Lesson 27 Conclusion

Video 27 Conclusion

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Class 26 The Joys and Challenges of Lay Leadership

Video 26 The Joys and Challenges of Lay Leadership

I’ll never forget when a seminary-trained paid pastor told my friend who was a lay elder, “You’re one of the best lay teachers I’ve ever heard.” The paid pastor was actually a terrible teacher: excessively dull, unclear, and irrelevant. He couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag. My friend—the mere lay teacher—was ten times better than the pastor. He just didn’t take a paycheck for it.

So what can we do with this weird space we find ourselves in? It all depends on the relationship you have with the other leaders of the church. In one sense, I’d recommend that you seek to implement things in the same way that the pastor should. But you’ll have a harder time doing this if the other leaders aren’t on board. (Paid pastors generally have much more pull in introducing changes than lay leaders do.) In any case, here are some general recommendations.

First, go about it in a humble way. If you see changes that should be made—maybe some programs that aren’t contributing to people’s growth in Christlikeness—don’t storm the next elder meeting and call everyone on the carpet. Whatever insight you may have is best introduced in a humble way, not claiming to have all the right answers but wishing instead to reexamine some things in light of Scripture. And as I’ve said, don’t try to suggest too many changes at once. Maybe focus on one and humbly talk to the leaders about it.

Second, talk about your concerns on a relational level with other leaders. Talk to your pastor or your fellow elders. Don’t rally the troops in your Bible study and cause them to think badly of the church or its leaders. That’s called gossip and spreading discord—and God hates this (Proverbs 6:29). Be sensitive to where people are, not frustrated because they’re not where you think they should be.

Third, by all means, don’t go all Nehemiah on people in public. (Read Nehemiah 13:25. It’s really funny and scary at the same time.) Don’t publicly call out the people in your Bible study for being segregated. If you’re up on stage, don’t condemn the stage, the lights, the sound equipment, and the worship leader for buying the new projector when he should have sent the money to Nepal. If you go against the leadership and try to change the church by yourself, you’ll probably end up splitting the church—and then no one wins.

Fourth, start doing it in your own life. Find time to get to know the needs in your community. Visit another ethnically diverse church in town and get to know its pastor. Figure out ways in which you can live more simply and give more money away to people in need. Read some books on grace and ask the Lord to show where you are still trying to earn his favor through performance. Dive into your church community more wholeheartedly and demonstrate community. Get to know some of the Millennials at your church and listen to their questions, passions, and doubts.

Okay, so I guess if you’re not a pastor or a leader, you’re just a general Christian. A plain old average pew sitter. I’m kidding, of course. Actually—whether you believe this or not—you have the same Spirit of God dwelling in you, and your gifts are just as vital, just as valuable, and just as powerful as the gifts that the Spirit has given to your leaders. The kingdom of God has been advancing on the backs of “general” Christians for the last two thousand years.

If you’re really passionate about creating a better discipleship climate at church, you could propose a new ministry to the leadership that would help people become more like Jesus. Maybe it’s a new outreach to the poor in the community.
If you want to create a more traditional church ministry, make sure it’s authentic and effective at helping people become more like Christ. Maybe lead people through a Christian book that will shake them up a bit rather than affirm the status quo. If you’re more of an outlier, share your heart with the leaders and help them see how your outside-the-box ministry can further God’s kingdom among fellow outliers of society. Tell your leaders about the various unbelievers you’re reaching out to and invite them into your ministry to them.

Now here’s the thing. There’s a chance—maybe a good chance, depending on your church—that your idea will get shot down. This is one of the biggest complaints among people who leave the church. They say that all their ideas were shot down by the professional ministers who apparently had all the right ministries already in place. I know this can be discouraging, but if this happens to you, try not to get discouraged. Try again. Think of another ministry. If all your ideas keep getting shot down, then have an honest conversation with the leaders and share your heart.
And—pay attention to this—be open to the possibility that your ideas are not actually good ideas. Don’t be so prideful that you simply assume you are right and your leaders are wrong. If they are truly called by God to lead the church, then there’s a good chance that they may see things in your ideas that aren’t biblical or don’t fit within the ministry philosophy of the church.

That said, there’s a chance you are right and they are wrong. Ministry philosophies aren’t inspired by God, and they can sometimes hinder creative kingdom-advancement ventures from blossoming. Seek counsel from a diverse group of godly people. Have them examine your idea. Search the Scriptures, pray hard, and talk to your leaders again. If you are constantly stonewalled from using your gifts in ministry at your church, then it may be time to find another church.
I don’t say this lightly. I almost didn’t want to say it at all! I’m not an advocate of hopping around from church to church or leaving a church anytime you disagree with its leaders. This isn’t what I’m saying. If you must leave a church, do so humbly, graciously, and openly, seeking forgiveness from anyone you’ve sinned against.

God’s kingdom transcends any one church. It’s expansive and dynamic; it can’t be contained within the walls of any one church. It covers your community and is expanding into the county. It’s manifested in every place where believers are gathered and advancing good through the gospel. This kingdom cannot be shaken, and it cannot be stopped. You can kill it, stab it, and crucify it, but it will never die. It will only multiply. God’s reign over the nations will prevail, and the gates of hell don’t stand a chance.

So we must go. We cannot stay put. We cannot pursue the American dream, for this land is not our land—we belong to another kingdom. God’s kingdom. The global reign of God through his image bearers. And God has released his Spirit in you so that you can incarnate the love of Christ to a dying world.
So go. Go do that. Go make disciples of all the nations.
And I’ll see you on the other side.

Lesson 25 Slow and Steady Change

Video 25 Slow and Steady Change

The post-Reformers used to say, Ecclesia semper reformanda est, or “The church is [reformed and] always reforming.” The Reformers regularly returned to Scripture and celebrated its ultimate authority over all belief and practice. They were not just reformed (that is, Protestant) but also reforming—constantly—in light of Scripture. This should be an ongoing posture, not a one-time event. The church should regularly drag traditionally held ideas and practices back to the Bible and eagerly demand reexamination.

It’s common for unexamined beliefs to become detached from their scriptural roots through time and repetition. We assume that the way we’ve always done it should be the way we always do it. But if we believe the Bible is our final and ultimate authority over everything we think and do, then the Bible—not tradition—must be our guide.

Now let me let you in on a little secret. One of the main questions any writer, teacher, or pastor must ask is Who’s your audience? To whom are you speaking? To be honest, I’ve had three different audiences in view: pastors, lay leaders, and general Christians who take their faith seriously. And when it comes to implementing the ideas of this course, this will probably look different for pastors, lay leaders, and general Christians. (I actually don’t love the term “general Christian,” by the way, but hopefully you get the point and aren’t offended.)

So let me close with a down-to-earth conversation about how all of us can apply what we’ve talked about.

I imagine that if you pastor a large church in a diverse neighborhood with well-polished Sunday services and plentiful programs and members who are mostly wealthy and white—well, you may be angry or depressed.

If you’re angry, my only question is, do you find the stuff I’ve talked about in the book unbiblical? And if so, why? Where? Make sure your anger is justified. Disagreement isn’t refutation. It’s just a reaction.

If you’re depressed, it’s probably because you agree with much of what I’ve said, and yet you don’t know where to start. Here’s my advice to you: Don’t try to change things overnight. If you see several areas in your philosophy of ministry that need to change, take them one at a time. Even if it takes ten or twenty or thirty years to become a more faithful, Jesus-like, disciple-making church, that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the kingdom of God. It’s still under construction.

After all, this is how we should pursue Christ on an individual level. There’s no way we can carry out all the demands of Christ all the time starting tomorrow. We can’t physically witness to the lost; help the poor; visit people in prison; care for the orphan, the widow, the elderly, the homeless, and the refugee; disciple our kids; love our spouses; study the Bible; pray without ceasing; care for our relatives; mentor younger believers; help with setting up and tearing down at church on Sundays; and still have time to watch Netflix. Even if we cancel Netflix, we still can’t do it all. Not all at once, at least. We need to cultivate a rhythm of life that reflects Christ. The same is true of ministry.

One of the churches in Southern California, where I was a teaching elder, used to hold a “Celebrate Generosity” Sunday every year on its anniversary. All of the tithes and offerings that came into the church that week went to fund outside ministries we were involved in. Fifty percent went to help other local church plants we were connected with, and the other 50 percent went to overseas missions work we were involved in (including Touch Nepal). It’s crazy, but Celebrate Generosity is always the largest giving Sunday of the year. People love to give to tangible needs, especially needs where there’s some sort of relational connection. Last year, the church gave more than $100,000 on Celebrate Generosity. And the church only has a few hundred members.

If you desire to raise the intellectual bar in your church, then maybe you could orchestrate your own City Forums, or a Sunday night gathering focused on engaging in relevant topics and modeling critical thinking and dialogue. Maybe read through an intellectually rigorous book with your leaders to get them on board. (I’d highly recommend Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.) Or preach a sermon series on loving God with our minds. The key is to show people that good thinking is part of good discipleship. Chances are that your people are probably hungering for more depth anyway.

If you believe your church is too segregated and doesn’t reflect the multicultural heart of God, you can begin by having people of different ethnic backgrounds preach at your church or lead worship. You could reach out and befriend other ethnically different congregations in your city. Get to know their leaders and members and see how you could partner together. If you are hiring for a position, try to hire someone of a different ethnic background than other leaders at your church (assuming they’re qualified for the position, of course). Get to know the ethnic minorities who are in your church. Ask them whether they feel like they have to assimilate to fit in or whether their ethnic heritage is honored and integrated in your church.

Since the Bible is filled with stories of scandalous grace, a good place to start is by preaching on grace. Read Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship or Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace? or—at the risk of self-promotion—my own book Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us. Then preach and teach about this radical grace. If people aren’t offended, you’re probably not preaching grace as faithfully as you ought to. The grace that Jesus preached offended the religious.

Creating a more missional church is rather easy, since most people are so hungry for it. I’ve seen many churches ignite a fire in their people when it starts engaging the community in tangible ways. There will be some people, of course, who will accuse you of teaching a “social gospel.” But don’t let this scare you. Sure, implementing Christless, gospel-less outreach doesn’t reflect the heart of Jesus. But neither does ignoring the social aspects of the gospel out of fear that stubborn Christians will cut off their tithe money or leave the church if you start talking about the poor. If you believe it’s biblical—and it is—then you should make sure your people are engaging in the mission of Christ, if indeed you want them to become more like Christ.

Again, my main advice is to take it slow. Focus on one or two areas where your church needs to change in order to be more effective at making disciples.


Lesson 24 The Discipleship Miracle in Nepal

Video 24 The Discipleship Miracle in Nepal

Along with being a college professor, writer, and (now) church planter (sort of), I’m also part of a ministry called Touch Nepal. Every year, some friends and I go over to Nepal to hang out with the ministry leaders we support. It’s always an eye-opening experience. I’ll never forget my first visit. One of the Nepalese pastors took us out to the middle of a jungle, where we were supposed to attend a church service. We must have been driving out in the middle of nowhere for two hours before I wondered, Did we take a wrong turn? Should I tell our driver that he must be on the wrong road? There was no civilization for miles around.

But then the jungle opened up and we found ourselves in the midst of a village that looked like it was straight out of the eighteenth century: donkeys, carriages, wooden carts, thatched roofs, smolder fires. I was waiting for Bilbo to pop out of his hobbit hole. The van stopped—apparently, we were at the right spot for the church service—but I didn’t see any church building or people wearing suits and ties.

Then I heard it. Coming from a broken-down, barn-like building thundered the sound of forty Nepalese believers worshiping Jesus in a room that should have held twenty-five people at best.

A couple of people ushered us to the front of the room as the believers kept belting out songs of praise to Jesus. We walked to the front, turned around, sat down facing the congregation, and met many smiling faces as they continued to cry out to their God.

This church was truly amazing. And it was simple. The pastor received a small stipend for his work but held a second job to provide income. The building was nothing more than an old barn with a room upstairs. No one else was paid. It costs hardly anything to come together and worship. Unlikely converts were being made. Most of them were saved out of Hinduism; they were ostracized by their families and, in some cases, brutally persecuted. Yet they kept singing at the top of their lungs. They kept preaching to their neighbors about a risen Savior who now rules the earth and its jungles.

A simple church with hardly any funds, no real building, a part-time pastor, no programs, and no stage. And they turned the world upside down because they were empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.

No model of church is perfect. Every model has its pros and cons. I’m not arguing for a particular model of doing church. I’m arguing for a more simple way of doing church, no matter the model.

I’m arguing that worship leaders should explore more simple and cost-efficient ways to lead people in worship. Powerfully lifting our voices in communal praise should not cost so much, nor should it take hours to rehearse.

I’m suggesting that church leaders should reevaluate their budgets to see if what they’re spending money on truly reflects the values of Christ. If Jesus were in charge of your budget, would it look the same? If not, then it needs to change.

I’m urging lay Christians to view themselves not as mere “lay Christians” but as Spirit-endowed followers of the King who have gifts that can turn the world upside down.

I’m asking pastors to consider implementing the most faithful type of ministry—even if it means taking a financial hit—because any ministry that’s dictated by money is a disobedient ministry.

I’m challenging local churches to ask a hard question: What can we cut out of our church machine to make room for more effective ways of creating disciples who make disciples?

I’m urging all Christians to put into practice the central command to “love one another.” If your church experience does not include loving each other authentically, then you’re not experiencing church the way God intended.

Personally, I’ve found that the house church can be a great vehicle for carrying these things out. It’s simple and efficient, and if it has solid leadership, it can reproduce itself more easily and effectively. But it’s not the only model. I know several effective churches that maintain a traditional way of doing church, and yet have gotten rid of all the add-ons that aren’t helping Christians follow Christ more faithfully. They’re stripped down, financially efficient (and generous), authentic, and making a massive dent in their communities with the love of Christ.

Whatever the model, don’t let the cultural clutter get in the way of making disciples of all nations.

Also, let’s not overcomplicate the call of Christ. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). Shortly after that, the Spirit fell upon these believers, and they went out and started to make disciples.

So let’s do that. Let’s make this basic Christian command more central to the values of church.

Some of Jesus’ disciples were literate; most were illiterate. None of them were pastors with seminary degrees. Yet they turned the world upside down by making disciples. Maybe it’s our overly professionalized culture, I don’t know. But the fact is that many Christians feel that they don’t have all the right tools or all the biblical answers to disciple people. Of course, I’m all for becoming more biblically literate and making sure you’re seeking Christ before you tell others to. But let’s not overly complicate the command. Jesus says, “Follow me; then go make disciples and help them follow Christ.” He doesn’t say, “Make sure you’ve got all the answers before you make fishers of men.” He doesn’t tell only Bible study leaders or Sunday school teachers or paid pastors who have it all together to make disciples. It’s a command to all Christians.

So let’s go. Let’s do this. Let’s do what Jesus tells us to do.

Lesson 23 Where Does the Money Go?

Video 23 Where Does the Money Go?

What we see in the New Testament is radical generosity toward people. There was no such thing as an expensive church machine that sucked up most of the tithe money to keep the Sunday services going.

We shouldn’t glorify the first-century church, of course. It certainly had its own problems (see Acts 6:1-6; Galatians 2:11-14; Philippians 4:2-3). But what we do see is an extremely simple way of doing church that was very effective at making disciples. One of my favorite scenes in the book of Acts comes at the beginning of chapter 17. Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel in the synagogues of Thessalonica, and they got kicked out. Before they left, a bunch of Gentiles at the synagogue believed Paul’s message and became Christians. The Jews became jealous, so they formed a mob against the house of Jason, where Paul and Silas were staying. When they couldn’t find Paul and Silas, they dragged out Jason and other Christians and accused them before the authorities. This is what they said: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).

Turned the world upside down. I love that phrase! Even though this little religion was but a speck on the map of the Roman world, they made such a dent in society that they were seen as turning the world upside down. And they did it at cost. No bells, no whistles. No programs or events. No stages or lights or expensive sound equipment. No paid staff, no buildings, no podcasts, or radio shows.

None of these things are bad. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sound equipment or stages. But when viewed against the backdrop of the massive decline of discipleship in the church today, we have to ask, Is all this stuff worth it?

Are we doing church the way we’re doing it because we wholeheartedly believe that it’s the most biblical and effective way to make disciples? (Few pastors I know say yes.) Or are we doing it because it’s all we’ve ever known? And because people will get mad and leave if we try to introduce more simple and effective ways of helping people become more like Christ?

Playing into people’s consumeristic felt needs is not the way of Christ. It’s cowardice.

I long for a simpler version of church, where Jesus’ disciples gather together for rich fellowship, an in-depth study of the apostle’s teaching, a shared cup of wine and loaf of bread in remembrance of Christ’s death, and intimate prayers. This is part of the reason why I’ve decided to plant a church. A simple church. A non-churchy church. A church where all the clutter is swept aside so that we can break bread together before we go out and share the love of Christ in our community.

At the time of writing, my family and I just got back from San Francisco, where we met with a network of churches called We Are Church that grew out of the video series Basic by Francis Chan. Those videos lay the groundwork for a more simple and reproducible way of doing church. What started as one small church in 2012 has now grown into a network of eight different home-based fellowships scattered throughout San Francisco. And it looks as if my family and I are going to start a We Are Church fellowship here in Boise. But it’s going to look quite different from most churches.

First of all, none of the pastors at We Are Church are paid. In fact, “doing church” costs exactly nothing. Nada. Nil. No money. One hundred percent of the tithes and offerings go toward the needs of the body of Christ (or outside the body) and furthering the mission of Christ. There’s not a single ministry decision that’s based on money. There’s no pressure to grow in order to support staff salaries and building mortgages. As long as we’re being faithful at becoming more like Christ and sharing his truth and love in the community, then it’s really up to God to bring people in. And there’s no pressure on my end if he delays.

Growth isn’t bad. But let’s face it. Most church growth is transfer growth, not conversion growth. Most churches grow because they’re doing church in a way that’s more appealing than the surrounding churches (better music, better programs, and more engaging preaching). And so Christians will leave one church for another church until another church pops up and puts on a better church service.

When a church has no financial burden, there’s no pressure to create an attractive environment that will draw (mostly Christian) people to the church. Again, paying a pastor isn’t wrong. It might be biblical. But not paying a pastor isn’t wrong either. It might enable the church to reproduce itself more effectively.

Since We Are Church churches gather in homes, they are small. The smallness helps enable (though does not guarantee) a more relational, “family-like” gathering. No one sits on the sidelines or gets lost in the pews. Everyone is treated like a brother or sister or mother or father. And as we’ve said, genuine discipleship can’t happen without relationships.

Now, as I’m sure you know, family can be messy! So let’s not candy-coat the whole family metaphor. Gathering as a family doesn’t mean that everyone will get along perfectly and that there won’t be any relational problems. Quite the opposite! But what it does mean is that everyone will be committed to each other in love and truth.

After all, “love one another” is one of the most basic, fundamental Christian commands given to the church.

  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
  • “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
  • “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11).
  • “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (which Jesus says is the second greatest command, next to “Love the Lord your God”—Matthew 22:37-39).

Most people come to church, chitchat for a few minutes, and then attend a service where 95 percent or more of the people sit and watch other people using their gifts. Then when the service is over, parents rush off to get their kids from Sunday school, and if there’s a second service about to start, they need to do this rather quickly. Some people may connect with other people on a deep, intimate level. But in my twenty years of “doing church” at twelve different churches, belonging to four different denominations in three different states and three different countries, I can confidently say that for the majority of churchgoers, Sunday morning is not the time to love or be loved.

It’s also not usually the time to ask hard questions. Or serve the poor. Or share Jesus with unbelievers. Or help other believers in need. Or do a whole bunch of other things that Christians are to do. Again, church services aren’t bad. They can be a wonderful time of worship and teaching. But it does appear that by itself, attending church services—even really good ones—is not producing the types of disciples Jesus intends to create.

At We Are Church, even though the pastors aren’t paid, they are still training up other pastors and multiplying churches. Even though forty-five-minute sermons aren’t preached every Sunday, everyone in the church is reading through the Bible and discussing it on Sundays and throughout the week with each other. Even though there aren’t any programs, the lost are being reached, the youth are being discipled, and communities are being touched by the love of these radical Jesus followers. Even though there’s no worship band or expensive sound equipment, every week believers cry out to Jesus through songs of praise.

Francis Chan told me a beautiful story about a time when one of the house churches gathered together for worship, but the worship leader—a girl with a guitar and a good voice—couldn’t make it to the gathering. At first, no one knew what to do. How can we worship God without a skilled musician? So one of the members, an ex-con who recently got saved, stepped forward and started belting out songs of praise to Jesus. He had a terrible voice: totally off-key. No band, no guitar, no stage, no sound system. Yet everyone joined in with authentic, heart-pounding worship. And tears flooded the room.

When I hear stories like this, I just wonder whether we have overly professionalized the church’s worship of its holy Creator. What would happen if we explored simpler, more dimmed-down, more authentic ways to worship Jesus—the one who said “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23)?

Smaller home-based gatherings like this are not perfect. They’re messy and difficult and come with their own set of trials. My point is to give a tangible example of church that is done more simply, cost-efficiently, and authentically. And this more stripped-down version of church is still doing all the things that God calls the church to do.

Lesson 22 The Expensive Machine Called “Church”

Video 22 The Expensive Machine Called “Church”

I never in a million years wanted to plant a church. If you had asked me five years ago, or even five months ago, “Would you ever consider planting a church?” I would have laughed in your face. I’ve never had the desire, time, skills, or money to pull off a church plant. There are many church-planter types out there. And I’m definitely not one of them.

This is why my next phrase is comically ironic: My family and I are in the process of planting a church. I’d better give some backstory to this whole mess I’ve gotten myself into.

For several years, I’ve not felt that I fit in with the typical church culture. Remember my discussion about outliers? Well, okay, so I’m an outlier. I don’t really love church services. I’d rather listen to Coldplay than Chris Tomlin. I don’t have time for superficial, Christianized conversations where everyone is “doing good” as they smile the pain away. I love to talk about God’s Word—I’m a Bible professo r at a Bible college—but I’d much rather have a discussion than give (or listen to) a monologue. I like to wrestle with hard theological questions, and I’m okay with not having all the right answers. I really enjoy hanging out with unbelievers, especially unbelievers who are poor. And I’d much rather be out in the community, tangibly showing the love of Jesus, than sitting in a pew listening to a sermon about the love of Jesus. Yes, I’ll admit it. I am that guy.

I’m going to be brutally honest and I want to ask for a bit of grace from you if I overstate things or misrepresent the state of the church. I don’t mean to be critical or cynical. I truly do love the bride of Christ and I believe the church is doing some amazing things to reach people for Christ.

But I do want to be honest with where I’m at in my journey—a journey that has led me kicking and screaming into the church-planting business. It all started several years ago when I began to question the church’s use of money.

For years, I’ve been troubled by how many churches spend money—God’s money, as we call it. When I’m in church, I often look around at all the sound equipment, chandeliers, carpets, decorations, and everything else that’s “necessary” to pull off a church service week after week. I’m not a troublemaker, so I usually keep my mouth shut. But I’ve often wondered: Is all this stuff necessary for discipleship? Are there other ways that we could spend our money that would more effectively further the kingdom of God? If we pulled way back on our church expenses, would we be able to send more missionaries overseas? Or rescue little girls from sex trafficking? Or help the poor around us?

Speaking of missionaries, I often think of the ones who are under supported, or have returned home because their support ran dry. I think of the many aspiring missionaries who never got off the ground because they couldn’t raise enough funds. I think of the two billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day—millions of whom are Christians, our very own brothers and sisters. Or the one billion people who don’t have adequate access to clean water. Or the 1.5 billion people who live without electricity. I think of other needs at home, in our own communities. The homeless, the widows, the elderly, the ten thousand refugees who live in my hometown of Boise. By the time you finish reading this section, more than three hundred children will have died because of hunger or malnutrition. I look at all of this and I can no longer look away.

A friend of mine who used to be a megachurch pastor asked ten of his pastor friends these questions:

  • If money weren’t an issue, would you continue doing ministry the way you’re doing it now?
  • If you had unlimited funds, would you have the same programs, the same types of services, the same staff positions, and everything else that your church is devoted to?
  • Would Sunday morning look the same?

You know what they said? Ten out of ten said, “No.” Ten out of ten pastors admitted that at least some—or most—of what they’ve created is necessary because it keeps people happy and maintains a steady or growing attendance. A church that retains its people can pay the bills because more people means more tithe money. And more money helps sustain the expensive ministries we’ve created. And around and around we go.

On the flip side, if the pastor rocks the boat too much, implements ministries that turn people off, or cancels ministries that aren’t helping people become more like Jesus, then people might leave. And if too many people leave, the church can’t make budget to sustain all the ministries. Or it won’t be able to pay its staff. Or, worst-case scenario, if enough people leave, then the pastor won’t get paid.

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that most pastors are filled with integrity and aren’t trying to make a lot of money from doing ministry. I believe most pastors truly desire more than anything to see people come to faith in Christ and then grow closer to Jesus through fellowship, teaching, Communion, and prayer (Acts 2:42). My concern isn’t so much with the intention or motivation of church leaders. It’s with the system of doing church that’s been passed down to us (in America)—a system that’s inherently expensive and often overly complicated.

In their book Church Refugees, Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope interviewed one pastor to see how much time and energy was spent on each Sunday’s ninety-minute service. Between prepping for the sermon, producing the podcast, setting up, tearing down, worship practice, and everything else that was necessary for the service, the pastor found that 137 hours a week and 60 percent of the church budget went into the weekly church service. The pastor himself was stunned. He didn’t realize that so much of the church’s time and money went into the Sunday service. And this particular church had only about a hundred members. Imagine how much time and energy goes into the Sunday services for a church of a thousand or ten thousand.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with Sunday services. Christian gatherings are awesome and biblical. Much good can come from them. My main concern is with the way we’ve gone about Sunday services. They’ve largely become a resource hog and a spectator sport. People come, watch, listen, and leave. Clearly, the Bible commends the gathering of believers for fellowship, teaching, Communion, and prayer (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:24-25). But the way we’ve gone about these gatherings has become cluttered with many complex and expensive add-ons that aren’t mandated, nor envisioned, by the Bible. Nor are they necessary for—or even effective at—helping people become more like Christ.

The statistics are clear: Our current systems of doing church are generally not producing disciples who make disciples. Virtually every church is faithful at Sunday services—and putting much time, energy, and money into them. But statistically, most churches are not doing a great job at making disciples who make disciples. Whatever we think about our way of doing church, something’s missing.

I wonder whether there’s a better way. A way in which most of the church’s time, energy, personnel, and money could be spent on things that more effectively produce radical Jesus followers.

Lesson 21 What if My Neighborhood Isn’t Diverse?

Video 21 What if My Neighborhood Isn’t Diverse?

I want to address a common question that comes up: What if my neighborhood isn’t diverse? This is usually the first question that comes up every time I talk about ethnic reconciliation. I’ve raised it several times myself! After all, I live in the fine state of Idaho, where 92 percent of the population is Caucasian. Most ethnic minorities in my state are clustered in particular neighborhoods. If churches reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods, then in Idaho they’re probably not going to be very diverse. What do we do about this?

First, as a general principle, local churches should reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods where they are. If a church is in neighborhood that’s 90 percent Caucasian, then we should generally expect 10 percent of its members to be ethnic minorities. The problem is that most churches do not reflect the diversity of their surrounding communities. Also, many churches have a strong commuter population. In other words, most churches are not “neighborhood-only” churches, where people live within a mile of their church. Given the fact that churches aren’t just made up of people from the neighborhood, we should expect much more diversity than actually exists, since we’re not constrained by the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

A multiethnic gospel will attract a multiethnic group of people. The question is, are we preaching a gospel that shatters ethnic boundaries as Jesus and Paul did?

Second, even if a community isn’t ethnically diverse, it’s certainly going to be diverse in terms of gender, age, and maybe even socioeconomic status. Although neighborhoods often don’t reflect socioeconomic diversity, they’re usually more diverse than you think. It’s not uncommon for one economically well-off community to be within five minutes of a lower-middle-class or impoverished neighborhood. If these two people groups are isolated from one another, God’s kingdom vision is not being realized. If a church makes older people feel as if they aren’t part of the family, then something’s wrong. When the younger people miss out, everyone misses out.
The point is, there’s probably much more diversity in your neighborhood than you realize. If you look for it, you’ll be surprised at what you might find.

Third, work harder. The fact is, most churches that are 90 percent Caucasian are located in communities much more diverse than that. If—or because—this is the case, we need to ask some hard questions. Why are our churches not diverse? Are our members making disciples of all nations—the nations around them? If not, why? Is there anything about the church community that unknowingly makes minorities feel unwelcome or out of place because of their ethnic heritage? Are the cultural customs of the church (music, art, order of service) diverse or monolithic? Is everyone on stage white? Or black? What does this say about the values and perceived gifts of the church?
I could spend a whole separate course talking about the unforeseen ways in which the tone of our churches inevitably reflects its dominant culture, thereby marginalizing the minority. But here’s what you can do: Ask a few different ethnic minorities in your church what they think. Have they felt like they have to assimilate, or do they feel like the church is genuinely integrating different cultures into its service and philosophy of ministry?

Fourth, get beyond the walls. Every church is part of the global church. Even if it’s unrealistic to create a diverse community within a local church, partnering with a multiethnic or an ethnically different church would be a great step toward broadcasting the gospel that Jesus and Paul preached.

Even though my hometown of Boise appears to be as white as a leper on a winter day, I’ve recently found out that within a two-mile radius downtown, there’s an African American Baptist church; an international church of African immigrants and refugees (the service is translated from English to Swahili); three other churches made up of Eritrean, Nepalese, and Bhutanese refugees; and another church that meets with the homeless. All of these churches gather within a couple of miles of each other. What would happen if these churches somehow tried to work together, eat together, do ministry with one another, and serve one another? Well, it would be messy for sure! Reconciliation isn’t easy.

That’s why we need Jesus at the center, as both our goal and our strength. But it would be worth it. Because the gospel is worth it. Jesus is worth it. And all those involved would become a little more like Jesus as they became reconciled to other believers who worship the same Lord—who reconciled us all to himself.

Lesson 20 Overcoming the Fear of Diversity

Video 20 Overcoming the Fear of Diversity

When I was on the preaching team at Cornerstone Church in California, we realized that our preaching meetings (where we’d get together and talk through the upcoming message) had only men, even though more than half of the people we were preaching to were women. So we invited a woman into the group. It was one of the most eye-opening things I’ve ever experienced. As we would run illustrations and interpretations by her, she would tell us how these would be heard by a woman. All of us guys would sit back and realize in bewilderment how we have never taken the time to put ourselves in the shoes of the women listening to our sermons.

We need to make sure that women don’t feel undervalued, underappreciated, or nonessential for the mission of the church. Gender reconciliation is part of discipleship.

Diversity and reconciliation as a discipleship priority extends to age and socioeconomic status as well. There is no place for power differentials in a gathering of believers because God’s people are characterized not by power or wealth or status but by our common allegiance to Jesus. When the world peers in on our gatherings and sees beggars and bankers joining arms in worship, they’re forced to ask, Why? What caused this? What—or who—is bringing this about? Few things display the gospel more brilliantly than seeing the power of the Spirit and the Cross of Christ binding together radically different people who have no worldly business hanging out with each other.

Jesus knew this, which is why he gathered a comically diverse group of people. Rich business owners (James and John), violent revolutionaries (Simon), shady sellouts (Matthew), children, wealthy women (Mary, Joanna, and others in Luke 8:1-3), moral women, immoral women, beggars, blind people, crippled people, Roman soldiers, and those who wanted to kill Roman soldiers. The collage of misfits and moralists who flocked around Jesus turned a few heads and ruined his reputation (Matthew 11:19). This was the church Jesus was building, against which the gates of hell could not prevail.

I love the victorious declaration of Christ’s finished work on the cross in Revelation 5:9-10: You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.

Segregated churches do not reflect the final goal of Christ’s finished work according to Revelation 5. God never set out to redeem a bunch of white people or black people, rich people or poor people. Intrinsic to God’s plan of redemption is to “ransom people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” so that we will become “a Kingdom of priests for our God” and reign—together—“on the earth.” It’s a beautiful thing—indeed a gospel thing—when local churches display this global truth.

It’s one thing to affirm gospel-centered reconciliation. But this is a course about discipleship—becoming more like Christ. We need to get beyond just affirming a truth; we need to put it into practice. So let’s explore the different ways in which diversity and reconciliation fosters discipleship.

The first way is a simple one—since discipleship is becoming more like Jesus, and since Jesus formed diverse communities, then to be faithful disciples we should do what Jesus did. We should help build and participate in diverse communities so that gospel-centered and gospel-mandated reconciliation can take place. We should pursue the types of communities that Jesus did, communities that were anything but homogeneous.

Becoming like Jesus means we surround ourselves with diverse people. We become catalysts for ethnic reconciliation. We weed out racist subtleties in our hearts and address them when we see them in others. We welcome the stranger, the poor, the lame, the marginalized, the rich, the Gentile, the Jew into our homes and our lives. We value, humanize, learn from, submit to, and love people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. Following Jesus means we do what Jesus did and live the way he told us to live.

Second, we experience God through other people, especially a diverse group of people. We reviewed earlier how God is most fully experienced in community rather than on our own. Or in the words of Paul, “the church . . . is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). The “fullness of” God inhabits other believers.

While God is experienced through other believers, he’s most fully experienced through a diverse group of believers. This is why God is on a mission to reach all nations for Christ. God wants to create a manifold witness to his name on earth. And the diverse complexity of God is best displayed and experienced through a diverse group of image bearers.

Women mirror God in ways that men often don’t, which is why Scripture sometimes uses female imagery to describe God. Men display God’s presence in different ways as well. Since God is not American or Canadian or Latino or Asian or African, we experience God best through a multiethnic community. If you want to engage the full, variegated, complex, and beautiful character of our Creator, then become part of a diverse Christian community and you’ll be blessed. And challenged. And changed.

Third, we understand God better—and can therefore live more like God—when we learn from and listen to a diverse group of people. The fact is, our ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic status all shape the way we view God. Take our reading of Scripture, for instance. I’ll never forget the first time I noticed that every single deliverer in Exodus 1–4 was a woman. The Hebrew midwives rescued the firstborn males from being killed by Pharaoh. Then Moses’ mother saved Moses by placing him in a basket. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the Nile River. Moses’ sister Miriam continued to save Moses by allowing him to be nursed by his own Hebrew mother. Moses’s wife Zipporah saved Moses from being killed by God. According to the early chapters of Exodus, God used a bunch of women to save the day. And yes, I never noticed this until a woman pointed it out. Have you recognized this? If you’re a woman, maybe you have.

It’s not just women, but all types of people. Hanging out with poor people has helped me see God’s heart for the poor. Talking with a prostitute—no, I wasn’t giving her business—helped me see God’s passion for saving prostitutes. Studying the Bible with my African brothers and sisters has helped me see that several significant characters in the Bible were black, including Moses’ second wife. My Asian friends, who grew up in an “honor-shame” culture, have helped me see that the Bible itself uses honor-shame categories when it retells the biblical story (for example, Genesis 2 and Hebrews 12).

Fourth, diversity helps us love all types of people. On the flip side, homogeneity can prevent us from understanding and therefore loving people. If you only surround yourself with people like you, it’s easy to grow less compassionate, less empathetic, and less loving toward “the other.” Yet Christianity welcomes the stranger, the foreigner, the outside, the marginalized—the other. Since God loves all types of people, this should be one of the goals of discipleship if we’re seeking to be like God.

I used to look down on homeless people. Every time I’d drive by one of those guys with a sign by the freeway exit asking for money, I’d just get annoyed, look away, and speed off, grumbling to myself, “Oh, go get a job!” I’ve never been homeless. Not even close. I have so many safety nets surrounding me that it would be really hard for me to end up on the streets. I would have to want to become homeless. And for many years, I projected my life circumstances onto every homeless person: They could go get a job if they weren’t so darn lazy. They must want to be on the streets.

Maybe some do. But it wasn’t until I started talking to and befriending homeless people that I realized that many don’t. One guy I met has a master’s degree in English. He used to have a home and a family and all the bells and whistles that come with a middle-class life. But one day as he was driving down a narrow country road, a truck backed out in front of him and he slammed into it going full speed. He was severely injured, which led to ongoing physical problems. Soon afterward, he lost his job, and then his wife, and then his house, and then his sobriety, and within a couple of years his middle-class rug was pulled out from under him, flopping him onto the streets of Springfield, Ohio. As he was telling me his story, slurping his soup through his thick homeless beard, I immediately thought: That could be me. That could be anyone.

Homelessness is terrible, but the diversity of homeless people is beautiful. I’ve gotten to know war veterans, construction workers, vagabonds, former bankers, mothers, fathers, and children. Each story is unique. Some have hope. Many don’t. Some choose to be there, while many would love to get back on their feet but lack the psychological and spiritual strength to do so. They don’t necessarily need food; they need a friend. And a Savior.

If I never took the time to hang out with homeless people, I’d still be zipping past the people holding signs with my self-righteous pedal to the metal. (Okay, sometimes I still do.) Getting to know people who live in a different socioeconomic world than my own has not only expanded my view of God but also cultivated a love for God’s beautiful and diverse people. It’s helped me take one more step toward Christlikeness because he left his heavenly throne room to love people living in the gutter.

The same goes for ethnicity. Right after high school, I attended a college where I was the ethnic minority. It was Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, just ten minutes north of the Mexico border. Most of the students were either Latino or Asian; a few were African American or Pacific Islander. Only a small percentage were white. I remember walking into my first class and instantly feeling out of place. Within seconds, I met eyes with the other two white people in class. A strange sense of camaraderie and familiarity warmed my body—I wasn’t alone.

Besides feeling like an ethnic minority, I became friends with people from many different backgrounds. I could feel the ethnic roadblocks being pulled away as I journeyed toward the multiethnic heart of God. If God became human flesh to identify with and experience humanity, then in order to reflect the rhythm of God, we too should integrate ourselves into the lives of all God’s image bearers.

Living in homogeneous communities stifles our love for other people. Ignorance of “the other” often breeds fear; fear prevents love; and lack of love prevents us from living like Jesus.

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Lesson 19 Reconciling Ethnicities Through the Gospel

Video 19 Reconciling Ethnicities Through the Gospel

For most of my Christian life, I’ve attended churches that were filled with middle-class (or wealthy) white people. I never really thought much of it. After all, I’m white, and like-minded people of the same race or ethnicity seem to naturally get along better. Why prevent a good thing? If a church happens to grow into one, big, ethnically homogeneous machine, then more power to them.

Sure, it’s kind of cool if people of different ethnicities join the same church. It might be good to have young people worshiping with older people. Perhaps it can be neat if rich people are in community with poor people. But none of this is necessary. As long as a church is growing, as long as disciples are being made, the diversity of the growth is largely irrelevant.

This is how I used to think. But then I reread the Bible. And I discovered that my thinking was wrong.

American evangelical churches are largely homogeneous. They’re packed with people who for the most part look the same, act the same, and smell the same. According to sociologist Michael Emerson, only 13.7 percent of American churches are multiethnic, where no ethnicity makes up more than 80 percent of its members. This means that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in America. Long after the civil rights movement, Sunday morning still remains the most segregated time in America. What’s striking is that most Christians don’t really care. Sixty-seven percent of churchgoers “say their church has done enough to become racially diverse. And less than half think their church should become more diverse.”

Now let me be frank. If ethnic segregation is irrelevant to the gospel—if Jesus is standing in heaven, arms folded, looking down at all our segregated churches and thinking, Now there’s a job well done—then the church’s segregation doesn’t matter. But if God actually desires all types of people to worship together and follow Jesus together and be reconciled to each other, then we have a serious problem on our hands. And here’s the thing: Our lack of diversity is hindering our discipleship.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was focused, in part, on bringing about unity and reconciliation to a diverse group of people. Paul could not have said this more clearly than he did in Ephesians 2:14-16: For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Speaking to Gentiles, Paul says that Jesus died to tear down the dividing wall of hostility that separated them from the Jews. In the first century, the Jews divided humanity into two groups of people: Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2 is all about ethnic reconciliation. The “one new man in place of the two,” which describes the church God intends to build through the blood of Christ, is a multicultural phenomenon.

Notice we’re not just talking about diversity. We’re talking about blood-bought reconciliation. We’re also not talking about doing away with ethnicities but crushing the animosity that divides us. Multiethnicity is good. Division between ethnicities is bad. Put simply, the Cross intends to do away with uniculturalism and to create multicultural communities.

Paul continues this same theme in Ephesians 3:8-11 when he talks about his apostolic ministry to the Gentiles: Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage deserves a slow reading. Linger on it a bit. It’s the climax of the entire chapter. In the context of bringing two ethnic groups together—Jew and Gentile—Paul says that their unity as one church displays God’s “wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities.” Think about that: Ethnically diverse, spiritually unified, Christ-exalting churches declare to Satan and his minions, “You lost!”

Paul calls ethnic disunity a gospel issue in Galatians 2, when he confronts Peter for not eating with Gentiles—a sign of division rather than reconciliation. Paul tells Peter that he was “not in step with the truth of the gospel ” (Galatians 2:14). Paul didn’t say, “Peter, you really should be more inclusive of other ethnic groups. But this isn’t a gospel issue, so don’t worry too much about it.” Rather, Paul confronts Peter for violating the “truth of the gospel” by rebuilding the ethnic walls that Jesus already tore down.

Breaking down ethnic barriers is not an optional add-on to the gospel. It’s intrinsic to the good news that Jesus is the Savior of all.

Jesus often challenged racism (or ethnocentrism) and segregation—probably more often than you think. He reached out to several Samaritans, something unheard-of in his Jewish community. He loved Canaanites, Romans, and other Gentiles who were deemed unclean and inherently sinful by other religious leaders. None of this was coincidence. All of it was intentional. Jesus was fulfilling God’s original promise to include “all the families of the earth” in his covenant family (Genesis 12:3). A God whose image is reflected and refracted through every ethnicity can best be represented on earth by an ethnically diverse community.

The early Christians also sought to build a multiethnic representation of God. Throughout the book of Acts, we see every tribe and every nation coming to worship King Jesus in unison (Acts 2:8-11; 8:4-8, 26-40). One of the most influential churches in Acts was the church at Antioch. It was led by a multicultural team of prophets and teachers, which included two Africans (Lucius and Simeon), two Middle Eastern Jews, and a Jew from Asia Minor named Saul (Acts 13:1). The early church was one big messy melting pot of ethnic diversity gathered in unity around a multicultural God.

It wasn’t easy. One of the first major disputes in the church had to do with ethnic tension (Acts 6:1-6). But the early Christians believed that tearing down ethnic barriers is part of the mission that God sent them on when they were commissioned to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Lesson 18 Re-Activating the Once Active

Video 18 Re-Activating the Once Active

David Kinnaman shares a sad story about a church dropout named Tracy. Though raised in the church, she became disillusioned with Christianity and ended up fading away from the faith. However, she always had a passion to help the poor. She spent some time in Tanzania to work with vulnerable people. After hearing her story and her heart for the vulnerable, Kinnaman said to her in passing, “It seems like God has put it in your heart. You were made for it.” After all, Tracy’s heart for the poor echoes God’s heart (Matthew 25:31-46). Her response was disheartening: “Oh, huh. I never thought of my interest in helping the poor around the world as a calling from God. It just feels like in America everyone keeps faith separate from work and life.”

How is it that someone can grow up in church and cultivate a passion for the poor and vulnerable yet never be shown—discipled—how this is deeply connected to the heart of Christ? And this isn’t just an isolated incident. Only 20 percent of Millennials who grew up in church say that they had opportunities to serve the poor through their church. Even fewer (15 percent) said they found a cause or issue at church that motivated them.

Several churches I know are recognizing this incessant, God-given, Jesus-reflecting desire to serve the poor and the community, and they have integrated some sort of “Serve Sunday” into their church calendar. One awesome church in Boise cancels the church service every six weeks in order to go out into the community and physically serve others around them. They partner with several nonprofit organizations in town and ask them, “How can we serve you?” Sometimes it’s picking weeds at a women’s halfway house, or maybe it’s helping out at a garden that provides food for refugees. Whatever it is, their heart is to bring the tangible love of Christ to bear on the community through real acts of physical service.

Rather than just doing church work, they’re doing the work of the church. You know what’s interesting? The pastor told me that these “Serve Sundays” are usually the most well-attended Sundays of the month! At first I was shocked. I thought that if you “canceled church” (which isn’t a theologically correct description of what’s going on), hardly anyone would show up. But the opposite is true. Deep down in the heart of most people is a desire to engage in meaningful activity.

What’s even more fascinating is that most members of this church find it much easier to bring their friends to this type of “service.” After all, it’s not just Christians who seek the good of their community. When unbelievers find out that Christians actually care about the real needs around them, they usually perk up and want to listen to what we have to say.

Most Christians (and many non-Christians) desire to do good in their community. They want to serve the poor, confront injustice, combat racism, help refugees, and share the love of Christ through word and deed—especially deed. Part of our discipleship process should empower people to engage the mission of Christ wherever they are.

We shouldn’t see discipleship activities like church services and Bible studies as preparation for the mission. Jesus didn’t take this approach and neither should we. Rather, we should view missional activities as part of the discipleship journey. We learn, we serve, and we learn by serving.

Mission is not something that occurs after disciples become mature. It’s part of the maturation process of discipleship. Churches that desire to help disciples “be transformed into Christlikeness” need to integrate missional activities—or let’s just call it a “missional lifestyle”—into its process.

I love what my friends at Imago Dei Church in Portland do to integrate mission into discipleship. They intentionally devote a significant part of their money to help fund missional projects that are created and developed by members of the church. They call them “missional grants.” Not every project gets funded. There’s a whole application and interview process that identifies the most promising ideas. But every year, the church gives anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 toward missional projects that are designed to further God’s kingdom in Portland.

I love this idea for several reasons. First, it allocates some church funds toward local missions. Too many church budgets are sucked up by Sunday services, and not enough is given toward discipleship and missions. And quite frankly, many Christians are getting tired of it. They want to see more funds allocated toward meaningful and missional ventures. When Imago Dei funds such missional projects, it shows that they care about extending Christ’s love beyond the four walls of church. This resonates with its people—and with Jesus as well.

Second, by funding these projects, Imago Dei empowers the people according to the asset-based community development (ABCD) principles we discussed earlier. As image bearers, all people possess gifts and talents that should be used to further God’s kingdom. Yet people often feel stifled or forced to fit into a few prepackaged programs that are created from the top down. By funding projects created by the people, Imago Dei empowers and encourages people to explore their own passions for God’s kingdom.

My friend Joshua Ryan Butler, the outreach pastor at Imago Dei, says it like this: We have an unwritten rule at our church: “pastors can’t start ministries.” When people hear this, they’re often shocked, like “But isn’t that your job? The Outreach Pastor to start ministries and get people into them?” But we start from the opposite end: we believe God has gifted his people, the body of Christ, with vision, talent, and imagination—they have better ideas than I do! And that’s a good thing. So, I see my role as the pastor not being to create the thing and rope them into it, but rather being available to help surface, equip, and unleash them in areas God might be calling them into—and then to shepherd them as they lead our church into embodying the love of Christ in those areas of our city.

I mentioned my friend Shawn Gordon, who was discipled by Francis Chan. Shawn now helps run Project Bayview, a discipleship ministry where several men, mostly ex-cons like Shawn, live together above a restaurant. Not only does the restaurant serve up some killer Hawaiian BBQ, but it also becomes a holistic discipleship center, where men cook, clean, work the counter, serve tables, and learn how to integrate the gospel into a workday. Above the restaurant, each disciple is paired up with a discipler. They live together, study together, pray together, and work together. When they’re not studying the Bible or working in the restaurant, they’re on the streets sharing the Good News of Jesus in a neighborhood where his love is greatly needed.

What if churches around the country created their own Project Bayviews, not as some nonprofit that they support from a distance but as an integral part of church life? My guess is that there would be a long waiting list of people wanting to help out with this ministry. Perhaps they’d have to start another Project Bayview . . . and another.

We need to stop thinking about mission as some subsidiary part of our church experience, which usually focuses on Sunday services. When mission becomes more central, discipleship becomes more tangible and effective.

I recently read Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot Church just before Brandon and I hung out on a hunting trip in Montana. I can’t remember whether I read about his story in his book, or if I got it from our campfire conversations. Anyway, it’s a challenging testimony that made me think, I want to do that!

Brandon was on staff at a megachurch in Texas—living the pastoral dream. But God started to wreck his life by telling him to serve the poor. So Brandon dragged his grill downtown to where the homeless would hang out, and he started barbecuing burgers as an avenue for relationship. Over the next few weeks, more and more people came to hang out and talk about life, love, community, and Jesus. Brandon told me that he hit a turning point in his “grilling sessions” when an unchurched, agnostic woman was on the grill cooking for the masses. Someone blurted out, “What if church was kind of like this?” Without lifting up her head, the woman said, “If church was like this, I would go to that church.” She kept on grilling. Brandon realized he wasn’t just grilling burgers and hanging out with the homeless. He was planting a church.

Brandon followed Jesus all the way to the poor, and a church sprang up. If that’s not discipleship, I don’t know what is. Mission and discipleship belong together. You can’t have one without the other.

Just to be clear, despite everything I’ve said, I don’t believe we should replace morality with mission. To become like Jesus, we need to pursue sexual purity, sobriety, generosity, selflessness, and kindness, and we need to put to death personal vices such as anger, greed, jealousy, lust, and pride. My point is not to replace morality with mission but to view mission as part of morality.

I want to close this session by giving a more thorough description of what it means to live missionally. I just so happened to stumble upon a description of the term missional in Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus but Not the Church. It’s honestly the best summary I think I’ve ever seen. So instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just hijack Dan’s description—giving him full credit, of course:

  • Being missional means that the church sees itself as being missionaries, rather than having a missions department, and that we see ourselves as missionaries right where we live.
  • Being missional means that we see ourselves as representatives of Jesus “sent” into our communities, and that the church aligns everything it does with the missio Dei (mission of God).
  • Being missional means we see the church not as a place we go only on Sunday but as something we are throughout the week.
  • Being missional means that we understand we don’t “bring Jesus” to people but that we realize Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing.
  • Being missional means we are very much in the world and engaged in culture but are not conforming to the world.
  • Being missional means we serve our communities and that we build relationships with the people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets.
  • Being missional means being all the more dependent on Jesus and the Spirit through prayer, the Scriptures, and each other in community.