What’s a pastor to do? | APEST, Vocation, Alan Hirsch, 5Q

What’s a pastor to do? | APEST, Vocation, Alan Hirsch, 5Q July 23, 2017

“In its simplest form, 5Q is the synergy of a holistic recombination of the apostolic, pro­phetic, evangelistic, shepherding, and teaching (APEST) capacities referred to in Ephesians 4.” (5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ)

Vocation vs. APEST

I cut my teeth as a theologian among people for whom the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was sacrosanct. Luther had famously observed that priests and monks had stolen the holiness of the many vocations of the people of God, requisitioning it all to themselves. In his bid to redistribute the holiness of the Christian vocations, he literally emptied holy orders of their holiness, and maintained that the daily vocations of the average Christian were themselves more holy than any vow or priestly act: changing diapers, cleaning shop, making chairs.

The great irony of this theological insight, one of the wondrous rediscoveries of the Reformation: it resulted in a reconsolidation of ecclesial power in the hands of the clergy. By and large, although many churches and denominations have spread authority more widely, and have at times even divested themselves of a professionalized clergy altogether (think the Quakers), by and large Christians of the Protestant variety still locate most of the ecclesial capacities for church leadership in the role of pastor itself.

What Ephesians 4 imagines as diverse giftings (apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, and teaching), most churches imagine as located in one person–the pastor–or a group of leaders–the pastoral staff.

Of course, it’s more complicated than this. Some of the laity identify these giftings in themselves and actualize them. Some clergy believe they do not have all five of the gifts, and focus on the ones they do have.

But nevertheless, the separation remains: there are clergy, and there are laity, and an altar rail divides them.

This is something Alan Hirsch laments. As one of our most gifted missional thinkers (missional: literally, considering mission in its ecclesial dimensions), Hirsch has expounded in considerable detail why a failure to celebrate the missional DNA latent in every Christian community results in an atrophying of the full capacity of the body of Christ.

How did the priesthood of all believers revert to a priesthood of priests?

I tend to think this is largely a sociological phenomenon. Organizations prefer to have leaders. Businesses have CEOs. Schools have principals. Cities have governors. Teams have coaches. The church has pastors.

So theologically, though we are committed to and believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed throughout the entire body (think 1 Corinthians 12), in practice we still look to the head of any organization for “all the goods.”

Furthermore, and this is where I part ways with Alan, even the APEST itself is still a set of giftings focused on church leadership. For example, he argues “ministry is the birthright of the entire Body of Christ—including all of God’s people—and not something limited to the roles of the so-called clergy” (109), but ministry is still “just” ministry, the aspects of people’s lives related to furthering the work of the church and the message of the gospel.

But the average person, all those members of the body of Christ, the people of God, live lives that extend far beyond the beautiful proclamation of the gospel, receiving the gospel but not necessarily responsible directly for its perpetuation. So an APEST test, though intriguing, won’t be of interest to wide cross-sections of the people of God whose primary vocation isn’t even in the church to begin with.

I agree with Alan’s focused disruption of a hyper-focusing of the ministerial gifts in just one person–the pastor. He writes in an appendix about the exiling of the APEs (the apostles, prophets, and evangelists). As someone whose primary giftings are in the apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic, but who is anticipated to focus especially on the shepherding and teaching, I get it–it’s simply too much to expect that the Holy Spirit would place on just me, or just one pastor, all five gifts. We can do much better in the church celebrating the breadth of these giftings, and we have movements seeking to do so (in the ELCA, a reclaiming of ministries of word & service in partnership with word & sacrament is one such example).

There’s one other gap here, worth naming. A significant gift in the body of Christ focuses around “diaconal” ministry, and ministry of healing. I do not find this anywhere in Hirsch’s APEST. As a result, APEST shifts us back (unintentionally, I think) into more antiquated and “gendered” ways of thinking about church leadership. I’d like to see him work on this issue more.

Is there just one key to Scripture and ecclesiology?

But the gifts Hirsch analyzes are not the key to the whole of Scripture, or the complete solution for a robust ecclesiology. To see if you agree with me, test this out. Read this list:

  • Apostle: Mobilizing people toward action and pioneering new missional frontiers
  • Prophet: Helping everyone hear and know truth, and creating a depth and integrity of culture
  • Evangelist: Encouraging and equipping people to share, and speaking/sharing the gospel
  • Shepherd: Loving others into fullness of life, and demonstrating the love of God to those who don’t know him
  • Teacher: Creating depth and maturity in the word of God, and creating access points to truth and for truth to be expressed to those that don’t know God”

Now, ask yourself, can every Christian in a faith community find themselves under one of those five categories? Should they? I’d answer no to both questions. My wider sense of Christian vocation includes many callings in daily life that are not directly related to any of these per se as primary callings.

Would most Christians benefit from a review of these categories, and a process for cultivating the gifts in their lives, and their communities of faith? Yes. Is this the key to everything? Well, I’m suspect of any proposal that purports to be the key to everything.

Nevertheless, I express deep thankfulness for Hirsch’s calling the church back to its missional impulse. It’s quite a burden, most days, for pastors like myself to walk around expecting ourselves to be able to operationalize all five of the APEST gifts, and hubris to assume they don’t exist as latent capacities among many more in our communities of faith.

Similarly, it can be very empowering for communities of faith to seek, find, and strengthen such gifts among a wider set of people in the body of Christ.

I am particularly taken with Hirsch’s challenge to develop methods whereby communities of faith can  hone practices/capacities in line with APEST. We need the people of God to know who are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the teachers, and what to expect out of them. That we mostly don’t is indeed one reason why the church is lamentably less robust than it might otherwise be.

As a Lutheran committed to the concept of vocation, I simply can’t give up on the notion that there is even more there there than APEST itself. It’s a Christian calling to clean windows, design electric cars, write novels. These do not need to fit under APEST in order for them to be Christian, and indeed Scriptural. Hirsch’s 5Q, properly situated in a broader vocational hermeneutic, can perform the admirable function of diversifying the special role of leadership among the priesthood of all believers. The spirit-hood of all believers, if you will.

Broadly defined, APEST is as follows (Alan asks us to mark this page, so I quote it here):

  • The apostle/apostolic: In Greek, the term apostle literally means “sent one.” As the name itself suggests, it is the quintessentially missional (from missio, the Latin equivalent) ministry. Interestingly the French translation of the term apostle (envoy) picks up this sense of commission much better than the English transliteration—an apostle is an envoy. It is very much a pioneering function of the church, the capacity to extend Christianity as a healthy, integrated, innovative, reproducing movement, ever-expanding into new cultures. It is also a custodial ministry … a guardianship. This ministry is therefore also profoundly interested in the ongoing integrity of the core ideas (DNA, organizational principles, or meta-ideas) that generate and maintain systemic health across the organization.
  • The prophet/prophetic is the function tasked with maintaining an abid­ing loyalty and faithfulness to God above all. Essentially, prophets are guardians of the covenant relationship that God has with his people. The prophetic is also passionately concerned with living a life morally consistent with the covenant—a simple and authentic life of justice, holiness, and righteousness. The prophet proclaims God’s holiness and calls for a corresponding holiness in his covenanted people (1 Peter 1:16).
  • The evangelist/evangelistic involves the proclamation of the good news that is at the core of the church’s message. Evangelism is therefore all about the core message and its reception in the hearts of people and cultures. As such, the evangelist is the storyteller, the all-important recruiter to the cause, the naturally infectious person who is able to enlist people into what God is doing in and through the church.
  • The shepherd/shepherding is the function and calling responsible for maintaining and developing healthy community and enriching relationships. This involves a commitment to form a saintly people, nurture spiritual maturity, maintain communal health, defend the community against breakdown, and engender loving community among the redeemed family of God.
  • The teacher/teaching is concerned with the mediation and appropriation of wisdom and understanding. This is the naturally philosophical type that brings comprehensive understanding of the revelation bequeathed to the church. It is a guiding and discerning function. In the biblical tradition, emphasis falls on wisdom and not simply on speculative philosophy. Teaching, of course, also involves integrating the intellectual and spiritual treasure of the community and encoding it, in order to pass it on to others and to the next generations (paradosis, or tradition). (pages 62-63)

You can take a 5Q Test here.

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