I am increasingly convinced of the obvious! That foundations count; and come first. They set the parameters of the building; they enable or limit its stature and extent. Ephesians 2 tells us that apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. 1 Corinthians 12 tell us a priority order, ‘1st apostles, 2nd prophets, 3rd teachers’. If you put a teacher in the foundation (first) you get a certain environment, that an apostle or prophet would struggle to work on top of. So surprisingly the teacher gift, and by implication the pastoral gift are not meant to define the environment of church life, but to build their contribution in a culture created by others.
All gifts have great upsides, but real downsides to their upsides. When functioning in the wrong priority in the body of Christ the downsides become more pronounced. So our beloved pastors and teachers, have strengths in looking for Biblical accuracy, objective truth, never teaching anything they think is ‘wrong’ or even ‘suspect’, caring for people and knowing the condition of the flock, feeding and guiding them and where necessary protecting them. So stability, certainty, correctness are strong core values to these gifts. The downside of this is you can get a cautious, controlled, protected environment; a focus on flock not kingdom, a people ‘fat in the word but thin in the Spirit’, an environment that is suspicious of subjective experience and reluctant to allow risk for fear of disappointment.
In short we get a conservative environment, often unattractive to creative types, seers, prophets, powerful ‘game changer’ types, dreamers, risk takers and people full of new ideas. The church is not known as a ground breaking institution in any level of life. And if we are to change our ability to influence and the perception of others, it’s time we became powerful, creative revolutionaries.
Apostles are called to create a culture, as a foundation, that releases all the other gifts without suspicion. Apostles can uniquely work with prophets, build long term relationships with them so they too can influence the church DNA. It’s a mistake to think that prophets merely prophecy, they have a foundational function, in fact they are part of the foundation, without them the building will tilt away from heavenly encounters toward more cerebral approaches to the Christian life.
Apostles believe that the love of God can rule so strongly that protectionism is unnecessary because fear has been removed from the atmosphere. They welcome risk and therefore some failure and disappointment, because these represent a people free to push the envelope and move in faith.
I would like to suggest that apostles are uniquely anointed by the Spirit to create an environment of freedom, diversity and unity, they know that it’s only the active presence of the Holy Spirit that can create this atmosphere successfully; neither structure, or debate and agreement are the source of the church’s cohesion and freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom and our unity is found in the Spirit too.
I believe we are in season where God is expanding our understanding of the nature of the apostolic and prophetic foundation of the church and helping us see how much of our culture has been shaped by gifts in the incorrect order.