Apostolic Organizational Structures
In seeking a biblical understanding of the appropriate relationship between a local church and a mission organization, there are two viewpoints we will want to avoid. The first is that the local church does not need the mission organization. “If the church had been doing its job all along, we would not need mission organizations” is the kind of statement that is heard at times.
The second is that the mission organization does not need the local church. “The church should just send us (mission organizations) its people and money and leave the rest of the job to us mission professionals. What does the church know about missions?” would represent this viewpoint.
Neither of these viewpoints is correct or helpful. They are disrespectful to both the local church and the mission organization. They fuel unkindness. They sow seeds of disunity within Christ’s body. They do not honor our Lord or advance his kingdom.
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit provided for the global advance of God’s kingdom by forming two structures: local churches and apostolic teams. Most people today would see the modern equivalent of the apostolic team to be the parachurch organization, the mission organization, the sodality, or, sometimes in the United States, the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Paul’s apostolic teams were not local churches. And they were also different, in some obvious ways, from our modern mission organizations, especially in the way they have developed over the years. This is not meant to be critical of modern mission organizations or to say that God is not using them. He most certainly is and in awesomely wonderful ways!
If we are prepared to consider this matter prayerfully before the Lord, we may find that we want to make adjustments, which would greatly help both churches and mission organizations distribute God’s blessings among all nations.
My experience tells me there is growing interest in pursuing this subject. Time and again leaders in mission organizations have asked, “How can we relate more effectively to local churches?” And church leaders have said, “We really want to be proactive when it comes to our mission obedience, but we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. How can we work with mission organizations so both of us benefit?” Awesome questions!
Perhaps different terminology would be helpful as we consider these issues. Sometimes new words free us from old images that block us from seeing things with a fresh perspective. The term that has become my favorite in this discussion is apostolic structure. The term apostolic structure helps me focus on the core issue: what kind of organizational structure is best suited for the release of apostolic ministry (i.e., the ministry effects apostolic leaders catalyze)?
Reprinted by permission of Authentic Media and excerpted from Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations: Pursuing the Role of Local Churches in Global Mission, by George Miley (Gabriel Publishing, 2003). To order copies of this book, see pages 20-21.