach their city for Christ.  All three of these movements continue to gain momentum.

Now, I want to focus on another movement that is having a profound effect on American Protestantism and I want to couple it with the three movements already mentioned.

Three forms of church governance dominate the church landscape today: congregational, representative democracy, and apostolic or pastor led. Feelings usually run high as to which one of these is the best form of governance.  However, most of the churches using forms of congregational or representative democracy are leftovers from Modernity, and are either dying or on a plateau.  On the other hand, the vast majority of thriving churches are apostolic or pastor led.  We’ve also noted that the thriving churches using congregational and representative forms of governance have figured out how to circumvent as much of their governance systems as possible.  

Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to observe some of America’s most authentic and effective pastors. One quality stands out above all the rest in every one of these pastors – they pastor as spiritual leaders who listen to God rather than corporate leaders who lead based on democratic rule.  Even if these pastors function in a denomination that requires democratic rule, they find ways to get around or minimize its effects and provide biblical leadership. And when I think back on my ministry, I am reminded that the most fruitful periods came either when I was not pastor of a church or when, as pastor of a church, I found ways to get around voting and be the spiritual leader of the church rather than the leader of a religious democracy.

The rule of thumb of this new movement – the less democracy in the church the more authentic and effective the church is in advancing the Kingdom of God! To some, this sounds like heresy. But when you think about it, voting and democracy are not found in the scriptures. So why are they part of so many churches today?  We have acquiesced to culture rather than followed the scriptures.

Now, couple this new movement with the three movements listed above, and you have something powerful going on — the emergence of an apostolic form of ministry that can lead to explosive growth. Pastors, even in denominations requiring democratic rule, are beginning to exercise forms of ministry that look more apostolic than pastoral.

Let me give you three examples.

Example One:

GlocalNet is an organization founded by Bob Roberts, pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas.  This church has planted over 70 churches in the last decade. Now, instead of focusing on planting churches, GlocalNet is establishing church planting centers all over the U.S.  Robert’s goal is to resource these centers so that far more churches can be planted than if his church continued to focus on church planting. Whether he likes to admit it or not, Roberts is a form of 21st century apostle.

Example Two:

Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois (a church with eight locations), has developed New Thing, whose purpose is “to  be a catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches relentlessly dedicated to helping people find their way back to God.” Dave is partnering with Todd Wilson, pastor of New Life Christian Church in Centerville, Virginia and founder of Passion for Planting to form a plan whereby a church can partner with three other churches to plant a church every three years for as little as $16,000 a year I suspect you will be hearing a lot more from this group in a short time.

Example Three:

Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, has established New Hope International for the sole purpose of raising up 21st century church planters. As of April 2005, they have planted 80 churches, with 7 in Japan, 17 in the Philippines, 13 in Myanmar, 23 in Hawaii, 6 on the Mainland, 12 in Nepal, one in Australia, and one in Kenya.

Example Four:

Todd Wilson, pastor of New Life Christian Church in Centerville, Virginia and founder of Passion for Planting has joined with Dave Ferguson from Community Christian, founder of New Thing Network to form Leading Edge Ministries ( Leading Edge is not in itself an organization, but rather an alliance of many leading organizations whose purpose it is to make it feasible for any church to take part in the church planting movement for as little as $16,000 a year.  They will offer all of the supporting resources and coaching.

There are many other examples, but you get the drift.

What will be the results of all this?  This new leadership will rewrite the Christian landscape. Let me leave you with these key points about the future:

  • A new breed of spiritual leader is emerging. This leadership will be more apostolic and missional than pastoral and institutional.
  • The focus will be more on advancing the Kingdom than on just growing a church. Ways to impact the city, nation, and world will be as important as growing the local church.
  • The day of institutionalizing the church within its four walls will give way to a missionary mindset among the thriving congregations.
  • Raising up leaders who can lead other leaders will become the focus of discipleship rather than convincing people to serve on committees or participate in church programs.
  • Adults, rather than children and youth, will become the primary target of evangelism.
  • Redemption of the person will be the primary thrust of worship and what one does after leaving worship will be a major measure of the effectiveness of the church’s ministry.
  • Reproduction of churches and the development of workplace ministries will be a primary mission. More new churches will be planted in the U.S. over the next 20 years than in all of the previous generations.