I’ve been thinking lately about the connection between opportunity and obstacles. Years ago I read that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters, one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity.” Sounds about right…It seems like anytime you walk through the door of opportunity, you walk straight into a wall of obstacles.
The classic example of this principle can be found in the Old Testament account of the Israel’s refusal to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. You remember the story; God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and right before they were to cross over the Jordan spies came back with the report that there were fortified cities and even giants that would have to be overcome. And you know the rest of the story; they shied away from the challenge and spent the next 40 years doing laps in the wilderness.
Here are some random observations about opportunity and obstacles that rise to the surface in that story:
So don’t be discouraged by obstacles—that just means you are knocking on the door of opportunity! Chuck Swindoll said it like this: “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
–2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NASB)
Recently I was having a conversation with a pastor who was bemoaning how difficult it is to schedule volunteers for his church’s children’s and hospitality ministries. It’s not that they mind serving if they happen to be in church, it’s just that they don’t want to commit ahead of time, just in case they decide to go somewhere that weekend.
His venting led us into a discussion of “cultural Christianity,” a phrase that I’ve heard more and more lately to describe Christians who want God, but they want Him on their own terms. They want a relationship with God, but it has to be convenient. They want to experience joy, peace, love and all the good stuff, but they shy away from growing and serving.
Not quite what Paul articulated in 2 Corinthians, “so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him…” A little different than our “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” approaches to evangelism. Don’t misunderstand me, God does have a wonderful plan, but wonderful and comfortable are not synonymous.
Ray Comfort uses a powerful analogy to illustrate the importance of approaching the requirements of the Christian life with the right motivation. Two men get on a plane and, once the plane is airborne, are handed parachutes. One is told that the parachute will make his ride more comfortable. The second man is told that the plane is going down and that the parachute will save his life. The first man will chafe under the burden of the parachute and may eventually take it off because his motivation is comfort. The second man, however, won’t take his parachute off for any reason because his motivation is not comfort but survival.
People will chafe under the demands of carrying the cross if their goal is comfort. In recent years our evangelism techniques have centered on the “here and now.” We tell people that life will be better if they accept Christ, that their relationships will get better, they will experience new levels of joy, etc. All of that is true, but the person who comes to Christ for those reasons alone may not only chafe under the rigors of the Christian life, they may even defect eventually.
But when people understand that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that the primary goal of a relationship with Christ is to save us and make us like Jesus, not to make life easier. The person who really understands that basic issue will carry the cross gladly. Who knows… they might even serve in your children’s ministry or on your hospitality team!
The words, sent, send and sending, are used 283 times in the New Testament. Here are just a few of those instances:
Luke 10:3 (NIV)
Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
John 20:21 (NIV)
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
John 17:18 (NIV)
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
Luke 9:2 (NIV)
…and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Matthew 9:38 (NIV)
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Seems like, sooner or later, we would catch on to the fact that we Christians are people on a mission and that the church is to be more about sending than gathering. In JD Greear’s book, GAINING BY LOSING, he compares the church to three different types of ships.
First, there is the CRUISE LINER, offering great programs and services for the whole family. People show up at church asking, “Can this church improve my religious quality of life?
Will I like the music and does the pastor preach entertaining messages that meet my needs?” And if the church ever ceases to cater to their preferences… well, there are plenty of other cruise liners in the harbor.
Then, there is the BATTLESHIP. The church is made for mission, and its success is measured in how loudly and dramatically it fights the fight. The role of church members is to pay the pastor and staff to find the targets and fire the guns each week as they gather to watch. They see the church’s programs, services and ministries as the primary instruments for achieving the mission. A little better than the cruise liner, but not much.
The third metaphor is by far the best, the AIRCRAFT CARRIER. Like battleships, aircraft carriers engage in battle, but not in the same way. Aircraft carriers equip planes and prepare pilots to carry the battle elsewhere. Aircraft carrier churches equip and send their members to where needy people are. Their members learn to share the gospel in the communities where they live without the help of the pastor.
If we are really going to assault the gates of Hell, we’re going to have to become aircraft carrier churches. It’s not about gathering and counting; it’s about raising up and sending.
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.