Years ago, my first response to an apostolic network was less than kind or gracious.
The "apostle" mentioned by my colleague in a private conversation about ministerial ethics was infamous for taking offerings, demanding personal pastoral tithes being paid to him and generally elevating himself above all others in ministry. His traveling demands and entourage were a disgraceful example for the body.
Then, my wife, Judi and I met Pam Seward who has planted a significant and rapidly growing network of churches in Nepal. She has chosen the Pauline example of single chastity in order to dedicate her life to God's kingdom in Nepal. As a young, single woman, she entered Nepal more than 20 years ago as a teacher. More than four years passed before she won her first convert to Christ.
Today, a mother church in the capital with scores of churches, pastors, leaders and church plants penetrate this dark stronghold that is now being won to Christ under her apostolic leadership.
I could speak personally of Raymond Mooi and Li Ming in Malaysia; Timothy and Fifi in Bali; Petrus and Tina in Semarang, Indonesia; Kong and Sun in Singapore; Suli and Mari in Fiji; Gary Haynes in Brazil; Bob and Anne Christin in Serbia; Naomi in Singapore; and thousands more throughout the world who labor selflessly without any personal desire for titles or positions.
I named international apostolic leaders rather than North American ones so that I could avoid the myopic trap of the North American mind-set we so easily adopt when thinking of church leadership. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 identifies the offices of the church that Christ has established for "equipping the saints for the work of ministry." We need apostles today just as the early church needed them in the first century.
What we don't need is self-promoting, titled grandstanders who seek media limelight and financial gain from positions named and claimed. What we do need is to esteem the humble, holy examples set by sacrificial servants of the Lord who faithfully follow Paul's example (see 1 Cor. 11:1) in being called by Christ as an apostle and sent out to pioneer and plough, and plant and pastor new fields. The early "acts of the apostles" must be manifested today in the church. Those acts are to:
Pioneer and plough. Paul willingly ventured into risky regions and spiritual strongholds to take the gospel to new people groups. Pioneering has nothing to do with proselytizing and everything to do with propagating the gospel by ploughing new fields (see Acts 16:9-10). Such pioneering also garners and equips leadership for what is planted.
One apostle making continual forays into Thailand's most spiritually hardened regions holds signs and wonders crusades in the evenings and pastors' school during the day so that by week's end there will be pastors for the new converts that flood into the church. That brings us to the next "acts" of apostles.
Plant. The apostolic growth in Nepal is punctuated by shed blood of martyrs who willingly face Maoists knowing that they go to plant and probably die. The apostolic vision of Peter Xu and the leaders of house churches in China sees equipping planters to establish the church in nations from China "back to Jerusalem." An apostle's fruit is not the size of the network but rather the lasting fruit from what's planted in the kingdom.
Pastor. The apostle Paul birthed church leaders and then continued to nurture or pastor them. Too often as we have traveled in North America, we have encountered and counseled those leaders who have been orphaned by "so-called" apostles. They are abused, manipulated and hurting.
With statistics reporting that 1,200 to1,700 pastors leave ministry monthly, we find ourselves facing a crisis in ministry. Finances, failure and family stress often push pastors out of the ministry, leaving helpless sheep who are devoured by the "roaring lion." We need apostles to protect and nurture pastors in ministry (see 1 Tim. 1:2-3).
As the body of Christ, we need to recognize and esteem those apostles that God has and is raising up in this day for the work of equipping saints. We also need to discipline and correct those charlatans who covet the office but manifest none of the accompanying signs, wonders, fruit and holiness.
Larry Keefauver, D.Min., is a pastor, author and international seminar leader with his wife, Judi. He speaks on prayer, family and God's presence, and has written The 77 Irrefutable Truths of Parenting and The 77 Irrefutable Truths of Marriage (Bridge Logos). His Web site is www.powerhousefamilies.com.