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.

Together at Accelerate 09

I got back today from the Newfrontiers “Together at Accelerate” conference, which is a mini-Bible week running over the bank holiday weekend for the churches in the “Wessex” region. Here’s a few miscellaneous thoughts about what was a great holiday for our family.

First the bad. The less said about the football tournament the better. We crashed out in the first round, and I drew the short straw to play in goal so didn’t even get a proper game.

There was a better layout to the site this year, with tents surrounding the big top rather than all at one end, which made us a lot closer to the action than last year. And like last year, it was a very well run event – a superb effort from the organizational team.

Evan Rogers led worship for the opening meetings which those who have heard him before will know means lots of silly dancing. While his style not to everyone’s taste, you had to be impressed at the way he managed to get everyone joining in, and it gave a good kick-start to the weekend.

John Groves preached on the first night, and the remainder of the talks were shared between Guy Miller and a visiting Indian speaker Vinu Paul. I only heard one of Vinu’s talks, in which he gave a very Pentecostal style reminder of the vital need of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.

He warned us against low-risk Christianity which revolves around cake and coffee. I thought Guy Miller’s messages were well targeted and challenging. At the Brighton leaders conference, many of the talks revolve around how to be an inspiring visionary leader, but Guy made it very applicable to the whole church by tackling issues such as the importance of family, of sexual purity, submission to authority, and of how we behave in the workplace. If we are to be a ‘kingdom’ people, we need this kind of practical teaching on what it means to live under the rule of King Jesus.

One slightly interesting thing about this weekend is that it featured churches in the “apostolic sphere” of Guy Miller and his apostolic team. This was why we had the visiting speaker from India, and also why there were a good number from a church plant in Portugal. But the fact remained that for the British churches, we were simply carved up by region.

I still think newfrontiers need to wrestle with how they deal with the inevitable tendency for apostolic movements to tend towards a structure with regional apostles over time. If we say that “apostolic spheres” are built on relationship (particularly through an apostle being involved in the planting of the churches in his ‘sphere’), rather than on geography, do we not set ourselves up for tension in the future where churches are in the region of an apostolic leader but do not particularly consider themselves have a close relationship with him? I guess I am saying that the mechanics of a future for newfrontiers of “interconnected apostolic spheres” is a little unclear to me. This is a particular problem for established churches who may not really consider themselves to be in anyone’s “apostolic sphere”.

Although these smaller and shorter gatherings don’t quite reach the same heights that the old Stoneleigh Bible weeks did, I am glad to see they are becoming a regular fixture in the church calendar. Whilst the Brighton Leaders Conference and Mobilise serve as something of a replacement for envisioning church leaders and students, I always felt that the ‘ordinary’ church members were missing out, so it was great so see many families and grandparents on site – people who would never make it to the Brighton conference. It was also good to see many people still very new and immature in their faith, or not even Christians come along. Smoking, swearing and heated family arguments may not be the ‘nice Christian behaviour’ we try to encourage, but it does at least show that some our churches really are beginning to reach the “unchurched” and “urban poor” of their communities and experiencing the ‘messiness’ that brings with it.

Which brings me on to the subject of church planting. If in newfrontiers we are serious about spreading the gospel through church planting then we need everyone to catch the vision, from the youngest to the oldest. So I was very pleased to see that church planting was very much on the agenda, with a well attended seminar outlining some of the opportunities and practicalities of church planting, and a call to commit to church planting on the final night which many responded to.