Leading a church that values apostolic and prophetic ministry isn’t plain sailing. In fact, many of the challenges leaders have to learn to live with fall into two categories:
- Idealism versus realism – the dream versus reality.
- History versus the future – what has gone before and what is yet to come.
Both categories are really about navigating tension. Paul Manwaring does a superb job of explaining the beauty of tension, but in short, navigating tension well as a leader is about learning how to reconcile opposing but important ideas without diminishing either.
A church that is pursuing apostolic culture and/or prophetic culture will quickly and frequently encounter these tensions. Below, I’ll unpack both types of tension alongside some helpful charts. You can also listen to me unpack them in my podcast:
and show four risks that can affect our churches if we fail to properly embrace both of these two tensions, which really means pursuing apostolic and prophetic ministry.
Healthy Apostolic Ministry Causes Apostolic Tension
We call the first tension ‘apostolic tension’
We have the reality of the idealism of Heaven – how we want things to be – versus the realism of Earth – how things currently are.
Without idealism, we will cap our growth.
Without realism, we will lack grounding.
We need both, to remain anchored whilst never settling, and to be inspired without being detached.
The tussle arises because most of us would say that all we hope for and all we experience are still different. We want more.
Healthy Prophetic Ministry Causes Prophetic Tension
We call the second tension ‘prophetic tension’.
We have the reality of history – what has gone before us – versus the hope of the future – what we long to see in our tomorrow.
Without valuing our history, we lose sight of what has shaped us.
Without looking forward, we will live with the view that our best days are behind us.
We need both, to remember our journey whilst moving forwards, and to be optimistic without losing lessons of the past.
Embracing Tension in Apostolic and Prophetic Ministry
We all live in two types of tension – apostolic and prophetic. Tension gives power – we lose the power when we seek to eliminate one half of the tension.
There is power in being both idealistic and realistic, and there is power in looking back and looking forwards.
How we embrace these two tensions forms the context for all our perspectives, including those connected to our leadership through our apostolic and prophetic ministry.
Sometimes we are uncomfortable with tension, and so seek to remove it by eliminating or minimizing the pain points on one side of the equation.
Whilst in the short-term, our discomfort will have been eased, removing one side that brings the tension will eliminate a source of power and perspective that will be significant in our actions, and therefore our growth.
If we are uncomfortable with tension and eliminate one aspect of either apostolic or prophetic tension, we will gravitate towards one of four ways of thinking that will infiltrate and shape our culture.
Each of the following quadrants demonstrates one of these mindsets to avoid. I’ll show three things:
- The erroneous mindset
- An example statement that sums up the mindset. This statement, like many things, sound right and sensible, but on this occasion is actually fear masquerading as wisdom.
- The root of thinking behind the mindset showing how it has mishandled tension by minimizing or removing it.
You’ll see that each of these mindsets will actively undermine the power of the apostolic and prophetic ministry in your life and your church if embraced.
The four errors are traditionalism, disconnection, overcompensation, and drivenness. As well as the explanations and charts below, you can listen to me speak about each of these erroneous mindsets on my podcast:
Error 1: Traditionalism
Traditionalism is an overvaluing of the past and the ‘good old days’, meaning we are looking back rather than looking forwards. Signs that we’ve embraced traditionalism include:
- Reticence to consider new ideas or innovation
- Processes or methods that seem to be ritualized
- A lack of change despite clear data pointing out the need
- Jealousy or continual comparison to competitors or rivals and their methods
- Being structure-centred as a church
- Team members that follow rules and guidelines but don’t know why they are done that way.
Generally speaking, previously successful churches and ministries risk falling into this error.
Error 2: Disconnection
Disconnection is an overvaluing of a potential future, at the expense of learning from, valuing or embracing history. Signs that we’ve embraced disconnection include:
- Being more vision-focused than action-focused
- leading from a sense of passion rather than a sense of mission
- Not collecting, dismissing or ignoring data that should inform significant leadership decisions
- Not valuing the skills and process of people and process management
- Frequent change of organisational direction and/or priority
- Decision-making through feelings and preferences, without any analysis or assessment.
Generally speaking, churches and ministries with a strong emphasis on the supernatural risk falling into this error.
Error 3: Overcompensation
Overcompensation is an overthinking and overanalysis of the past, at the expense of considering the future. This can mean that the ‘low’ points of the past loom large in thinking, which are often points of pain or discomfort. Therefore, it is a reactive mindset that manifests itself in self-protective thinking. Signs that we’ve embraced overcompensation include:
- Controlling ministry that reduces or removes the potential for risk
- Turning a blind eye to an area or individual we know is underperforming
- Allowing destructive behaviour or attitudes to continue unchecked
- Avoiding conflict or challenge
- Not making the one tough decision everyone on the team knows needs to be made
- Rationalising or justifying repeated incidents or failures without making the necessary but painful changes
- Reactive teaching that focuses on what we are against or disagree with, rather than what we agree with or stand for
Generally speaking, churches and ministries with a strong pastoral or teaching emphasis risk falling into this error.
Error 4: Drivenness
Drivenness is an overthinking and overanalysis of a possible future, at the expense of considering the past. It considers what could be, and seeks to get there as quickly as possible. Because of the low value for ‘idealism’, the high value for ‘realism’ means this desire to see the future manifests as a go-getter, action-orientated drive – the error being the belief that it is all down to what we do that makes the future come about. Signs that we’ve embraced drivenness include:
- A reluctance to review the past and learn from it
- A ruthlessness towards people or events that seem to ‘get in the way’.
- Being more interested in moving forward into the vision than creating culture,
- Planning that doesn’t consider the pastoral impact
- An action-orientated mentality that will ‘work things out as we go’
- An unhealthily quick decision-making process
- Frustration with others who are not seen to be ‘whole-hearted’, or ‘haven’t caught the vision’.
- A reluctance to listen to voices of caution.
- Questions and objections being interpreted as annoying or even rebellious.
- Fatigued, discouraged and disappointed team members.
Ultimately, if we eliminate tension then it will lead us to lack balance. If we are off-balance, we will gravitate towards one of four errors, that will impact our leadership style and therefore our apostolic and prophetic ministry, which could mean the church we lead misses out.
There is power in being both idealistic and realistic, despite the challenges that present. Likewise, there is power in looking back and looking forward, even if that seems like a contradiction. Wise leaders embrace all perspectives, even when unclear, confusing or painful, and learn to live with the tension created because within it, we have access to all there is that will help us learn, grow and lead well.