Risk-Taking and Fivefold Leadership

By Andy O'Connell

USA style road sign reading safe and risk

One of a series of blogs from team visits to Bethel Church (Redding, California), a large and well-known church that God is using to serve the body of Christ more widely. See my previous blog here.

In my previous blog, I noted some of the really straightforward and helpful learnings from my recent trip to Bethel. In this blog, I aim to explore some of the things that I've had to process more - things that have challenged me about what I (we) think and how I (we) lead.

Alongside the private conversations we had with senior leaders in Bethel, I've found their Rediscover Bethel video series to be *super-helpful* in what they say about themselves, addressing "common questions and misconceptions … specifically regarding our theological beliefs, teachings, and practices", and more broadly, helping us see the church culture they are aiming for. Most of which we would strongly agree with, as I will go on to unpack!

(For those of you that have specific questions about Bethel, I highly recommend watching Rediscover in full, as it contains context, nuance and clarification absent from much online debate about Bethel.)

Challenge #1: Risk-taking culture

"God wants us (OCC and Salt & Light Advance) to be a family of churches that takes risks! To be on adventure with God! To press on to see more of his kingdom in mission, church planting, spiritual life, our society and the nations." That was the overall message - not from Bethel - but from our own Multiply conference in February 2023. We had invited Colin Baron, a prophetic and church-planting leader from Newfrontiers, to teach about the have a go, think the best and second chance cultures they have found vital in nurturing and sustaining a church planting movement. 

So it was fascinating to find the same cultures at work in Bethel, albeit with different terminology: they talk about risk taking, culture of honour, and 'research and development' cultures. Watch Kris Vallotton unpack this in this 10-minute excerpt from Rediscover.

Risk-taking and having a go, requires us to have a culture of honour that thinks the best of people, and to give people second (and third, and fourth) chances as things inevitably go wrong.

Read Matthew 10-11 and Luke 10-11, where our Master Jesus teaches his disciples to expect rejection and hardship even as they took risks in his name. As the preacher often quips: faith is spelt r-i-s-k.

As I've reflected on this, an analogy has come to mind. When my kids were young, and I wanted them to learn by helping me paint the bedroom wall, I had to accept that it wouldn't go well at first. Paint would be in the wrong place almost immediately. Failure and mistakes are the price of innovation and learning.

So challenge #1 prompts me to ask: are we, as OCC/Advance, too risk-averse? Do I (we) take steps of faith in obedience to the all-too-easy-to-ignore nudging of the Holy Spirit?

Challenge #2: 'Fivefold team' leadership

'Fivefold team' is shorthand for what is taught in Ephesians 4: that Jesus himself gives "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip his people [the church] for works of service."

Or, as we often say: "everyone gets to play!" Church is supposed to be a 'team sport', a 'game' in which fivefold leaders equip all of God's people to play their part. In the Vallotton clip above he refers to this approach as 'coaches and refs' - leaders coaching people to play their best game, and, at times, intervening as a referee to say 'please don't do that'.

This conviction about church leadership being fivefold, not just pastor-teacher led (as is most common in UK evangelical churches) is a deep rooted conviction for all of us in Salt & Light, other 'new churches' formed in the wake of the 1970s charismatic renewal, and many other churches through history.

Fivefold leadership is part of what enables a risk-taking culture (#1). But, the 'problem' is, fivefold leadership is also messy! Apostles, prophets and evangelists have a way of disrupting things, that teachers and pastors don't. Read this extract from Steve Thomas' short and accessible book for more on this.

Apostles, prophets and evangelists (APEs?!) often "speak in bold strokes, without a lot of nuance" in order to activate people into God's purposes. Teachers are concerned for accuracy and nuance, and pastors are concerned for how people are doing.

So in a fivefold-led church (as Bethel is, and as we are and aspire more to be) things are sometimes messy, and unnuanced, because they/we are pursuing God's kingdom, and seeking to see people activated in his purposes. But nuance and empathy are a big deal in our culture right now, so that's a bit of a conundrum. And the sudden shift to livestreaming has made us cautious about what we say and do.

So challenge #2 prompts me to ask: have we, as OCC/Advance, neglected to make space for the catalytic/activating/messy role of apostles, prophets and evangelists? How we do we do that well, in our modern British culture?


To be continued, when I will explore what God wants from worship times, fuelling expectancy, and faith for finance.