Book Review–Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission (David Devenish)

One of the distinctives of the newfrontiers family of churches, of which I am a part, is the desire to “restore” the role of the apostle in today’s church. This makes some evangelicals very nervous. For example, John Stott regularly argued against the possibility of modern day apostles in the Bible Speaks Today series, despite presumably not having a problem with bishops and archbishops, given his Anglican connections.

This book can be broken into three main sections. The first attempts to define what is meant by a modern day apostle and make a biblical case for their validity. The second then lays out what the content of “apostolic foundations” should consist of. And the third then goes through several practical aspects of the ministry of an apostle.

He disarms much of the suspicion against modern day apostles by explaining that there are at least three “categories” of apostle in the New Testament, and that modern day apostles are not to be understood as functioning in the same way as the original twelve.

There are no new arguments presented, but the most compelling evidence is that of those in the NT outside the twelve designated as apostles, and Eph 4:11 which strongly implies that Christ gives more apostles after his ascension.

The function of apostles is summed up by the slightly cumbersome title of the book – “Fathering leaders, motivating mission”. That is to say that an apostle has a “fatherly” relationship with the leaders of local churches rather than simply being the next level of management up, or someone invited in as a consultant. But the apostle’s role goes further than just helping local church leaders – the apostle is actively involved in the establishment of new churches.

He devotes a few chapters to outlining key doctrines, such as the grace of God, which are vital for churches to fully understand, and explains how an apostle can help to lay those foundations.

The latter part of the book then deals with some of the practical aspects of apostolic ministry, such as how apostles can input into the appointment of elders, or the discipline of leaders, and how apostolic ministry is to be financed.

He has taken care to ensure that proper safeguards are in place, as another reason many get nervous about the idea of modern day apostles is the potential for overbearing control, or abuse of power. He explains the value of “apostolic teams”, where the apostle travels with other trusted companions for increased accountability.

One benefit of this book is that the author has plenty of experience of what he is talking about, providing fatherly oversight to leaders both in the UK and abroad. It means that there are plenty of helpful stories and examples that illustrate the points he is making. He has some particularly good insights into the issues of planting and overseeing churches in different cultural contexts.

The book ends with some answers to a few questions, and the one question I was wondering whether he had forgotten came right at the end. It is the issue of “apostolic succession”: what about well established churches, or when an apostle dies? Do how do you allocate a new apostle? Or do some churches no longer need to receive apostolic input? His answer is unfortunately a little brief, but he does make the point that leaders in every generation need to be fathered.

He gives an even-handed answer to the question of women apostles – noting the possibility that Junias may have been a female apostle, but indicating his preference for a complementarian position.

Overall I would say David Devenish has served us well by covering this topic so thoroughly and this is a book that deserves to be read by the wider evangelical world, particularly those involved in church planting movements.

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