Saturday, September 26, 2009

GLOBAL COMMUNION: Apostles and Prophets together

Slowly we’re making our way through the power packed conference here in Charlotte several weeks ago. This was not a new subject for me, but the emphasis was very different. Foundational in organic church “construction” is the Headship of Jesus Christ. Wolfgang Simson traveled from Germany to provide a valuable and unique perspective on the mission of the Kingdom. Here’s more information on Wolfgang from his own blog:

Who is... Wolfgang Simson

As form follows function, my life and existence is best described by the vision that has me. As a result, I have three passions:
the reshaping of the Church of Jesus Christ to accurately reflect the design of its author and King;
an economic reformation by returning to Kingdom Economics, the messianic principles of money and work;
and a reformation of unity, that will happen as the Body of Christ repents of its human fragmentization and returns to it´s original design, the smashingly attractive Bride of Christ.

No one will see these goals reached on behalf of any one single ministry, church or network. The primary vehicle by which God will see those goals reached - with or without us - is a global Holy Spirit guided synergy and partnership that is obedience-driven, not convenience-oriented. One of these partnerships - the Starfish Partnership - is a flat-structured global apostolic network born out of the fresh organic movements that are emerging everywhere

The messages during the conference (with the exception of Frank Viola’s) were not recorded. But I will do my best here to convey what Wolfgang Simson shared with us. His topic: INCREASING OUR GRASP ON APOSTLES AND PROPHETS FUNCTIONING TOGETHER AS THE FOUNDATION OF WHICH JESUS IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE

Amos3:7 “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

Wolfgang Simson began by reminding us of how the Lord works. He first reveals what He will do through His prophets.
Simsom discussed how the Lord positioned Paul for his apostolic work. He brought him to a place of dying to self. It takes time to make an apostle, but it also takes time to “break” an apostle. He had to be broken before the Lord fully used him.

An apostle needs to listen prophetically and act apostolically. We need to be on the lookout for people who can also reproduce this in others. Prophetic people see vision. Apostles work with them to make it happen.

Wolfgang talked about our tendency to see prophetic ministry as something for the church. But truthfully God wants to take the prophetic into the world. Simson believes we’re about to move into what he calls “the inspirational age”. It will be a time marked by the Lord inspiring His people to invent things that succeed and fund the mission o the church. He referred to “industry prophets”, but added it will take the body to bring those inventions to fruition.

How Do We Build?
Church as we know it prevents Church as God wants it.
God provides His love, His grace, and His blessing. The blessing part is conditional. We must walk in holiness…which means within the confines of God’s word.

Prophetic ministry helps to remove the masks. It helps to bring us out of our cages and be real before God and others.

Form follows function. The church must be designed this way from its inception.
Simson believes we’re in the middle of the largest reformation in the history of the church. The group that hears this with a clean slate can go for it and see amazing blessing.

In this era we will see:
Kingdomization: We all move into the kingdom, the domain of God’s uncontested rule. We remain by obedience.
Building principles: Founding by apostles and prophets. But if apostles start selling their ministry they end up lonely.
Money: grasp radical economic principles. This will release the church. The only plans God blesses are his own.

House/organic church growth. A typical house/organic church has 15 people. If they grow by multiplication, 100,000 becomes 200,000. At this rate it would take only 13 years to reach half the planet. Simson compared the organic church to a “starfish”. If you cut a leg off, it becomes another starfish. The church must function under Jesus’ headship. He will build His church. We need to learn to listen to Him collectively. We seek God individually for “our piece” and bring those pieces together to discern the mind of the Lord.

Prophets must be honored. Sometimes prophets are made to feel like “dogs” as “apostles” use them for their purpose. We must be obedient to the Lord and the patterns he reveals. And we must be clean vessels for Him to use.
We also have another stark choice: we can ask for God’s blessing, or we can do what God is blessing. We have to come to a place where we proclaim: “I don’t have a vision. His vision has me”

Chinese Christians have learned well that quick and costly obedience advances the kingdom. What most of us are accustomed to is cheap decision making.
But ultimately we will fall into one of 3 categories as churches:

Revolution: a new work
Reformation: Start with something and learn to listen to the Lord to change
Retirement: these are made of people who don’t obey
We must burn our individual purpose statements

Many of us are building on wrong foundations: we’re giving consumers what they want.
We must also beware of vultures. There are rich people who want to control things. They “buy” people if they need to. Fathers and grandfathers must build a fence of protection around God’s work.

If you’re not sure of what to do, stop! Don’t let money or habit keep you. God has to immobilize us before he can mobilize us.

This is a time of Apostolic Transitioning. We are getting recalibrated in the kingdom.For years we’ve experienced Babylonian captivity of the church. It’s been market driven. We see the mountains of the holy land and painfully realize we’re on the wrong mountain! We have to come down the wrong mountain and go through the desert to get to the right one. Simson likened our state to that of the ship Paul sailed to Malta. The people were saved, but the ship was not.

This is a time of religious detox. We have to learn to exist without religious things. We can leave the system but the desert helps us get the system out of us.

After Wolfgang Simson’s presentation, other panelists and others in the room offered comments. I’m posting just some of those

-What God wants to do will likely be advanced by people who don’t mind being insecure. Often He leads us to go past the point of no return… there’s no fuel to get back to where we were. The challenge for us is when things get tough that we resist the temptation to go back

-Greg Austin added: we need to torch the bridge along the way. We must have passion in our hearts instead of just principles in our heads. There must be an impartation of the Holy Spirit.

-People infected with “the system” will try to discourage you. Security is intoxicating. This panelist continued with this disturbing characterization of Jonathan, Saul’s son. He died in the wrong war on the wrong battlefield with the wrong people. Jonathan covenanted himself with David but did not “uncovenant “ himself from Saul. This was his undoing.

-God builds with the King, but also with a royal family. But he’s building His kingdom, not our little empire

-There are 2 kinds of churches
1. Reactions to reactions, ad nauseum
2. Kingdom churches. A lot of Christians are not in the kingdom but in church. The goal is to build kingdom shaped churches where Jesus is not only my Saviour but also my Lord. Words are simply not enough

-A change of values must happen first or we will default back to what’s familiar and comfortable. We must destroy and avoid “programs”

-I build but not I, Christ builds in me

-Our Father does not want us to love things of Him more than Him. Some people love the form more than God. Every new season requires repentance. The last season of God is often the biggest challenge to the next one. We must present our body as a living sacrifice. Our first move is Godward, not manward. Don’t be conformed (which much of the institutional church is) but be transformed by the word of God, so you can prove what is the acceptable will of God. He will give you the option to obey or he will let the circumstances “kill” you to the point you’re ready to obey.

I’ll end with a favorite line from Don Atkin. The first time we met last month he said “church is not what you do, it’s what you “be”. On this day he summed it up well: We must stop doing and start being. If we abide in Him, He will accomplish His purpose in us.

Monday, September 21, 2009

GLOBAL COMMUNION: The Apostles' Doctrine

When I picked up and couldn't stop reading "Reimagining Christ" by Frank Viola on August 1st, I had no idea how his writings would impact my life. I also didn't expect to have the opportunity to meet and hear him speak in Charlotte less than 2 months later. And Frank's message on "The Apostles' Doctrine" was clearly one of the highlights of "The Global Communion" conference last week.

We put so much "church" time and energy into teaching, preaching and doctrine. But in all of the religious "education" and activity, I think many of us have a nagging sense inside that something's terribly missing. (Truthfully its SOMEONE who is missing) Find a quiet place with your bible and a notebook and listen to this message from Frank Viola on the topic:


It was the Second Roundtable Session for the conference, and I guarantee you it will be 39 minutes you will not regret setting aside for the Kingdom.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

GLOBAL MINISTRY GATHERING: Apostles: Discerning between the True and the False

My soul is full of joy tonight? Why? It’s because I’m nearing the end of a high octane week experiencing the glory of the living God. I’ve joined with dozens of others here in Charlotte for “Global Communion”, an apostolic gathering.
Why has this been such a “high impact” event? There are several reasons:
Jesus is all over it
Honoring Jesus Christ as Lord of HIS church is the driving force of the people gathered here
There’s cultivation of a kingdom vision. No one is recruiting to their brand or religious franchise

So as a result, God is pouring out His glory and forging an incredible unity of heart and purpose in leaders from around the globe. Jesus is truly ministering through His people. This has not been just another religious seminar. It’s a family gathering brought about through organic relationships, and I believe everyone will leave with new friendships that will advance the kingdom.
One relatively new friendship I’m very grateful for is with Don Atkin. Don brought all of these kingdom workers together this week. And he began the first session with a hard hitting topic:


Don began by defining ministry: it is a supply of Christ to the body. Then he addressed our ministry challenges here in the 21st century. As many of us have discovered the need to go beyond Pastor-Teacher leadership, a rediscovery of apostolic ministry is emerging. But Don warned of the danger of putting an apostolic layer over an existing religious structure. He says this is an exercise in futility. There must be a rooting out first of everything that’s not about Jesus. Then apostles and prophets can build upon a foundation of Him and Him alone.

One of our big challenges is the fact that George Barna estimates 4 out of 5 adults in America could be labeled “Casual Christians”. These are people who display no real difference in their lives from unbelievers. In other words, their profession of Christianity is false. Only about 16% fall under the label of “Captive Christians”. These are people who, like Paul, consider themselves voluntary “slaves” to Christ. They are captive to the heart and mind of God.
And complicating matters is the fact that most of the 16% who are truly followers of Christ are still in institutional churches, and are therefore not able to fully function as God intended.

So in our effort to restore the church, many of us are looking to apostles to help set things in order. But tragically, some of those who profess to be apostles are false apostles. This can be difficult to discern because much of the time false apostles are genuine believers. But Don gave us some helpful insights to make sure those we look to for apostolic leadership are truly apostolic.

Don Atkin put professing apostles into 2 categories: those in the spirit of Ishmael, and those in the spirit of Isaac. This of course is based on the sons of Abraham. Isaac fulfilled the promise, but before his arrival, Ishmael was the product of Sarah attempting to “help” God out. He came first. So very often, before something is truly birthed of God, Ishmael shows up, masquerading as God’s apostolic answer.

So what does the Ishmael apostle look like? Abraham’s first son set a sour tone for sonship. So, in like manner, apostles in this lineage are the source of conflicts. Isaac, on the other hand is a source of peace. Order and peace are fruits of the Spirit. Ishamel had some godly roots, but he produced more of the spirit of Egypt than of Abraham’s God.

Here are key distinctions between true and false apostles, or those of Isaac and those of Ishamel:

Life Flow
Ishmael: life flows from their followers up to them. They are on a platform and everyone looks up to them, and they’re often more affluent than those who they are ostensibly serving
Isaac: apostles are often impoverished. They speak little about money. Paul laid down his life and made tents. Life flows from them, not to them. They lead a love revolution.

Elder Statesmen not merely Fathers
Fathers can be tribal and more subject to competition and jostling for position with other fathers and tribes. Statesmen deal with issues that transcend tribes. They do not subscribe to tribal mentalities that are parochial. They also do not come to seek something for themselves, but seek a kingdom agenda

Cross pollination rather than control
Those of Ishmael seek to control. Those of Isaac promote cross pollination across tribes. They tolerate “messy” growth without smothering with supervision

Legitimize Ideas not people
Those of Ishmael sell legitimacy like priests used to sell indulgences. These apostles legitimate people. They promote a code of brotherhood similar to the KKK or the Mafia in return for loyalty. They are also impervious to accusations. Those of Isaac legitimize ideas. Regular believers are released to do the cutting edge work.

Impact rather than impart
Ishmael apostles pose as purveyors of the power of God. They do all the praying, prophesying,etc to impart something to the people. The rank and file believers are treated as if they have a “junior holy spirit”. Those of Isaac help to unpack what God has already put within His people

Equip instead of inform
Ishmael apostles believe they have to tell the flock everything they need to know, stunting true spiritual growth. Those of Isaac give people multiple resources and keep responsibility for their lives in their own hands where it should be.

Being rather than doing
Ishamel types have to be in charge and active in everything in the church to validate their apostolic positions. They use language to stir the flesh into action. Isaac apostles promote a goal of displacement. Their desire is to reproduce themselves so the body is not always dependent on them. They walk in the blessing of presence. When an apostle is in the house, his gifting rises, no matter where he sits. Gifts are released in people he’s around. Peace is also released. True apostles carry the presence of God and blessing everywhere they go.

Summing up, Don challenged us to do 5 things:
1. Don’t be distracted by what’s false. God will deal with those issues in His time. We have to remain redemptive in our perspective
2. Recognize that some who have the heart of a son may have only been exposed to systems of slavery
3. There will be a continual need to heal the casualties of false apostles. But this is best done in private and with as little drama as possible. This is where we must be statesmen and diplomats.
4. “Isaacs” are raised up by God, not by men
5. Through wisdom, a house is built. Paul was committed to knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. At the heart of a true apostle is SERVANTHOOD. Biblical authority is held lightly, exercised faithfully, expressed relationally, and followed willingly.

In the discussion that followed, one panelist spoke of the challenge of coming out of these “heavy shepherding” systems. He described what amounts to “unpledging” ourselves from these and described the process as bloody, similar to birth.
On a personal note, let me encourage you to consider whether you may be in this kind of bondage, and if you are, call out to the Lord to help you, and reach out to kingdom minded believers who aren’t promoting a “franchise” to help you. The antidote to this poisonous spirit in the church is nothing other than the liberating presence of the Lord in us. Let’s all make sure Jesus is getting formed in us, and that we’re truly growing in maturity… and not simply getting effectively indoctrinated and sermonized.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I am already rejoicing in the edification and fellowship the Lord is producing at this conference in Charlotte this week. This is an international gathering of organic church leaders.
This is very much unlike any other Christian conference I’ve attended. This one is smaller, yes. But it’s the atmosphere that is noticeably different. There is a panel of 20 apostolic workers from around the world. But there’s no recruiting or religious salesmanship here. The goal here is to receive and share the wisdom and truth of the Lord to see His kingdom advanced around the world.
On the first night, the panelists introduced themselves and described what the Lord is doing in their lives and ministries. Amazingly, the introductions did not stop there. The dozens of attendees did the same.
Some standout thoughts shared during that time:
“I don’t have a vision anymore. The vision has me”
“I’ve stopped going to church and started being the church”

There’s no platform here, no musicians with instruments, but a sweet sound did ascend to the Father. After the introductions Don Atkin asked if anyone felt led to begin a song. Someone began the chorus of “How Great is Our God”, then someone else started singing “We Exalt Thee”, and then another kicked off “I Love You Lord”. We ended with prayers lifted to the Father that He would reveal Himself during this week. I have no doubt that He will.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Weekend that Changed Everything

My recent posts have caused no small stir among the people who know us best. And I’m sure there are lingering questions about how we got to the place we are now. One of the reasons I’m posting this story is to lay out some of the “nail in the coffin” events that brought about the paradigm shift we made some weeks ago. (The “coffin” represents an ongoing pursuit of life within the “institutional” church setting. I mean no disrespect to anyone who chooses to remain in that context). Truthfully the seeds of organic church life have been in our lives for years, and the events of the last 20 months nourished the seedlings of change. The final decision to pursue a different course was made after a recent transformative weekend.
Because my parents are “seasoned citizens” I try to visit them at least once a quarter. Since Charlotte is US Airways’ largest hub, we have the blessing of weekly E-Savers (discounted fares to cities across the country). Of primary interest to me are the ones that pop up every 2-3 weeks for Lexington, KY. I regularly pray that they coincide with important events, like my nephew’s graduation back in May. Next I hoped for an E-Saver around my parents’ end of July birthdays. There was one on August First, but honestly I was uneasy about going. So much was going on in our lives that I wondered about the wisdom of leaving for a weekend. I was also very tired and my mind too exhausted to make a final decision. I went to sleep after 1 am that Friday night, praying that if the Lord wanted me to go, he would wake me up in time to make Saturday’s 7:35 am flight. Miraculously, I woke up at 5:30am. Even then I laid awake wavering.
Finally I threw a few things into a bag, and booked a ticket online. 6:17 a.m. I grabbed a book to read on the plane, and was out the door for Douglas International. 6:45 a.m. I walked through a non-existent line at security, and by 7:05 I had boarded the plane for Lexington. I settled in for the flight and pulled out my book. It was “Reimagining Church by Frank Viola. A few months earlier, after I had shared some of what God was doing in my heart, a friend recommended I read a book called “Pagan Christianity”. Soon after that I ordered the book, or so I thought. Instead I received “Reimagining Church”. This I believe was a Sovereign “mistake”, if ever there could be such a thing. What I was about to read on the plane that weekend would change everything. It confirmed many of the instincts the Lord has placed in my heart and has been nurturing for years.
On this last minute weekend trip, I internalized a couple lessons. First, from “Reimagining Church” I was reminded that the church is a family. The Father designed the church to mirror the Trinity. In the Trinity there is unity, and mutual submission, but there is no hierarchy. As I considered the many leadership challenges I’ve observed and experienced over the years, it hit me: our unbiblical perspective on leadership is the stumbling block to building the kind of church that truly reflects the heart of God. In His church, there is room for only ONE HEAD…Jesus Christ. I realized that for most of us Christians, this is mere lip service, little more than a mantra or slogan we can put on plaques and knick knacks to sell in Christian bookstores. Functionally, in most cases/churches there is a human head in the place where Jesus ought to reign. We elevate pastors and other Ephesians 4 leaders to a place they don’t belong. Truthfully, while many Protestants would reject the idea that the Pope is THE representative of Jesus on the earth, in practice we embrace that role for our pastors or other church leaders. We insist on setting up mediators between ourselves and Jesus, even though Scripture clearly teaches that He is the sole mediator between us and the Father. We depend on leaders to dole out responsibility and affirmation to us as if they come from the throne of God. There should be a DIRECT connection to the Father for EVERY member of the body so we can BE the functioning body parts God has called us to be.
I now believe this process is hindered by an over emphasis on the role of leaders. (To my detractors, I do not reject Ephesians 4 leadership. I do believe their role is to train and empower the BODY, not to consolidate power for themselves to lord over God’s people. I suspect this is an area where we, as leaders, think more highly of ourselves than we ought.) The Scripture is clear. Ephesians 4:12 tells us Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are given to us …to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Continue on and read verses 13-16.
Another lesson I took away concerns my immediate family. I love my wife and children, and I want so much more for them. I want my love for them to be more evident and for us all to enjoy a much richer family experience. So who could I look to for such an example? For me there is no better example than our long-time family friends, Bill and Lorraine Brooks? Bill is a retired London, KY Christian businessman with a heart for his family and for missions. He and his son Hank went to a tiny island in the Caribbean for a short term Partnership in Evangelism mission trip in the early 1980s. While in Grenada they connected with a church there and a family whose lives Bill decided to invest in by sponsoring their children to college in the United States. A wonderful godly woman, one of those children is now my dear wife of 17 years. Aside from my thankfulness for their role in bringing us together, it was always a blessing to see the closeness of the Brooks family. Most Sundays, they gather together (with their now adult children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, sponsored children and many others) for a meal after the Sunday church service. It is obvious that the foundation for this rich, welcoming fellowship time was laid many years ago.
On this my most recent visit to Kentucky, I promised my wife that I would pay the Brooks family a visit. So after attending Sunday morning service with my parents I took the roughly 1 hour drive down I-75 to visit Bill and Lorraine. I was not surprised to find Bill preparing lunch. He invited me to “help” by talking to him while he worked. Soon Lorraine emerged, and their daughters arrived for their usual Sunday fellowship over lunch. When I asked one daughter about the secret of togetherness, her reply was simple: “we always did everything we could together.” This was all the confirmation I needed. Over recent weeks since I’ve returned home, we’ve been intentionally doing more things together as a family. I hope one day our family togetherness will speak to people as does the Brooks family.
Wrapping these elements together, so much of what I learn about the church and about the family are interchangeable. As a church family we grow by being together beyond church meetings! Those of us who left the institutional church setting together in recent weeks are already experiencing the joy of this. As we gather in a living room, Jesus is the unseen Head, leading our times together. The growing body we’re relating to no longer gathers to sit for a performance, but to actively participate in our corporate worship. Yes, there will be teaching and preaching. Yes there will be leadership. But the goal, as Terry Virgo says, “is to make every person mature, not dependant.” The body is able to come together and worship without leaders dominating. If in doubt, read I Corinthians 12 and 14.
Please don’t hear what I am not saying! I am not against leadership. I believe God gives leaders to his people. Good effective leaders bring Glory to God and good to his people. However, I believe that we as leaders should be more concerned about seeing Jesus honored than about securing our positions and asserting our authority. Allow me to further drive home my perhaps misunderstood perspective on leaders. I believe that if we as leaders were half as concerned about seeing “regular people” mature, equipped, and deployed for mission, as we are about having them respect us and honor our authority (see John 5:44), we would truly see more of the manifold wisdom of God displayed in HIS church.
As in the church, the best way I can encourage my family to mirror the heart of God is to serve and lead them in love… certainly not by “asserting my authority”. In fact, I suspect they will be more inclined to listen to and maybe even respect a husband and father they know loves them, rather than one who is simply looking to tell them what to do, how to live, or who to be.
Lord, give us more servant leaders and free your people of drill sergeants and religious CEO’s. Let your glory shine through ALL of your people so the world will see YOU in us and give YOU the glory you deserve! Amen!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Its All About

This posting is somewhat of a confession. I know all too well how easy it is to get caught up in "church" and "church things" and ironically forget about the Lord. I know it sounds silly but I've learned we can be so religious, and in the process neglect what should be our primary relationship.

So as we change course and begin something new, we are acutely conscious of our need to, above all, cultivate our fellowship with Jesus... individually and corporately.

I was deeply encouraged and challenged by a section of "Total Church" by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, addressing this very issue:

It was Augustine who first summarized the Christian life with the words, "Love God and do a you please." The older we get the more we are persuaded by that deceptively simple maxim. Paul says:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

If we are culturally relevant, we might add, but have not love, we gain nothing. If we preach the finest sermons but have not love, we are resounding gongs. Indeed, if we write books about mission and church but have not love, we are just clanging cymbals! Attendance at meetings, involvement in evangelism, an ability to handle the Bible, starting new initiatives, a reputation for being sound (or radical) - all of these, in and of themselves, indicate nothing unless they are a heart response to the deep, passionate love of God and emerge out of a deep, passionate love for God.