This is the fourth and final part of our series Learning Environments for Apostolic Apprentices. At the end of this post there is a link to download the entire paper containing all four parts.
3. Living within the context of the germinating new community
The third environment we have found important is for the apostle to live in the context of the community in which they are trying to be incarnational. The apostle Paul talks about “becoming all things to all men that by all means he might reach some”. This involved him leaving his beloved Jewish community (a Pharisee community at that) and actually learning to live as a Gentile culturally. Sometimes it is difficult to know where culture ends and Kingdom morality begins. The only way to find out is to get immersed in the context of the community with the help of older apostles who have struggled through similar issues. Often this is quite an emotional journey, as it must have been for Peter visiting Cornelius’ house in Acts 10.
It is easy to become a touristic evangelist, visiting the culture but not learning the culture intimately—the strengths, the weaknesses, the challenges, the benefits. We too often see this happening with cross-cultural apostles who live overseas. How much easier is this trap for those who are living in their own culture and can easily reduce their connection to the target people into making only forays into the culture of those to whom they are trying to be good news.
For this reason we feel that someone who is exploring an apostolic calling is wise to leave their culture—normally this involves moving house, even if just to a different neighbourhood in their city—say an Arab neighbourhood. Just moving house will often force a change in relationships and social networks of the apprentice. Apostles, after all, are “sent ones”. They cannot remain embedded in their own social networks and yet be sent ones. They need to leave their own social networks and cleave to those to whom they are incarnating the gospel. This includes leaving their beloved church.
It is important that apostles incarnate the good news in the context of those they are trying to reach, or they will likely bring a large part of their culture inadvertently with them. Apostles need to match the pace of the community they are reaching as well to fit in socially, and be aware of the subtleties of the social norms. The challenge is to incarnate the Gospel in such a way that it redeems and transforms society, not conforms it to the apprentice’s culture. The biggest apostolic jump in history was Jesus leaving the culture of heaven and coming to earth. He waited 30 years, immersing himself in the culture and language, before he started preaching the Good News. It would have been a lot easier for Him to stay in heaven and just send us tracts…..but it never would have addressed the bad news that the culture was living out! And certainly would never have had the empathy and love which Jesus conveyed!
From what has been written, the reader can see how important we feel different environments are to developing apostolic apprentices. Reading books and studying may be helpful in learning how to carry out the apostolic enterprise, but unless apprentices develop skills in personal development, working in team and community connection, they will not be able incarnate good news, nor will they be able to germinate Kingdom communities among the unreached.
Any curriculum will only be as effective as the environment in which the learning takes place. Jesus said “If you know these things, blessed are you when you do them.” The only way to learn how to drive is to get behind the wheel. How long it takes will depend on each apprentice.
……If you would like the entire paper, Learning Environments for Apostolic Apprentices, click here.