About Movements

Part 5B. Leadership Roles in the Church

Part 5B. Leadership Roles in the Church

By Trevor Larsen 

“Where have you seen the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers of Eph. 4:11 engaged in the process of church formation? Where do teaching and preaching have a role, as you’re developing New Testament churches?”

Our “Focus on Fruit” could be called a variant of the DMM model that David Watson trained in 2008. We put a greater emphasis on local research and context fitting. We also put a greater emphasis on implanting the DNA of loving well (through community development in poor countries) into the movements that our model develops. Like standard DMM, our model is not just an evangelistic approach, but helps disciples to mature in Christ and be fruitful. But we may put a greater emphasis on the fruit of the disciple-making as the development of a church, like we see in the first 200 years in the Bible. The intended outcome of the Focus on Fruit model is a “Church without Walls”: an expanding organic system of ekklēsia like we see in the period when the New Testament was written. 

I’m from a background that believes the gifts of Apostle and Prophet have ended since the canon of the New Testament closed. The concern is about those who claim the same authority of the Apostles and claim their writings have authority like the New Testament. Of course we agree that the biblical canon is closed. 

Apostle-like gifting

Yet the Apostle Paul was more than a writer. His ambition was to preach Christ where there was no church. When I equip leaders widely, as a seminary professor with its invitations from various denominations, I keep meeting people who seem a lot like the Apostle Paul on this point. They keep trying to start new churches in unreached segments of the population. I have found that certain kinds of pastors are happy to pastor one flock of 70 believers (the average church size in our country). But some other Christian leaders keep forming more and more of these churches, and they end up overseeing eight or 10 linked churches. 

I kept running into this phenomenon and became curious about this type of Christian leader where I serve, which I don’t find as often in the USA. When these apostle-like persons reflect on the Great Commission, they see it as their role to keep making more and more disciples, and this results in more and more churches. These two types of leaders are different: one is more pastoral and wants to shepherd one limited-sized flock so they can handle it. The other is more apostle-like and considers how to start new churches in unreached segments. 

Over time I identified 16 of these apostle-like people who didn’t want to pastor churches, but wanted to start churches among Muslims who live in UPGs. To illustrate their unusual spirit, one of these men had a son who was dying in a hospital. After a 15-year struggle with more and more epileptic seizures and resulting brain damage, he told me one day: “It was just so stressful in my son’s hospital room, I finally had to go to another floor in the hospital to enjoy evangelizing Muslims. That was such a relief!” 


I thought: “That’s a different kind of person than many of us: he relieves stress by evangelizing Muslims!” This goes beyond their assigned ministries. These men have a hobby and Paul’s passion for evangelism (Rom. 1:14; 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:12-16): for getting the gospel out to all the areas where the name of Christ has not yet been named.

In The Signs of an Apostle, C. K. Barret wrote of the 12 Apostles and Paul. And there is a second level of leaders who took over pushing the gospel to the unreached, like Barnabas and the rest of that apostolic team. Others like Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) were mentioned as apostles. Other apostles (with a little “a”) were also mentioned, designating those sent on a mission from churches – such as the unnamed brothers mentioned in 2 Cor. 8:23. Certainly the writing of the biblical canon is finished. But the apostle-like spirit that was so prominent when the church was expanding rapidly in the first century is still present today in certain places. These people want to take the gospel to population segments where the name of Christ has not been named. The people I know who have that same apostle-like spirit have become leaders in the forward progress of the gospel. 

While helping them maximize their ministry fruit in Unreached People Groups, I began to realize that I have that same spirit. During seminary, I was recruiting others to join me in reaching Cambodians and Vietnamese and Laotians. I never thought of it as apostle-like. It never dawned on me that that’s what I was doing. But that’s the way the Lord made me. On my birthday yesterday, somebody asked me what I wanted to do for fun. I said, “I want to count up the number of UPGs that we’ve reached in this last year.” Because that is the thing I want to do when nobody’s expecting me to do anything for them. It’s the most fun thing I can think of! That’s different than other people. Apostle-like people have a drive to get the gospel out to the fields that have a potential harvest but have not yet been opened up. Only a small number among those who serve cross-culturally have this drive. Several expatriates of this kind have linked with me and are coming alongside the national apostolic agents to help the fruit move forward. 

I look for apostolic agents; I look for the local believers who have that gifting. And I’ve gotten better at spotting them and helping them. I arrange my life around this question: “How can I help apostolic agents maximize their fruit?” If I find compassion-oriented people, or administratively-oriented people, we have room for them too, alongside of apostle-like leaders. Because apostolic agents kick up so much fruit that all kinds of difficulties have to be overcome, by recruiting more and more people. I think that’s why apostles are listed among the five equipping gifts in Ephesians 4:11. They equip other believers to do the work of ministry, as described in the following verse. All five of these have an empowering or equipping function. The apostolic agents kick up a storm and many others are needed to support the forward motion of the expanding church. 

Evangelists, pastors and teachers

Our movement seems to have all five of these equipping gifts. What’s the difference between an apostle and an evangelist? I find our evangelists are happier one on one or in small groupings, interacting with people face to face. Their skill is more narrowly focused than the apostle, on sharing the gospel. Their work is fairly local; wherever they are is fine. With help, they figure out how to empower other people to evangelize. They train the other believers in how to do evangelism. But apostle-like people seem to have a collection of different capacities that they can draw on when needed to keep pushing the gospel and the church forward into the places where it still needs to be established. 

About pastors: among our 16 most fruitful movement catalysts, some of them show a strong orientation to pastoral gifting, but as apostle-like pastors, they shepherd their top movement leaders (who are widely spread out) rather than one set of believers. When we’ve had martyrs, the other catalysts feel blown away, but the pastors come forward out of the woodwork. They’re the ones comforting the other leaders and helping them figure out how to get up and find encouragement. The same with deaths. We’ve lost over 3000 people to COVID-19 in our small group networks, and this includes many leaders close to them, so our catalysts have been really hurting. These pastor types emerge and help the others. Certainly in a movement, we need someone with the pastor gift to equip all the lay shepherds needed for every set of 50 people. We have leaders over cells, over clusters, over small regions, and over large regions. Those constitute our teams of structural leaders. 

We also have special leaders. We call one kind of special leaders “counselors.” This is really the pastoral function. They get training in counseling, they help people with narcotics addictions, they help grieving people, and they get called in by structural leaders to help with family conflicts. They help people when a pregnancy happens before marriage, and many different kinds of issues. We don’t make the pastors serve as structural leaders. Structural leaders can also serve the pastoral roles, or they can call in unassigned pastors from the network to come and help them, to take over certain issues. If they have a wider structural leadership role and are also gifted as pastors, they need to transition from doing pastoring to equipping lay pastors. 

The same with the evangelists. This is another special leader category. Evangelists often figure out ways for the cluster to birth more groups, maybe in a nearby people group or a nearby region. Structural leaders collect financial gifts from the cluster, and use it to help a volunteer evangelist (who’s maybe a salesman) to have a little more money, so they can travel a little farther to birth or firm up some evangelistic fruit. Facilitators of Community Development are also special leaders. They are administrators who can organize others in projects that benefit the community. We do a lot of loving-your-neighbor. We feed the hungry, create jobs, and have thousands of kids in tutoring groups after school. We’ve decided to make a lot of loving-one-another priorities part of our movement; these require a lot of administrative-facilitator work. The structural leaders of the church don’t have time to also organize these projects. They can call in these people, who serve like the seven who took over the ministry to widows in Acts 6.

The fourth special leader is the Bible teacher – the people gifted in teaching. These also may be a structural leader, or they may focus on only teaching and training teachers. We have special seminars to equip teachers. In the last 15 years, with the help of others, I’ve written 38 Bible study series, each one guiding group Bible discussions for about 25 weeks. The teachers help improve our drafts. They help identify the topics that need to be addressed. These studies are biblically based; some are topical, focused on specific themes. For example, our biblical theology of fasting is a special topic of great importance in a country that fasts one month a year. This is a very popular study, because of the fasting month. We have another popular topical series on healthy biblical families. The topical series are often used to start groups. 

We also have a foundational series. In our Word system, we have a strong emphasis on inductive Bible study in groups, and the teachers are a part of the Word system. The teachers can introduce the a group series to a leaders’ group, in a half day seminar to help the leaders with the overview and some key passages. They can help the leaders during a study, answering questions that come up, like on Christology for Muslims as they study the book of Mark. Some of them help write or select materials, or demonstrate teaching on a topic during one of our seasonal gatherings of 50 or 200 people. Some of them help make teachings in short videos. 

Surprisingly, the way the word “preaching” is used in conventional churches nowadays is different than the way it was used in the Bible. The Greek words used in the Bible that we translate “preaching” primarily described evangelistic proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers, not preaching to believers in churches. In a word search using BibleWorks, the 27 passages having words translated preaching in the ESV of the New Testament, 24 passages clearly refer to evangelistic preaching, and it is unclear in the other three uses whether a believing or unbelieving audience is in view. Open evangelistic preaching must be done very carefully and wisely (to reduce risk) in the 99% Islamic people groups we serve. Most of our proclamation of the gospel is done in smaller groupings of people who know each other, and Muslims who come to faith usually dialog about it. In the Bible, the word “teaching” is more focused on believers, as mentioned above. 

We keep working to identify especially these spiritual gifts and provide additional special training for each of these four categories, plus the gift of giving. Growing disciples are empowered to use those gifts within the movement. One of our 10 Core Skills is our annual health diagnosis. We try to get all the groups and all the clusters to self-evaluate using a set of questions. 

Coaching circles to equip leaders

If one were to ask, “Which of the churches in the New Testament were healthy?” You could probably say they were all healthy, but they also all had some unhealthiness in them. Maybe Corinth would stand out for its unhealthiness, but all of the churches had problems. A movement is a messy process, and we have had all the problems you read about in the Bible. In any one week, if I asked all the leaders, there would be some people in serious family conflict. There would be some people struggling with sexual addiction on the internet. All those problems you could think of, that you find in churches anywhere, are found in the Church Without Walls that Christ is building through our leaders. 

We’re working to sharpen processes, to increase the likelihood of leaders helping believers address their growth issues in a biblical way. In the leaders’ groups, we have a process we call coaching circles, where four peer leaders decide which of them will be coached by the others in a particular week. The leader selected as the coachee shares a challenge they are dealing with, then the other three leaders ask questions to help him or her. Together they come up with ideas to help the coachee find solutions to his or her leadership challenge. Coaching Circles train leaders in group problem-solving, and they build four leaders into a team of leaders.

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