Hello, my name is Alexander Venter, and I’m a recovering sinner-pastor.
My life’s work is to understand, live and teach the teachings of Jesus.
That, for me, is essentially learning to live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us.
My Prayer for you: (from Dallas Willard)
I pray that you will have a rich life of joy and power, abundant in supernatural results, with a constant and clear vision of never-ending life in God’s world before you, and of everlasting significance in your work day by day as servant leaders – a radiant life and a radiant death.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen!
My Text: Matthew 28:16-20 (my biblical quotes are from the NIV)
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
My focus is on the authority Jesus was given by the Father, and then given to his disciples, commissioning/authorising them to go and make apprentices of him from people of all nations. We are mandated in God’s co-mission (Missio Dei) to make disciples of Jesus, not of ourselves or our church. We can only make disciples of Jesus to the degree we ourselves are his apprentices – then God’s authority operates through us in real terms.
Therefore, leadership in God’s Kingdom, in Jesus’ effective authority, is largely determined by the degree of our personal apprenticeship to him. An apprentice is a person who commits to live with, to learn from, to become like their teacher/master. The Great Omission in the Great Commission – the elephant in the room of the church – is that we make converts, church members, but not apprentices of Jesus. That is the reason why Christians and the Church are so powerless to effect change in our world. We are more a copy of the world, of prevailing culture and ideology, than a model of God’s Kingdom come.
The context into which Jesus was born and did his ministry has similarities with the context in our world today. It was a time of pressure and extremity under Roman rule, with psycho-spiritual-emotional reactions, and socio-political responses from leaders and people. Jesus offered The Kingdom of God as the answer, discipleship to him in his community, in contrast to what the other groups/parties in Judaism were teaching in response to the times (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots, Essenes, Chief Priest and Elders, and ‘the sinners’). We are first followers and apprentices in Jesus’ Way of the Kingdom, then we pastor and lead in that Way. What does it mean to exercise ‘Kingdom leading’ in God’s authority, just as Jesus did, in our uncertain world? I will comment on our changed world context and post-lockdown church, then define authority, power and leading, in Daniel and in Matthew.
Our Changing Context:
The corona pandemic, among other factors, has forever changed the world we live in, the uncertain context in which we now pastor/lead. Awareness of these signs of the times will help us exercise our authority in Kingdom leading, with wisdom, compassion and fortitude.
Signs of heightened stress in times of extremity (from clinical & social psychologists):
- Fear & anxiety – confusion & uncertainty.
- Grief & sadness – mortality & mourning.
- Loneliness & depression – mental health issues come to the fore.
- Numbing the pain, escape into addictions and self-created reality and fantasies.
- Relational stress & breakdown – marriage, family, domestic abuse, GBV.
- Economic recession, widespread social protests/unrest, challenge of social conscience, pull back to political populist nationalism and conservative protectionism, geo-political power-plays, increased inequality, human rights violations, environmental challenges.
- Loss of personal and social security – more crime & violence.
- Dooms-day syndrome, end of the world prophecies, fanciful Bible interpretations.
- Ideological clash and deception, conspiracy theories, lies and fake news.
- The need for a savior, for metaphysical answers, seeking spirituality, return to religion.
A prophetic perspective sees it as God’s shaking, of realignment and ascendency of spiritual powers. This crisis is a kairos moment, a time of disaster/judgement and God-opportunity for Kingdom breakthrough and change – for revival. The “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:1-4) must be interpreted in light of Hebrews 12:26-29. The Lord of the heavens and the earth is shaking all things, our nations and churches, and the powers over them, that what cannot be shaken, his eternal Kingdom, may emerge for all to see. We are being tested as to how much of our lives, ministries and churches are truly built on the unshakable rock of the King, on the “gold, silver and precious stones” of living and teaching the Kingdom Jesus lived and taught, or on the “wood, hay and straw” of lip-service to the Kingdom (Matthew 7:24-27; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Leading Post-Lockdown Kingdom Church:
What is the ‘new norm’ after lockdown, post-corona? Here are some of my observations that will introduce my discussion on leading in Kingdom authority from Daniel and Matthew:
- No longer Sunday dependent church with all its performance. Don’t go back to “Sunday as usual” too quickly. Rethink how to do church differently in this changed context.
- No longer building and office centred, no longer program driven.
- No longer centralised preacher/pastor dependent – yet we must lead more effectively.
- The failure of megachurch and the man of God/celebrity leadership syndrome. The average church is 70 people. That’s the reality we must work with.
- We’ve learnt to do online church (favourite new phrase, “unmute yourself”!). It has been a necessary surrogate tool. However, the danger is that technology forms us in its image; it is not a neutral tool. List the negatives and positives of online church. Some folk will be forever lost in its convenience and smorgasbord offerings. Don’t abandon it, but balance forms of online church by using technology wisely for clear purposes.
- BUT what is now clear:
1) the need for community, as in face-family home churches of high touch and care, within larger congregational gatherings that meet in different ways at different times – all with corona safety protocols for love of neighbour.
2) The need for pastoral care, intentional relational engagement, healing ministry.
3) Continue outward missional community service, as most engaged in under lockdown.
4) Devolve leadership by purposeful discipleship/formation to release more people and leaders to ‘go do’ ministry and mission ‘out there’, to start/lead small groups to disciple others (Vineyard ‘mantra’ IRTDM: identify, recruit, train, deploy, monitor).
All this means: it is a time to revisit and clarify our philosophy of ministry, to reflect on our mission and vision, what is of core value and priority, with greater flexibility on how it’s contextually expressed, being far more fluid and organic than programmatic. Defined by ‘doing the Kingdom main and plain’, not ‘the excellent’, ‘the experimental’, ‘the exotic’. This essentially means making apprentices of Jesus in the four irreducible dimensions of God’s unshakable Kingdom, the four Kingdom missional implications that define church:
Power Encounter: discipling our people in the ministry & power of the Spirit
Personal transformation: discipling them in character formation to Christlikeness
Social transformation: discipling them in wholistic social engagement
World mission: discipling in evangelism and church planting – a world vision
Kingdom Leading and Authority
Leadership in God’s Kingdom – leading God’s Kingdom people – starts with Jesus: his vision, theology and praxis of the Kingdom, with a focus on his understanding and use of authority. When it comes to exousia (authority), the book of Daniel is clearly Jesus’ primary source – discussed below. But, let me first define authority (exousia) and power (dymamis), and their necessary inter-relationship.
Power is the ability to do something, the innate capacity (strength) of someone or something to act with the energy/force/resource needed to make it happen (i.e. empowering).
Authority is the right to do that something, the right of action by appointment, commission, mandate (i.e. authorization – the authority to act and do certain things).
Authority is always person related whereas power can be person or otherwise related. For example, nature has innate power/energy, or spirit, which is personal power/energy. The human body is potential power activated by spirit – either human, God, or evil spirit.
Biblically, all authority is from God, the Creator-Ruler-King. Thus, all authority is derived, given, delegated, and ultimately represents God’s authority, for better or for worse. Authority is the right of action linked to a commission, mandate or appointment, to be used or exercised in keeping with – in the spirit, boundaries and limits of – the purpose for which it is given. I.e. authority is the right to use and the right use of the power/resources available to us. Thus, all authority (and power) is ultimately dependent on and accountable to God. Misuse of power is abuse of authority (authoritarianism), no longer a ‘domain/dominion’ directly under God, but a ‘domination’ of/by evil working against God. In short, authority is given and can be exercised, or neglected, or assumed, taken, usurped, resisted, abused, etc. BUT, we must be clear: all authority and its use will be held accountable by God.
Daniel, Authority and the Son of Man
The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew memsalah (dominion/kingdom/authority) and the Aramaic soltana (domain/rule) as exousia in Daniel. Authority is a domain, a rule, a kingdom. As in our personal kingdom, and human national kingdoms (empires), and God’s kingdom. Therefore, ‘kingdom’ can be defined as the effective range of our will, the authority we have in real terms to make things happen, for our will to be done. Where God’s will is done, his Kingdom has come! In summary, exousia is used in Daniel of:
- God (Yahweh) whose rule/kingdom/dominion is eternal (Dan 4:3, 34-35; 6:26)
- God rules over all earthly kingdoms: “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Dan 4:32).
- All authority of human-earthly rulers derives from the spiritual realm. Ultimately from God, either directly or via angelic authorities in obedience to their divine commission; or (mostly) via spiritual powers that are fallen/evil in denial of their divine commission (Dan 10:13, 20-22; Psalm 82). Thus, the character of any visible national government represents the spiritual formation of the (corrupted) invisible authority behind it.
- God installs and removes kings (Dan 2:21; 4:17,31; 5:20) and the spiritual powers behind them, taking away their exousia (Dan 4:35, 7:12, 10:13,20): “God does as he pleases with the powers of the heavens and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him ‘what have you done?’” (4:35).
Daniel describes four empires/kingdoms (“beasts”) that arise on earth with the spirit-powers behind them, perpetrating injustice and evil (ch 2, 7). In contrast, God’s Kingdom is “power and wisdom” (Dan 2:20), “rescues and saves, performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (Dan 6:27 cf. 4:2-3). In the days of the fourth beast (the Roman Empire), the most brutal cumulation of all other kingdoms, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever… the rock cut out of a mountain, not by human hands” (Dan 2:44-45).
This is how it happens (Dan7:9-27). The Ancient of Days takes his throne/seat in the heavenly court and rules against that culmination of evil embodied in the fourth empire. Then “one like a son of man” (a human) comes on a cloud into his presence and is given all authority and power: all peoples, nations and languages worship him (a human being! v.14). They no longer worship other human rulers and the powers behind. The “son of man” represents the saints of the Most High who refuse to worship the rulers and their empowering spiritual authorities (their ideologies and idols). This mysterious human-divine figure ascends from suffering with/for the saints under the empire’s oppression (vv.21,25), and is enthroned in the heavens so that “the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven (i.e. ALL exousia) will be handed over to the saints” (v.27). The people of the Most High receive God’s Kingdom-authority of “power and wisdom” that “rescues and saves, performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.” So, the Son of Man embodies the new humanity with authority restored to rule the earth (vv.18,22,26-27 cf. Gen 1:28).
Matthew’s Son of Man, Authority and Leadership in the Kingdom
Jesus based his theology and praxis of Kingdom authority and leadership on THIS prophetic worldview, believing he was Daniel’s Son of Man (his self-designation, occurring 81 times in the Gospels). Coming out of suffering and death, through resurrection and ascension, Jesus says, “All authority in the heavens and the earth has been given to me”. He is quoting Dan 7:9-27; i.e. Matthew’s Great Commission literally fulfils Daniel 7.
Jesus gives the saints, the new humanity who will rule the earth, that authority. NOT to go and take over and dominate people and nations, as the four beasts and “the rulers of the Gentiles” do in their idolatrous worship of spiritual powers (Matt 20:25). Rather, commissioned to go and make apprentices of Jesus in his Kingdom from people from all nations. Jesus: the quintessential human being, the new humanity at God’s right hand. We live King Jesus’ heavenly rule on earth, doing his will as in heaven. Indeed, we are in training for reigning in this life and the life to come on the new earth. And we lead by lived example in this great Kingdom enterprise.
The nature and exercise of this Kingdom-Authority expounded by Matthew:
Earthly confrontation after birth: Herod, puppet king of the Romans, the fourth beast, authorises the killing of Jesus – all boys two years and under are killed (Matt 2:16).
Spiritual confrontation at start of ministry: The devil himself tempts Jesus in the desert. Each time Jesus overcomes by using the authority of God’s Word (Matt 4:4,7,10).
Teaching with authority: The people recognise that Jesus taught with divine authority in contrast to the teachers of Torah who quote rabbis as their authority (Matt 7:28-29, 9:6,8).
Miracles by Kingdom exousia: Matthew 8 & 9 narrates ten miracles that introduce Jesus’ teaching, and sending the twelve on the mission of the Kingdom in chapter 10. Jesus is the new Moses (Deut 18:17-19) leading a new Exodus through ten miracles that defeat the oppressive spiritual powers which keep Israel in exile from God. In Matt 8:5-13, the second miracle, a Roman Centurion asks Jesus to exercise his authority to rescue and heal his servant. This military representative of Daniel’s brutal fourth beast (the most evil exousia, Jesus’ enemy) sees and confesses God’s exousia in the Son of Man – echoing confessions by Gentile rulers in Daniel 3:28-29, 4:34-35; 6:26-27. Because the centurion is under authority, he exercises authority to order his soldiers to dominate/enforce the will of Rome, coercing Jews into submission. He recognises Jesus has spiritual authority because Jesus evidently operates under God, using his authority as merciful power to serve and save those exiled from God, liberating them from evil dominion to do God’s will by free choice. “Speak the word and my servant will be healed.” Amazed at such understanding and consequent faith, Jesus says, “I have not found such great faith” in all the supposed people of God. The centurion has structural authority with the resources/power of the Empire to back him up. He knew Jesus has spiritual authority because God backs him up with heavenly resources/power. This exousia is clearly the basis of all Jesus’ gospel miracles that defeated the powers and freed people from enslavement.
Exousia to forgive sins: In healing the paralytic (Matt 9:1-8), Jesus quotes Dan 7:13, “the Son of Man has authority on earth”, and specifies it, “to forgive sins” – because he spoke forgiveness to the man. That causes consternation. To prove he has authority to forgive sins, he commands the paralytic to “get up and walk!” And it happens! So, evidently, his sins are forgiven. The crowd is in awe that God “has given such exousia to men.”
Exousia given for Kingdom co-mission: After modelling Kingdom authority by speaking the word in humble service, Jesus gives his apprentices “exousia to drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness… freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:1,7). He warns them that exercising such servant authority will incur opposition and suffering.
The keys of the Kingdom: Jesus reveals his identity, the Son of Man, to his apprentices (Matt 16:13-20). Peter sees and confesses Jesus for who he is: God’s Messiah/King (only after the centurion and spiritual powers [demons, Matt 8:29] recognise Jesus for who he really is). Jesus gives Peter, thus the church, “the keys of the Kingdom”: authority to open and close, for people to enter or not, to “bind” and “loose”. Jesus had modelled using “the keys”. I think of it as having the keys to a powerful motor vehicle. We enter, activate and work with a power way beyond our own. We are transported and empowered to do God’s will. J.P Meier (Historical Jesus scholar) defines the Kingdom as a power-zone, a force-field, that Jesus lived in and operated through. If we do not drive the car responsibly, selfishly misusing the authority and power given to us, we cause harm to ourselves and others. A driver’s license (preparation and authorisation) is needed, but that does not guarantee responsible usage of the authority and power – trusted character does.
Exousia to lead in the Kingdom: For the disciples, exousia in God’s Kingdom is “being the greatest” (Matt 18:1; 20:26), “first”, “master/leader”, requesting to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand (Matt 20:20-28).
First, Jesus is shocked at such grasping presumption. He says that authority to lead/rule means immersion/fellowship in his suffering, drinking his cup: the suffering love which forms the character that can be trusted to responsibly handle such authority, to fulfil the purpose for which it is given.
Second, Jesus has “all authority”, yet he knows its limits: only the Father gives those places to whom the Father is preparing, training with the formation fit for such authority.
Third, Jesus exposes the mindset of all his apostles: the ten are angry because they too want to sit on those thrones next to Jesus – “the thrones set in place” in Dan 7:9f, the thrones Jesus had earlier spoken of to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). That reveals their dominant consciousness of exousia as position, power, prestige, title and turf. Jesus responds: The Gentile rulers and officials use authority to “lord it over” people, to enforce, control, dominate, in order for their will to be done. To make their kingdom great again! “NOT SO with you! Instead, whoever wants to be great among you, must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (doulos, a stronger word) – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here Jesus joins Daniel’s Son of Man and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, embracing both as his identity-destiny in his co-mission with the Father, forming his life to fulfil both. I.e. the authority to lead and be great in the Kingdom is spiritual influence and power based on self-sacrificing service, not structural position and coercion based on being served. God gives authority in real terms to those who serve, as they suffer in love of those they serve, to free them from slavery to sin, sickness, demons, death, injustice, ideology, poverty (Luke 4:18). God backs them up with heavenly grace, the resources and power they need when they need it. Even if they are crucified at the hands of earthly and spiritual powers, God will vindicate them by the ultimate power: Resurrection. In short, Jesus’ exousia is the freedom to serve by laying down his life in suffering love, and to take it up again (John 10:18). As Martin Luther said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
The authority that Jesus exercises is clearly from God (Matt 21:23-27): The Jewish leaders eventually come to see and recognise this in Jesus’ final week of confrontation with the powers. Unlike the people, centurion, demons, and Peter, they refuse to acknowledge and confess it. Rather, they decide to kill him. Though they think they are “the saints, the people of the Most High”, they are the real pagans serving Daniel’s fourth beast, the brutal Roman authorities. They bow the knee to and are instruments of the evil powers, the idols of Compromise and Corruption, of Temple, of Torah, of Land, of Jewishness.
That brings us back to The Great Commission: After this tour of authority and power in Daniel and Matthew, here are the summary points of what it means (from Matt 28:16-20):
Visionary Worship: Authority begins with seeing Jesus for who he really is. When they saw him, the Risen King, they bowed down and worshipped him, though some doubted (I love Matthew’s realism of the “not yet” in the brightest “already” of the Kingdom!) It is the first time in Matthew that Jews worship a human being. But this is Dan 7:14. Our only adequate response to the coming of the Son of Man, to his self-revelation, is worship. All authority and its exercise is born in vision and worship, in surrender to the authority of the Risen King.
Collaborating Co-Mission: All the authority in the heavens and the earth given to the Son of Man is given to us, the new humanity. The authority is linked to The Great Commission: go and make apprentices of Jesus from all kinds of people in all the nations. Exousia is collaboration with The King in his servant mission to the ends of the earth.
Participating Baptism: We enter and exercise collaborative authority by participation and immersion in the death and resurrection of the Son of Man, by which we die to our sin and rise to life in The Trinity. Baptism is initiation of apprentices of Jesus on confession of faith into (The Eternal Trinitarian) community. We teach/train them to daily live the meaning of their baptism – it is not a once-off ticket to get into heaven! That’s making converts, not disciples. Baptism in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit” is plunging apprentices into the nature and character of the Trinitarian Reality: The Life and Love of the Father and the Son by the Spirit. Learning to live eternal life (of the Trinitarian kind and quality) on earth is to do God’s will as it is in heaven. That is authority in real terms.
Transforming Character: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Participating baptism leads to transforming character. This is the challenge of leadership authority in the Kingdom: train apprentices of Jesus to obey everything he commanded (“teaching” was formational training). We cannot obey what he commanded simply by trying. But by training, through the Kingdom practices of Jesus, we become the kind of person who predictably obeys God when we need to. “Train yourself (and others) to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7), having the spiritual fitness to naturally and easily do what Jesus would do if he were you, in any given situation at any given time. That is transformation into the character of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). We become like Jesus, who obeyed all his Father commanded for love of the Father (John 15:9-10), doing his will on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, God consistently backed up Jesus’ authority with heavenly power. Among Jesus’ commands is love of God and neighbour (Matt 22:34-39) and “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons” – do the works of the Kingdom (Matt 10:7-8).
Empowering Presence: “And I will be with you, in you by my Spirit, till the job is done.” The job is to make apprentices of Jesus from people of all nations, who do God’s will for love of God and people. Jesus’ abiding presence is the power of his Spirit, the charismata – enabling grace-gifts – that back up our exercise of authority. What he authorises us to do, he empowers with the resources of his Spirit. Till we complete the job (Matt 24:14)! Then the Son of Man will return on the clouds of glory to rule and reign with us at his side!
Therefore, the process of “Authority – Kingdom Leading in a World of Uncertainty” is:
From visionary worship of the Son of Man, Risen Ruling King;
To collaborating authority in his co-mission of making apprentices by lived example;
To participating baptism in his death and resurrection, living in/from the Trinitarian Reality;
To the transforming character and empowering charisma of Christ… in real terms… till our job is done!