This article continues the series on the distinctives of A2A. They represent what the National Leadership Team believe the Holy Spirit confirmed to us at a retreat with our spouses early in the present year.
As I begin I want to extend my comments in the introduction of my last article. Apostolic leadership is something we as a leadership team believe is fundamental to good biblical leadership. The NLT could easily be called the Apostolic Leadership Team but we choose not to do this because of the abuse of authority that is often associated with apostolic leadership, and a desire not to project an authority beyond what is biblical. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When we took the bold step of dismantling CLCI, and inviting three other movements to join with us to form a new national movement, it was because of a dream to establish a movement of churches that more closely reflected a God honouring expression of what the church could look like. After extensive discussion and prayer together, only CLCI acted on this leading, but some courageous elements of the other movements, and some other equally courageous individual churches from other long established denominations, caught the vision and became key in establishing something new with us. It is pleasing that people from many of these groups are now represented on the NLT. As this movement, which we call A2A, has been establishing itself, the distinctives which we want to typify our movement have become more visible, and recently confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
The NLT want to strongly encourage you to be intentional about introducing these distinctives into the life and language of your individual churches. As a local church is led by an anointed leader, so our movement is led by a group of anointed leaders. The local church will not be healthy and thrive unless the congregants acknowledge and trust the authority of its leadership. It follows I believe that a movement will not be healthy and thrive unless the member churches and leaders acknowledge and trust its leadership.
Having said all of this, one of our values remains the autonomy of the local church. We believe the ultimate authority of God in the earth is worked out through the local church. This is not a contradiction to anything I am laying out with these introductory comments. Your NLT will never interrupt the vision and mission of your local church unless it steps over the clear boundaries of scripture on essential doctrine, but from time to time we will ask you to implement what we believe is essentially a word from the Lord for your church. This is the purpose of these articles.
So please trust us and ramp up your intentionality to teach, model, and talk these distinctives so that we can become the movement God wants us to be.
The Distinctives of A2A
So we can maintain continuity as we establish these distinctives, I want to list again all six for your reference:
- Innovative ministry
- Celebrating uniqueness
- Disciple making
- Healthy leadership
- Spirit empowered mission
- Walking in humility
Defining “Celebrating Uniqueness”
What do we actually mean when we say we want to celebrate each other’s uniqueness?
Here is my cut at it. Celebrating uniqueness means we take genuine delight and authentic pleasure at the distinguishing characteristics that are typical of a ministry that is different to ours. Doing this can in reality be challenging because it means we may often have to deal with our own disappointments and insecurities when observing another ministries success.
We are not Meant to be the Same
There is a well-known expression that helps to position us in a mindset that celebrates uniqueness. “Unity is not conformity” We do not have to do everything the same way to have to have unity. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Our unity is based on our faith in Jesus, not in doing everything the same way.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 through 26, Paul makes it clear that we should celebrate the different part each of us has to play in fulfilling God’s plan in the earth. It is worth a read to remind us that God has designed us differently so that God’s redemptive plan has maximum potential in transforming the life of irreligious people.
Psalm 139 is another reminder of how differently God has designed us.
With these reminders from scripture, we must be more expansive in our thinking about a ministry that s different to ours. A favourite saying of the late great Trevor Chandler in many of my conversations with him was “different is not wrong, it is just different and I have learnt to celebrate it.” Let’s learn together how to celebrate from our hearts those things which are different to what we are doing.
We all do Church Differently
One of the observations I have made as I travel around our own movement is the different ways we all have of doing church. We vary in our worship styles, the focus on worship, preaching styles, content of our preaching, the use of the arts, the non-use of the arts, formality in our churches, and informality in our churches. We also have a different emphasis on some of the fundamentals of our movement such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, church government, and the great commission. Regardless, I can say in all sincerity that I celebrate them all.
Another expression of our uniqueness and diversity can be found in who we have looked to for inspiration. Bethel, Toronto, and Saddleback are just a couple. Twenty years ago when I hooked up with Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Community Church, I received considerable and at times aggressive criticism. My inspiration was grounded in the sensational success WCCC had in reaching people far from God. For all our noise about the numbers of people who made “decisions” for Christ in our charismatic and Pentecostal streams, we did not even come close to how effective and life transforming the ministry of Willow Creek was.
The strategy God gave them was one of producing “thematic” services with a major use of the arts to help visitors connect with God. The arts in church had long been a dream of mine, so there was an immediate connect with this strategy. Over the years we had this ministry focus, we saw hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus, and our church grew and became a dynamic church in our community which was easy for those outside of church life to belong.
Some of the criticism we received revolved around our use of audio visual aids and drama in our services. Catalyst was arguably the first church in Australia to use audio visual on a regular basis. We were also criticised because of the way we encouraged visitors on their journey of faith. We had the view that a decision for Christ was more about a process than an event. In other words, our confidence in the altar call as the catalyst for a faith decision was low was statistically proved not to be a life transforming experience. When we allowed people to journey towards a decision where they understood a faith decision was going to mean life change, those decisions stuck and became pillars in the church.
The overwhelming criticism we received in those years came from the Pentecostals with outrageous claims such as “you are prostituting Pentecost”.
So the reason I include some of my story at Catalyst Church in this article is to highlight how crazy, stupid, time wasting, energy wasting, and just plain wrong it was to miss the opportunity to celebrate with us. Today, almost everyone uses AV, drama, and believes in a discipleship track to faith. I hope you get the point.
We must be slow to criticise another ministry for being different and not doing it our way, and see the wonderful plan God has for reaching all kinds of people.
Celebrating Other Movements and Denominations
One of the unexpected surprises of my life in church leadership has been interaction with other movements and denominations. I was birthed in the Baptist tradition where the Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not taught or believed to be of value to the Christian. Eventually we moved into the charismatic stream because we were unable to develop spiritually in the hostile environment of the day. Today that would not have been necessary because not many Baptist Churches deny the value of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Forty five years after leaving the Baptist Church I still celebrate the grounding in the word of God and the excellent discipleship I received in the church of my youth.
When I became involved with the Willow Creek Association, I learnt to celebrate the many different Christian expressions without agreeing with everything they did which was different, including the Catholics and high church Anglicans. I have loved being with these brothers and sisters who worship differently, preach differently, and practise their faith differently, and I have learnt much from them. I celebrate their uniqueness, and have been enriched by my association with them.
I have a high regard for many of their leaders, and many of them are genuine friends. One of the friendships I enjoy the most is with a Catholic brother who has become filled with the Spirit. I have rubbed off on him, and he has rubbed off on me.
I hope you look for time to love the wider Body of Christ at every opportunity given to you.
What to do Next
I believe that best way to celebrate uniqueness is to make the time to meet and coffee with someone who is doing it different to you. Get into their heads and understand what they are doing. Encourage them in the things they are doing and you will make a new friend who will contribute to your ministry in surprising ways.
Blessings to you all,