Knowing that the end of a matter is better than its beginning1 we have confidence that the present apostolic age, in direct alignment with the first apostolic age which was ushered in by Jesus, is destined for an unprecedented manifestation of authority and glory. But, the progress in this journey is not happening randomly. God, as an architect and builder2, has always worked according to a plan and today requires His apostles to implement the heavenly model on the earth with precision:
“See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
If the New Apostolic Reformation is the latest and most advanced phase of the global development plan, what are the key steps that will lead us from new wineskins to new wine? Having intentionally pursued an apostolic path of transformation with our congregation for the last two years, I was pondering that question while listening to C. Peter Wagner. In fact, I was interpreting into French for him during a conference we had organized for our city of Gatineau, in Quebec, Canada. I must also mention that Peter had previously challenged me in a private conversation to write a vision statement for my calling. This was no small matter and the thought of it stirred me greatly.
I’ll never forget what happened the following morning. It was Saturday, June 16, 2012. I had woken up around 5:00 a.m. and was lying in bed letting my spirit enjoy communion with the Lord for a while. Suddenly, the vision I had carried for many years was crystallized into a clear revelation. I was so excited I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to write it down so that I wouldn’t forget any part of it: To activate the transformation of local churches into apostolic centres and link them into apostolic networks in order to establish alignment for territorial transformation.
In the following sections I will expand on the three components of this apostolic vision statement.
1 – TRANSFORMING LOCAL CHURCHES INTO APOSTOLIC CENTRES
Jesus, our great apostle3, came from heaven to establish an apostolic company to invade and occupy the earth in order to change its culture to a heavenly one. His strategy was to surround himself with a team of apostles who, in essence, received the same mission He did from His father:
“As you sent (apostello) me into the world, I have sent (apostello) them into the world.”
That structure, of an apostle surrounded by a team, is the original pattern echoed in Ephesians 2:20 that Paul and other apostles followed in their apostolic missions. All along the journeys they took to establish churches in the various cities and regions of the then known world, we can see apostolic teams moving with the great flexibility that is so characteristic of new wineskins. Why would it be any different today in our local churches?
The traditional picture of the local church that we are used to seeing is either a board of elders (or deacons) leading a congregation and having authority over the pastor, or it is a senior pastor functioning as the main leader of the congregation, balanced by a board of elders (or deacons) that ensures he is not using his authority incorrectly. However, a fresh look at the passages of scriptures that apply to church government quickly shows that there is something out of line with this picture.
First of all, according to Acts 20, verses 17 and 28, the terms elders and overseers (or bishops) are equal and refer to those who have been appointed by the Holy Spirit to shepherd4 (pastor) the church. Secondly, the common way we see the Holy Spirit appoint these elders/pastors is by an apostle5. Thirdly, the mandate given to the elders to shepherd the church mainly involves the maintaining, care and protection of the flock6(all characteristics of the ministry of the pastor/teacher) in strict agreement with the foundational teachings and instructions given by the apostles.
Nowhere do we see elders or pastors either planting new churches or leading existing churches into major developments. This mandate belongs to apostles working with apostolic teams. The examples of this are numerous, especially with the apostle Paul. For example, Acts 20:4 lists seven members of Paul’s team who were travelling with him, while another part of his team was travelling back to join them in Troas. Luke, the medical doctor who was acting as the media person for the team, was part of that second group. It’s fascinating to follow his reports and watch that multi-gifted apostolic team move from city to city and advance the kingdom of God.
Two variations of the same governmental model developed in the newly formed congregations: we see either an apostolic centre, with a residing apostle who assumed a direct leadership (with elders/pastors aligned with him), such as with Paul, who spent three years in Ephesus7, Timothy who was later based in Ephesus8, and Titus who ministered in Crete9; or we see a pastoral church, with a team of elders/pastors that are aligned with an itinerant apostle, who kept contact with them through members of his mobile team, letters or occasional visits. (The relational nature of the authority the apostle exercised can be seen in the way Paul pleaded with the Galatians10 and in how he spoke to the Corinthians as if they were his children, asking them to keep their hearts open to him11 – this is clearly different from a legal or domineering use of authority.)
Moreover, even in the cases where elders were given the responsibility to take care of the church (in the absence of a residing apostle), it is neversuggested that a maintenance mode had become acceptable for the church. Whether an apostle is on-site or not, churches should always be growing, changing and developing. If not, they are operating contrary to the Great Commission which is apostolic in nature and must continually lead to new developments.
As I started to study and teach this to our congregation I realized that a change needed to happen in our midst. We were a semi-thriving church, certainly not in a maintenance mode, with a fresh vision, but we were hindered by an old wineskin. For close to two years, we studied and prepared for the transformation from a local church into an apostolic centre. Our local church, Le Chemin (The Way – the hodos), had been following an apostolic model to a certain degree, but without the full clarity that was now coming to us regarding the new wineskin. I had been functioning as a senior pastor with the authority of an apostle, surrounded by a supportive team of elders, in a paradigm between the old and the new.
In December 2011, after much preparation, and with the agreement of the existing leaders, I dismantled the board of elders and established an apostolic team of 15 people/couples to work with me. This team, fashioned after the model we see in Acts, is mobile and flexible, is composed of people with different gifts and ministries, is multi-ethnic and intergenerational, and has a strong pastoral component that frees me and my wife to lead, cast vision and move forward. We have crossed over from the old wineskin of a traditional local church to the new wineskin of an apostolic centre.
There is much more that could be shared about the various steps of this transition. For some people it involved the painful challenge of going through a recalibration of their role; for others, it brought the joy of having more room to function in their God-given gift. I could also expand on the freedom it released in the congregation to embrace the apostolic nature of our calling, which started to be expressed through a vibrant activation of ministries, both inside and outside our gatherings. In a French province that has a reputation of having a hostile spiritual climate towards the gospel, we honestly found a greater joy and release to live as vibrant witnesses than ever before. The other phenomenon that occurred was a flocking around us of all kinds of people with leadership capacity – like an Adullam company, ready to become mighty men and women. Activating the saints to move into a wide variety of ministry spheres has become a passion and a joy.
What is so encouraging to me is that whenever we succeed in establishing a beachhead, or a prototype, we are then in a position to help others do the same. Not to reproduce a rigid structure, but to embrace the nature of the new. Activating the transformation of local churches into apostolic centres is now at hand. I can foresee a great number of churches becoming like the Antioch or Ephesus centres, generating a life that cannot be contained within their walls, constantly sending apostolic teams across the land and creating a spiritual revolution in the nations. Acts was the beginning. The end is now unfolding.
2 – LINKING APOSTOLIC CENTRES INTO APOSTOLIC NETWORKS
The first detailed account of the development of an apostolic network is found in Acts 14:21-23, when Paul and Barnabas were returning from their initial trip, going through the cities they had previously evangelized, appointing elders and committing the churches to the Lord in prayer and fasting. It can be understood that this process included instructions being given and apostolic authority being exercised. After the trip was completed Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch, their sending apostolic base. A further and decisive step that seals the birthing of this early networking venture was taken some time later when Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”12 From that moment on, the rest of the account of the book of Acts is a description of the birthing of geographical communities of believers that were linked together into apostolic networks.
Even though Paul remained the central figure of the movement, more and more apostles were added, having either been trained with Paul or having arrived from other journeys. We see not only Paul’s sphere expanded, but other apostles’ spheres as well. Local churches multiplied and appeared everywhere. As they continued developing, not without growing pains, true apostolic centres were formed that had a strong influence that reached beyond their own borders. Corinth and Ephesus are examples of this, or even Thessalonica that became a model to all the believers in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia.13
Today the times have changed, but the original pattern is still relevant. Having local churches become apostolic centres, linked together through 21st century apostles and their teams, presents the most potent framework for sustaining the end-time activation of the kingdom dynamics. Just as the seven mountains that influence society are not stand-alone hills, apostolic centres cannot afford the luxury of existing independently from one another. Having a global vision is one of the characteristic of apostles, and apostolic centres must carry that same DNA.
In a very practical way the apostles choosing to align with this vision are called to develop as many networks as the spheres and capacities the Lord has given them allow. Depending on whether they are a residing or itinerant apostle14, our role is to either help them transform their local church into an apostolic centre or to help them develop their own network. The picture I foresee is a proliferation of networks interacting with each other producing a power grid for territorial governance.
3 – ESTABLISHING ALIGNMENT FOR TERRITORIAL TRANSFORMATION
The reality of territorial spheres of authority is vividly depicted in the incident we refer to as the “Riot in Ephesus”.15 The hysterical way the crowd shouted the name of the goddess (whose headquarters for Asia was in Ephesus) for two hours is quite revealing. This outburst of rage was fueled by much deeper concerns than the economic losses of a declining pagan temple industry. It was a direct response to the advance of the kingdom of God in that city. The apostolic centre Paul was establishing in Ephesus had become an unbearable challenge to the spiritual forces ruling that area. The whole riot was nothing but a staged contention for territorial dominion.
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25
There are no two ways around this one. To gain spiritual authority in any region you need cohesion in the camp. If we want to see whole areas conquered, occupied and transformed, we need to strategically move away from the end of the book of Judges16 : “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit”, and link the apostolic centres and networks under the leadership of the one and only king, the Lord Jesus Christ. This remains, above anything else, the greatest task of the apostles in our day and age.
If this work is not done properly we will keep seeing a dysfunctional body of believers trying to fulfill a mission that is way beyond its grasp. The nations will watch the pathetic attempts of divided members trying to achieve what only coordinated efforts could ever have a chance of accomplishing. Without the proper linking of apostolic centres and networks, there is no global structure to receive the orders of the king and to implement them with strategic order. Instead of a fit and well proportioned body we end up with a few supersized ministries that are poorly connected to a weak and random collection of scattered local churches.
But, as the apostolic networking takes place, we can come to “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, which defines the type of spiritual governance ushered in for us in the book of Acts.17 It is an awesome privilege on earth for men to be able to say, “The Holy Spirit and us”, and in this lies the true secret of the authority to exercise dominion on the earth on behalf of our Father.
I can foresee apostles of healthy spiritual families being in relationships with each other, well surrounded by prophetic companies, taking the blueprints delivered from heaven and putting together global implementation operations to redeem the time, set the captives free and reshape our cultures. Entire regions and nations will be restructured as we align ourselves with a cohesive and corporate apostolic leadership. This functional rearrangement of the decision mechanisms will require much more than the occasional round table discussion.
Whenever we consider the mountains shaping our society18, we realize that the real impact they have is not so much dependent on the height or strength of any single one of them taken individually, but rather on the singleness of purpose linking them into a range. As apostolic centres continue to develop, not only will we keep sending more and more gifted individuals to exercise a growing influence on specific mountains, but we will see the emergence of new breeds of centres moving away from the traditional location on the religion mountain and migrating towards other mountain peaks.
The apostolic mandate to link together centres and networks operating on the various mountains will give birth to a renewed spiritual landscape of mountain ranges. As we see the emergence of this geographical alignment, there will be a synergy of the gifts operating with focus and efficiency, reflecting God ordained governmental authority for spiritual transformation of whole cities and regions.
The last decade of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st have witnessed a significant rearrangement of the intercession and prophetic forces. Whole movements were birthed, as a new breed of revivalists rose up, who refused to accept the current state of society, with all its social and moral injustices. These revivalists started on a journey to either confront the systems ruling at the top of the mountains of influence or to infiltrate them; in both cases, displacement of the kingdoms of this world by the kingdom of God has been the goal. But the action of these groups of new revivalists has, for the most part, not been able to be embraced within the traditional wineskins of our local churches. Even the emerging apostolic movement, still young and in a formative period, has been struggling to unfold its wings outside of the confined space of comfortable and safe Christianity.
But there is a new development on the horizon. The transformation of traditional local churches into apostolic centres changes the whole paradigm. Apostles, surrounded by apostolic teams, can now activate and release the saints to impact their cities and regions in every sphere of society. These apostolic bases are becoming major agents of change, gaining influence, favour and authority to reshape the world we live in. More than ever before, each of these centres will become a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.19
What we will then see is an alignment principle starting to operate in the body of Christ, and leaders with various gifts and ministries responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to come into their proper place in the global structure God has for His church. Networks will multiply, but instead of acting independently, they will develop interdependently. Apostles and prophets, linked together and solidly grounded on Jesus, will carry a tremendous authority to legislate in the heavenlies and order the decrees of God to be enforced on the earth. More than a revival, this will be a kingdom being prepared for the Lord.
Gatineau, Quebec, Canada
|1 –||Ecclesiastes 7:8
|2 –||Hebrews 11:10
|3 –||Hebrews 3:1
|4 –||Acts 20:28
|5 –||Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5 (on Titus being an apostle see 2 Corinthians 8:23)
|6 –||Acts 20:28; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1-3
|7 –||Acts 20:31
|8 –||1 Timothy 1:3
|9 –||Titus 1:5
|10 –||Galatians 4:12
|11 –||2 Corinthians 6:13
|12 –||Acts 15:36
|13 –||1 Thessalonians 1:7
|14 –||Residing apostles lead an apostolic centre on-site, while itinerant apostles can move from centre to centre. Residing apostles can also lead other apostolic centres from a distance, while itinerant apostles are normally linked with a main apostolic base.
|15 –||Acts 19:23-41
|16 –||Judges 21:25
|17 –||Acts 15:28
|18 –||Religion, family, media, government, economy, education, arts and entertainment.
|19 –||Matthew 5:14|