Where Are We Now?—Part 8

CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley
CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley

I’ve spent several weeks exploring the idea of where we are right now in the CGGC, particularly as we anticipate looking forward into the future and discerning where the Lord wants us to go and what He wants us to do as His people. Some of what I share will be from a broader view – where the CGGC reflects what’s going on across the larger evangelical church in North America. At other times, the sense will be much more specific to the CGGC and where we find ourselves in this critical moment.

It’s been my observation over the past several years that we struggle as a denomination in handling leadership transitions well. There are very few examples of where it’s been done well and lots of examples where it hasn’t been handled well. I’m going to guess that most of us could name a local church in the CGGC that has gone through a difficult transition from one pastor to another pastor. Part of this is probably related to our lack of embracing of APEST callings and the tendency to focus on one primary leader in the life of the congregation (see last week’s post for more on that). Some of it is due to our lack of skill in handling transition.

Knowing when to step aside is a difficult skill to develop. Raising up other leaders and actually letting them lead is another set of skills that don’t just happen naturally. Raising up leaders and helping them develop in their leadership takes intentional work. Timing matters greatly in transition. Good transition doesn’t just happen, it must be stewarded.

I was recently in a group of leaders talking about the importance of finishing well and knowing when and how to turn things over to the next generation of leaders when the question was asked: “what if we let them lead and they do it all wrong?” I was quick to ask the following: “Are they doing it wrong or is just that they’re doing it unlike the way you did it? Those are two different things.”

I’ve already noted our challenge with an aging leadership population. We’re facing a whole slew of transitions in leadership across the CGGC – and I’m not just talking about pastoral positions. There are many positions of leadership that are currently held by folks over the age of 60 that will eventually be held by someone else: elders and teachers, deacons and board members and a whole host of other leaders in congregations and ministries. These positions often need to be held by the next generation if we have any hope of reaching the next generation. Here’s the catch: better transitions won’t just happen because of wishful thinking.

We have the opportunity now to make better transitions than what we’ve seen in the past. Who are you raising up and pouring into so that they might develop their potential as a leader? How are you preparing to step away while also preparing to help support the leaders who will follow you, even when they do it differently than you did? How are you pouring into someone who will someday take your place and hopefully do it even better than you did because you were willing to invest in them?

We have to own the fact that we haven’t done transition well.

We have to commit now to learn the skills it takes to do it better than we’ve done it in the past.

We have to be willing to invest deeply in the next generations so that they can shine in ways which we have not.

It won’t just happen on its own. We’ve got to learn how to pass the baton better than we’ve done it in the past.

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 13

14 thoughts on “Where Are We Now?—Part 8

  1. Lance,

    You’ve been sharing some good thoughts for our consideration lately. I wish that we could cultivate more of a culture of discussion around these things, but I’m going to do what I can and respond when I have something I feel might further the conversation.

    First, you are absolutely right that we’ve not handled transitions well much or even most of the time.

    The situation that I’m in has been an exception to that, at least in one aspect of it. Along with that, I want to challenge you by suggesting that the ‘handing off the baton’ is perhaps not a good analogy for us to continue to use, as popular as it is.

    We can certainly think of biblical examples that look a lot like that. Moses to Joshua. Elijah to Elisha.

    But in a way, this may be another example of our looking more to the Old Testament as a model than the New.

    I’d like to propose that when we look at someone like Paul and the ministry environments that he opened up as an apostle, there was less passing a role from one person to another and more discernment and recognition of gifts and abilities and including all those in ministry. Multiplication in a sense.

    For example, when Paul meets Timothy in Acts 16, there is no church job that needs to be filled. Paul was not looking for his replacement. He saw someone who was bearing fruit in his community, recognized that fruit, and sought be connect him in ministry within this apostolic network. Equipping. Encouraging. Connecting.

    We see a similar thing happening with Prisca and Aquila I believe. And many others.

    When my wife and I started attending Fairview Bethel, the person serving as pastor there found out that I was in school for ministry development and sought to give me opportunities to serve and explore various areas of ministry.

    We discovered that we serve well together (in APEST terms, I believe he is a shepherd and I a teacher) and over the course of a few years, we started ministering according to giftedness much more than a senior pastor/associate pastor relationship. Personally, I think these types of hierarchical distinctions are not part of a New Testament model of ministry at all.

    Ultimately he ‘semi-retired’ early so that I could have the financial ability to focus full time on ministry in the local church. We still serve together today.

    Did he pass the baton? Kind of, maybe, but also not really.

    With the baton analogy, once the baton is handed off, the previous runner is done. Retired. Starts attending a different congregation and maybe goes on a pulpit supply list.

    This, in my view, is not a biblical model. Can you imagine Paul retiring from ministry? When he spoke of finishing the race, he was looking at the end of this life, not a point where he had enough retirement benefits that he didn’t have to ‘work’ anymore.

    There are so many aspects of where ministry ought to go and this is just a tip of that iceberg.

    Once we start recognizing that every disciple is called to be in ministry, that local church faithfulness is stewarded not by a single professional leader but by a team of elders…

    Once we realize that just a shepherd and/or a teacher, as needed as both are, won’t allow us to realize our missional potential…

    Once we realize that we don’t necessarily need to pay everyone with significant ministry a salary…

    Once we realize that our 60s and 70s might be our best years of ministry!

    My goodness.

    Then we’ll get somewhere.

    But talk about leadership, that’s going to take some leadership.

    The real question is, do we have it in us?

    1. Dan…. thanks for the good and helpful challenge: “passing the baton” probably isn’t the best analogy. It certainly isn’t about quitting, stopping or considering your leg of the race finished. There is an aspect of working alongside of one another that isn’t captured in “passing the baton.”

      Thanks for the thoughtful feedback.

  2. Lance,

    You’ve nailed another one. Certainly, we don’t transition well. Undoubtedly, this fact is one of the causes of the continuing decline of our institution, which you mention from time to time.

    I’m older than you. I entered ministry in the Churches of God in 1976. With those decades of experience behind me, I’d suggest that our problems with transition are not limited, as you suggest, to, “the past several years.”

    My sense, during my years, is that we’ve never done transition well,…

    …that we’re now dealing with a deep-rooted problem in which one badly done transition is often followed by another, then another, then another. And, that we are now reaping what we’ve sown.

    Having said that, I do think that you are correct in suggesting that we’re doing transition more and more poorly as time moves on.

    It seems to me, though, that in the last decade or so we’ve been thinking of people in congregational, and even denominational, ministry as “leaders.”

    The word ministry once meant, not leadership, but service.

    We once understood people in ministry as serving the body, not leading it.

    That way of thinking seems to trace back to the first generation of the Kingdom. As only one example, Paul introduced himself to the Romans, first, as, “a servant of Christ Jesus,” and never as a leader of the church.

    I am convinced that you have identified a serious problem for the CGGC if we are to have a vital ministry in the Kingdom in the future.

    But, I am also convinced that we need to examine the paradigm under which we are operating.

    Our problems are deeply rooted in our history. Fixing them will, I’m convinced, require doing more than tweaking what we’re currently doing.

    To fix this, we will have to both repent and, also, turn from fallen and failing ways…ways that were well established in our body, even before you entered seminary.

    May you be strong and very courageous as you serve the King and His Kingdom!

    The time to act came some time ago. We can’t wait much longer to do something.


  3. Lance, I know I am a blog late in my comments here but I had to wait till the cold wore off and the brain thawed.
    In regard to this post you stated, “It’s been my observation over the past several years that we struggle as a denomination in handling leadership transitions well. There are very few examples of where it’s been done well and lots of examples where it hasn’t been handled well.”
    Having served on the ERC Church and Pastor Commission and before that on some pastoral search committees I agree. I have also been a pastor in transition on several occasions and I tried for my part to smooth that transition. Plus I also prayed I would not stay beyond my calling and derail the transition.
    However, I want to direct some comments to the APEST model that has been mentioned in several posts.
    Before we advance that model there are several questions I would raise.
    First what do we mean by apostle? Is it big “A” or little “a”. This makes a big difference. Are we proposing there are Apostles like the Apostles of the early church?
    If so, they would have to be limited in number and there would certainly not be an Apostle in every local congregation. They would not have the role of the first Apostles in receiving new revelation. And the only role the CGGC would have in this process would be to recognize apostleship because as I read it they were called by God apart from any official sanction by any human authority.
    My thoughts have more to do with definitions than the concept itself.
    My other thought on your post has to do with the word “leadership”. One of the comments on this post takes exception to using the words leader/leadership for those who have a responsibility in a local community of believers. If this is true than my Doctoral thesis project on leadership in churches has a serious flaw. I can thank God I received my degree before we stop using the word leader.

    The early church clearly had leaders and the NT writers referred to them as such. Note the Greek word “hegeomai” a word that is translated leader in Hebrews 13.
    The following is from the website of Bill Mounce :
    Frequency in New Testament: 28
    Morphology of Biblical Greek Tag:
    to lead, rule, guide; to consider, think, regard
    to lead the way; to take the lead, Acts 14:12; to be chief, to preside, govern, rule, Mt. 2:6; Acts 7:10; ἡγούμενος, a chief officer in the church, Heb. 13:7, 17, 24; also, to think, consider, count, esteem, regard, Acts 26:2; 2 Cor. 9:5

    In the letter to the Hebrews it seems that the concern is not so much for leadership transition but leadership appreciation. Admittedly the writer of Hebrews does not give the leaders a title but refers to them by a role they had within the context of a Christian community.

    There is also the gift of the Spirit “κυβερνήσεις”. It has the sense of steering. Even though only used once (i Cor. 12:28) it seems an important word when we consider life and direction in the early church.

    So back to your post, Lance, how do we manage leader transition? One way is to recognize that God’s voice is always calling and sometimes He is saying time to move on or move over.

    1. Lew,

      You make some immensely important, no CRUCIAL, points, though, certainly, you’re not the first to make them.

      As Dan Masshardt has interacted with Brandon in Brandon’s now aborted series of articles on APEST in The CHURCH ADVOCATE and in the CGGC eNews, he essentially begged for a dialog among CGGC people, a dialog engaged in and empowered by General Conference staff…

      …and, so far, to no avail.

      I have been expressing a similar wish. Thanks for turning the duet into a trio.

      Certainly, as you say, the issue of definition is fundamental to the dialog we need to have if we’re going to practice APEST.

      As to the definition of the term apostle, it seems to me that the term was used in several ways in the New Testament era. Clearly, we have to come to grips…and some degree of agreement…if we’re going to practice APEST in the twenty first century. Such an agreement will not be possible without a sincere dialog in which all of us are willing to, as Paul mentions to the Ephesians, be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

      And, bravos to you on your comments on leadership.

      It seems to me that discussion of the topic has come into the today’s church from secular culture, not from the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the ealiest disciples.

      Being, as I am, a student of revivalism, I’m not aware that the men and women who participated with dynamic movements of the Spirit concerned themselves with sound “human” leadership principles.

      Certainly, looking back, we’d say that Winebrenner and the Wesleys, as examples, led, but, honestly, I don’t believe they thought of themselves as being leaders.

      The Lordship of Jesus was powerful to these people.

      What is human leadership in that context is an important question. But, it’s not one they spent time on to my knowledge, to my knowledge.

      Still, it’s important for us, in the CGGC to come to grips with what human “leadership” is in the Kingdom of God under, as John Winebrenner called it, and as our current Mission Statement echoes, “the New Testament plan.”

      Yours is a second call to dialog. May it bear fruit!

    2. Lew, it’s good to hear from you. Thanks for the thoughtful insights.
      Thanks for the good question. I think you’ve hit on an important point. I certainly mean little “a” apostles. I think it’s in this important definition that some of the discomfort around APEST has developed. I think your call for a definition is a good step as I’m probably too quick to assume that people either agree with my definition or that people understand my definition to begin with. It’s incredibly important given some of the weird expressions of APEST with the New Apostolic Reformation and others as well.

      1. Lance and Lew,

        Because we are where we are as a body today, I agree that issues of definition must be addressed.

        However, my knowledge of Church of God history suggests that, in our early days, we practiced APEST without talking about it.

        From our first days,…

        …we had a number of small “a” apostles, that is, “sent ones,” travelling full-time, proclaiming the gospel.

        …we certainly empowered prophetic voices, as Lance has pointed out in the past. We empowered these people and they were bold in preaching and living truth even when doing so brought controversy. And, we were unflinching and unashamed.

        …we were well-known for being focused on the work of evangelists.

        And, in those days, we were thriving and blessed and our impact for the Kingdom can not be questioned.

        The Spirit led…and we followed.

        We DID ministry driven by apostles, prophets, evangelists and shepherds and teachers.

        We did. In those days, we never talked about APEST.

        And, from a human perspective, we did it with, excuse the language of theologians, as an ELDERSHIP, with a Presbyterial political.

        Humanly speaking, what we did was chaotic and muddy and our people were confused and perplexed as they sought to follow the blessing of the Spirit. And, in spite of the confusion, they rejoiced and gave thanks that they were blessed to be a part of a powerful work of the Spirit, even if understanding alluded them.

        So, certainly, we need to define our terms. At this point, we must talk about what a small “a” apostle is.

        But, before that process is complete, certainly we must do APEST, as the first generation of the men and women of the Church of God did.

        1. Lance and Bill, As I read Bil’s comment it underscored for me, once again, the importance of definitions.
          What Bill described as apostles seems to me to be the role of evangelist. I agree that the Greek word “apostolos” means sent one but the role of apostles in the New Testament seems to indicate something different and more than traveling full-time proclaiming the gospel.
          What many people today mean today when they speak of an evangelist certainly is not what was meant by Paul, but those who traveled full time proclaiming the gospel at least seems to be a starting point for the definition of evangelist.
          So we all have some work to do. I think Brandon Kelly may have laid a foundation for further research.

          1. Lew…and Lance,

            More than 1,600 years ago, Jerome translated the Greek word apostolos into the common Latin of his day as “missio,” and his choice of that word was brilliant.

            New Testament apostles were many things but, at their root, they were missionaries.

            The Book of Acts shows them to be, first and foremost, among many things, people who traveled from place to place, spreading the Word, preaching the gospel.

            What’s the difference between an apostle and an evangelist? Good question.

            Still, the compelling truth for us, as I see it, is that CGGC people have been TALKING ABOUT APEST since the days of Wayne Boyer and still not doing it.

            And, of course, our decline has continued.

            Jesus told the original apostles to go, not to talk about, making disciples.

            Ultimately, the sheep and goats will be separated based on what people do.

            In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul made it clear that we are saved by grace through faith “to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

            We need to do, as the first apostles did. As the first people in our movement did.

            Let’s talk, certainly. But, it’s time to put what we already know into action.

  4. Wow – this is a good discussion. Let me share a few thoughts.

    – Lew – have you ever read Neil Cole’s Primal Fire? Highly recommended, even if you don’t agree with some of it.

    – I don’t think anyone in the conversations we’ve been having is looking at an apostle in the authoritative sense of the Twelve, who were literally eyewitnesses to the risen Christ and were initially sent as the stewards of the gospel of Jesus to cultures partially or totally unaware of it.

    – Lew – I would challenge you not to be overly dependent on word studies. They are certainly quite important and a piece of the discussion and I appreciate that you are taking us there. However, koine Greek words can also have a huge semantic range and lexicons are also not as objective as we might want them to be. D.A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies is helpful in this area IMO. I’m NOT saying you are making any exegetical fallacies. 🙂

    – For me, there are three non-negotiable aspects that I feel we must embrace much better than we have, even while continuing to discuss the particularities of things (like possible distinctions between apostles and evangelists and whether shepherd and teacher are two roles or one .)

    1. Ministry – including ordained ministry – is not one size fits all. There is not one total package that we fit a ‘minister’ into.

    Primarily, we should LISTEN to each person’s story and observe what God has given them passion for. We should pray for the Lord to send to us and raise up amongst us who and what we need for what he has called us to.

    IF Jesus is still giving the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, then they are here/there. IF he’s not, then we are on a fishing expedition. We can and should continue to look to the Scripture to understand it as best as we possibly can, but we should also open ourselves to listen to what the Spirit is doing and not assume we know everything.

    2. There is not one person in a substantially unique and set apart role in a congregation or community. Eldership is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS a team thing. There is a biblical (not secular) aspect of responsibility / oversight / leadership here. Yes, there is much to flesh out here and think through together.

    3. Perhaps the most obvious to me: clergy / laity talk needs to die. I’d be interested if anyone in this discussion would want to defend clergy / laity as a biblically helpful or faithful nomenclature.

  5. Some of us were able to continue this discussion at ERC annual conference but I had not been able to read the comments here until today.
    Dan, I agree that we cannot put all our weight on etymology. However, the role of the apostles in the early church seems to be bigger than kerygma. They seem also to have had an oversight role for the church at large.
    I have read Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and I agree a good resource. ( I should also note that Carson, as i remember, does not think there is a modern equivalent of apostles and prophets.) Maybe more an that some other day.
    But I do appreciate a quote in Carson that reinforces what Dan said “God makes snowflakes but we make ice cubes”. Maybe that why we have the expression “many are cold and a few are frozen”.

    1. Lew,

      I’m sorry to have missed the chat at Conference. I’ve heard that it was a good conversation.

      Gang, I have two brief, unrelated comments:

      1. Regarding my observation that Jerome translated the Greek word “apostolos” as “missio.”

      I remember exactly when and where I learned that fact. It was at what once was called Summer Seminar, later IMPACT, in a workshop on the Pastors’ Track, taught by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn from Asbury Seminary who’d authored the very influential early book on Spiritual Gifts, THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT.

      Kinghorn’s book on Spiritual Gifts is extraordinary. It’s the work of a first-class scholar, written in a style that would make it useful to a Sunday School teacher.

      Kinghorn made his argument about the gift of apostleship very strongly. Even at the time, I wondered if he’d had push back against it.

      Anyway, I read Latin very slowly and poorly. Since, I entered my post here, I’ve read the Vulgate in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 only to find that, in those passages, Jerome only transliterates apostolos into Latin as “apostolo.” I don’t see the word “missio” there.

      Knowing Kinghorn’s scholarship as I do, I don’t doubt his point, yet, I think I may have overstated it slightly in my post.

      2. More importantly, to your point, Lew, that apostles seem to have an oversight role for the church at large. Your observation is valid, in my opinion.

      If that’s the case and Jesus will continue to give APESTs to the saints “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God…” (Eph. 4:12), how do we recognize and submit to apostolic authority and maintain institutional authority in an organized church at the same time?

      It seems tome that you may have nodded in the direction of an elephant in the room as we struggle with practicing APEST.

      As far as I’m concerned, you are raising an extremely practical issue.

  6. It’s interesting that ‘authority’ is so much of an obsession for the church.

    Personally I think almost every denomination etc pretty massively misunderstands it.

    When we talk about the NT, we sometimes have a view that the Twelve (plus Paul) had this massive carte blanche authority to command whatever they wanted of the church.

    I see most of the authority as influence being in that they knew the teaching, way and will of the Lord Jesus in a way (or extent) that nobody else did in the beginning.

    Remember, Jesus is the one with ALL authority. And when the disciples become apostles they are tasked by him with making disciples who obey everything that HE (not they) command.

    These capital Apostles didn’t get to make stuff up because they wanted to and everyone else just falls in line.

    Now the we have scripture (especially the Gospels but also the letters of course) and so part of that apostolic role is different.

    ANY and EVERY disciple of Jesus can know the teaching and way of life of Jesus and none of us can contradict him.

    What apostle really means and what we’re primarily talking about today (in my view) is the sentness. Apostle means sent one. We desperately need sent ones to break new group and to go where the gospel is not – geography, people groups etc.

    Since Jesus has ALL authority and he is the one of gives the APEST and Every believer some gift, those gifts carry their respective Jesus authority in those areas of service or ministry.

    So, we practice mutual submission. This isn’t a hierarchy where apostles are on top. Jesus is on top and he gives us all various gifts and means to serve.

    Alan Hirach speaks about apostles coming first in the listings and order because they open up the ministry environments for everyone. Without gospel communities planted, there is little teaching, shepherding etc to be done.

    And so we live by the Word and the Spirit, discerning together what each person brings, and submitting to how the Lord is working through them within the parameters of the Word.

    That’s part of how I think about it anyway…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.