19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
THE GREAT COMMISSION—it’s every Christian’s job description and every Church’s reason for existence. The interesting thing about The Great Commission is that it not only articulates our mission (making disciples), but it outlines the process. Our tendency is to embrace the mission and ignore the process. And that’s where we get into trouble.
There are four action words in The Great Commission that are important to notice; two verbs “go” and “make,” and two participles that describe the actual disciple-making process, “baptizing” (public confession of an encounter with Christ) and “teaching” (equipping the convert for a lifetime of obedience).
The problem is the “go” part of The Great Commission. We would love to make disciples, but we want people to come to us. Most of us are still used to the time when Americans were “pre-evangelized.” Nearly everybody believed in God and had some kind of church background and, quite frankly, it wasn’t that difficult to attract those “pre-evangelized” people to our churches.
But now we live in the age of the “nones.” Those are the folks that check “none” on the religious affiliation section of the census and they simply aren’t interested in attending our churches. That means evangelism has to take place on their turf, not ours, which brings me back to that word, “go.” Evangelism has to happen in break rooms at work, across back-yard fences, at the gym and at neighborhood barbecues. We Christians, not just pastors, but all of us, have to embrace our “sentness” (I know, that’s not even a word).
Part of the problem is faulty discipleship metrics. All of our metrics center around gathering rather than going. We are considered faithful disciples if we attend worship regularly, tithe and join a small group.
Those are great things, and I think we should count them, but can we really consider ourselves disciples if we aren’t connecting with the lost people in our individual worlds? As Charles Spurgeon said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”
I just finished reading, “BECOMING A LEVEL FIVE CHURCH” and I’ve got to tell you that it has forced me to rethink how I measure church health. By the way, you can download the book for free at this link: https://resources.wesleyan.org/becoming-a-level-five-church-ebook
The big-picture idea of the book is that there are five levels of church health illustrated by the following diagram:
Levels 1 and 2 churches are either subtracting or merely surviving. Approximately 80% of all churches fit into these two categories and their motto is, “Please stay.”
Level 3 churches add. About 16% of all churches fit into this category and their motto is, “Please come.” These churches have been models of innovation and creativity, showing us how to attract people to our churches. That’s great, but there is something even better.
Levels 4 and 5 churches reproduce. Their goal is not merely to add people, but to plant new churches. Only 4% of all churches fit into these two categories. Their motto is, “Please go.” These churches focus more on sending capacity than on seating capacity.
Now, think of a magnet. The closer you get to it, the stronger it attracts. Now, imagine a magnet to the left of the above diagram. Levels 1 and 2 churches are pulled toward scarcity thinking. The vast majority of their resources, time, energy and programming are pulled toward merely surviving.
Now, move the magnet to the middle of the diagram. Everything is about growth. Resources, time, energy and programming are all about adding the next person. Growth thinking is definitely better than scarcity thinking, but here’s the problem. That magnet that drew the church toward growth is keeping it from multiplying. We can’t give away people and resources to new works because we need all of our resources to feed the level 3 machine. That principle came into focus for me years ago when the congregation I was leading mothered a new church in a nearby community at the same time we were constructing a new worship center. At a board meeting one member protested the idea of a church plant making the cringe-worthy comment, “Why would we give away people and money when we are trying to construct a new building?”
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The magnet needs to be positioned to the right side of the diagram, pulling the church toward a paradigm of multiplication. So, what is the magnet? It’s church culture.
And how do you move the magnet? A little bit at a time. You move it through preaching, through the core values you adopt and through the ministries you get behind. When you start a small group in a new neighborhood, the magnet moves a little. Every time you put church planting in your budget, the magnet moves a little more.
I hope I have whet your appetite to download and read the book and I hope that it messes with you as much as it did me. Mostly, I pray that our district can move the magnet.
Whenever the experts debate the question of who the best basketball player of all time is,
names like Koby Bryant and LaBron James come into play but are quickly dismissed in
deference to the one and only Michael Jordan. There has never been a player like him and
perhaps there never will be.
Maybe you’ve read this Michael Jordan quote: I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my
career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life.”
In ministry it’s easy to focus on the missed shots. You know what I mean; the outreach event
that isn’t as successful as we had hoped, the capital stewardship campaign that comes up a little bit short, the lack of response to an invitation at the end of the sermon or the member who leaves the church because he isn’t “being fed.”
If you’ve missed some shots in your ministry, you’re in good company. Jesus missed a few
shots himself. For example, there was the rich young ruler who walked away. Most of the
people in his home town dismissed him (he’s just a carpenter’s son, you know). And even after
three years, he wasn’t able to make a disciple out of Judas.
So learn from the missed shots, but don’t dwell on them. And remember you don’t have to
make all your shots to have a good game.
Paul said it well in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper
time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Or, according to MJV (Michael Jordan Version), “KEEP SHOOTING!”
If you were to make a list of all the things that you can absolutely count on in the year ahead, it would be a VERY short list. Oh, I know there are lots of things in your life that you are confident in and are optimistic about. But I’m talking about a list of things that you can count on 100%, guaranteed, without fail. Like I said, that would be a short list.
You can’t count on your health. You can’t count on the economy. You can’t even count on the fact that all the people you love will still be in your life 365 days from now. The reason you can’t count on those things is because you can’t control them. You can influence them, it’s not like you’re helpless in those areas. But you can’t control them. In all of those areas, and a thousand others, there are factors that are out of our control.
Your list of things that you can be absolutely sure of in the next year would be very short, but here’s something that would be on it. One thing you can absolutely count on in 2018 is the fact that God is sovereign. God is sovereign now, He will be sovereign in January, in June and He will still be sovereign 365 days from now.
Sovereign means supreme in power and authority. I Chronicles 29:11 (Living Bible) says, “Yours is the mighty power and glory and victory and majesty. Everything in the heavens and earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything.” That’s sovereignty—in control of everything.
So here’s the thing. Although we can’t control most of the important things in our lives, we serve a God who can and does control them. Alan Redpath writes, “There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment, but as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart… I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is.”
Rick Warren uses the phrase, “Father-filtered.” I like that. Everything that will touch our lives in 2018 will be “Father-filtered” by our sovereign and loving God. There may not be many things you can count on, but you can count on that. And that, ultimately, is all that matters.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
– John 1:1-3, 14a (NIV)
I have to admit to you that the incarnation is something that absolutely blows my mind! God becoming flesh… fully human… fully divine… not one or the other, not either/or, but both/and.
John says that “through him all things were made.” Picture the nativity scene through that lens if you want to have your mind blown. He created the wood that the manger he laid in was made from. And he created the hay that lined the manger. He even created his own mother, and yet, he depended on her for his very existence. How can we, as finite humans, get our minds around that? Martin Luther must have struggled with those kinds of thoughts as well because he wrote in one of his hymns, “He whom the world could not enwrap, yonder lies in Mary’s lap.”
Leith Anderson told of visiting Manila and being taken to, of all places, the Manila garbage dump. To his amazement, tens of thousands of people made their homes on that dump site. They had constructed homes out of materials other people had thrown away and every day they sent their children out to scour the dump looking for food. He was told that many people were actually born in the dump, grew up and lived their entire lives there without ever going anywhere else. Astonishing!
But there were also Americans who lived on the garbage dump. They were missionaries who chose to leave the comfort and safety of the U.S. to communicate the love of Jesus to people who would otherwise never know the good news of the gospel. It’s incredible that there are people who would leave the comforts we have in our country to live in a garbage dump in another country.
Incredible, but not as incredible as the journey that Jesus made. He came from heaven to earth and took on humanity, knowing full well that his mission would culminate in his sacrificial death on the cross. God with us…
The incarnation is the whole point of Christmas. The apostle John said it best: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” C.S. Lewis also expressed it really well: “The Son of God became man to enable men to become the sons of God.”