So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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. Eph 4:11-13
Last week I spent several hours talking with two amazing young people. Both passionate, both sensing a call to live their lives in radical ways – living with and loving those Christ would have lived with and loved. The thing that puzzled me was when I ask them, “Do you sense this call more from a humanitarian place or a spiritual place?” Both replied “humanitarian”, which shocked me a little because both are Christian and passionate about their faith.
I have been reflecting on their responses for the past week because it disturbed me. It disturbed me, because I fear for anyone who feels called to this work and does not identify the source of that call as God. It makes me concerned because no one can successfully do this work without God’s power flowing through them. I don’t generally make black and white statements like that, but I have been doing this long enough to know that it is not me who is doing any of it. I am a fearful, selfish, clueless soul when I operate in my own strength. Anything good that has happened through Embrace has been a pure God thing.
The second reason these responses concerned me is because after talking with both of these individuals for a while, it appeared to me that the call was of God but that they simply did not identify it that way. It made me stop and think, “Why didn’t they hear the father’s voice in the call?” I was reflecting on this passage from Ephesians and reminded of the five fold call to ministry of prophets, teachers, pastors, evangelists and apostles. God calls people today in the same way that God called people from the beginning. My experience is that those who are called to be apostles,” the sent ones”, are often not affirmed in the institutional church. So much of the “calling” language in the church is centered on the gifts of the “prophet, pastor, teacher, and evangelist”. Apostles often have a hard time seeing how their call to “go into the world” fits into these narrow ways of defining God’s call. The apostle is often seen as an agitator for trying to shake up the status quo within the church. I know a lot of apostles, myself included, who have had a hard time fitting into the institutional church. We are those weird birds who like change and who take the “go therefore” part of the great commission very seriously.
I have met many apostles over the past few years and one common thing about us is that we will never be happy inside the walls of the church. The sheer nature of our call is that it requires that we travel into new territory. Expecting an apostle to stay put, is like caging a wild bird. We cannot truly fly until we are released. There are some churches who are learning to value the apostolic call and who are providing ways for the apostles in their congregations to live their call as a part of the church, by releasing them into the world. But, these churches are too few and far between.
Unless more churches learn to nurture and value the apostle, we will continue to lose people to “humanitarian” causes and everyone loses. Those who learn to fly outside the walls of the church, do so without the spiritual support of the rest of the body. They often do so out of their own power and do not identify their actions as a response to a divine call. Those who are on the receiving end of this kind of ministry are often unaware that it was their heavenly father who sent their new friend. Those who are doing the ministry fail to experience the power of God that is unleashed when we clearly see ourselves as vessels of the most high. There is something powerful available to those who are hopeless, to encounter an apostle who clearly says “God sent me.” But the biggest loser is the church who is left without those agitators and is allowed to become complacent behind its walls.