The Ministry Zoo

This little illustrative tale titled The Animal School says much about standardized forms of training for the ministry, constrained as it is by narrowing perspectives of the shepherd and teacher. 

The animals got together in the forest one day and decided to start a school. There was a rabbit, a bird, a squirrel, a fish and an eel, and they formed a Board of Education. The rabbit insisted that running be in the curriculum. The bird insisted that flying be in the curriculum. The fish insisted that swimming be in the curriculum, and the squirrel insisted that perpendicular tree climbing be in the curriculum. They put all of these things together and wrote a Curriculum Guide. Then they insisted that all of the animals take all of the subjects. Although the rabbit was getting an A in running perpendicular tree climbing was a real problem for him; he kept falling over backwards. Pretty soon he got to be sort of brain damaged, and he couldn’t run any more. He found that instead of making an A in running, he was making a C and, of course, he always made an F in perpendicular tree climbing. The bird was really beautiful at flying, but when it came to burrowing in the ground, he couldn’t do so well. He kept breaking his beak and wings. Pretty soon he was making a C in flying as well as an F in burrowing, and he had a hellava time with perpendicular tree climbing. The moral of the story is that the animal who was valedictorian of the class was a mentally retarded eel who did everything in a halfway fashion. But the educators were all happy because everybody was taking all of the subjects, and it was called a broad-based education.*

What would it be like to train the Body of Christ in ministry in using fully fledged APEST dynamics? Perhaps we will look more like the "fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:13.)


* Leo Buscaglia on Education, Industrialized Conformity, and How Stereotypes and Labels Limit Love

From "Apostolic Environment" to "APEST Culture": What do you think?

As many of you know, I am doing a new edition of TFW. Its going very well. One of the big decisions I had to make is to change some of the names of the mDNA. Tricky because they are so central to the message of the book. One of the ones (only two) I have changed is "Apostolic Environment? which I have changed to "APEST Culture", mainly because the former is more vague and specific to apostolic ministry while the latter is clearer and more comprehensive. This is what I said....

"Culture is made up of many diverse symbols, forms, ideas, languages, actions, rituals etc. I use the term APEST culture deliberately because I want it to include not only the essential issue of personal vocation and calling, but also to include all the various social functions associated with each aspect of APEST, as well as the language and symbols we use to communicate meaningfully about the ministry and mission of the church. In other words APEST culture is the correct comprehensive category by which to assess, understand, and develop the full ministry of the church."

What do you think? Good idea of bad idea?

Stir Up Holy Dust: Cultivating Learning and Innovation IV:

Karl Marx said that, in order to foster revolution, activists will need to “rub raw the sores of discontent.” He understood that people would not pay the price for change unless they feel a profound sense of disgruntlement with the prevailing conditions. Now I think this is a highly manipulative thing to do in the context of a political revolution, but this should not obscure the redeemable truth that lies behind this approach—discontent results in movement and movement in change. Or, in the interests of a holy revolution, we have got to cultivate a holy discontent in our own hearts and in our systems if we are going to move toward a better future. Speaking of our spiritual yearnings, Jewish theologian/philosopher Abraham Heschel says, “All that is creative stems from the seed of endless discontent. . . . He who is satisfied has never truly craved.” In order to engender change in our lives, especially in organizations, we have to sell the problem before we sell the solution.

But holy discontent need not always be the result of a prophetic critique of things; it could come about from a holy sense of curiosity and being attentive to the provocatively fertile nature of good, probing, questions. As discussed in the introduction, we ought never to take ourselves out of the questing aspect of Christianity and discipleship. Spiritual quests in particular are driven by the need for a deeper, more satisfying experience of life and faith. Questing is the result of holy discontent, and more often than not, as in all genuine renewal movements, they are the result of the Holy Spirit working directly in our lives. And behind every good quest lies at least one really good question—we do well to heed Einstein’s advice to a young admirer when he said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

Learning to Fail Forward (Cultivating Learning and Innovation III)

Trial and error is one of the most basic ways of learning. So much so that Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist ever, once said,

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Besides the practical knowledge that defeat offers, there are important personality benefits gained in the process. Defeat strips away false values and makes you realize what you really want.

It means that when something fails, we have to let go of ideas we have become attached to or that have somehow attached themselves to us. One of the greatest qualities in adventurous learners is that they have learned to fail forward. In his book Failing Forward, John Maxwell writes that there are seven key abilities that allow successful people to fail forward instead of taking each setback personally.

According to him, “successful” people:

  • Reject rejection: Successful people don’t blame themselves when they fail. They take responsibility for each setback, but they don’t take the failure personally.
  • View failure as temporary: “People who personalize failure see a problem as a hole they’re permanently stuck in,” writes Maxwell. “But achievers see any predicament as temporary.”
  • View each failure as an isolated incident: Successful people don’t define themselves by individual failures. They recognize that each setback is a small part of the whole.
  • Have realistic expectations: Too many people start big projects with the unrealistic expectation that they’ll see immediate results. Success takes time. When you pursue anything worth- while, there are going to be bumps along the way. And remember: the perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Focus on strengths: If you operate from your weaknesses you are going to fail time and again. To be sure, you must not allow weaknesses to undermine you, but work from the basis of your strengths.
  • Vary approaches: Adventurers are willing to vary their approaches to problems. If one approach doesn’t work for you, if it brings repeated failure, then try something else. To fail forward, you must do what works for you, not necessarily what works for other people.
  • Bounce back: Finally, successful people are resilient. They don’t let one error keep them down. They learn from their mistakes and move on. To paraphrase Edward de Bono, it is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

Cultivating Learning and Innovation II: Pioneering and Protest

Genuine learning and advancement in the church, as in all aspects of life, will generally be led by a few people who are willing to break from the herd instincts of the crowd. If we are going to be innovative in mission, we will need to foster a pioneering spirit because, as we have seen, more of the same is not going to get the job done.

Pioneers have to be a particularly hardy bunch. New social and religious movements inevitably arise as a protest against the status quo, which in turn arouses sometimes stern opposition from the system from which they emerge (e.g., the Celts and the Roman Catholics, Francis and the popes, Wesley and Booth and the Anglicans, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, etc.). Machiavelli was not far wrong when he said, “Nothing is more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than achieving a new order of things.” Would-be innovator-reformers will have adversaries who directly benefit from the old order and halfhearted defenders (lukewarm largely because of fear of the adversaries) who would benefit from the new. It’s the reason why the church's historical prophets and apostles are almost always persecuted and tend to stand alone.

At all turning points in history, when the older forms are dying, new possibilities are created by a few people who are not afraid to stand out and risk security. Susan B. Anthony, the remarkable civil rights activist and pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, knew this all too well. Speaking from experience, she said,

Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.

She could have been talking here about St. Patrick, Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, or Gandhi—or Jesus, for that matter. All genuine reformers tend to suffer for their cause. In order to develop a pioneering missional spirit, a capacity for genuine ecclesial innovation, let alone engender daring discipleship, we are going to need the capacity to take a courageous stand when and where necessary.


Cultivating Learning and Innovation I: Preserve Tradition by Innovating

While it is true to say what got you here won’t get you there, genuine learning is not done in a historical vacuum, and innovation is not simply novelty. Some of our best expressions of adventurous church have been movements that exist in our past and form part of our historical tradition. In The Forgotten Ways I suggest that every church already has all it needs to get the job done—in other words, we have latent potentials, and through disuse or misuse, we have simply forgotten how to activate them. Part of our learning then is not simply coming up with faddish ideas, but recovering the deepest identity and potentials that we already have as God’s people. Becoming the church that Jesus built will require courage, because it means letting go of what we have become . . . of abandoning the security of institutional church to become a movement.

At the conclusion of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the question is asked, “What holds him [the Fiddler] up?” The answer the audience hears is “Tradition.” But being guided by tradition and being traditionalist are two entirely different things. The traditionalist is the institutional persecutor of change and will subvert the missional cause. Intransigent and closed to the spirit, they lazily rely on the past successes of those who have paved the way before them. Tradition, on the other hand, involves being sensitive to the fact that we have a long history and we don’t operate in a vacuum. Paradosis, the Greek word for tradition, means “to hand down.” The creativity of “fiddling around” is possible when it is done within the ongoing self-consciousness of being part of the ancient people of God. What we do now has a past as much as it has a future. It is this sense of identity handed down through time that gives us the imagery and the security to think the new. Undoubtedly the best way to preserve tradition is to have children, not wear your father’s old hat (Picasso).

The lifestyle choices of the heart

From time to time I will simply post unadorned reflections from my readings of Scripture

These are simply thoughts that arise from my own devotions and I don't want to make them into elaborate statements.  Please don't read them as if they are  perfectly worded or theologically precise.  When I do this I simply feel the learning worthy of sharing with friends.  Treat these as conversation starters.  Here is one on Rom.2.....

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” ~ Romans‬ ‭2:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬
  • Huge emphasis here on actions and choices that together form a spiritual lifestyle.
    • We are always disciples (of) one way or another.
      • We are (pre)scripted to live out certain life-styles.
      • Which in turn involves a way of seeing and interpreting the world.
        • A selective perception, a predisposition, and a orienting consciousness, mental model, by which we all negotiate our way through the world.
      • Paul follows the Jewish wisdom tradition in asserting that in the end there are actually only two ways...only two alternatives.  Either we are  disciples of righteousness (and therefore ultimately disciples of Jesus) or we are disciples of unrighteousness.
  • Then there is the emphasis on obeying the truth or obeying unrighteousness
    • Elements of what Lutherans call "tropological hermeneutics" here:
      • That is, it is only by obeying the truth that one can truly understand the truth itself. 
        • Disobedience on the other hand blocks one’s capacity to hear and understand God’s voice.
          • To choose to disobey effectively means eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil all over again as it sets the human as the judge of what is considered good and evil, thus displacing the Word of God.
        • Obedience to truth unlocks the meaning of truth while disobedience, as a fundamental rebellion against truth, leads to a hardened heart...the loss of God-awareness accompanied by a corresponding loss of self awareness and insight into the right order of things.
          • That we have to be precommitted/predisposed to the obedience of God's word to be able to access the meaning of that Word.
            • This is due to the prior suppression of the knowledge of God described in Romans 1:18ff
      • But how can one obey unrighteousness?
        • When ones lifestyle demands obedience by dictating both the orientation and the terms of the majority of one's choices
        • Unrighteousness acts like a moral and spiritual template, an ingrained habitus, that requires obedience.
          • We become "slaves of unrighteousness" (Rom.6).
        • Obeying the truth similarly a habitus comprised of sets of ritually framed ideas-that-are-true.
          • It is discipleship in the Way...the Jesus lifestyle....the Jesus template.
  • Then there is the idea of the hard and impenitent heart and how it plays a role in determining the way in which one walks.
    • Obedience always remains an option and depends directly on the nature of the inner life, the seat of choice, namely the heart.
      • The heart makes the choices one way of another
      • Elements of cognitive dissonance can be discerned in the lifestyle that the heart chooses.
        • The choice, once made and carried out in action will cause human rationalizations to set way or another. Our heart will affirming the rightness of the choice we make...right or wrong. We have to feel--and to prove to ourselves--that what we have chosen to do is the right thing
    • Repentance is the means of keeping the judgemental and constantly sinning heart from becoming hard and unresponsive to the Voice of God.
      • The heart, unless it is completely subsumed into the demonic, always retains the possibility of choice
        • can always turn.
      • This is attained through repentance. The turning towards God that starts in the heart and works its way into daily choices and lifestyle
        • A re-habituation for a righteous (rightly-related) life

Is missional movement the same as apostolic movement?


July 5, 2015 at 6:24pm

I'm doing the 2nd Edition of The Forgotten Ways at the moment. I made this comment and thought it was worth posting for your opinion. You think I am right here or not? Is it worth saying? .......

One more note about terminology before we get under way, throughout this new edition the reader will find that I tend to use the term apostolic and missional somewhat interchangeably. This should not be surprising because that Latin term missio is actually a translation of Greek term apostello and both translate to the English word sent or purposed. The reason for this subsequent shift is that not only do I prefer the terminology of the NT itself to that of later theological discourse, but that in my humble opinion, the historical thinking around missional seems to somehow fall short of what the Bible itself means by apostle and by extension, the adjective apostolic. For some reason most theologians (and strangely even missiologists) shy away from, and will in many cases actively denounce, the use of the explicit biblical terminology for missional! I sense that what we are therefore dealing with is some form of attenuated missiology as a result.

I believe that there is something deeply wrong here and that instead of simply complying with the ban, we should all be somewhat alarmed. As Protestants, we would not abide with similar censure around other key biblical words that are even used less frequently (e.g. “righteousness”, “reconciliation”, “holiness”,etc.) why these ones? There seems to be a dropping of something really significant in the inherited ban on using the language of the Bible itself. I believe this ban comes from deep within the Christendom mindset and needs to be challenged if we are to move beyond the reductionist Christendom ecclesiology and manifestly evident missiological blindspots. I, along with all who hold to the authority of Scripture,  believe that in order to recover the truths that the Bible itself seeks to reveal to us, we need to get to grips with the very language that God chooses to reveals himself to us. Why should we refrain from using biblical words for biblical ideas? Why exactly are we censured for using the language of apostle and apostolic? Are we not seeking to be a biblically defined people after all?

Should this go in the new edition?  Is this worth debating about?