I was in a conversation last night that made me reflect again on this idea: we can all be involved in missions, and we can all make disciples, but we do not all have the apostolic gift. We are not all missionaries.
The “apostolic” gift I am here equating with the task of going some place new, where the Gospel is not, crossing a linguistic or cultural boundary, and starting a work that ensures everyone in that place has a chance to hear the Gospel. We see a fuzzy picture of the apostolic function in Paul happening in Acts 19; and we are reminded of the apostolic function when Paul says (Romans 15:20) that it’s his ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known.
While I believe it’s possible to teach anyone to make disciples–indeed, that we are each commanded to make disciples–I’m not sure it’s possible to teach anyone to do this apostolic task. But I believe that apostles can come from anywhere and everywhere. And I believe that apostles aren’t just “born”; they are in some part gifted and in some part mentored, coached and developed.
I don’t think there’s any shame in “not having” the apostolic gift. I freely confess I don’t especially see that gifting in me. I’m a good teacher, and I serve others, and I’m good at what I do in research and communication, but I just don’t see the apostolic gift. But I am involved in missions and in movements.
I don’t think we do any one any favors when we say anyone can be a missionary and everyone should be a missionary, because I think that phrase is a little too fuzzy and people have too many ideas of what it means.
I prefer to say that anyone can make disciples and everyone should – at the very least, of their family – and that everyone can be involved in movements and some of us are gifted to catalyze and start them.
(And, last note: I don’t think “apostle” is some kind of position of authority. I’ve seen several word studies that would conclude it is just the opposite. And of course, we are all called to serve one another, to wash each other’s feet, not to lord it over each other.)
I’m at a small conference of workers. The theological reflection the other day was Exodus 33.
In this chapter, God begins by telling Moses:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oathto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
As a result of this, the people and Moses are both distressed. Moses goes in to the Tent of Meeting and the following exchange is recorded:
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked,because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
The question we meditated on from this chapter was quite striking.
If God gave us the choice between every thing we want–even good things like revivals, closure, movements–and His presence… will we choose His presence?
It’s obviously a bit of a reflex question. In the long run we cannot have the things of God apart form God himself. Still, it’s a thoughtful reminder: everything begins in the pursuit of God’s presence.
I don’t want to get legalistic about how that is done. I think we each of us have a unique way for getting into the presence of God. So I’m not going to be prescriptive about how to do it, other than to say we should be mindful to do it.
In a new comment on a post from about this time last year (“What we need: more workers“), friend Gary Jennings writes:
Thanks for the solid article. Just a reminder to all believers that the workers are in the harvest. Multiplication will occur when we equip every believer, especially new believers, to be disciple making multipliers and intercessors. We have the tools. It’s going to take intentional leadership.
This is technically very true, and I reiterate this very point a lot.
However, it struck me that we ought to give a caveat. We (I) am sometimes tempted to think of this idea of the-workers-are-in-the-harvest as a “silver bullet” solution for the remaining task: that the first movements started will generate all (or at least most) of the workers needed.
The reality I’ve found is a little more cynical. Most of the time, movements seem to generate enough workers for their own harvest, and a little more besides for nearby harvests – there is a “local flooding” effect.
But the waiting harvest is so big and so vast – thousands of millions, ‘at least’ over 20,000 movements needed, maybe double or triple that with attrition, fizzles, and movements that never get very big – that we need vastly more workers than are generated.
Additionally, the “kind” of workers necessary to cross-culturally start a movement – to operate at the E-3 level, as it were – are categorically different from the kind needed to work in a same-culture or near-culture movement (E-1 to E-2 level), and seem to be several orders of magnitude rarer.
I think this means we have to continue to be intentional about finding and raising up cross-cultural apostolic E-3 workers and sending them out.
Still, I do believe in the end we will find many of these within places, peoples and movements outside the West. So in a sense much of the workers are in the harvest – but they will not easily emerge.
I haven’t read a ton of Peter Drucker’s writing, I admit. This is a weakness in my continuous learning, because the man was brilliant about management.
I have just now run across his book, Managing Non-profits, which no doubt many (especially current leaders) have read but I had no idea existed.
First, it’s helpful because Drucker was evidently a believer. This matters because the book is written for non profits including (by intention) churches and missions. It does not require a stretch to apply it.
It’s also helpful because he believes the mission must be managed and this is not a bad thing. But he knows from the start that non profits can’t be measured in the same way as businesses.
Still he reminds us what we do matters and encourages us with the value of our work. He calls us to excellence and does so practically.
I’m going to read the whole thing. If you are a young leader in a mission(or executive of a small mission) I recommend you check it out.
We need to hold ourselves accountable.
We need to measure the right things.
We need to frequently accept and apply a little “ruthless” and “unflinching” evaluation.
We need to, because what we do for the world, and especially the unreached, matters.
People are dying with no access to the Gospel. They cannot hear unless someone goes, someone sends.
But the fuzzy statistics we have tell us, whether worst case or best case scenario, we are not getting there fast enough.
We must improve for the sake of the unreached.
If we are not willing to do that, we are saying the humdrum default of our lives matters more than the souls that will never hear.
What’s it Going to take?
We cannot control all of the things that happen to us. All the petty annoyances, wounds, insults, challenges, and barriers.
The real struggle is to control our outlook and attitude. To say, when bad things happen, “this is not the end. This will not destroy me. This will not prevent me from making things better.”
This struggle is not easy. Often it is not the experience that destroys us, but our reaction to it. It wasn’t the bullet that killed most in some of our biggest wars–it was infection and disease. And poor attitudes are very much a seeping infection. They can paralyze us, lead us to terrible decisions, and seep from us to others.
Mind the HALT acronym–hungry, angry, lonely, tired. When multiple things are piling up across the categories, the danger of the greater struggle is near.
I rarely meet people who are abject and utter failures: that is, they were unable to attain any desired object or end.
The easiest way to self-organize the Great Commission:
- Everyone go where, to the best of our knowledge, no one is working.
- Raise up workers out of the harvest in that place to do the same.
- Everyone share back with the person who sent them (and with those who pray for them) what is happening where we are.
- Resist the urge to run to where someone else is seemingly having tons of fruit. Work your own field, and seek the harvest God is sending you.
When we talk about “fail fast, fail often” and “fail to success” and “those who fail the fastest win,” we aren’t talking about systemic failure (e.g. of life).
“Fail fast” and “fail forward” means: run small, measurable experiments and see what works.
For example: if I put salt in water, will it boil faster? Experiment: put two pots on two separate burners, each with an equal amount of water, each set to the same temperature. Put salt in one, and leave the other unsalted. Which one boils fastest? The one that lost “failed.”
That’s not personal failure. It’s running an experiment and see if it succeeds or fails.
Controlled experiments are how we best learn. If you’re not running experiments, documenting the results, and changing behaviors, tactics and strategies based on the outcomes, any learning you encounter is accidental at best and actually misleading and wrong at worst. To be successful, experiments have to be intentional, so that early experimental failures eliminate incorrect choices and thus reveal the right choice – the “needle in the haystack” in the end.
Edison failed 2,000 times to make a lightbulb, but those “experiments” were not random. They were controlled tests, eliminating possibilities until the one right choice remained.
It’s not enough to have an attitude of tolerating and accepting failure. We must have an attitude of intentional testing and experimentation.
I used to care, more, about getting to Inbox Zero – about processing every last email.
I find I am caring about that less, now, and suggest the same for you.
I have a large whiteboard in my office that tracks the things I need to do this week (a la Scrum), and this year I am toying with a new experimental system: defining 10 one-month projects, 50 one-week projects, and ~100 one-day projects – e.g. allocating chunks of time in what I estimate to be the most profitable manner.
What I’m trying to do: let rational priorities (the “forest,” mapped out) guide what I spend my time on, rather than allowing my inbox (e.g. other random people) to guide my priorities.
Of course, I do still pay attention to my email, and my social media feed – these are data points for potential opportunities. But opportunities are best discovered by intentional exploration of particular spaces: I scan my inbox & social media feed for specific things, not for everything.
Figuring out how to assign months, weeks and days is a matter of asking “what needs to be accomplished this year to make progress toward my overall goal?” Try beginning with that end in mind, and email becomes a lot less pressing.