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.

Book Review – What on Earth is the Church For? (Dave Devenish)

I’ve been reading a variety of books on the subject of the church recently, and this one comes from firmly within the group of churches I am part of – newfrontiers. This group of churches came out of the “house church movement” in the 70s and 80s in the UK, also known as restorationism. It had a big vision for what the church could and should be like, and many left the “old wineskins” of the traditional denominations to be part of the new thing that God was doing. So 20 years on, how will the question “what on earth is the church for” be answered?

Basically, Dave Devenish outlines a vision for the church to be the agent of the kingdom of God. He explains what the kingdom is, and urges us not to be cynical about the future of the church, but to believe that God has plans for a glorious end-time church – a city set on a hill, even though there may also be increased persecution to be faced. Early on in the book he points out that social action – bringing practical love to people in need – is an indespensible aspect of the kingdom. The kingdom is about more than “my personal salvation”. The book also includes an explanation of the “now and not yet” nature of the kingdom.

He moves on to talk about being missional – that mission is not just for the few, but that all believers are caught up in God’s mission. We don’t need “missionary societies” because that is what the church is supposed to be. Sanctification is to be understood as being set apart for God’s mission, rather than a retreat from the world.

After laying the foundations, there are some chapters on the practical outworkings of this. He stresses the importance of church planting, an makes the case for modern-day apostles to play a part in this. He gives examples of social action projects and discusses the practical issues of being “missional” in the workplace and as cell groups. There are a few more chapters devoted to fleshing out the concept of the kingdom, including a helpful look at some of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom.

The final chapters of the book explore the concept of the church as “one new man in Christ” – a community made up of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. In these chapters he looks particularly at non-Western cultures, such as Muslim culture, and the issues of reaching out to such people, including them in a church, and what a church plant in such a culture would look like. There is an honest assessment of the real dangers that will be faced by those who seek to reach such people, and a call to be willing to hear the commission of the Lord to go.

I feel this could be an important book for a group of churches such as my own. It builds on the “restorationist” vision, but with a more prominent emphasis on being “missional” along with the social action aspects of the kingdom, which I think are both necessary. Though people who have read books on the kingdom and missional church will not find anything they have not read before, this book does a great job of introducing those topics to those who are new to it. I also appreciated the way that his look at cultural contextualisation was looking at non-Western cultures, rather than rehashing the huge amount of material discussing the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism in our own society.

If I were to criticise this book in any way, I would suggest that he sets up the “pastoral / discipling” church as bad in contrast to the “missional” church. Although I know what he is getting at, I think that if a church is not serious about the “pastoral” side of caring for people, then we will not create a loving community that attracts anyone. And equally if we are not serious about the need to “disciple” Christians, then we will not expect many of our church members to catch the vision of being a missional people. And this is what I feel that is needed most after reading a book like this. We need thousands of ordinary Christians to get the “big picture” of what it means for God’s kingdom to come on the earth, and to be so captivated by this vision that they will give themselves wholeheartedly to it. I hope this book gets read by many preachers and small group leaders who will be infectious with its message to those they influence.

TOAM – Calling the Nations to the Obedience of Faith

OK, here’s my next report from the Brighton Together on a Mission conference. Dave Devenish was speaker at session 7 on Thursday morning. His text was Rom 1:1-15; 15:17-24; and 16:25-27. You can read what Adrian Warnock made of this session here.

He wanted to focus on the way Paul begins and ends the letter of Romans – parts that can get missed as there is so much good stuff in the middle. The key verse he picked out is Rom 1:5 –

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

Through his apostolic ministry, Paul wanted to bring the gospel of grace to every nation – bringing people to the obedience of faith. Dave had clearly been reading some N T Wright, as he contrasted Christ’s kingdom with that of Caesar’s. Our King is claiming the whole world – but his kingdom is brought in not by brute force, but by grace and apostleship. All this is done for the glory of Christ – which according to Stott is the highest missionary motivation.

He then went on to list some enemies of this vision, which result when we preach a gospel that is not truly the gospel of the kingdom. For example, where Christ is promoted as an alternative therapy for felt needs. Or the western consumerist gospel plus a private ambition of going to heaven when I die. Other examples include churches in Africa where tribalism and sexual immorality is not renounced despite claiming to be Christian.

Where Christ is not Preached

Dave then spoke of Paul’s desire to preach where Christ was not known. Even though the areas already evangelised were by no means Christianised, Paul had left reproducing churches behind. They could be entrusted to plant more churches. Paul’s own ministry was pioneering, and others were called to fill in behind him. He wanted to reach “Greeks and barbarians” – he was not limited to those who were culturally reachable. Dave then gave some space to giving examples of unreached people groups – defined as peoples without an indiginous, witnessing (i.e. reproducing) church.

Why are we involved in this mission to the unreached?
1) Prophetic Promise
2) Apostolic Passion
3) Eschatological Necessity (Matt 24:14)
4) Contemporary Urgency

What is stopping us reaching them?
1) Non-missional churches. We need everyone involved, not just the keen few.
2) Culture-bound instead of culture-challenging churches
3) The Muslim identification of Christianity with the west. The only way this is overcome is by planting small communities of believers who demonstrate that Christianity is something different.
4) Cultural and linguistic challenges

Practical Outworking

We need to keep preaching this message of reaching the nations, and give practical help to those going – more than giving money, this includes strategic support. Pray continually and give generously. Encourage people to go and support them.

My thoughts

I thought this was an excellent message, and underscores some of what I feel is best about newfrontiers. There is a real desire to bring the gospel to the nations, and work to build cross-cultural churches in our own cities. It would be easy for a group of churches like newfrontiers to settle for just having some large churches in major UK cities that thrive simply on Christians moving in from other churches, but here a strong commitment reaching the unreached was articulated passionately.

I am glad for the emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom. It is clear that Tom Wright has been influencing many of the newfrontiers leadership team, and informing their understanding of the proclamation of Jesus as King as politically subversive.

I think it is also interesting that the word missional is being liberally used this year (I suspect in a few cases by those who aren’t quite sure what it means). Missional is a buzz-word at the moment, speaking of a church that doesn’t see the church service as the main connecting point with unbelievers, rather we meet people within their culture by expressing the gospel through the way we live. It is about living out a Christian counter-culture and not retreating from the culture around us, but bringing the gospel to it in a way that is contextual.

I personally welcome newfrontiers embracing the concept of being missional. However, I am not too sure that many churches are entirely thinking along the same lines as those who write about being “missional”. In particular, I think the “church growth model” has also been widely embraced, which is often-times at odds with a missional approach (see my posts on the principled missional church and the results driven church). Sunday services especially focus less and less on equiping Christians to live out the kingdom lifestyle and try instead to be enjoyable for unbelievers. I know there were some other seminars at the conference that included the word “missional” in their blurb, so hopefully I will get a chance to listen to them and see if there is any more clarity on exactly what is understood in newfrontiers by the word “missional”.