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Finishing Strong

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  December 28, 2018 — Leave a comment

Just as the apostle Paul finished the race strong, I want to encourage you to do likewise. As the year winds to a close, I recommend that Balkan U18 Athletics Championshipsyou hit the pause button and reflect on your growth as an apostle in the last year.

Why bother? Reflecting on and completing the year past clears an open space from which to freely jump into the new year.

At the beginning of this year, I laid out 5 Quantum Leaps of Faith for the New Year. These leaps of faith move you from discipleship to apostleship. Now that we have traveled 12 months together, let’s take stock and celebrate the gains you made. Like a long-jumper, measure even the smallest advances, knowing that incremental growth leads to exponential gains.

I recommend that you document your growth. Creating a visible record of your progress solidifies the gains you made and clarifies gaps you can close in the coming year. Click To Tweet Get creative. Compose a list using expressive fonts or colors, design a collage, pull together digital images, build a PowerPoint or find some other form of creative expression.

Ready? Let’s take a look at the ways that you took leaps of faith in your leadership.   You may also want to acknowledge the ways your people leapt as well.

Leap #1: Be fruitful and multiply like Jesus. There’s more to following Jesus than emulating the spiritual principles he taught.  You are also called to emulate him by multiplying yourself. This comes by passing on your Kingdom vision and values to the people you lead. Consider how you did the following:

  • I/we passed delegated in these ways…
  • I/we involved these new people…
  • I/we shared authority, creative control and/or permission in these ways…

Leap #2: Be empowered like Jesus Christian leaders are not to be hearers of good news only, but doers as well.  Jesus authorized his followers again and again to do the very things he did. What empowered actions did you take?

  • I /we said yes to Jesus this year in the following ways…
  • I/we accepted the freedom and authority he gives …
  • I/we followed the promptings of the Spirit in these situations…

Leap #3: Be accountable like Jesus Jesus was accountable to the one he called Father for fulfilling his call.  He was rewarded mightily. You too are called to live fully into the gifts you have received so that you might bear much fruit!  How did you fulfill your giftedness? In what ways were you accountable for your God-given potential?

  • I/we used what I have been taught…
  • I/we employed my spiritual gifts …
  • I/we maximized the gift of time by saying yes and no to the right things…

Leap #4: Believe like Jesus Jesus’ followers performed miracles just as Jesus did. How?  They not only had faith in Jesus, they developed the faith of Jesus. How did you courageously make the move from simply believing in Jesus to cultivating the faith of Jesus?

  • I/we acted on the belief that there is no separation between us and God, between us and the Holy Spirit, or between us and Jesus…
  • I/we acted on the belief in our ability to co-create miracles with God…
  • I/we acted on the belief that our lives have purpose…

Leap #5: Love like Jesus Jesus practiced the holy trinity of love: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. The key to loving like Jesus begins with not wasting time or energy indulging in self-hate, self-denigration or self-abasement. How did you grow in self-love this year?

  • I/we noticed negative self-talk when it began…
  • I/we didn’t let it go unchallenged…
  • I/we surrendered negativity to God…

Now that you have documented your growth in apostleship this year, don’t keep this good news to yourself. Do share it with your personnel committee or your supervisor. If you inventoried your congregation’s growth, craft it into a litany of thanksgiving. Or report on it at Church Council. Above all, celebrate with God! Don’t think of this as bragging. Rather, think of it as signs of sanctifying grace—for you and your people.

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.