The New Apostolic Churches
By Grant Spong


Dear friends: 

God bless every one of you. We recently had a discussion about apostolic churches. These are churches that follow in the tradition of early church planters like Paul, by planting not just one church, but multiple churches. The concentration is on the development of many leaders at all levels. Bear with me in my folly as I share a few more thoughts on this subject, or at least perhaps try to encourage you a little. 

Not all new ideas work well, and it sometimes takes a few years or even decades to prove whether or not the fruit is good. For instance, Sunday School was a new concept in the Christian church at one time, and yet it has proven to be one of the more successful innovations. Elements of the Sunday School movement can be found in Christian education (CE), discipleship classes, small cell groups, house churches, or other varieties of what I like to summarize by calling "mini-church." 

During the 1990's, new ideas and ways of doing church seem to have gained momentum. Some quickly hailed these new ideas as a move of the Holy Spirit. Some repudiated them as counterfeits. Most were cautious, and saw a mix of divine inspiration and error. One thing is for certain. New denominations and new movements within existing denominations are affecting all corners of the Christian church. Former mission fields have now matured. African independent churches, Chinese house churches, and Latin American grassroots churches are growing faster than traditional churches. 

In his recent book "The New Apostolic Churches" (1998, Regal) C. Peter Wagner invites about 20 innovative church leaders to give their testimony. I found many of the ideas both helpful and encouraging, especially the loosening of church structures to be more relational than stiff and formal. 

Traditional Christian church structures have clearly not worked. Though I don't agree with tossing out the baby and the bath water, these leaders give some interesting arguments as to what is the real "baby." 

"The New Apostolic Reformation is making church leaders and pastors more committed to establishing an army of equipped saints than gathering an audience of paying spectators and fans." (p. 152) 

"Our belief is that people are more important than buildings. Meeting the needs of people is our heart cry." (p 167) 

"For us, the apostolic ministry describes the whole task of pastoring pastors. It describes a relational covering and network for like-minded church leaders." (p. 174) 

Some theologians reject the idea of modern day "apostles," even though the Bible gives no indication that apostolic ministries (other than the original) have ceased. Over 30 individuals in the NT were referred to as apostles. Some theologians use broader definitions of the original Greek and believe that "sent ones" still exist in the form of envoys, missionaries, church planters, district bishops, regional directors, founding pastors, etc. 

Common themes of the new apostolic churches seem to be ministry structures built on mentoring relationships, the basic building block being the cell or small group. Cell group leaders are mentored by more experienced pastors, associate pastors are mentored by senior pastors, and senior pastors are mentored by regional, ethnic, or linguistic pastors or directors. 

Today, it may sometimes take time for senior and regional bishops / superintendents / pastors / directors to gain the confidence of those they serve. Becoming a mentor involves much more than mere supervision, but includes trust and intimate friendship like Christ had with his 12 disciples. In most cases, our existing structures have been imposed, rather than developing through a natural relationship. The kind of natural relationship that a Paul may have had in  "fathering" the churches he supervised, does not exist in many denominations today. Yet the new apostolic churches came about through just such mentoring "fathers." 

Cell churches are not just churches with small groups, but where the day to day pastoral care of the flock is carried on through the cell group. In other words small group leaders are not just "facilitators" of discussions, but pastors caring for their small groups or house churches. The new apostolic churches usually include innovative applications of the cell church/house church movements, what I prefer to call "mini-church." Perhaps in time, as we grow in the understanding of evangelism, missions, and developing these kinds of mentoring relationships, we all will experience the blessing of being apostolic churches.