I was pleased to read recently that Don Dent, a former IMB colleague, has been able to re-release his 2011 book The Ongoing Role of Apostles in Missions: The Forgotten Foundation, including on the Kindle platform. As a former pastor in Oklahoma, I made the same mistake for many years as others had done, concerning the use of ‘apostles’ in Ephesians 4:11, thinking it was referring only or primarily to the original apostles of Jesus in the first century. It was only after I had been serving cross-culturally in Russia a few years that I began to understand my mistake. This issue is strategically crucial in light of the fact that God continues to move the cosmic chess pieces of human history by relocating globally unreached people groups into North America, making our continent a mirror reflection of the dynamic that Paul described in Acts 17:26. God is bringing individuals from unreached people groups of the ends of the earth into our “Jerusalems”. That is forcing us to rethink our former assumptions. The issues surrounding immigrants/refugees in North America are not primarily political or social, but rather, missiological and theological.
In North America, we live in such a pastor/theologian-centric worldview that practically speaking, much of what happens in ‘church’ and in ‘mission’ is pastor-centric and not apostle (missionary)-centric. Much of this is due to the effects of the Reformation in the 1500’s, which unfortunately did not adequately also address the need for reformation of apostolic mission and apostolic ecclesiology that is inherent within Ephesians 4:11. Don Dent, along with Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, and several others, is to be commended for pointing us back to the apostolic worldview when it comes to cross-cultural mission. This is going to become increasingly important in North America, where USA culture is post-Christendom, reflecting rapid changes even in the evangelical strongholds of the deep South & South-Central parts of the country, and Canadian culture is decades ahead of USA culture in that Canadian culture is post-truth.
If we are really serious about working with Jesus to build His kingdom in North America and globally, we must accept the necessary corrective of returning to an apostle-centered focus in the local church, and not cling merely to a pastor/theologian-centered paradigm. That paradigm is actually stifling the church from fulfilling her God-given mission via a false and unbiblical centralization of influence & pastoral gifting over-emphasis, instead of releasing all the saints into the global mission harvest with apostolic missionaries leading the way. God gives apostolic, cross-cultural missionaries as gifts to the church in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry to the ends of the earth that have now come to North America into our own “Jerusalems”. I do not believe it is an accident that Paul lists ‘apostles’ first in Ephesians 4:11.
As Don Dent observes: “numerous trends are presently converging in ways that make this moment in mission history significant. These include the growth of short-term service, the multiplication of mission organizations (including Global Gates in Canada and USA), local churches sending missionaries without an agency, and the internationalization of missions. It is crucial in the midst of such change that we not lose connection with the New Testament model of the missionary apostles. Apostles, now commonly called missionaries, are God’s gift for the initial planting phase of the church among every people, to the end of the age. This unique church-planting role is the forgotten foundation of the church. Much of the ineffectiveness in missions is due to our attempts to build Christ’s church on a different foundation.”
Dent asks five crucial questions in his book:
- Why are mission-minded evangelicals reluctant to identify missionaries as apostles, considering that the two words have the same root meaning?
- How is the Greek word apostolos used in the Greek New Testament, and specifically, is it sometimes used as a designation for missionaries?
- How should we conceptualize an ongoing role for missionary apostles that does not detract from the crucial, unique role of the original Apostles?
- What ministry pattern does the New Testament record from the lives of the early missionary apostles?
- How should awareness of missionary apostles guide our mission efforts today?
Globally, the USA now has the third-highest incidence of unreached people groups on her territory; Canada has the sixth-highest number of diaspora unreached people groups on her territory; the Greater Toronto Area is the most ethnically diverse population center in all of North America with at least 273 distinct ethnolinguistic people groups living here. Will you make yourself obediently available to Jesus to be a cross-cultural missionary (apostle) right where you live? Will you get into the harvest and work with God to contribute in real space-time history to make Rev. 7:9-10 become an eternal reality? Get Don Dent’s book and read it and start living it!
Dr. Chris Carr, Director, Global Gates Network of Canada, March 9, 2019