Two Keys to Building Strong Communities: Team-based Ministry and Apostleship
Church planting is not about building a viable non-profit. It is about building (or more accurately, revealing) the Body of Christ on earth. As a theology, this is profound and ought to give appropriate humility to the work of planting. But this is not just great theology; it has very practical implications for the development of spiritual gifts among church members.
While churches often present spiritual gifts as a method of getting more volunteers for the work, the reality is much deeper. Those who join the community and engage their spiritual gifts are living out the life of Christ on earth. The resurrected Christ, who is the hope of the world, flows through his Church and his life gives the Church its life. When the Church as the Body of Christ operates under the power of the Holy Spirit — with members praying and caring for one another, living together with integrity, and committing to a common mission — surely this is living out the gospel at its best.
There are reportedly tribes in South Africa that use the greeting, sawu bona. It means, literally, “I see you.” The common response to that greeting is sikhona, which means, “I am here.” That exchange is the product of a worldview that believes that until you see me, I do not exist. In other words, a person is a person because of other people.
The notion of Church as “body” reminds us that in the work of Christ, we are fruitful only as we depend on one another. We are the Church because of other people. In other words, there are no lone rangers. We exist only as we exist together. We belong to one another and our spiritual gifts are activated in community. Church planters, building “body language” into a new work, must insist on and develop strong teams who carry out ministry together.
This cannot be overemphasized. Building teams is crucial to the work of building strong churches. David Shenk, in Creating Communities of the Kingdom: New Testament Models of Church Planting, mentions five practical reasons why teams are an essential piece of church planting. First, the team itself is a demonstration of community. It is itself “doing church” within the larger anticipated body. Second, culturally diverse teams allow for greater identification with those among whom they serve. Third, team leadership provides a way in which power can be shared. Fourth, teams bring together a highly motivated group to support and encourage the individuals within it. And finally, synergy is produced when folks work together toward a common goal.1
Team based ministry presupposes an anointed and called leader who is willing to share power. The apostolic gift is rarely discussed in many denominational contexts, to our detriment. As a planter, I relied heavily on my gifts of evangelism and administration to start the church but quickly discovered that something deeper, more substantive was needed. I now realize that I should have been calling more intentionally upon my giftedness as an apostle. The other gifts can be covered by other members of a team. The apostle brings to the team a “strategic leadership role that is mission-oriented,” as Stuart Murray says in his work on church planting.2 A person with apostolic gifts will think past marketing and evangelism to the foundations of Christian community. They are pioneers who bring a richness and vision that challenges a new congregation to continue moving forward. Their work is not primarily pastoral (person-focused) but visionary (Kingdom-focused). Their job is to point the way toward God’s promises for this community, much like Moses.
The unity of the body and activation of spiritual gifts that allow the Church to grow depend completely upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. They also fly in the face of our contemporary western culture, which from the earliest of ages conditions us to say, “I can do it myself.” If we can only learn one lesson from Christ Jesus himself about how he wants his Church to function, we should learn that our love for God is lived out in our love for and cooperation with his people. “If you love me,” Jesus seems to say to his Church, “bear with one another in love and operate in a spirit of unity.”
1 David Shenk and Ervin R. Stutzman, Creating Communities of the Kingdom: New Testament Models of Church Planting (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988) Kindle. loc 581.
2 Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001) Kindle loc 2666.
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