Failed the Assignment?

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He has appointed some as an Apostle, others as prophets, others as preachers, and finally some as pastors and teachers.

Epheser 4:11

Today I would like to tell a story that I have experienced myself over the last few years.

I was a member of an apostolic network. This network has received an assignment about 24 years ago.

God wanted the network to switch from a strongly hierarchical leadership model to a team-led model. The fivefold ministry as described in Ephesians 4 should be used as a template.

These are five personalities who differ not only in that they have different titles. They actually have completely different complementary personality traits.

It is precisely this diversity that allows them to reach everyone, but also to support each other and keep each other at bay and on course.

But why such a new model? Actually, the church was never intended to have a hierarchical order. Only the takeover of the church by the Roman empire petrified such. Since then, we can justify this very well from the Bible: hasn’t Jesus himself appointed Peter as the leader of the congregation?

One could of course argue that Peter is just a stone, and the rock on which the congregation is built is the realization that Jesus is God’s Son.

Then Peter would at most be the first to have this realization. Apart from Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth, the kings, the shepherds, Hanna and Simeon, John the Baptist, the disciples of John the Baptist, a few possessed or sick, etc.

But we could then speak of a hierarchy of the congregation because of the Pentecost speech when Peter preached. But isn’t it the case that all 12 got up together?

Remains Acts of the Apostles. It is the history of Paul, possibly written as a defensive script before the court in Rome. Is that perhaps why he is in the center, not because he is the guy in charge?

Paul’s letters often describe him as a petitioner. He describes himself as a mother who takes care of her children.

Paul lived in a time when humanity learned morality and ethics, order and rules, but also living together in a larger community, which is not only held together by blood kinship. This kind of worldview was already relatively consolidated, but was repeatedly challenged by barbaric and tyrannical setbacks.

Paul brought a certain structure to the congregation, but went beyond the familiar hierarchical model, as far as he could. But his, and especially the following generations, did not understand this and established a strict hierarchy, which was then consolidated by the Roman Empire.

But back to my former network. The original community grew out of the Word of Faith movement. This movement is known for having a leadership model strongly oriented towards the senior pastor. It is not quite as autocratic as the Shepherding Movement was, but not far from it.

The head of this community had the vision to flatten this steep hierarchical model and to use a team in the sense of fivefold ministry for leadership.

A lot of prophecies accompanied this vision. They were about spiritual revival, large, really large financial flows, healing and more.

Such a conversion of a leadership structure is difficult, since the existing models have existed for a very long time, especially in traditional, conservative cultures, and are underpinned by a good theological justification.

This was shown by the fact that our network lost almost all relationships and was outlawed by previous friends because they turned against the God-given structure. Anointed leaders in the form of a so-called set men were the form in which God wanted to build the congregation! Everything else was heresy!

The fivefold ministry was well recognized by the other churches. One member of the fivefold was to be regarded as a senior pastor, usually the apostle. The others served in the second row, or there was only this one, and the rest of the team was spread out regionally.

To combine all five in one team, with the aim of leading the community together with shared responsibility, and even abolishing titles–that was blasphemy. Especially the title thing, because how could the anointed be given the necessary honor, and distance from the ordinary members be maintained.

When I got to know the network, the vision was already seven years old. It went slow, but the headmaster was a very charismatic guy who could sell me the vision very well – and praised some things in faith as already implemented, which was still far from it.

In Switzerland, churches are run far less hierarchically than in North America. When I joined the network, I therefore had to submit into a steeper hierarchy than I was used to, because I shared the vision and hoped that it could lead to a flat hierarchy in the future and perhaps in the next generation to a basically non-hierarchical community structure.

I was aware that a new community, the first of this network on another continent, with only one married couple who had experienced the previous changes, would first be heavily dependent on this couple.

My wife and I were sent out by our old congregation to found a new church together with this couple.

It should take a few years for us to be in the leadership. After 10 years, we were appointed as elders and I was recognized as a teacher in the sense of fivefold ministry. It seemed as if joint leadership was now slowly coming along.

In Canada, the original community had been handed over to a young married couple and the former team members had each taken over their own community. Of course, it was clear that it would take a certain time for them to form their own leadership teams again.

But half of the communities vanished without even trying to build a team. On the contrary: the Swiss community was the only one who had appointed elders.

Communication between the leaders stalled. The regular conference calls were only about exchanging experiences about illnesses among the members or about the last basketball tournament. And so the conversations were stopped.

The communities were all plagued by financial problems, had many sick members, and at the same time more member shrinkage than explosive growth. This was explained by the fact that the devil always attacks you in the area of the respective vocation.

CoViD-19, the lockdown, further internal problems have led to the withdrawing of all the changes to the leadership structure that had not yet been abandoned. The head of the network in the only remaining Canadian community and the pastor in the only non-Canadian community have definitely taken the reins back into their hands. Deviants were excluded or brought to the point where they left the network. I would also like to disclose here that I was given the choice of either submit 100% under the leadership of the local pastor or to resign. I left.

Why am I telling you all this?

My concern is that visions and prophecies are interdependent. And they depend on whether God’s mission is implemented or not.

The Bible tells us that God does not take back talents. Therefore, talents are not proof that you are on track.

I believe that God intended the following:

He was looking for a group of pioneers who would manage to form a first spearhead congregation, which could break away from the traditional understanding of leadership, but also from the corresponding interpretation of the Bible. They were to reform the church. One word that was given to us repeatedly was that God wanted to finish what he had started 500 years ago in Switzerland. 500 years ago, the Reformation began with Zwingli in Zurich, among others.

He wanted to bring the congregation to maturity, as it says in Ephesians 4. To do this, he wanted to use the talents of fivefold ministry, but not in the hierarchical or Old Testament priestly sense. Doctrine should no longer be preached ex-cathedra from the pulpit. It should be lived and shaped together.

Interestingly, Paul describes the gift of leadership in the first Corinthian letter, not as one of the fivefold ministries. The five are not intended as leaders at all, but this was not yet possible in the time after Jesus, a time when hierarchies and institutions brought order.

But today this is possible. Difficult, but possible. It takes great trust, mutual support through various gifts, and a lot of patience.

Would all that change be possible in a generation? Hardly. It is a process that probably takes several decades. That’s why God would start in small agile groups and networks. He could then use these as models to move others forward. In this way, these first networks could become relevant, and God would certainly equip them for their service.

He would design for the most talented people to make the decisions. People with talents in the financial field would make financial decisions, not apostles, who would only make the decisions based on their position, not their talent. In this way, the members would be honored in their individuality and uniqueness, spiritually nourished, and could change the world.

The network is dying. It still consists, with less than 40 people, spread over two continents, in two communities, with a few people who serve in other communities. The financial problems are getting worse, the members are withdrawing.

The network did not do its job. It has failed and become superfluous. It hurts my heart to watch the leaders harden, go to the trenches, and blame everyone else.

I failed. I have tried to fulfill this mission for 17 years. I have subordinated myself for years in the belief that this subordination would one day give me the reputation of a faithful servant, and thus a little authority to advance the mission.

Since I denied my own personality for 12 of these 17 years and tried to become another person, but never really made it, I am complicit in the failure of the mission. I have torpedoed myself over and over again.

On the other hand, it should not be necessary to bend myself to carry out God’s mission. Maybe that was my mistake. But maybe I was also one who was sent to the vineyard, but chased away by the tenants. I don’t know. I have not been crucified, killed, beaten or hunted so far.

Everything will probably be over in a year. Maybe there is still an indestructible remainder, which will eventually die out. Maybe the building will be sold and nothing will remind you of the community anymore. Maybe someone takes over the vessel and builds a new ministry with a new assignment. But this mission is dead – for this community. Not because God didn’t want to. They didn’t want to.

Already in the Bible, most prophecies had a condition. Sometimes it was pronounced, sometimes not. Our vision, our prophecies were linked to the mission.

Could I be wrong? I hope so much.

The coat is still available. Who picks it up?

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Categorized as Kingdom

By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.