It was while leading South Melbourne Restoration Community, an inner city church committed to reaching the marginalized people of our city, that I realized something was fundamentally wrong.
We were a ragtag band of ex-druggies with a church situated in a profoundly postmodern and tribalized part of the city. The model of church we had inherited was clearly not cutting it. Scarcely anything in my training for ministry had prepared me to for this.
In this post-Christian context, we needed to be more than ministers running a church. We needed a different type of leadership.
We morphed from an institutional church into a missional one. In the years that followed, we planted five more churches among the homosexuals, prostitutes, street kids, the rave scene, blue-collar workers, Jewish people, and Gen-Xers. It was exciting, but we felt totally inadequate to the task. It forced us to a broader understanding of the church's mission, and a better grasp of what leadership involved.
While at South, I was invited to lead a revitalization movement within my denomination—the fourth largest Protestant denomination in Australia. Seeing things from this higher altitude, I recognized that South was not the only church facing a crisis. My entire denomination needed to shift toward a missional culture if it was to grow and survive. But how?
We needed a new type of leadership, one with the courage to question the status quo, to dream of new possibilities, and to innovate new ways of being the people of God in a post-Christian culture. We needed missionaries to the West, but our seminaries were not producing them. If we take the five categories of church leadership from Ephesians 4:11, they were training leaders to be teachers and pastors for established congregations, but where were the evangelists, the prophets, and the apostles to lead the mission of the gospel into the world?
Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers—I refer to these together as APEST. But when I looked at my church and most others, I saw congregations dominated by leaders who were shepherds and teachers. What happened to the other leadership types?
Where have all the APEs gone?
During Christendom, the centuries when Christianity dominated the culture, the church acquired a fundamentally non-missional posture. Mission beyond the walls of the institution was downplayed because every citizen was deemed at least a nominal Christian already. What was needed were pastoral and teaching ministries to care for and instruct the congregation, and to draw underdeveloped Christians back into the church on Sunday.
So, these two functions were eventually instituted as the leadership offices in the church, and the other three roles listed in Ephesians 4 (apostles, prophets, and evangelists) faded away as largely unnecessary. The system of church leadership we inherited from Christendom heavily favors maintenance and pastoral care, thus neglecting the church's larger mission and ministry.
Consequently the A, P, and E leadership functions were marginalized from the church's leadership structure.
In my years of ministry, I've seen how many churches sideline people with more APE type gifts. Of course, this is not to say that apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic ministries have totally disappeared. Many within the church have managed to fill these roles without necessarily being tagged "apostles" or "prophets," but, by and large, these lacked formal recognition, and they have tended to be exercised outside the context of the local church.