Archives For Rebekah Simon-Peter

The apostles embarked on an intense program of training, education and discipleship before they were set loose to do what Jesus did. Chief authorized word artamong their acquired attributes as apostles was divine authority.

When I was ordained, I knelt down before Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. She laid her hands upon me, and said words I’ll never forget: “Take thou authority.” It didn’t take more than a year as a pastor before I realized that I hadn’t taken enough. As the years ticked by, I grew in my own sense of inner authority, but I also bumped up against circumstances, people and situations that called out my worst: people pleasing, fear of offending, and wanting to be liked. Self-doubt plagued me. Yet, Bishop Swenson’s words percolated in my soul: “Take thou authority.”

Like the apostles of old, we church leaders cannot function without appropriate authority. So why is it that we have de-authorized ourselves?

Over the years, I have gone back to the Source for more and more authority. This hasn’t been authority wielded over others as much as authority over my own inner storms, lack of faith, self-doubt, and negative self-talk. As a result, I have been able to speak, lead, decide, delegate, and envision with more authority. Miracles have ensued.

Miracles and authority go together. Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed 12—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Later, “Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits…They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

What empowered these miracles? First, Jesus has equipped and empowered them, fully expecting them to do what he does: teach, preach and heal in the name of the Kingdom.  But there’s something else going on here. Their faith has grown to the point where they can effectively cast out demons, heal the sick, and shake dust off their feet when they are not welcome. Can you imagine the kind of authority they wielded over their own lack of faith, self-doubt, bad attitudes, feelings, and wavering sense of purpose and calling? Together with their calling by Jesus, I believe that’s what is at the source of the miraculous.

As the disciples-turned-apostles in our ministry settings, now it is our turn.   Over and over again in the scriptures, Jesus is clear that he wants us to have authority: authority to ask, claim, declare, preach, interpret, teach, set free, and forgive sins.   If it’s true that “the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins,” then perhaps to be Christ-like is to claim our own authority.

When I came into the church, some 25 years ago, it seems like Jesus was the answer to every question. That’s bad theology. It’s certainly not the answer Jesus himself gave to every question. Instead, he generally pointed people to God, or to the realm of the Kingdom, to their own inner authority. You want to walk on water, Peter? Come on out.   You want to make sure these people are fed, friend? You feed them. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Jesus constantly authorized the people around him to act. Yet, in the church, we’ve de-authorized ourselves. We feel we have little say over the culture, the people, the future of the church, or even the role we play in it. We are plagued with low self-esteem, high stress, and negative self-talk. We have let circumstances dictate our authority rather than Jesus himself.

While some of those dynamics are the function of a declining church, they are also part of the cause of decline.   Many of us have lost our voice, our way, and our inner sense of authority. Yet, Jesus himself, let alone the Bishop, insists: Take thou authority!

You realize what this means, don’t you? We have agency, power, authority, autonomy, ability, and capacity that we did not know we had. We are co-creators with God, in the dance of leadership together. It all comes down to faith: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22)

As you grow in apostleship, be sure to take thou authority. Then take some more. You’ll need it. Not only that, the Kingdom is depending on it.

 

“Do you think I’m an apostle?” It was an unusual come-on line from a would-be suitor. As a single female pastor, though, I got used to Faith Hope Ideology Believe Trust Conceptfielding all kinds of weird questions on dates. But I wasn’t sure how to answer this one. Even so, his question has stuck with me throughout the years; it was the first time I had heard a regular person apply the word apostle to themselves.

The word apostle seems to be reserved for the select few, or as alter egos for the disciples. Its usage begs the question: What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple? And is the word apostle even still to be used?

Last week we explored the question: Is your church culture set up for apostle-making?   I argued that “sometimes we think only church planters can be apostles. Or that it requires a special call. I disagree. If we follow Jesus’ model, apostleship is a natural next step in discipleship. It’s how followers become leaders. It’s how Jesus’ ministry gets carried out.”

This week, I want to dig into the key differences between discipleship and apostleship, and reveal to you the secret faith of apostles. Then I’ll suggest two steps you can take to grow in your apostleship.

Disciples and Apostles

The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus, meaning scholar. A disciple is the student of a particular teacher. A disciple’s primary focus is the teacher and mastering his or her teachings, so that they can follow their path. (The word derech in the Hebrew, means path or way). John the Baptist had disciples, the Pharisees had disciples, and Jesus had disciples. (See Luke 5:33).   Of all three, we know the most about Jesus’ disciples: they traveled extensively with Jesus to learn, absorb, and soak up all they could about his life and ethos.

While a disciple is a student, an apostle is an altogether different animal. The word apostle derives from the Greek apostolos, meaning envoy. If disciples are followers, apostles are agents. The first are somewhat passive while the latter are active, even proactive.   Apostles are sent out as commissioned agents to act on behalf of another person.

The first 12 apostles functioned as both disciples and apostles. “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:13-15) The 12 first learned from Jesus, then were sent out in his name. They were followed by many others who were also sent out in his name including Barnabas, Paul, and Junia.

Jesus first sent the 12 out, and later the 70, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the Kingdom. In other words, to do exactly what he did. Jesus ultimately said they could do even greater things than he, which they also accomplished. The book of Acts tells how the apostles oversaw the rapid multiplication of the church, with thousands upon thousands becoming believers.

How is it that these one-time followers of Jesus were able to duplicate the very miracles we usually associate exclusively with Jesus? This question leads us straight to the biggest difference between disciples and apostles. I assert that disciples have faith in Jesus while apostles have the faith of Jesus. Otherwise, there’s no way that apostles could do what Jesus did. Apostles must make a qualitative leap in faith. Let’s look at these differences in faith.

Faith in Jesus   Faith in Jesus means trusting in his power, his love, his teachings, and his saving grace. This is the kind of faith we commonly teach in church—in songs and hymns, sermons and Bible studies, and children’s messages and youth curriculum. It is the focus of our teaching on salvation.

Faith of Jesus  Having the faith of Jesus takes things to a whole new level. It means trusting in what Jesus trusted in. It means abiding in a deep knowing that you are one with God and one with the Holy Spirit; it means cultivating an unwavering trust in your life purpose; it means entertaining a rock-solid knowledge that all things are possible; it means living with an ever-ready expectancy of miracles. Most of all, it means living in constant communion with, and surrender to, God. In other words, having the faith of Jesus means operating in an elevated state of consciousness in which there is no separation between humanity and divinity, between us and God. This kind of faith is hinted at in church, but is often not emphasized, even though it is a big part of Jesus’ teachings (see for instance John 15). It is the secret faith of apostles. Is it any wonder that apostleship is so little known?

Growing as an Apostle

With this in mind, you may be ready to grow as an apostle. If you are, here are two suggested steps to take:

  1. Ask Jesus to show you the kind of faith he had.   Listen quietly and expectantly for an answer. Then do what he tells you to do.
  2. Pray the prayer of the apostles: “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5). Then, listen for his answer. Just as he encouraged the 12, don’t be surprised if he directs you into action. Here are things you can do right away: stop doubting God, and stop doubting yourself. Doubt in God limits God’s capacities to do wonders in your life. Self-doubt limits your capacities to follow God’s instructions. Either way, both kinds of doubt interrupt momentum and obstruct miracles.

Remember my would-be suitor and his question? After he asked me about apostleship, I had to question my own level of faith. After all, he was a mailman and I was a pastor. Where in the heck was my trust in God?   I prayed my own version of the apostle’s prayer when he eventually asked me the big question on bended knee. God showed me the right answer; I said yes.

Next week, we’ll look at the 5 A’s of biblical apostleship. In the meantime, if you are interested in maximizing your leadership culture, check out my latest workshop: From Discipleship to Apostleship.

Article adapted from the forthcoming book, “Dream Like Jesus,” by Rebekah Simon-Peter.   All rights reserved.

 

 

Disciples don’t make disciples; apostles do. In the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus instructs his disciples to go discipleshipmake disciples. Rightly, much is made of having discipleship systems so that we can live out the Great Commission. But I want to suggest something radical: We can’t effectively carry out the Great Commission until we get serious about making apostles.  In fact, we can’t have vibrant, flourishing churches without an apostle-making culture.

Sometimes we think only church planters can be apostles. Or that it requires a special call. I disagree. If we follow Jesus’ model, apostleship is a natural next step in discipleship. It’s how followers become leaders. It’s how Jesus’ ministry gets carried out.

Consider the disciples whom Jesus commissioned; they had an alternate identity. They were not only followers of Jesus, they were highly trained and equipped emissaries, agents, stand-ins for Jesus. We have this sense of them being hapless students who sometimes stumbled into truth, but who mostly stumbled over each other. But it’s not true. A closer reading of the text shows something different. Right from the very beginning, Jesus called the 12 to be apostles. “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed 12—designating them apostles.” (See Mark 3:13-19 and Matthew 10:1-4). He then empowered them to do the very things he did: cast out demons, heal the sick, proclaim the kingdom. He granted them agency.

I have often wondered if the church grants enough agency to its people. According to Wikipedia, “In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions.” Does the church limit the very freedoms and authority that Jesus granted us?

Here’s what I mean: Jesus constantly authorized his followers to be not only hearers of his word, but doers also. Peter is encouraged to walk on water. All 12 are encouraged to feed the thousands that have gathered to hear the Master Teacher. First the 12, then 70, are sent out to do signs and wonders to pave the way for Jesus. They’re granted the agency to heal the sick. When they fail, Jesus teaches them how to do better the next time. Jesus raised up disciples who are also apostles. In other words, he regularly duplicated himself. He wanted us to have power, his power.

Does your church have an empowered, apostle-making culture? Here are 4 ways to tell:

  1. SHARED POWER Jesus shared power with his apostles. He wasn’t afraid of being shown up, overshadowed, or undermined. Apostle-making church cultures intentionally share power. Leaders of the congregation—lay and ordained—set out to duplicate themselves. They delegate authority, share tasks, ask for help, and empower others to carry out the work of ministry. They create more leaders and not simply more followers. Declining church cultures concentrate power so that followership is required.

 

  1. ABUNDANCE OF MIRACLES The apostles were miracle-makers. In their wake, people were healed, jail cells burst open, thousands became disciples, and effective structures for growth were put into place. Apostle-making church cultures expect and plan for miracles. Their ministries are visionary, and expand assumptions about what is possible. They respond to the needs around them, even when doing so seems impossible. Declining church cultures focus only on what seems possible—which is less and less. When the impossible is considered, it’s from a place of sentimentality or loss.

 

  1. SPIRITUAL GROWTH Jesus constantly challenged the apostles to growth in faith. When they failed in miracle-making, Jesus re-directed them to expand their capacity for trust and double-down on unwavering belief. Apostle-making church cultures not only focus on spiritual growth, they insist on it. They make tools available that will expand, deepen, heighten and maximize your ability to connect with the Divine and live the spiritual life. Declining church cultures equate tradition with spiritual growth.

 

  1. NIMBLE STRUCTURES The Apostles oversaw the radical expansion of the church. When necessary, they changed how they did things to make their work more effective. Apostle-making church cultures are not bogged down in excessive structure. They maintain nimble forms of governance, which allow for quick decision-making.   Declining church cultures have traded out vision for structure.   They’re afraid to make significant changes lest it challenge the identity of the church.

Is your church culture set up for apostle-making?  If so, congratulations! You are setting yourself up for effective disciple-making. If not, choose one of the above qualities to begin to focus on. Re-read the Gospel of Mark or Acts from the perspective of apostleship and see what you can learn.

Next week, we’ll explore key differences between discipleship and apostleship and how you can take your next step of growth.

 

“Can I still call myself an atheist, and believe in God?” I looked up from the salad bar at the 20-something young woman posing the question, my fork hovering over the red and green peppers. “Tell me more,” I said, momentarily confused.

“Well, I now believe in a kind of power, but not what you believe in.” She knew I was an ordained minister. “Say meditationmore,” I urged her. I wanted to hear what kind of a God she thought I believed in.   “Well, I think God is in everything.” Me too, I thought. “That sounds like maybe you’re talking about panentheism,” I offered. “Pantheism?,” she said. “No, panentheism,” I gently corrected. “There’s a name for it?” she asked, surprised. “Yup,” I said, relieved I had something to offer this young woman. Never mind that I also believe God is in everything; what I was most intrigued by was her desire to identify as God-believing atheist.

My daily life takes me deep into the heart of SBNR (spiritual but not religious) terrain—from the gym, to encounters with 12-step folks, to seatmates on airplanes, to United Methodist churches. Atheists who believe in God are not the only unusual faith configurations I encounter. In my ongoing adventures with the spiritual but not religious, I’ve gleaned a few things I’d like to share with you, including three insights and action steps for the church.

The spiritual but not religious defy easy understanding. While the evidence I offer here is anecdotal, and names have been changed, these stories represent people I have met along the way.

SBNR are not shut off to God nor is God shut off to them.

“I was meditating when I was transported back in time and saw Jesus, palms cupped, with a flame rising out of them,” Josh explained. “I feel like I witnessed one of the miracles of Jesus.   I know he exists. It’s not a question with me. But, church? No, I don’t really go.” “Tell me more,” I said. “We didn’t grow up with much of a faith,” this intelligent 40-ish man observed. “My Dad was Catholic and my Mom Jewish, but we really didn’t practice anything.”

INSIGHT: Jesus steps outside church walls. Just because they are not in Sunday services, doesn’t mean that God is not in touch with the SBNR, and vice versa. In fact, Josh’s story reminded me of my own, told in The Jew Named Jesus. The only difference is I was in the Orthodox Jewish community at the time Jesus appeared to me in a vision. I could have easily opted to stay in the Orthodox world, or to surrender all religious affiliation, but a churched friend gave me a third option. She invited me into her world. Not to Sunday School class, mind you, but to the seminary she was attending. The meaty challenge of seminary was perfect for me. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but It gave me a chance to learn more about Jesus without having to commit yet to a faith community.

ACTION: Connect and Invite. As people share their stories with you, invite them to learn more about Jesus, with you. They may not want to come to worship. Instead, they may want to attend a Bible Study, or a spiritual retreat, or, who knows, even seminary.  Maybe they simply want to sit and talk with you about their experiences. Treat this as a sacred encounter. Don’t judge them or their experiences; instead look for commonalities. Be prepared to say, “Tell me more,” and then to listen. Feel free to share your own experiences with them. Above all, be prepared to learn from them more about what God is doing.

The SBNR are church members and leaders…if they haven’t left yet.

“I decided not to be a General Conference delegate this year,” Suri confided, matter of factly. “I’ve gone every other year. But I’m not sure I still believe in this stuff. I’m not mad. It’s not anything like that. It’s just that I’m more of a universalist. God is love; that’s it. I don’t believe in the duality of heaven and hell. If I don’t come back to Annual Conference next year, you’ll know why. I’ve just moved on.”

INSIGHT: Church on the move. As Phyllis Tickle famously observed, every 500 years the church feels compelled to have a huge rummage sale. We “move on” in our practice, our beliefs, and/or our organization. I think the church is actually moving on from the duality of heaven and hell into a kind of “God is love” unity.  Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins” is a sign of that.

I wonder how many of our church members and leaders lean toward universalism? Personally, I don’t believe in hell as a literal place. Remember, I’m a panentheist (not a pantheist): I believe that God is in everything, including in each person. Hell, as near as I can figure, is a life lived apart from love, but I don’t see it as a place that God sends us to, condemns us to, or abandons us to.

ACTION: Get clear and get honest. Conduct an audit of your actual beliefs—whether at the level of congregation, small group, friends, or even just yourself. Take an honest look at what you do and don’t believe, and whether your church’s worship, ministries, and classes, are reflective of these beliefs. Invite your SBNR friends. It could make for very stimulating dialogue and build bridges of understanding.

The SBNR are looking for alternatives, and finding them.

“I’m the acquisitions editor for an evangelical Christian publishing company,” Shanda, an accomplished woman in her 50s, told me, “but I almost never go to church anymore.” She hesitated. “My theology has opened up quite a bit.” Another pause. She lowered her voice, “It’s boring. Especially compared to the personal development groups I am part of.”

INSIGHT: Don’t bore folks. SBNR folks are not anti-group, anti-growth or anti-God. They are anti-boredom. There are too many other options out there to waste time on experiences that don’t deliver. If church isn’t conducted in a way that connects, engages, inspires, provokes, challenges, or causes spiritual growth—then folks will look elsewhere. Don’t give them any excuses! Notice, I didn’t say church needs to entertain, babysit or amuse. It doesn’t. Yes, people want high quality experiences that engage them. Challenge and engage people with a love that risks everything and promises a real difference in the world! That’s never boring.

ACTION: Stand for something. Many churches are in survival mode. They have given up on standing for something. Instead, they’re trying to not lose people. Paradoxically, that loses people. Find a kingdom-oriented passion and stand for it. Preach it, pray it, and live it. Risk the church for it. After all, that’s what Jesus did.

Here’s the bottom line, church: SBNR folks have something vital to teach the church. If we listen, we might just gain clues to our own re-birth.

This article first appeared on June 21, 2016.

 

AA

Alcoholics Anonymous has forever changed the church.  And it has done it right under our noses.  Or better put, in our church basements, classrooms, and meeting rooms.   AA introduced the concept of spirituality apart from religion.  It took away the middleman.  It has put into place the most successful self-duplicating, small group model in recent history.  And it has done it by emulating the model of the early church.  On June 10, AA turned 80 years old.  From extremely humble beginnings, an estimated 23 million people in the US now live with long term recovery from alcohol and other drugs.  Here are the top 15 things AA can teach the Church.

  1.  Stick to your primary purpose.  AA doesn’t try to be all things to all people.  It’s primary purpose is to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.  That’s what it does, and it does it very well.  If someone wants to apply the 12 steps to overeating, smoking or hoarding, a new fellowship is formed.  This laser like focus allows for great success.  What if the church kept the main thing the main thing?  Such as making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
  2. You can’t keep it unless you give it away.  AA’s know that in order to maintain their sobriety, they have to work with others and share the message of recovery.  That’s how Bill W. and Dr. Bob got sober.  And it hasn’t changed since then.  Evangelism is built right into the 12 steps.
  3. Get a sponsor.  Sponsorship is the key to success. Every AA who hopes to remain sober gets a sponsor to help them work the 12 steps.  Then they turn around and sponsor someone else.    What if churches focused on creating sponsors or disciples who disciple the next person?
  4. Insist on experiencing God.  God is very loosely defined, if at all in AA. Each person works on their own concept of God, and it changes and grows as they change and grow.  The church has made much of trying to define God instead of helping people to experience God.
  5. Promise a spiritual awakening.  It’s the results of working the 12 steps.  The church is short on this promise and long on trying to get people to join.
  6. Focus on spirituality.  Deepened spirituality is the marker of growth among AA members and groups.  Is that what drives your church growth?
  7. You don’t need a building.  AA has an estimated 2 million members worldwide I 115,000 groups.  Most of them meet in someone else’s space, paying rent instead of mortgage and repairs. That frees up a lot of time and energy to stick to their primary purpose.
  8. Don’t sponge.  AA has a tradition of being self-supporting through its own contributions.  Is your church looking for someone else to foot the bill?
  9. There are no stars.  Anonymity, not celebrity, is the key to the success of this program.  Humility is also a characteristic of Christ.  How about your church?
  10. Don’t shoot your wounded.  Relapsers are welcomed back with open arms.  Judgment, or the perception of judgment, is often felt in churches.
  11. Have fun.  Lots of laughter emanates from AA rooms as people laugh at their former follies.  “We absolutely insist on enjoying life” is an oft-quoted line from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Laughter keeps people coming back.
  12. Let the hierarchy serve the local group, and not the other way around.  The General Service Office of AA exists only to serve the local groups.  Denominational offices sometimes give the opposite impression.
  13. Share your story.   Early Christians had stories of salvation and they shared them.  This also helped them stay strong in the faith and hold one another accountable.  AA is all about sharing their stories.
  14. Focus on the newcomer.    The newcomer is the most important person in the rooms of AA.  They are actively welcomed, told to keep coming back, and encouraged to get a sponsor.  Their transformation begins immediately. Churches too often stay focused on the longtimers, and are reluctant to make space for newcomers.
  15. Expect resurrection!  People come back from the dead all the time in AA rooms. It’s what AA specializes in.  New life is expected and demanded.  How about in your church?

This article first appeared in June, 2015.