Lest we think it a role reserved for the intellectually or spiritually superior, let's recall how Matthew was chosen: with a pair of dice (see Acts 1:26).
Lest we think it a path to the finer things in life, let's remember Paul's station: "hungry ... thirsty ... in rags ... homeless ..." (1 Cor 4:11, NIV).
No, apostleship is not a matter of aspiration but of obedience. It's a divine call that often comes unexpectedly upon those whom God chooses--not necessarily those who would appear to have all the talent, charisma and spiritual power needed to fill the shoes of an apostle.
Sure, apostles are those who have made themselves available for the purposes of God, and they are often gifted with passion and skills fitting their callings. But most ultimately find themselves dumbfounded by the ways in which He ends up using them in His kingdom.
I must confess that I've been dubious about the existence of modern-day apostles. Like C. Peter Wagner, I'm no fan of the self-appointed ones. And I'm not sure whether I like using the title as a form of address. (As a second-generation Pentecostal, "brother" or "sister" works just fine for me.)
But my skeptical leanings were cured by talking to Samuel Lee and Kayy Gordon and reading about Zhang Rongliang in preparation for "Apostles Among Us".
Each of these are consumed with the desire to see others pick up the baton of ministry and go further than they have. And they are too busy equipping pastors and strategizing how to reach nations to worry about titles.
The "apostle debate" is not over yet: Will denominations seek to encourage apostolic church-planting and mentorship models that are bearing so much fruit in the non-Western world?
Will apostolic networks address the concerns of accountability and sound theology--all while warding off the trend toward institutionalism that threatens historic denominations?
Both must avoid the triumphalistic notion that God works through only one type of church structure and accept the fact that ecclesiastical governments are only temporary. They exist for the sake of the church's function, which is to equip the saints--until Jesus returns.
As you read this issue of Ministries Today, I hope you'll find--like I did--that wherever God is building His church, apostles are laying the foundation.
The titles they wear may differ with the expressions of time and culture, but their function is the same: plant congregations, equip leaders, confront demonic powers and marshal resources for kingdom purposes.
Even the crustiest of skeptics would agree.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend who held credentials in a large denomination for several years. After confessing to his denominational officials that he viewed pornography online, his credentials were suspended, and he was placed in a program of restoration for several years.
At a gathering of ministers in his denomination, my friend stood up and confessed his failure to his colleagues. After returning home, he received calls from friends in ministry who also viewed pornography online, but were terrified to confess their failure to denominational officials for fear of losing their livelihoods.
The incident reveals the challenge denominations face in providing authentic accountability to their entire constituencies. (One official actually warned my friend not to tell him if he fell again—but to confess his sins to someone who would not be obligated to report his failure to the denomination.)
While denominations are composed of people who hold the best of intentions and the highest of ideals, the entropic effects of institutionalism are unavoidable. History is littered with institutions that lost sight of their reason for existence and embraced the goal of self-preservation instead. In the process, they neglected the very people they intended to serve.
Some who have left denominations have done so out of rebellion, bent on escaping the oversight of what they perceive as narrow-minded institutions. But others have departed in search of deeper accountability—not independence. These reluctant pilgrims should be encouraged, not criticized.
As Ron Carpenter says in this issue's cover story, "My generation will not be loyal to a denomination, but they will die for a man." This passion is not birthed in rosy idealism, but in the realization that effective ministry cannot be accomplished unless we relinquish individualism and commit to God and one another with a loyalty that transcends institutional structure.
Ironically, this commitment to relationship is not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it's what gave birth to every denomination that has stood the test of time.
Thankfully, it would appear that a new wind is blowing through denominational structures, and leaders are rediscovering the importance of spiritual parenting, relational leadership and flexibility in the face of changing times—further evidence that God is very much at work in His church.
There's something about the grace of its people, the diversity of its topography, the winsome sound of its music and language—even when you can't speak it—that burrows into your soul and leaves you itching to return again.
These warm and fuzzy feelings stand in contrast, however, to the desparate plight of a continent on which the fate of the rest of the world seems to hang.
It is in the furnace of Muslim Sudan that Osama bin Laden's and al-Qaida's hatred smouldered—and where he issued a "Declaration of War" against the United States in 1996.
Although it is the most impoverished continent on earth, greed for Africa's vast wealth of natural resources has created a fertile environment for the wars, colonialism and slave trade that have wracked the continent for centuries.
Until recently, the world stood idly by while Africa became an incubator for a global AIDS epidemic. The latest United Nations estimates say 26 million of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide live in Africa, and that Africa saw about 3.2 million of the nearly 5 million new infections recorded in 2005—most of whom are women and children.
In spite of what may appear to be the depressing realities of Africa's political and economic past and present, the nation's spiritual future could not be brighter. The observations of scholars (such as Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom) vividly reveal that the center of Christianity has shifted from the Western world to the East—and that Africa is at the epicenter of this shift.
For those who suspect the speculations of pointy-headed academics, we offer "Out of Africa" (page 28), just one example among many that the mission field of Africa has become a missionary-sending continent, and that God is using the creativity, spiritual sensitivity and courage of African church planters like Sunday Adelaja to take up where many of us in the West have left off.
These pioneers teach us that crises on the homefront are no excuse to neglect the Great Commission's call to cross-cultural witness. The students have become the teachers, and I, for one, don't plan on skipping class.
First, today's church leaders have little time for the labels that often divided their forebears. The theological distinctions of yesteryear are melting away as leaders—evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal—shed their differences and link arms to bring cultural transformation.
Second, the growing currents of secularism and pluralism combined with an increasing fascination with spirituality demands that leaders understand the times in which they live and that they possess intellectual and spiritual tools for capturing the hearts and minds of this generation.
The growth and influence of the church in some sectors—combined with the troubling statistics of dropout pastors and shrinking congregations—indicates that the stakes are high for those who navigate these waters.
In light of these dramatic shifts, founder and publisher Stephen Strang has felt the leading of the Spirit to relaunch Ministries Today under a different name, and with a redefined mission, to more effectively serve the needs of faithful subscribers and expand readership beyond the current boundaries of the magazine.
Beginning with the May/June issue, Ministries Today will be relaunched as Ministry Today. The mission of Ministry Today will be to identify and explore trends relevant to the next generation of Christian leaders, engaging the interests of church leaders from diverse theological, ethnic and generational backgrounds.
Ministry Today will provide tools for understanding the challenges and seizing the opportunities of 21st-century ministry, not merely informing readers about what is working and not working in the church, but inspiring critical thought and creative action.
Expect to find analysis of cultural and religious trends from experts such as George Barna, insight from columnists such as Andy Stanley—as well as profiles, news stories and commentary.
Each issue of Ministry Today will celebrate innovation and experimentation, connecting inquisitive readers with thoughtful experts who will help them understand the times, and proactively engage their communities and the world with the gospel. Our goal is not only to also offer information, but to be a catalyst for ongoing transformation in the church.