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What is on the horizon for the church in the new millennium? Ministries Today interviewed one of Christianity's top thinkers, Dr. C. Peter Wagner, about critical ministry trends in the 21st century.
For 16 years, C. Peter Wagner, Ph.D., served as a missionary in Bolivia. Then, after returning to the United States, he taught as a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, for 30 years. In 1998, at the age of 68, he founded and now serves as chancellor of The Wagner Leadership Institute. Ministries Today editor Larry Keefauver recently interviewed Wagner to see what he believes are the new things God is doing in the 21st-century church.
Ministries Today: Dr. Wagner, you recently graduated your first class from The Wagner Leadership Institute. Congratulations!
Wagner: We had our first graduation yesterday, which we incorporated with Ted Haggard as a part of the 10:30 a.m. worship service at New Life Church. It was fantastic. We graduated 19 people from the bachelor of practical ministry, master of practical ministry and doctor of practical ministry programs. We also graduated three Chinese students from the master of practical ministry from Agape Renewal Center, an affiliate institution in Belmont, California, under Earnest Chan.
In the New Apostolic Reformation--which is what I call the "new wineskin" that God has designed for the church in the 21st century--our educational institutions are not in competition. Almost all apostolic networks have educational institutions for training for ministry, but our philosophy is that none of us is in competition with the others. We are all in a position to add value to each other.
Ministries Today: God speaks through the prophet Isaiah that He is doing a "new thing." What new things are being done by God in the church of the 21st century?
Wagner: All through the body of Christ there are many people who keep saying, "Our church is not in very good shape now, and we need to get back to having a first-century church." I couldn't disagree with that more. The last thing we need is a first-century church. What we need is a 21st-century church.
We need a 21st-century church that's based on all the biblical principles. Every time God has moved in the world through history--through the early church, through the Constantine time, through the Roman Empire, through the British colonization to our present day--He has always provided new wineskins. What we need to be tuned into is the new wineskins.
The first-century church itself was a new wineskin; but now as we look back, it is one of the old wineskins. Jesus tells us that we should not return to the old wineskins because God is pouring out so much new wine.
Jesus said, "'He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do'" (John 14:12, NKJV). We are seeing much greater works now worldwide than were ever recorded in the New Testament because Jesus said we would.
We need new wineskins to hold this new wine that God is pouring out. We also need to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. When the Bible says to hear what the Spirit is saying, it is a present-tense verb. It is not a past-tense verb. So, naturally, we need to remember and take into account what the Spirit said to the churches.
The Spirit doesn't always say the same thing. He is always saying new things. Part of what God is calling us to do is to tune into the new things the Spirit is saying to the churches and then move ahead as the Holy Spirit leads to implement what He is doing.
Ministries Today: What shape and form will God's new wineskins take?
Wagner: Far and above anything else, the new wineskin that God has designed for the church in the 21st century is what I call the New Apostolic Reformation (other people have other terms for it). The churches of the New Apostolic Reformation in this first year of the 21st century are already the fastest-growing churches on every inhabited continent of the globe. We are witnessing the greatest change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. This, in my mind, is by far the most dramatic new thing God is doing.
This change takes various forms. In the introduction to my book, The New Apostolic Churches, I have listed seven characteristics that these churches now have that are different from traditional churches. But of all seven, the first one reveals the most dramatic change: The recognition by the body of Christ of the gift and office of the apostle. We now realize that an apostle is a contemporary gift and always has been, or should have been. Apostles are being set in place along with prophets, as both of them should be.
The most authentic form of New Testament apostleship is the formation of apostolic networks, which are God's new wineskins for what used to be denominations. So, it is a way for churches, ministries, pastors and church leaders to coordinate the ministry God has given to them under a structure. This is not a bureaucratic structure, and it is not based on legal rules, but it is based on personal relationships.
So, the apostle leads this, and to the followers it is voluntary. There is no legal structure that requires anyone to follow an apostle. This is what is bursting forth all over the world in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the United States. Apostolic networks are forming the fastest-growing segment of Christianity worldwide.
Ministries Today: How are these apostolic networks different from traditional church structures that we have known? Where is the authority and accountability?
Wagner: Here is the difference in how authority is exercised in these new apostolic networks. In traditional Christianity, particularly in denominationalism in the last 400 years, the authority has been placed on groups rather than individuals. The way that authority is exercised is trust. If there is trust in the leader, then to the degree that the followers trust the leader, the leader gains more and more authority.
In traditional Christianity there was a conscious decision not to trust individuals, but only to trust groups. Therefore, we have congregational government. We have Presbyterian government with its sessions. We have consistories. We have vestries. We have church boards. We have synods. We have general assemblies. We have councils, and we have any number of groups of people that make the decisions rather than individuals.
The big difference in the New Apostolic Reformation is the amount of authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals as opposed to groups. That plays out on two levels. First, it plays out on the local church level, where the pastor is now the leader of the church rather than an employee of the church. In traditional Christianity, the pastor is an employee of the church. In apostolic Christianity, the pastor is the leader of the church.
Then it plays out trans-locally, with apostles being people who have extraordinary authority over numbers of churches. We have defined two types of apostles: vertical apostles, which are the most common, and horizontal apostles, which have a different kind of authority. I will explain these further in a moment.
The apostle is an apostle because God has given that person a spiritual gift, just like a pastor or an evangelist or anyone else. So, the source of this is God, and there is accountability to God. But let's say the apostle is over a network of churches. Naturally, there is not much question that the pastors of those churches are accountable to the apostle. That is what the apostle is for.
But then the question you raised is, Who is this apostle, the head of an apostolic network, accountable to? This has been the biggest unanswered question in the New Apostolic Reformation. I say has been because it is now being taken care of.
All apostles I know recognize the need for functional accountability. Most of them have nominal accountability to certain boards, but most of them name their own boards. It makes it hard to consider a person functionally accountable to a board that they name.
But they all realize this, so they are on a list of nine organizations across different parts of the world where apostles are coming together on a voluntary basis and holding themselves accountable to each other.
The people that convene these groups are called horizontal apostles. That is where I fit in. I am a horizontal apostle. I have no vertical apostolic network with a number of churches, but I call the apostles together like James in Jerusalem did when he called them together for the Jerusalem Council.
When I call the apostles together, they come together and look to me as their leader, not their covering. They are not under me, but I bring them together so that they build relationships with each other and make themselves accountable to each other. I currently have two of these groups with apostles. I have another one with prophets and another one with educators.
In terms of accountability, "group dynamics" kicks in. Group dynamics tells us that a group of more than 17 people--and particularly when it gets up to 40--cannot maintain any kind of meaningful, ongoing personal relationships with the whole group. Therefore, accountability is left desiring.
The accountability is developing through relationships in that group. Our names and the names of the people should definitely be made available to the public because that is the only way accountability can kick in. If the public knows the names of the 20 to 25 apostles in the Apostolic Round Table, then if they have any kind of thing to bring up about any of the members, they can approach any of the other members of the Round Table. Apostles know how to take care of that kind of thing and hold each other accountable.
Ministries Today: In some apostolic networks, apostles have required those pastors in that network to tithe to them personally instead of to their network or ministry. Is this proper?
Wagner: We are in the actual beginning stages of the first generation of physical, responsible apostolic ministry. In these first stages, different apostles are experimenting with different systems in their networks. The idea of tithing to the apostle is one of the ideas that has emerged as a way to sustain this whole thing. Not every apostolic network does it this way.
I believe that the apostles who are doing this are trying to lead responsibly. I am not talking about flaky apostles, and we do have those, just like we have flaky pastors and on down the line. But the responsible apostles are seeking together the answer to this question as to whether this is the best way to do it or whether there are better ways.
I think this is just something we need to look at. We need to say, "Well, let's see how this works, and if it doesn't work then let's do something better." It is definitely not the universal idea [that pastors should tithe to the apostles], but it is present among apostles.
Ministries Today: How do pastors and churches benefit from being a part of an apostolic network?
Wagner: The basic benefit is for the pastor. The pastor, by becoming a part of an apostolic network, becomes a better pastor. The pastor is placing himself or herself in a position where God's government of the church is operative. Ephesians 2:20 says that the foundation of the church is apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
First Corinthians 12:28 says that God gave to the church first apostles, second prophets, and third teachers, and then in the same verse it says that administrators come later on the list. We have basically been operating our churches with pastors and administrators first, instead of apostles and prophets first. That is not following God's design for the government of the church. But even though we had it backward, God has been blessing us, and we have practically fulfilled the Great Commission in the last couple of generations. So, imagine what is going to happen when we get it right.
Through their association with an apostolic network, God can move a local church to new levels that He otherwise would not be able to because that church is based on the foundation of apostles and prophets. So when a pastor, who is the leader of the church, affiliates with an apostolic network--with an apostle--then church government is coming into a proper place, and the church will be a better church.
Since it is voluntary, the only reason a pastor follows an apostle is because the apostle adds value to that pastor's life and ministry. For every apo stle I know, that is their greatest joy. It is just like John said in 3 John 4, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." That's an apostle's heart. I know that's my heart personally. I get my greatest joy to see that I am able to contribute to and add value to people, and see their ministries succeed.
Ministries Today: One school of interpretation contends that the only true apostles were those in the Gospels and Acts, such as the disciples, Paul and Barnabas. When they died, the apostolic era of the church ended. How would you respond to this school of interpretation?
Wagner: The Scripture tells us that Jesus, when He ascended, left behind apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. That's in Ephesians 4:11. These, of course, are for the equipping of the saints.
Then in that same passage, Jesus lays the foundation for the church that tells how long they are supposed to function. All apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and teachers are supposed to function "till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
So, if you believe the Bible, there is only one way you could argue against the need for the apostles and prophets. That would be to say that we have already attained "to a perfect man" and "to the measure of the stature of the fullness" and all of the "unity" that we are supposed to have.
Anyone who believes that the church is where it should be now in unity and in the stature of Christ could say that the use for apostles and prophets has terminated. But very few people I know think we have reached that stage of the "unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" that is talked about here. Most believe we still have a way to go, and until we reach it, we still need the apostles and prophets as well as the evangelists, pastors and teachers.
This [issue of the function of the prophetic] is a hot item because of the May/June issue of Ministries Today. When I first saw the caricature [of an angry prophet] on the cover, I got a little upset. But the more I think about it, the more I think that it was really good.
It is because [prophets] have not placed themselves under apostolic authority that, in the minds of many people, prophets look like that character on the Ministries Today cover. They have been too free-wheeling, moving around on their own and not accountable to apostles.
If 1 Corinthians 12:28 is true, the numbers are even there...first apostles, second prophets. So what is happening now is one of the most exciting things. Of course it wasn't the subject of the Ministries Today article, but it is exciting that probably the majority of the most visible prophets in America right now...those people you had in your interview and others, are putting themselves under apostolic covering, and I happen to be the apostle.
Many of these prophets are accountable to the apostles in the apostolic network. For example, Jim Lafoon is accountable to Rice Broocks. Chuck Pierce is accountable to me. Many of them have accountability in their network, but what this is doing is, not only are they accountable to the apostles in their apostolic network, but also they are accountable to each other as prophets.
I am the horizontal apostle who is pulling them together and convening them, and I become their leader. I don't become their covering. This is not like the discipling movement where I am their covering, but I am their leader. I bring them together.
As a matter of fact, in [a] meeting the day after tomorrow, one of my first agenda items is to go over that picture on the Ministries Today cover. I will say, "Hey, the next time Ministries Today says something like this, we don't want prophets to look like this anymore."
Ministries Today: How do you see the church equipping its leaders today as differing from the traditional academic models that we have had, such as Christian colleges, universities, graduate schools and seminaries?
Wagner: The major change [in the education models for today] is that the incubator for new leaders is now the congregation rather than the educational institutions. Because apostolic leaders believe in the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, they do their best to allow--not only allow but almost require--all their church members to discover their spiritual gifts and be in some kind of ministry in the congregation.
As this happens, cream rises to the top, and the leaders then become apparent. The pastor has his or her eye on this. Then most apostolic churches are going for what we call homegrown leaders.
When leaders rise in the church like this (because of their spiritual gifts, the calling and the anointing that they have), they [the pastors] want to bring them on staff. Well, there is no time. These people are often in mid-life. They have a mortgage on their houses. They have their kids in school. They have all kinds of involvement in the community.
Even though they are in secular work and will gladly leave it, there is no way they can go to a Bible school or seminary and train for three years and then come back and be on staff. They need to go right on, which they do.
So the ordination no longer depends on academic attainment. Ordination depends on spiritual gifting. The church will ordain these people. Now, the question is, How are they going to be trained? This is one of the major things that has precipitated such a radical change in the paradigm of training Christian ministers in the New Apostolic Reformation as opposed to how it was done in the past.
This brings up the issue of wineskins. Both denominations and traditional educational institutions are old wineskins. People who understand biblical culture of the first century in terms of wineskins know that the preferable place for new wine is in new wineskins. But some old wineskins can be refurbished, and some old wineskins can develop into the place where they can handle the new wine.
Of all the denominations that I have come across as I have been studying this for almost 10 years, I have only found one denomination that has actually made the change from a traditional, bureaucratic denomination to new apostolic leadership. They still call it a denomination, but they are transformed to new apostolic leadership. It is the Australian Assemblies of God. It is amazing.
This next month, David Cartledge, one of the apostles who has been leading this change, is coming out with a new book called The Apostolic Revolution. It is a very insightful book. I got to do the forward for it. It is insightful about how a denomination has intentionally turned around and become apostolic. He has quite a few things to say about the American Assemblies of God, incidentally, which is not inclined to take that step. So, it is going to be a fascinating publication that people are going to love to read.
Ministries Today: What other new wineskins do you see emerging in the church?
Wagner: We have touched on the major ideas concerning the new wineskins that I am personally involved in, and that is bringing together apostles for accountability and for communication, bringing together prophets for their prophetic accountability, and then bringing together educators.
In terms of the educators, one thing we haven't touched on is that those of us in New Apostolic Reformation schools have intentionally, after full consideration, rejected the idea of traditional accreditation. We feel that accreditation becomes a straight jacket that prohibits us as institutions from fulfilling the destiny of God that He has for our particular institution. Rather than giving us the freedom to move as we feel God is leading, it puts us into a mold created by the accrediting association.
So, we have developed a creative alternative to the traditional accreditation, which is called the Apostolic Council for Educational Accountability. I am leading two apostolic groups, one prophetic group and a fourth group as the apostle over the Apostolic Council for Educational Accountability. We have agreed that we will hold ourselves accountable to each other, and we have developed a structure for doing that.
We have also agreed that we will have just as much integrity with each other as anyone who belongs to an accrediting association. Our goal is to help each other fulfill the call God has given to each one of our individual schools, which are quite different from each other. But we will honor that, and we will have a system for accountability, with an annual meeting and any other kinds of things that are necessary.
C. Peter Wagner is the chancellor of the Wagner Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Recent books he has authored on the subject in this interview include The New Apostolic Churches (Regal Books),Churchquake! (Regal Books), Apostles and Prophets: The Foundation of the Church (Regal Books) and Apostles of the City (Wagner Publications).
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