When is failure is not failing

Featured cover article in Church Planter Magazine

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Ok, I’m going to do it, (cue the music) I’m dropping the old school beat from L.L. Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years…” We all love a great comeback story. Rocky, Rocky II, and well, then it just gets ridiculous, but all of our movies are based on comebacks. Whether love stories, or actions type thrillers, we love them—some more than others. For instance, in Star Wars (known as episode IV) the squadron of “good guys” goes up against the dark side to try and hit the two-meter opening of the exhaust port of the Galactic Empire’s evil weapon of doom, the Death Star (cue James Earl Jones’ deep breathing). Luke is optimistic, “But it’s not impossible. I used to bull’s-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home, and they’re not much bigger than two meters!” Luke turns off his targeting gear, uses his experience and relies on “the force,” sending the perfect strike to annihilate the enemy’s weapon. The comeback worked!

Comebacks Are Not Failing

Ah, but as church planters, we have more than the “force;” we have the Holy Spirit. But much like young Luke, we also have innate skills, or gifts of apostleship, that we rely on—yet sometimes, it seems like in all of our heard work, we fail—and from the smaller picture, it might seem so. When Paul went to Lystra to preach the Gospel, he was relying on his gifts, experience, and the power of the Spirit (Acts 14).

There, a man was crippled, and you know the story, the man was healed, the people declared Paul to be a god, he refused, then Jews come in and eventually stir things up so much, they bounce rocks off of Paul’s head, nearly stoning him to death. Then the story continues that the elders lay hands on Paul, he admits defeat, hangs his head low, and goes on to another town. No, wait—that’s not how the story goes at all. Paul walks right back into Lystra (Acts 14:21). Luke records, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV).

Paul knew what he was called to do, and it seems there were many more converts in Lystra than we know about. From the text it appears like the apostles were there for one or two days, but when further study, we realize that Paul was church planting and placing elders in leadership, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23 ESV). Paul did not fail.

Times of Regrouping

Assuredly, Paul needed healing, it was obviously a super natural healing, but he regrouped and then went back to encourage those that he had worked so hard to bring into the Kingdom. Failure is not failing when you don’t give up. Failure is not trying. Regrouping is not failure.

Perhaps you started a church plant and after you launched, you realized that you went about it all wrong—wrong parachute, wrong timing, wrong attitude. I did that. We had a group that met in my home, and we just knew that God had called us into it. We thrived, sang, shared in fellowship, and grew.

But we did it all wrong—everything—it was horrible (or so it seemed). For whatever the reason, there are times when we may need to take a step back and let God do His work. Whether you return to your Lystra, or not, is God’s will—only time will tell if He opens the right doors. However, there may indeed be a bigger picture that is taking place during the regrouping phase of your life.

Overcoming Fear

Failure is not failing when you overcome a fear. I can’t speak for my wife, but I do know that the day that we finally caved in and knelt together by the sofa in tears to pray, I was terrified. I knew God had called me into church planting—but I was impatient, and to be honest, I was very fearful. I was fearful for several reasons: I had many life “events:” my father had recently passed away, I just graduated seminary, we had a newborn girl, I knew there wouldn’t be any salary, unlike the associate pastor salary I was receiving, and the unknown, plus my own pride.

However, God provided a great job a hospice chaplain, so that I could be bi-vocational. And since I had taken the plunge I had a “peace that passed all understanding.” What I didn’t understand was the growth that we had in the house, would fail miserably when we launched too soon and for the wrong reasons. I ended up shaking my hands to heaven on an early morning run, yelling, “Seriously! What’s up with this, God!” But what happened in the long run was amazing.

I was directed to small dying church of 20, miles away, a 110-year-old church plant—they wanted a church planter and I regrouped in humility. I learned something valuable; that it was not the actual “plant” that God was directing me through, but through my fears. I often speak to guys and tell them, “If you’re called to ministry, you must be rid of fear first.”

You’ll have a hard time being sold out for Christ, when gripped with fear. Through all of the trials, I overcame my fears, realizing the big picture. And while I didn’t make a “comeback” plant into that area, I did regroup, and now the saga of this story has begun to spark something completely amazing—something I never would have imagined.

But the facts are, failure is not failing when God owns the story line. God is the director of your life. The overall picture is not about us anyway—is it? It’s about Him and Him glorified, as we reach others, bringing the good news and new life to organic community. So, seize failure, make a comeback, regroup, or overcome.

How to Release the 5-fold Ministry of Your Church or Church Plant

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In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he boasts of a five-fold ministry consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—we’re going to call this, APEST (btw, I didn’t make that up and I know how some feel about it—if you’re not an APEST fan, go ahead and tune out, otherwise, read on.). The key to finding leaders who are just dying to utilize their giftings are in your core team or church, and are within the five-fold ministry.

First, let’s look at what Paul writes, “And [Christ] 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” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV). This is our foundation. Granted, Paul is talking about “offices,” so let’s remember that we’re looking for leaders. Not everyone is an APEST. Some people are gifted according to 1 Cor. 12:4–11.

In this passage, the Apostle outlines how the “fullness of Christ” (4:13) is uniting the fellowship of the saints and their specific gifting to edify (build up) Christ’s church. Let me say this, you have some of these people sitting in your pews (if you still have pews) and they’re gifting is being squandered. Let me help you discern who has what gift and how you can tap into that gifting, creating a missional movement for the kingdom.

Apostles

Twenty-first century evangelicals have a hard time with this title. Mainly, we were taught in Sunday school about the 12 apostles. None of us should consider ourselves on of them. But the gift of apostleship still exists, in the essence of being hard-wired to edify the church. This one is so important. Church planters get this, as most of them (if not all) are apostolically gifted.

The gift of apostleship is a gifting that inspires people to be entrepreneurs, business owners, risk-takers, imaginative thinkers, and creators—people that are never afraid to step out of the box. In our church settings, it is really important to allow these people to be innovative. However, it is difficult for most pastors to allow those with the gift of apostleship to flourish because they are viewed as a threat. Why? Because they are driven by change and innovation. But, we must realize that God has placed them within our midst. If we can tap into a person with this gift, they can help birth an entire movement.

Those with the gift of apostleship may excel in art, music, sewing (we have those), woodworking, cooking, business administration, or any other creative industry. The idea here is that these folks will be the ones with the ideas for motivation, innovation, and expand structure—they’re inspired by the Lord to create and inspire others. Set these people free! But, keep them close to leaders because they see vision, understand it, and apply it.

Prophets

We’ve all heard of Elijah calling down fire to consume military opposition (1 King 1). When we think of the word prophet, we think of Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, but God has placed the prophets within the church to edify and build up the saints. The prophetic gifting is one in which encouragement with truthfulness flow. These are straight shooters, sometimes viewed as “hardliners,” and have a heart for the holiness of God. Pairing up a person with the gift of apostleship and prophet can be very effective, yet dangerous.

It can be effective because the prophetic gifted person is very instinctual, emotional, and finds things cut and dry (black and white). It can be dangerous because they can quell an imaginative thinker quickly. However, if they work as a team, using discernment and understanding their unique gifts, they ascertain why they think the way they do. Prophetically gifted people see danger before it happens, but sometimes lean on the more cautious side of everything, and can get depressed easily, especially if they feel their gifting is not utilized.

But, prophets also are those who will be extremely loyal. Pastors love them and they seek out the pastor, often. As long as you are gospel-centered and driven, these gifted folks will be the encouragers to remind the flock that God is in control—nothing fears them. Use prophets in leadership as advisors—they have God’s best interests at heart—sometimes to a fault. Also, prophets are the ones who see giftings in others—usually immediately. These are the people who when they look at you, they’re “reading your mail.” You won’t fool a prophetically gifted person. It is highly likely that someone with the gift of evangelism has this gift, too.

Evangelists

Here is a gift that it seems no one wants. I don’t know why, it’s one of my favorite gifts. Perhaps the term scares people? I guess we perceive that the gift of evangelism is usually set apart for those who love Scripture and “witnessing” to people. While this is partly true, let’s remember that we want to cultivate and find these new leaders. So, do you have someone with the “gift of gab”? This person, if discipled, will make an excellent evangelist.

But speaking to people is not the only side to evangelism. This gifting includes the servant-heart—the Martha. You know, the people who love to set up chairs, cook meals, and talk with others. While some may say that’s the gift of hospitality, and it is, what we’re saying is that we need to cultivate this person—bring out that beautiful servant heart and release it into the community.

Servant-hood evangelism in one of the best models of Christ-like action. Some of you may have heard the term, incarnating into community, so think of it as “fleshing out,” or being Christ to a culture. An evangelistically gifted person can serve in leadership by locating others with this gift. These people tend to be magnetized to those who are like-minded—finding one person with the gift and putting them in leadership, has the potential for a team of an evangelistic movement in community. If you match up an apostolically gifted person and an evangelist…things get done!

Shepherds

So, recently I was working with a cohort of church planters for several hours. When I left, I had felt better than I did and more at rest than when I spent a week on vacation at the beach. Crazy, you say? No, this is one of my gifts. I realize that like a border collie set free to heard sheep, there is nothing like being in your realm! I’m a herding freak! But, don’t associate shepherding with meetings—blah—shepherds are extroverts.

Shepherds are vital to any church or church plant because these are the networkers. These are the men and women who know how to bring people together. They are by nature positive people—optimists. Shepherds not only know how to network and bring people together, but they also are people who have deep empathy, compassion, and a heart for those who they consider family (which in my case is everyone I meet!). Maybe you have healthcare workers, foremen, moms/dads with multiple kids, or managers, these are the people who know how to get things done, but in good ways.

The gift of shepherding is one, which thrives upon everyone getting along and coming together. They seem to get great satisfaction with seeing things “fire on all cylinders.” They’re shepherding gift kicks in without notice. You want these people in leadership; they can help your small group leaders, pastors, and teachers with bringing events and programs together. They can help with social media and will have fun doing it. One negative side note, shepherds tend to be a little OCD. Everything has a place, time, and purpose. Shepherds will inevitably burnout if you do not take care of them, but they thrive on being busy and sometimes stress.

Teachers

Teachers. What can we say? We have to love those who are patient, loving, and desire to see the skill sets of others come out. Those with this gift love being disciple-makers. They do not necessarily need to be the one that can cite every passage of Scripture and exegete the Bible flawlessly, leave that for the prophet (who by the way, may not be a good teacher—at all! Prophets tell it like it is). If you have a school-teacher in your midst, be careful not to burn them out. They know they have this gift and use it daily.

The best way to nourish a teaching gift is to cultivate it—water it. A person with a teaching gift will thrive and come to life, IF, they have encouragement. The reason is due to their gifting. They pour out so much from their heart and passion that they can easily get drained, but as those who invest in others, gratitude goes a long way. People who may have this gift could be any myriad of person, but look for the person who has great patience, an ability to clarify or portray things, they can contextualize things very well, are very practical and down to earth people, who enjoy staying in the shadows and seeing others blossom.

Utilize teachers for small groups, discipling, counseling, and developing activities. If asked, they may also be very effective at working with the evangelist in a community project—because they have great patience and can express ideas (and the gospel) in ways that others cannot.

Conclusion

Granted, this is not exhaustive, these are just some good observations to help you develop your church’s five-fold ministry in building up the church. If you have these people in leadership, surely a missional movement can ignite. Your job is to assess these giftings (maybe you have one), and then apply them by putting the right people into the right places.

If you have one these gifts and are not being utilized, maybe you need to share this with your pastor or leadership team?