The air was surprisingly cool and crisp this morning as I set out from our property in rural central Virginia for what was supposed to be a 10 mile ride through the country. It is a ride I have done many times before and I was starting to get a bit bored with it. I decided to press on past my normal turn around point expecting to go just a little further.
I had not gone very far when two very fast, very fierce dogs began to chase me. I paddled as fast as I could up the hill and managed to escape unharmed. However, as I turned and looked behind me, my pursuers were poised in the middle of the road daring me to return. I did not have the courage to undergo another attack so I kept riding with no idea how I would get back to our cabin.
I soon found a road I recognized. I assumed it would get me back to familiar territory which it did. However, I was coming from a different direction, took a wrong turn and ended up going an additional 5 miles before I finally found my way back to our property. In total, I biked 17 miles which is quite a long ride for an old woman like me.
While I really wish the snarling dogs would have been napping when I rode past, without my fear of being eaten for lunch, I never would have found this new path. What I saw on these new roads was well worth the risk it took to get me there. I ended up on a ridge overlooking rolling green fields, came upon a creek as I passed through the Buckingham Appomattox Forest, and discovered I am biking distance to Holiday Lake State Park. Most importantly, I learned I can bike 17 miles and live. This one unexpected venture will yield months of new biking expeditions. I also grew tremendously as a biker from the experience. I learned to take a map with me, a cell phone, and will be investing in pepper spray as a nice surprise for the next pack of dogs to challenge me.
This weekend, when I was not biking through the country, I was reading Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s book “Building a Discipling Culture.” I discovered why I seem so prone to adventures like the one noted above. According to the assessment tool in the appendix of the book, I am an “Apostle.” I never thought of myself that way before. However, as I read the description, a few things started to make sense to me. Breen makes the argument that every believer is given one of the five roles found in Ephesians 4:7, 11-13.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Breen describes the Apostles as follows, “It is from the Greek apostolos meaning “one who is sent out.” Apostles are visionary and pioneering, always pushing into new territory. They like to establish new churches and ministries. They come up with new and innovative means to do kingdom work.”
Breen then goes on to describe the pioneering nature of the Apostle and how this spirit of adventure and the resulting changes can be unsettling to those whom he describes as “settlers.” Breen explains “Settlers look to put down roots, while pioneers are hacking through dense jungle growth in search of new territory.”
Breen warns that “The tension between Settlers and Pioneers must be understood and managed to keep from being swallowed by division. Pioneers naturally want to move into new ways and ideas of advancing the kingdom. They are willing to take risks and join the Lord in new endeavors, often long before the settler even knows the Lord is moving in that direction. Off goes the pioneer, with excitement that cannot be contained, but that disturbs the settler who is working to preserve what has been handed down by previous generations. “It worked for them, so it will work for us,” is the settler’s life motto.”
What I realized is that I have entered a whole new territory culturally, economically, and racially during a time of tremendous cultural shifts and have left some behind. They simply cannot see the critical need for new methodology to adapt to this new environment. In short, I have failed to bring people along into this new territory with a new paradigm for doing ministry.
There is no doubt in my mind that God is doing something very exciting across this country and I want Embrace to be a part of this movement of God. Some will want us to follow tried and true paths from the past. Some will see the snarling dogs blocking the road and will want to turn around and stick with the ground we have already gained. I recognize the truth of Breen’s words “Without Settlers we would never keep the frontier that was won by the pioneers. Settlers must come to build and occupy, to maintain and to increase through steady, deliberate efforts.” Karen O’Brien, who took over the furniture bank from me two years ago, is a great example of a settler. She has steadily grown the furniture bank and strengthened the systems and programs I started. Without a Karen O’Brien, all could have been lost.
However, I am a pioneer. I can’t help but take Embrace down unchartered roads that may take us in the wrong direction at times. We may have to travel out of our way, face attack, and feel lost and confused some times. But, I trust that in the long run, we will find the path designed for us. It will not be exactly like anyone else’s path and it will be hard work clearing and claiming this new frontier.
I now realize how important it is to understand one’s 5 fold ministry call and to help people find a place in the ministry structure that best fits their call. So much of what Embrace is involved in is “pioneering” in nature. However, as my dear friend and co-worker Janie Walker recognized earlier this week, people need stability; periods without change. This will require that I stop pioneering for a season and allow the ground we have gained to be settled. Breen calls this operating out of our “phase” ministry which for me is a Prophet. My writing and speaking allow me to use this second area of calling. I have a new appreciation for my non-pioneering seasons and the benefit it can have for the ministry.
Much of what is “pioneering” to me and my team has already been tried by others like Breen and Cockram who are among the early pioneers of the missional movement. It is critical that when the time is right for new adventures, that people see where we are going and gain a comfort with some of the new methodologies that are being birthed through some of these early pioneers. While “teacher” is not my strong suit, I will have to enter into a phase of teaching in order to bring my team along with me.
Breen not only helped me see myself, my gifts, and my calling more clearly. He also helped me understand why I often feel misunderstood and why it is so hard for me to explain the things I am seeing to those whose focus is on past experiences. I have learned that if a pioneering ministry is turned over before a new paradigm is firmly in place, it will return to what is tried and true. Breen helped me understand why my unconventional ways seem so dangerous and unnecessary to some and I pray I am more sensitive to these issues in the future and do a better job of stabilizing a ministry before I move on.
This is just one of several lessons I learned from “Building a Discipling Culture.” I will be sharing more insights from Mike Breen and Steve Cockram over the next few weeks as I participate in a training session here in Richmond later this month.