|WHO YA GONNA CALL? “MYTH BUSTERS”
Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Sep 30 2012
Moving the Set Man’s Seat
One of the prevalent doctrines in emerging apostolic and restorationist churches (but not limited to them) is the doctrine
of the “set man:”
for the “set man.”
Conner, The Church in the New Testament)
The author of the above, and myriad others, believe that each local church or apostolic network must have not only a
team of elders, but from within this team, a senior elder, the alleged “first among equals,” the “set man.” The set man is
the chief executive and visionary of the church or network. At the local church level, it is assumed this is the pastor
(senior pastor) and at a network level it is the apostle (senior apostle). The alleged logic behind this thinking is that you
cannot lead a family, a church, or network unless there is a singular executive “head” responsible for the “house vision”
and overall direction of the fellowship. That is likely true if a leader is defined as the chief visionary responsible for
movement, rather than the chief servant responsible for equipping.
Let’s examine the set-man doctrine from a biblical basis.
concerning the alleged divine order of God’s government as it is commonly taught? In and of itself, that it is
no big deal: the Trinity is never “specifically” mentioned either. However, the cumulative effect, I think, is
significant. At the very least, skepticism rather than dogmatism is appropriate.
ultimate and final authority.” Changing nouns doesn’t fix the problem. Changing from bishop to set man merely
shifts the matter from the left to the right hand. There is not a lick of difference in substance. The appeal to the
“plurality of elders” and “a team” is a sop thrown out to try to fog the obvious. A king or president has counselors
and advisors on his team. However, he is still the king. Now, a king can be pleasant and inclusive or harsh and
authoritarian. This is all style. In the end, he rules. It is the same in the set-man dogma and practice. In the final
analysis, the set-man doctrine is monarchial: one man rules.
proposition with Old Covenant verses. We dealt with this line of thinking earlier.
an offering of this verse) is from the letters to the seven churches in Asia in the book of Revelation. The letters
were written to the “angelos” (Gr. aggelos), or the messenger, of each local church, whom, without a shred of
exegetical support, the author declares to be the set man.
As Porky Pig would say, “th, th, th, th, that’s all folks!” The entire system of government ardently adhered to and
presented as God’s order is based on no more than this. Even if the arguments presented were accurate, the
sparseness of New Testament evidence should make us view the proposition with strong reservation. Though I believe
the doctrine is unsound, even if it were true, one would expect the tone of presentation might be muted in restorationist
and apostolic circles because of the lack of clear evidence: “this could be,” “this may be,” “we think it is so.” That is not
the case. This author had heard this doctrine espoused for decades as the final, authoritative word concerning God’s
governmental order. If any should even question the matter, he or she will be accused of being under a spirit of
independence, unsubmissive, anti-authority, and so on.
What about the aggelos? At best, the set man interpretation is an inference. There are those who are equally
convinced the aggelos is a literal angel, assigned to watch over the churches. Besides, compare this single example to
the bulk of the New Testament written (addressed) to the people, the churches, the corporate man, not to the alleged
set man-aggelos, as even the book of Revelation itself was (Revelation 1:4)!
In all of these letters, except Ephesians, the church was in crisis. Yet Paul addressed none of them to the elders or the
set man. Now I know comparative word counts and usage are a poor basis for binding doctrine, but we should at least
compare emphasis: one passage of dubious inference compared to the bulk of the Pauline letters. Where is the
The set-man doctrine is an exegetically threadbare beggar. It is unsound and not something upon which we should
base a jot of binding doctrine requiring churches and individuals to conform their lives to as if it was God’s divine order.
At best, it is a weak inference; and at worst, out and out error. My compass leans strongly toward the latter.
First Among Equals and Rank
As has been common throughout our discussion (covering, government, etc.), the Scriptures never use the
phrase, “first among equals.” Here again, we see a biblically unsustainable concept put forward as a binding precept
for conformity to alleged order and structure. It is an inference. It is terminology used to legitimize what we think the
Scripture says. Again, that in itself is not a terminal problem. There are lots of legitimate things that the Scripture does
not explicitly mention. However, when a lot is made out of a little, warning lights need to go off, as we are likely in the
presence of spiritual bunkum.
Wait a minute, Crosby. Are you telling me there is no difference between believers and leaders? Are we all peas in a
pot of egalitarian soup? Well, yes and no. The issue is one of rank and how rank is defined.
Paul seems to hint at rank among the apostles in Galatians 2:2-9. He uses the terms (King James Version), reputation,
pillars, referring to the status, rank, or influencing authority among the apostles. It is extremely significant for our
discussion that although he acknowledges the presence of status, he is dismissive of it in terms of significance
(Galatians 2:6). Therefore, he acknowledges an evident reality but does not endorse a spiritual order. We cannot
press this passage too far.
It is unfortunate that in our culture rank is defined positionally from office and calling and it implies hierarchy and
subordination. Since it is not technically a biblical term, I would like to use two alternate words as synonymous with the
kingdom quality of rank: the measure of stature, or in one word, maturity.
We are not all equal in the measure of the stature of Christ – in our inner development. It is possible, and common, to
be invested with a church position and possess very little measure of His stature. It is also conversely true
that someone can be completely unvested in office, position, title, and function and possess a high order of spiritual
rank. A spiritually fresh babe in Christ has more rank than an apostle over a three-hundred-church network who has
been too busy to maintain his devotional life for the last three years.
It is appropriate to acknowledge those in Christ, who by reason of “redeemed time” in the faith, have yielded to the
processes of God and who incarnate “more of Christ” than you or I might in general or in a specific area. We do not
need to categorically subordinate ourselves to them but assume a posture of deference and a readiness to listen.
However, merely punching our spiritual-time clock to accrue kingdom seniority does not constitute spiritual rank. What
we have done with our time in relationship to Christ and our freshness of intimacy with Him determines rank. Rank is
not determined by position, office, or calling.
We are also not equal in grace endowment. This is clear from the parables of the pounds/talents (King
James Version). The master did not distribute equally to each individual. The Holy Spirit distributes His gifts and
abilities as He sees fit. Every vessel (believer) is equal in glory and honor but not in grace endowment. Differences in
endowment do not, however, determine hierarchical rank. Endowment varies proportionately to assignment – the
differences relate to the demands of the assignment! If someone has greater endowment that another, it is not so the
greater can maintain positional authority and hierarchy but so the greater can more abundantly supply the other!
(Remember, headship is about life supply, not positional hierarchy [see chapter 4]. In the kingdom, demand determines
supply! Variation in spiritual endowment is intended for distribution to need in divine assignment, not accrual to
positional rank. (Refer to the diagrams at the end of chapter 9.)
We are also not equal in the sphere (scope) of our divine assignment and the responsibilities of that assignment.
Romans 12:3 states that every one is given a measure (gr. metron) of faith. The passage then proceeds to describe
how each metron is different. It is clear from the Lord’s parables of the talents/pounds (King James Version) that there
are variations in endowments and variations in the spheres of dominion in proportion to the endowment and how faithful
we have been with it. Greater grace (endowment, giftedness) mixed with greater obedience is required for greater
spheres of expression. However, this also is not hierarchical; it is functional.
Therefore, defining rank in terms of maturity, endowment, and sphere is legitimate. Defining it from ministry,
title, education, talent, skill, office, calling, or position is not. When we acknowledge the maturity, endowment, and
sphere of another, including, but not limited to apostles, we are actually acknowledging and yielding to Christ
(recognizing Christ within as we spoke of in chapter 2). We can then voluntarily affiliate or align with that manifestation
of Christ. An apostle is not entitled to any submission merely because of his apostleship. His authority is limited to the
measure of the stature of Christ he possesses, his grace gift endowment, and the limitation of his metron. If an apostle
is thinking or behaving carnally, operating outside his grace gift, and outside his metron, we owe brotherly love –
Casting the Cast Vision
What about vision casting? Isn’t that a basic, fundamental premise of leadership? Well, again, the Scriptures
never use the phrase and never associate it with leadership. The case is made at best from Old Testament leadership
models (which we have already addressed as inadequate) and an inference from Proverbs 19:18 and Habakkuk 2:2.
Proverbs 29:18 says the people perish from a lack of vision. The alleged implication is that good leaders provide vision,
or envision their people. In Habakkuk 2:2, it is alleged that good leaders are to “make the vision plain,” implying that the
set-man’s vision must be clearly and strongly presented so every one can align with it. In application it is like this:
“God’s order is the envisioning of his leaders and the submission of the people to their envisioned leader. As your
leader, God has given me the vision and direction for your lives in God, as the people of God. Now, if you are really a
son of my heart and a son of this house and submit to the house vision, you will, or we expect you to, or we hope you
will, _______,” or variations on this theme.
There are two problems with the classic interpretation and application of this verse:
Projecting western cultural and leadership values onto the biblical text gives it a meaning that has no basis in exegetical
reality. The verse has nothing to do with esoteric visions, inspirations, projects, goals, and “the mission statement” of
an executive leader. The passage refers to spiritual and prophetic insight into the Word of God, specifically the Torah,
as the second half of the verse contextually makes clear. God’s people perish not from failure to submit to the set
man’s dreams of kingdom accomplishments but rather from failure to have spiritual and prophetic insight into the Word
of God! The lack of restraint refers to living apart from the constraints of God’s moral law as revealed by prophetic
insight through the prophets, not by refusing to give one’s self to the vision of the house! The former is legitimate and
makes total sense; the latter is a modern imagination.
Christ and Him crucified and equipping the saints is the vision of the New Covenant era! A “visionary” leader is not one
who necessarily sees and accomplishes great things to be admired by man. That which is highly esteemed by man
is an abomination to God. Shoot, you don’t need the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things. You can do it with a
winsome and warm personality, the skills of a used car salesman, the passion of a teary-eyed evangelist, pictures of a
few starving children, and graduation certificates from Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins.
Isn’t part of being a leader being visionary, making the vision plain? Well, again, this is not a leadership verse. The
context (isn’t context a theological party pooper!) has to do with the Lord answering Habakkuk’s specific prayer
concerning the nature of injustice. The “vision” the prophet receives is of the messianic Age when God will finally defeat
His enemies and restore righteousness and justice in the earth.
Now, if being a “visionary leader” means making Messiah (Christ), His ultimate victory, and His kingdom rule plain before
all, then I agree! I want to be a visionary leader! However, most who consider themselves visionary or revelatory don’t
read the verse as “make the vision plain,” they read it as “make the vision.” The vision has already been made for us.
It is Christ and Him crucified. The leader’s job is to make Him plain, not put forward his or her grand dreams with
which subordinates must comply. If being visionary means having lots of grand and great ideas, plans and dreams to
accomplish “for God” if the necessary troops will just submit to it (and keep the tithe and offering flowing – maybe
we can send a “free love-gift”), you will have to look elsewhere for a justifying Scripture. This one doesn’t do it. The
annoying detail of so many “visionary” dreams is that they usually have the delightful side effects of making our kingdom
great as well as the Lord’s – maybe even greater.
Don Rumble captures the spiritual essence of correct local church vision:
church is where Christ arises in the midst of His People. As we “tap into” the flow of His life, His mind
is revealed. The Church is to constantly experience more than the expectation of its leadership, more than the
visions of its prophets and more than the strategies of its apostles. The purpose of God for each gathering is
greater than our abilities to quantify and define.
Having great “revelations” or being “revelatory” does not in itself make someone apostolic. Apostolic revelation
does not function in a vacuum. To be biblical, it must have an object: Christ and Him crucified. Being apostolic and
visionary is about seeing Him clearly, and from that sight, facilitating sight in others. Even the eighth-century Irish monk,
Dallan Forgaill, understood this when he wrote (verses one and four):
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
Christ and Him crucified is the vision. Oh, I forgot, Brother Forgaill was not part of the emerging, cutting-edge, new-
reformation, revolutionary, wealth-transferring, revelation-birthing, foundation-shaking, radical warrior, and last-day
company of world-changing prophets and apostles. He probably had a poverty spirit that darkened his mind to
understanding. He must have needed a covering apostle to bring him into the full blessing of insight. Oh, all right, I’ll
stop. But really, listen to us talk. Isn’t our language just plain silly and our opinions of ourselves a tad inflated?
How much “government” does it take to facilitate “love God and others as yourself?” The goal of a godly leader
is not to set the vision so others can follow it but to equip the saints to fulfill their vision. The house of God
is, by definition, full of multiple visions, because the Spirit envisions each member with personal destiny. Think about
this from a purely pragmatic and “fruit-bearing” point of view. If you were God and wanted to get the most done in the
quickest time, would you have two thousand people facilitating one man’s vision and goal or one man facilitating two
thousand visions and goals? Which would accomplish more? The former builds our kingdom; the latter builds His.
God’s kingdom increases through death and resurrection and the scattering of seed. Man’s kingdom is built by
gathering people in unity of vision and purpose to accomplish a great goal. God takes a pretty dim view of
that thinking. He calls it Babylon.
The practical problem arises from our corporate and business structures rather than anything inherently spiritual.
Leader ego issues play into the allocation of corporate resources (money, people, and time). Multiple “visions” cannot
be accommodated (“If I fund theirs, I can’t fund mine”). So much vision-casting rhetoric is about where money is spent
and who controls that decision. That is more a reality of our manmade corporate structures than an inherent biblical
principle of leadership. It is not inherently evil. It is just a reality of a self-inflicted problem due to our structures, not
divine mandate. The reality cannot be used as justification for ungodly authority structures.
Now there is nothing wrong with mutually cooperating with, or voluntarily aligning one’s self, with a leader to help him or
her accomplish a large divine task: smallness is not necessarily holy, and largeness is not necessarily success (except
in the new apostolic reformation!). However, it is not legitimate to require people to do so in submission to a misguided
and dubious principle of coming under authority, covering, and biblical headship! It is also illegitimate to spiritually,
psychologically, or socially marginalize folks who will not “sign the covenant pledge to support leadership vision,” or who
do not want to be “a spiritual son or daughter,” or do not share the passion for the “house vision.”
How can you tell if you are in an abusive leadership situation, disguised as submission to authority, covering, and
the set man’s vision? Practice a powerful tool God has given you: say no. That’s it – not in a bad spirit or defiance and
not concerning apostolic doctrine over sin, but in all others, politely and firmly say no when it is authentic to say no. Be
real. Be who you are. Be what God has made you to be. Tell a leader no sometime and watch how he or
she responds to you. If you feel the icy flow of withdrawal, separation, and suspicion come upon you, get out of Dodge
before the sun hits the horizon. If on the other hand you are respected, dignified, and perhaps engaged with in further
dialogue, you may have found a healthy local church home.
One of the most liberating things I ever did as a local church pastor was give people under my care the explicit,
articulated, right to tell me no, and the right to disagree with me. It was remarkable to watch the effect it had. It was not
“jailbreak of the carnal unsubmitted” as many of my more authoritarian friends dread as an inevitability. Rather, gospel
liberty and genuine identity in Christ emerged from years of suppression under authoritarian, rigid, and legal styles of
leadership. Peace, harmony, unity, oneness, and yes, order resulted. Some with literally decades of experience in the
church were shocked that it was actually “all right” to tell me no. Of course it is all right! I am their pastor, not
their God! The reason the result was so positive is because I was not there trying to implement “the vision God gave
me” but rather to release people into the vision God gave them. People intuitively know when you are genuinely “for
them.” It is amazing how conflict subsides and order sets in when liberty and personal dignity instead of government
and authority are preached and practiced. The former is the kingdom norm; the latter is for crisis.
My wife and I had a couple in our home once for some relationship building and personal life plan discussion.
They were a very seasoned and mature couple having spent almost their entire lives from their earliest youth in the
apostolic/charismatic brand of the church. They had served faithfully in multiple capacities over the years. In
the course of the conversation, as my wife and I started inquiring how we could help bring them into the realization of
their dreams, the wife broke down and started crying. She said that it was the first time in over forty years of church life
that they had experienced a pastor/leader expressing actual concern for them as individuals, rather than asking them
what they could do for “the ministry.” I suggest that her experience is not isolated, but tragically closer to the norm in
hard-charging, discipleship oriented, “doing something for God” type of churches.
have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he
that waters; but God that gives the increase. Now he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall
receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s
husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a
wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he
builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 3:5-
In this passage, Paul writes to correct the Corinthians for what the apostolic movement considers normative: alignment
with a single apostle. I think it worth the ink to reemphasize the plain, straightforward, context of the passage that we
already hinted at in chapter 4. Different factions were jockeying in the church for what would be called today “apostolic
alignment”: “I am of Apollos, I am of Paul.” In modern terms, it would be:
Paul rebukes and corrects the Corinthians for this kind of thinking! The apostolic movement wants to revive it as the
“new apostolic governmental order!” We need to examine this passage.
The term master builder can legitimately define one of the qualities of an apostle. The question is builder of what? By
implication, apostles are said to be uniquely called and gifted to strategically build the church and various kingdom
structures throughout the earth. It is undoubtedly true that strategic design and tactical abilities can make up an
apostolic ministry. However, applying the language (master builder) from this passage to apostles while ignoring the
context and implications of the passage’s ethics is a problem.
The Insignificance of the Apostle (I Corinthians 3:5-7)
Paul is crystal clear that the apostolic builder is nothing (verses 5-7). The one who plants and the one who waters are
of no significance. God is the ultimate builder, the One who assures a crop (mixing metaphors, as does the passage).
The current apostolic movement is starkly – 180 degrees – out of phase with this ethic. As currently structured, the set-
man apostle (and submission to him) is the necessity of a network! Rallying around an envisioning apostle is what
defines a network! The network’s reason for existence is to implement the set apostle’s vision, without which
there would be no network! Far from insignificant, the apostle, and proper alignment to the apostle, is the sine qua non
of alleged kingdom operations.
1. Unity (I Corinthians 3:8). In current apostolic network structures, unity is logically and spiritually impossible. In spite
of all our claims to humility, equality, and kingdom purpose, many apostles remain extremely possessive and territorial
under the guise of the need for singularity of vision and purpose. Because most networks are institutionally based on
facilitating the “set-man’s vision” (which is largely task -, target -, and mission-oriented) by definition, they cannot
accommodate any intrusion of “visionary otherness,” because otherness will dilute the set man’s vision. If
the singularity of our vision is Christ and Him crucified and the empowerment and facilitation of others, unity becomes a
very simple and achievable reality.
no chance an apostle is going to let someone else in and take pieces of his pie! I have heard the term cash cows used
to describe the financial support churches bring to apostolic networks. It is offensive and indicative of how corrupt the
movement is. Role inversion occurs. Rather than the apostles serving the churches, the churches exist to support the
I am not talking about inviting a guest minister in to do a weekend seminar. I am talking about allowing another to
functionally and spiritually build into the fabric of the lives of a local church – to have a place in the hearts and
pocketbooks of the people – allowing someone else to shape the spiritual DNA in a local assembly. This is inherently
threatening and contrary to the deficient and limited “spiritual fathering” metaphors that are used to describe pastoral
and kingdom ministry (i.e. you can only have “one father”).
If we desire to impart Christ’s DNA into people, we could care less who does it. If we want “our DNA” (a phrase I hear
used repeatedly) in the people, in contrast to “someone else’s DNA,” we will never touch true spiritual unity. Both Jesus
and Paul could care less about who, what, and how the gospel was preached. Our territorialness results from the
possessive ownership and pride-filled self-estimation of how valuable our particular spiritual niche is – our “spiritual
inheritance,” “our distinctive.” So rather than preaching Christ and Him crucified, we preach our distinctive. We try to
get people to rally around it as we build our networks and blindly facilitate a cult – a religious group that no longer has
Christ and Him crucified as their center. This ethos is corrupt. This ethos is anti-christ.
A friend of mine used to say, “We would be amazed at what could be accomplished for Christ if no one cared who
got the credit.” Current apostolic network structures simply cannot accommodate true Pauline unity.
2. Validation (I Corinthians 3:8). It is God who determines value and reward. A true apostle does not need the
presence of an organization for personal validation needs. The changed lives of people and their immovable planting
on the Sure Foundation are enough. The changed lives of people are the seal of apostleship, not the size of my
network and how many churches I may have “under me.”
3. Issues of ownership and control (verse 9). It is explicitly clear from this verse that Paul did not take personal
ownership of what he was building. The people and the church in Corinth were not “his.” They were not part of his
network but rather a part of God’s kingdom. Paul did not insist on “covering and control” over them. He did not require
territorial rights to the churches in which he laid the foundation. This quality is starkly missing in the emergent apostolic
movement. It is “assumed” that churches must remain “aligned” to the apostle (code for “in relationship to me, and me
only, as the primary covering apostle”) for the existence of the life of the church. Paul laid a foundation and
let someone else build upon it. He did not hinder another apostle’s influence on the people.
The vision of many so-called apostolic strategists is the accumulation and agglomeration of authority, wealth, and
resources into their circle of influence, to the exclusion of others; all under the assumption that the activity is
“for Jesus.” There is nothing inherently corrupt in building well with intelligence, wisdom, strategy, and tactics. There is
nothing inherently wrong with projects and dreams that are vast and large in scope. There is nothing wrong with the
necessary organization and finances to see these goals accomplished. However, the line between divinely-mandated
goals and the mere expansion of the human soul looking for validation and significance is frequently crossed.
How does the Lord energize great dreams and at the same time prevent their corruption? By applying Calvary to the
issue of ownership. When personal “ownership” seeps under the door of our soul like fog in a scene from a cheap
mystery movie, we are corrupted. When our hands cling too tightly to what the Lord has built through us, when the
network is mine and under my covering and under my direction and under my vision and under my headship and in
submission to my leadership, it is corrupt; even though it may seemingly produce great kingdom results. These labors
are the wood, hay, and stubble that Paul guarantees will be burned up, and the laborers those Jesus does not
4. The correct foundation (verse 11). Someone who is a master builder according to the biblical pattern in Paul’s life
is not someone who builds a network around personal charisma, giftedness, and task-specific mandate. An apostolic
master builder is someone supernaturally graced to see the foundation of Jesus Christ built into every believer and
every local church. All tasks must serve the goal of the revelation of Christ within people, not become the goal.
Apostolic building is a spiritual quality that results in the increase of Christ and His kingdom in the earth, not necessarily
the increase of the network. The two do not always coincide. Paul’s apostolic mandate was to make Christ known in a
foundational way. The call of an apostle is to be gladly spent and used up by others, not build a great network (II
The building systems of the emergent apostolic movement are theologically unsound, methodologically flawed, and
ethically tainted. Rather than celebrating their emergence in a spirit of restoration and reformation, we should be
bemoaning that so many are being duped by another gospel, another kingdom, and another king.
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WinePress Publishing).
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