The Caged APE

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GIFTS & BOXES

I used to think I was a teacher.

As I wrestled with a calling to ministry, I naturally looked for positions where I could Teach and Pastor. Over the years I’ve taken lots of spiritual gifts inventories (and here and here and more info here). My “number one” gift was always Teacher followed by Pastor. I loved the energy and possibility of planted churches and thought maybe I should Pastor a church or plant one.

The existing tradition of established churches sometimes felt like a box to me. Questions nagged at me, “Why are we in this box? Why can’t we break out of this box? Why does no one else see that we are in a box?” I would fluctuate between frustration and pride – frustration that we were content to be held down – prideful that I saw things more clearly than everyone else.

Both of these attitudes were coming from something much deeper that I hadn’t yet been able to identify. Years passed by and I still didn’t know why I felt the way I did. Over the last year or two I discovered a passage of scripture that I knew about, but had never really understood.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is a the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

SURGEONS

Since Teacher and Pastor always showed up on my spiritual gifts inventories, I had no reason to entertain anything else. The neurosurgeon keeps focus on the brain while the cardiothoracic surgeon keeps focus on the heart. There may be some benefit in cross-pollinating, but if I need a surgeon, I would rather that they each keep their noses down focused on their specialty. That’s how I thought about my gifting. Why give attention to gifting that I didn’t have? They are important to the Body, but not to me.

What I couldn’t see was that I was a part of a system that leans heavily toward Shepherds and Teachers. Our churches, church planting networks, missions agencies, and seminaries are training people to lead in and from the legacy church setting. Even the most front-line engagement work being done in legacy church settings didn’t speak my language. It turns out, I’m not a Teacher or Pastor. I’m actually an APE.

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WOLVES, DOGS, AND APES

A baby wolf is basically a puppy. For a while, you could even keep a wolf cub in your home like a pet. Sooner or later, this scene will turn from kid’s movie to horror movie and the only one not at fault is the wolf. It is in its nature to do what it does. When it is small, it could be confused for a dog, possibly. But as it grows, the similarities will shrink and its true identity will become more apparent.

In every church there are likely some people who might be categorized as a different species. In fact, we might call them APEs. They see the world and the church a little differently than others. For many pastors and church leaders, these APEs may be frustrated and frustrating. They can often be identified by their discontent about the right things.

There are plenty of people in the church who are discontented troublemakers, but what I’m talking about is frustration that we are not reaching more people, that we are not getting outside of the walls of our churches, that we have lost the missionary heart of our faith. These people often long for something bigger. In the worst-case scenario, these people are treated like nails that have worked themselves out of place on a staircase. Standing out is harmful and they need to be pounded back into place.

APEs are simply one segment of gifts God has given to the church. They are Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists. We can cage them or we can release them.

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In the church at large, we haven’t always done a great job recognizing important differences in the giftings of our people.

When people are misunderstood, they are also usually mistreated. This situation is good soil for dissension and division to emerge. But as we remember the passage above, all five gifts are just that – gifts from God to his Church. Their purpose is equipping the church for the work of ministry, building the Body, attaining unity, and maturing and growing up into Christ. The intended result is hefty and we ought to see in that the importance of understanding and making room for these gifts in the church.

The cornerstone of the church is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church are the Apostles and Prophets. The Evangelists are the hinge between the Apostles/Prophets and the Shepherd/Teachers. The Shepherd/Teachers are what we know best – and we all know about Evangelists and feel guilty that we aren’t all Evangelists or better Evangelists than we already are. If that rings true for you at all, then you, like me, have lived with an incomplete and unhealthy view of the gifts God has given to his church.

What could happen if we committed to broadening our view of God’s gifts to the church, looking for those gifts, and then doing everything we could to empower them? This is the difference between caging APEs who are already in our churches and releasing them for the good of the church and the expansion of the kingdom.


First published on Change Your Neighborhood

After Easter – Next Steps

Yesterday I reflected on remembering the risen Lord Jesus. The Monday after Easter is when our belief is tested. What do we do now? Peter returned to his previous life of fishing after Jesus’ death, but then Jesus came to him again. Like Peter, we return to our lives at the end of Holy Week. What makes us as Jesus followers any different from the rest of the world the day after Holy Week is over? Our response to the resurrection of Jesus should be a renewed vision for the directions Jesus gave us after he rose and just before he ascended.

He simply said, “Make disciples.”

If we view the Easter as simply a meaningful and moving religious observance, then we have grossly misunderstood and undervalued it. As I stated yesterday, this is exactly what the disciples did in response to Jesus’ death. They thought it was all over. Jesus was dead and they might have felt foolish for thinking that Jesus had come to overthrow the government and to establish a new and holy theocracy. But he was killed.

Jesus didn’t scold his disciples. He lovingly invited them in again. Once they started understating what was happening, Jesus then gave them their marching orders.

Make Disciples.

Speak the words.

Proclaim the kingdom.

Teach them to obey Jesus.

In the same self-sacrificial, misunderstood, loving, selfless way that Jesus was commissioned into the world, so we are sent like him (John 17:18).

Yesterday, we reflected on the meaning of Easter after Easter is over. The resurrection was something for one day; it was the inauguration of a totally new way of life. Today, we must reflect on those marching orders Jesus gave us.

For now I’ll leave you with 2 questions:

  1. Are you a follower of Jesus?
  2. Are you making disciples of Jesus?

Remember the Risen Jesus

For 40 days leading up to Easter, many people (however religious they may or may not be) observed the season of Lent. The crescendo of this period of waiting, hoping, and fasting, is Easter – the day when God raised Jesus from the dead. Yesterday many crowds of people marked this special day, and yet it is today that we live the reality of the risen Lord Jesus.

Who can blame Peter for returning to his lifestyle of fishing on Saturday? He was a fisherman when Jesus interrupted his life and called him to follow and to fish in a whole new way. It isn’t so difficult to see that Peter had no idea what he was getting himself into when he chose to follow Jesus. That should come as a relief to us who follow Jesus today. None of us expected to be interrupted by Jesus, and certainly none of us knew what it would mean to follow Jesus. It’s no poor reflection on Peter that his response to Jesus’ death was, “I’m going fishing,” (John 21:3a). This period of death, burial, and resurrection was filled with doubt for Jesus’ closest disciples, but he still returned to them.

I can’t blame Peter or the other disciples for wavering faith and some misunderstandings about who Jesus was and what he was doing because I am guilty of at least as much doubt and misunderstanding. We can get caught up in the religious ceremony of Easter like much of the Christendom world can, but today is the day to continue living in the light of the risen Lord Jesus. If we don’t live in light of the resurrection today, then what did this weekend mean to us who celebrated this resurrection? Who is this Jesus to us? If he is truly the risen Lord, the conqueror of death, the forgiver of sins, the one reigning at the right hand of God, then let us respond accordingly! Let us not simply pay him lip-service as our lives have been forever changed by his triumph!

Fighting for Joy

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. But I’ve been putting it off because quite honestly, I haven’t had the time, energy, or motivation to collect my thoughts and press onward.

I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of guy. I’m the constantly optimistic, positive thinker. After taking a version of the Strengths Finder profile (more on that later) I found that Positivity was fairly high in my gift set. That being said, even as a perpetual optimist, I hit valleys just like anyone else.

For a couple of weeks at least, I had to force myself to do anything remotely “spiritual” – i.e. my job. I can’t put my finger on any one thing that triggered this. All I know is that my desires were for anything but God. My affections were not burning for Christ. I never doubted my faith, but I “wasn’t feeling it.”

Have you ever had that feeling? It’s not a fun place to be. Especially when my work-life is built on “spiritual” stuff. With each passing “valley” I’m learning that my faith journey is not easy or on autopilot. When it starts to feel like that, I know I’m headed for a valley. I have to intentionally fight for joy. John 15:10 reveals that Jesus cares about our joy. God is glorified in my delight in him. That’s especially true when I don’t feel like delighting or finding joy.

Sometimes you simply have to do what you don’t want to do, so that you will feel what you don’t feel. We are never promised an easy life. But we are victorious in Christ. God is good and he can be trusted totally.

Teaching: The Trinity

Tomorrow night I’ll be kicking off a series called Doctrine: What Do You Really Believe? for Impact Student Ministry at Cuyahoga Valley Church up in Broadview Heights, OH. I’m especially excited about being assigned this topic because, frankly, I’ve never given a whole lot of focused thought to the doctrine of the trinity – and now I have to teach it to high school students in 20-30 minutes. No big deal, right?

Conceptually, I know the importance of the doctrine of the trinity, and I’ve never been a Modalist, or a Sabellian, or a tri-theist, or anything like that. But those are just it fancy-sounding words that anyone can stumble on in a dictionary or in an iTunes U theology course on your iPhone or iPad.

Why does the trinity matter?

Other than helping to sort out all the God/Jesus/Holy Spirit business, what difference does it make?

That’s what I hope to touch on tomorrow night at 5pm. If you’re in the area, I would love for you to join me.