2 Steps to Balance Your Church’s Discipleship Deficit

The topic of discipleship is one of increasing importance among many believers, and rightfully so. This topic deserves our attention even more today as church leaders realize there is a “discipleship deficit.”

One of the triggers of this term seems to be the Reveal Study performed by Willow Creek and done across a number of different churches to collect more accurate data. It found that significant numbers of people were not making the complete journey to becoming robust disciples. This finding was mainly attributed to the fact that people faced situations or places along their journey where they found themselves stuck, and unable to progress forward to deeper Christian maturity. This understanding caused Willow Creek to rethink what it might look like to have a more robust discipleship strategy.

This appears to be a trend across the spectrum of churches. Believers were failing to engage in taking the next step of their spiritual journey, and with regards to the steps that they were actually taking, there was somewhat a sense of dissatisfaction. Converts were being made. Churches are securing “decisions.” But far too few are growing into mature disciples of Christ.

It is not enough, however, for us to merely recognize this discipleship deficit. We should be asking what we can do to change it. We as evangelicals are not making robust disciples, and this elephant is one that can no longer be avoided.

Part of the solution process seems to have already begun. Many conferences are now talking about disciple making; yet, these focused times of discussion need to lead to action. Another encouragement is that many churches are beginning to assess the process and direction of their discipleship efforts, but at the same time the words of Winston Churchill come to mind: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” And that’s what we need to do. Let’s look at the process of disciple making and consider how this could be best undertaken. How could an evangelical church today make effective disciples who grow to such a maturity in their faith that they too could make more disciples? I believe there are two great (perhaps obscure) references in Scripture that would help us consider the topic of discipleship.

The first reference is in the New Testament where the Bible speaks of the people of Berea. Luke notes that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, and the reason he gives for this is that they searched the Scriptures to see what was true (Acts 17:11). My hope is that as we consider discipleship, we might be like the people of Berea who are truly grounded in the Word of God and let God’s Word shape our ideas, attitudes, and approaches. We need to search the Scriptures in order for us to correctly understand the many facets involved in discipleship.

When we conducted our Transformational Discipleship research, we noticed an interesting fact: the number one correlative factor to all other factors for discipleship was people being consistently engaged in the Word of God. The foundation for any discipleship strategy has to be the Bible and the implementation has to involve getting new believers studying Scripture personally and with others.

Yet while we hold this idea of Bereans in one hand, let’s quickly look at the other potentially obscure reference. The Old Testament speaks of the man of Issachar, and it says they discerned the times and knew what they should do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Discerning the times can and does mean a lot of things—and we actually do not get much from the context on what it means. I think it involves knowing the context, but most likely it would primarily involve knowing the situation of the people of Israel.

We have to understand the context in which God has placed us to know how discipleship works best. Yes, different strategies work best in different churches within different communities at different times. To end the discipleship deficit where you are, you need to know your people and then know what to do to help them grow as mature followers of Jesus. That might be small groups, special classes, one-on-one mentoring, or something else.

There’s much more about this in the Transformational Discipleship book, but as we continue to engage in this conversation around discipleship, may we be people of Berea standing on, searching through, and growing in the Word of God. May we also be people of Issachar who wisely think about best practices and strategies, discerning the times about how we might effectively disciple people in this day and in this age.

> Read more from Ed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

4 Keys to Listening and Leading with Vision

How does a church discern its call to ministry–creating ministry space that lines up with its mission and vision?

Often believers and churches seem to be waiting for God to strike them with a lightning bolt, to reveal what he wants them to do through some spectacular event. But God isn’t a genie who pops out of a bottle. A church that waits passively finds itself beset with ministry paralysis.

Then there are the churches that show a degree of life and energy and have significant percentages of the local body engaged in ministry, yet what they do is routine and ineffective. Call it “ministry calcification.” Maybe what they are doing was effective five years ago or even last year, but communities can change rapidly. Many churches are ministering to people who have long ago left the community. The missional church constantly assesses what God is doing in a community and what needs are emerging–and adjusts its ministries accordingly.

Do I believe God reveals himself and gives us direction in life? Yes, absolutely. But I also believe he reveals himself more specifically as we obey the commands he has already given us. In other words, God will show us how he wants our church to minister to the community when we act on the directives he has already given us.

Four of the last things Jesus said to his disciples in his final days on earth are a good place for his followers and his churches to seek direction:

  1. Jesus reminded his followers they have been sent just like he was: “As the Father sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Now, if he stopped there, it could still be pretty confusing. He didn’t specifically tell them where to go, what to do, what to say, or what to accomplish. He just told them they were being shipped out to serve in his spiritual army.
  2. Jesus continues to clarify the vision and mission he has for his followers and churches: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). Going out to all the world and proclaiming the Good News was to result in new disciples among all people groups. After that, Christ’s followers are supposed to baptize new disciples and teach them to follow everything he commanded.
  3. Jesus isn’t finished yet. Before he ascends, he tells them: “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what my father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). This clarifies the Good News they are to announce: Jesus died in our place so we could repent and be forgiven of our sins, and he rose from the dead so we could live a victorious life. In order to be witnesses about these things, however, they needed one more thing: the power from on high promised by the Father.
  4. The last thing Jesus communicated to his disciples picked up where his previous instructions ended. He laid out a strategy for things to move forward: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). A good place for his followers and churches to start is to be witnesses in their own communities and then move out from there, as he leads and opens doors for ministry.

As you begin to engage practically in fulfilling the mission and vision that God has already given us, he will begin to reveal where your church fits best in serving and witnessing to your community. Instead of sitting around, waiting to be hit by lightning, here are some practical ways you and your church can begin to discern your ministry call.

Pray together for great boldness. The early believers followed Jesus’ instructions and actively waited and prayed for what the Father promised. Assemble a group of people regularly and pray for your church to be filled and anointed with the Spirit. The believers joining constantly in prayer led to the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost.

Most people remember that prayer preceded Pentecost, but they may not remember that Jesus’ followers kept praying after Pentecost. Acts 4:23-31 records believers gathering and raising their voices in prayer. They stood in prayer against the people who were persecuting them and the forces of evil, right? Wrong! They asked the Lord to enable them to speak his word with great boldness and prayed he would do wonderful things through the name of his holy servant, Jesus.

What does the current prayer environment of our church look like? Are we praying those kinds of prayers? What steps will we take to change the environment?

Explore multiple ministry options in your community. As you pray, take action by serving your community and finding ways to be his witnesses. God will give your people new passion and direction for ministry as they engage their community. Jesus himself “saw the crowds” and “felt compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). Try some or all of these practical ideas:

  • Set up a time each month to conduct servant evangelism projects like giving away free drinks (water, hot chocolate, coffee, pop, etc.) at a traffic intersection, cleaning local parks, raking leaves or mowing grass for elderly folks, giving away coupons for free stuff, etc.
  • Involve your small groups or Sunday school classes in community service projects at least once a quarter so they aren’t just fellowshipping and learning stuff.
  • Start ongoing ministries by getting some of your members involved in things like Release Time (for public school kids), Hospice, Big Brother Big Sister, and City Mission. Intentionally train people to be better witnesses with evangelism training like Two Ways to Live, I Am Second, and others. I discuss tools more here, but I’d also love to hear what you are using in the comments. So much good stuff out there.
  • Ask three people in your congregation to set up interviews with leaders of local service agencies to discover unmet needs your church family might be able to address.

Trust God to open specific doors of ministry. As you begin to engage practically in fulfilling the mission and vision God has given you, he will begin to reveal where your church fits best in serving your community. God will show you “persons of peace” who will unlock doors of opportunity you didn’t even know existed. As we act in faith, God will provide unique opportunities to serve and witness–and people will get excited about joining God in what he is opening before them.

I believe that Jesus opens doors of ministry for us to walk through as we pray and engage the needs in our communities. He also shuts other doors. See Revelation 3:7. We really don’t know which doors are open and which ones are shut until we start trying doorknobs. As we seek the Lord with all our hearts–and act in faith–he directs our steps.

So, what is it going to take for your church to discern its ministry call? Pray fervently together for the Spirit’s filling. Engage the people and needs in your community. And trust that God will open ministry doors for your church.


Learn more listening and leading with visionconnect with an Auxano Navigator today.


> More from Ed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

4 Actions for a Church-wide Focus on Making Disciples

One of the more common roles in a church is discipleship leader. Recently, as I was updating Planting Missional Churches for its next edition, Daniel Im and I listed discipleship coordinator as one of the seven key roles in a new church. In other words, someone holding up the banner of discipleship, helping everyone participate, is key.

Yet, the role of discipleship leader in a church can be an extremely difficult one. If it is a staff role, I would argue that discipleship and students are two of the most scrutinized positions on a church staff, which probably explains the short average-tenure for both. Everyone seems to have an opinion on teenagers and spiritual growth.

Most church leaders would agree that discipleship should be a priority for the church, but they are unclear on how to best support the team tasked with designing and executing a system for helping make disciples.

No matter how the church is structured, there are a few things that a church can do to help those discipleship leaders keep a church-wide focus on making disciples.

Have clear expectations

It’s difficult to know what the wins are when there are no clear expectations to start with. This is easier with some ministries than others. For instance, there are measurable benchmarks with most weekend programs: are there more kids attending than last year? Are there more first-time visitors to the services?

But, how do you measure the making of disciples?

The leadership has to decide what and how to measure discipleship, and then evaluate success based on those measurements. There will always be a measure of subjectivity when it comes to assessing discipleship success, but some objective measures are possible: are there stories of life-change coming from the small groups? Are more people being baptized? How many people are involved in a discipleship community?

Whatever measures leaders choose, they should set yearly goals and make those expectations clear with the team. (Our church has used the Transformational Discipleship Assessment. There are other similar tools.)

Define discipleship for your context

One reason why it’s difficult to measure discipleship is because everyone has a different definition of what it is. Studies have revealed a deep chasm between what pastors and parishioners believe successful discipleship looks like. Parishioners tend to think they are being discipled more effectively than their pastors believe they are.

A driver for this divide is the difference in opinion on what constitutes spiritual growth. Churches have to outline what a person becoming more like Christ looks like, and then structure everything around helping them get there.

Keep open communication

The only way for the discipleship vision to continue flowing from the pastor is if there is constant two-way communication with the team and the whole church. They have to hear firsthand the direction that God is giving the senior leader for the next season of the church so the systems can be adjusted to support the vision. Discipleship must be at the forefront always.

If you are a pastor and have a discipleship pastor, invite the discipleship pastor to sermon planning meetings. Give the small groups team a voice in the calendaring process for major initiatives.

An open door of communication will help build ownership throughout the staff, and maintain unity on the team with regard to disciple making.

Resource with the right tools

In an established church the church budget brings clarity to the church’s priorities.

If it’s “all about the weekend,” a majority of the funds are automatically designated for ministries that make the weekend services more attractive (i.e., a more effective kids program; a better sound and lighting system; more attractive signage, etc.). There is nothing wrong with making the weekend experience better, but we cannot assume that discipleship will happen on its own. If the church is dedicated to making disciples who make disciples, the budget has to reflect that priority.

Probably, a chunk of a budget for discipleship teams is providing curriculum for small groups. The content provided for groups matters. A lot. Without a biblically solid study for foundation, a small group can quickly turn into a social club.

In some cases, people prepare to write their own studies to fit the need of their context, yet that takes a lot of work.

One thing that may help is something that LifeWay just recently released. (Full disclosure alert: I work there.)

It’s a tool that can help you be a better steward of time and resources. For example, with smallgroup.com, a pastor can give any or all of their leaders access to a library of Bible studies, including video-enhanced studies. Each study comes with a customizable discussion guide. Whether you are writing your own studies to go along with the weekend sermon, or allowing your groups to choose, smallgroup.com is one of those tools that can get you to a discipleship goal. And, you can sign up for a free trial if you want to check out the concept.

With clear expectations, communication, and the right tools; your discipleship team will be set up for success.

> Read more from Ed.


Want to learn more about discipleship strategies for your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

Download PDF

Tags: , , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Discipleship >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Five Tools to Develop a Strong Work Ethic

A church that breaks barriers needs a leader that breaks barriers.

Dealing with sin is of the utmost importance for a leader. But there is another issue that isn’t often discussed, and for those in ministry it goes hand in hand with confronting sin—the importance of a strong work ethic.

With sin, we cannot work hard enough to make God happy. Jesus did that for us. But when we experience joy in our forgiveness and salvation, God empowers us to work hard and accomplish things for His glory.

A barrier-breaking pastor is driven to do the work God has given that pastor. In the beginning of Genesis, God says a lot about our work. He has made us to do work, but sin has made it frustrating and difficult.

Sin can certainly lead us to be workaholics, and we burn ourselves or our people out. But it can also lead to the opposite, a poor work ethic.

As a church leader you often do a lot of the work outside of the view of your people, and that can be a temptation toward doing less and just trying to look busy.

Ministry is hard, but God empowers us for it. Leading churches that grow takes sacrifice, focus, and hard work. Here are a few tools you can use to stay focused on your work so that you will lead your church through growth barriers.

Work All Six

Places like America have a five-day work week with everybody working for the weekend—and there are even some trends moving toward a four-day work week. I want to encourage you to work during all six days and take one full day of rest, just like God designed it.

That doesn’t mean you work every moment of every day, ignore your marriage, and skip all of your kids’ events. But a six-day week in which you are working parts of those days engaged in your context helps keep your priorities centered on the world as God designed it to work.

Is your pursuit of rest idolizing God’s gift rather than using it to energize your God-given work? Work hard toward rest, and rest hard toward work.

Plan Your Work

It’s a lot easier to start your day focused on the task at hand when you planned your workday at the end of the previous day—or even your entire week at once. Maybe first thing Monday morning you set a general schedule of your week, then each evening you set a more detailed plan for the next day. How you use the blocks of unscheduled time will make the most difference.

It’s like a diet. If I plan the contents of my next meal, I’ll probably eat it. But if I go rummaging through the refrigerator I’ll too often end up being lazy and eating something not on my diet. Plan the productivity ahead of time, and then go for it.

Work In Segments

Think about working in segments of distraction-less environment. For example, the Pomodoro Technique uses a simple timer to break work segments into 25 minute periods. Once the 25 minutes are up, you have a five-minute break where you can do the things that typically distract you. You can read more about it here, but there are also many other tools that can help. Whatever you do, find tools that work for you to keep you focused.

Keep a Work Log

A great way to avoid distractions is to keep a work log. It can be paper or digital, whatever works for you. You may even want to share it with someone once a week to hold you accountable. But even when it’s not visible to others it’s a reminder to you, as you write down the time and a short description of what you did during that time, that you can be easily distracted and need to stay engaged.

What are the things that distract you most? Should you delete an app off your phone? Maybe your distraction is a good thing gone too far. Are you enjoying too many nights in front of the TV watching basketball? Be honest with what comes to mind first and take steps to keep it from ruling your schedule.

On the days where I have worked long, and done things of consequence, my rest is better and more sweet. My conscience is clearer. My joy in God’s grace is greater and I am more likely to trust Him with whatever comes next. If you struggle with a poor work ethic, try out some of these things and trust that God will do the same for you.

Trust God & Bear Fruit

If you are struggling with avoiding the hard work of ministry, God gives the grace to move through it toward a clear conscience and joy. But He will do so much more than that. He will prepare you from the inside out to be the kind of leader who breaks barriers and leads your church toward greater fruitfulness.

> Read more from Ed.

Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Leadership >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Sacred Calling of the Secular Workplace

In Acts 11, we read that because of persecution in Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen, Christians were dispersed into various parts of the world. In their new homes, they continued to live as they had in Jerusalem, practicing and preaching their faith to both Jews and Greeks.

As a result, the Lord saved “a large number,” and the church in Antioch was birthed. The people who had been scattered into Antioch were regular people, dads and moms, who needed work to support their families. They lived among the Gentiles according to their faith, proclaiming the gospel. Many saw and heard and believed.

There is something particularly interesting I would like you to see here: it was not the Apostles who planned a church plant in Antioch, gathered the funds and core groups, and moved into these neighborhoods. The church in Antioch began with believers whom God had sent there, not by their choice, but by way of dispersion.

They had families and jobs and regular lives, and they used those things as a way to represent Christ among their unbelieving neighbors and co-workers. In short, they were on mission in their workplaces and homes, and the Church grew as a result. Do you see it?

Regular people grew the church.

Christ at the Workplace
Most of the people who read this blog are pastors or church leaders, but the people we lead are accountants, teachers, doctors, and electricians.

Church leaders, we need to understand that we are meant to equip all of our people for participation in God’s mission. I am convinced that participation in the mission necessitates bringing everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, including our jobs.

There is an incredibly helpful and encouraging conversation happening in churches right now around faith and work and how the gospel impacts everything we do. The reality is that a lot of Christians are unhappy in their jobs. One of the reasons, I believe, is because just about every devout believer at some time asks the question, “Am I called to full-time ministry?”

As a result, confusion often abounds in regards to vocation and how we can joyfully thrive in our work. Everything we do is shaped by who we are in Christ, including the manner in which we approach our workplaces. At the end of this blog post I am including a helpful video my friend Skye Jethani did on “Recapturing a Theology of Vocation for Gospel Witness.” It is a very helpful piece.

All the way back in the beginning, kingdom work was rooted in God’s command to Adam to cultivate and steward the garden. The principle is more fully revealed in the work of the second Adam, Jesus. Adam was commanded to glean the harvest in Eden, but the second Adam brings a better and more complete harvest of the nations.

That harvest involves us in His mission at work and in our daily lives. The work is not set aside for ‘more spiritual’ or ‘professional’ Christians. God has called all believers to engage well in His mission. “Do your work heartily,” Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “as unto the Lord and not as unto men.”

If we are going to really see Christians satisfied in their work and joyfully engaging in the mission through it, we must equip them to do so. If we want to see the kind of multiplication of disciples seen in Acts 11, every follower of Christ must understand his or her role in God’s mission.

Just as God was sovereign over the dispersion of His people into Antioch, He is sovereign over where we have been placed in our neighborhoods and workplaces. That definitively means that we are in those places for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel among the nations.

In my next post, I will talk about how we can prepare this coming generation to see their vocations as a call from God and help them fully embrace it.

> Read more from Ed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Jesus Builds His Church Through His Disciples

When John Piper was pastor, Bethlehem hosted a church-planting conference with Global Church Advancement. I was on deck to speak next as Piper talked about church planting on video.

He said church planters shouldn’t listen to experts on how to plant the church. He said (and I am quoting from the second day I blogged), “You don’t know how to grow the Kingdom of God. Beware of books, beware of conferences, and beware of seminars that tell you how to plant the church.”

At that time, that was an awkward moment for me because, well, I write books and do seminars! I write books on church planting, and I’m speaking at this conference as an “expert.”

But the context of Piper’s quote was key. (Be sure to read the full quote and context here.) Piper was focusing on five words of Jesus in Matthew 16, “I will build my church.” (And, the context was that he had invited us to do this seminar at his church!)

But, his point was that the risen Christ plants churches. He builds them by changing hearts. And He has been working in your city long before you got there, so it’s His church. We can try to do it all in our own strength, but only God can build a church through His Son, Jesus.

In Matthew 16, Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Christ. That confession and statement of faith are the foundational “rock” upon which Jesus builds His church. The gates and forces of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18). This is the work of Jesus. He builds his church.

So why keep reading? Why pick up one of my books on church planting? Why attend a church planting conference with John Piper, Ed Stetzer, or anyone else?

More Perspective

Jesus doesn’t build His church despite His disciples, but through His disciples as they are led by His commands and empowered by His Spirit. Matthew doesn’t end with chapter 16. Matthew ends with these words, The Great Commission, in Matthew 28.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, HCSB).

Here’s what we learn from Jesus’ commission to His disciples. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. He essentially reverses the claim that Satan made in Matthew 4 that the kingdoms of the world are his to give Jesus if the Son of God would worship Satan.

Only a crucified and risen Savior is the King of the kingdoms. With this authority, He calls His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations among all people groups, by baptizing them and teaching them what He has commanded.

Jesus goes with His disciples as they go. He builds His church by His authority and through His presence with His disciples who make disciples.

Now watch what happens when we put these two passages together. Jesus in Matthew 16, “I will build my church.” Jesus in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples.” Both are true.

When Jesus builds His church, He does the building by using disciples just like you. He has the authority to send you, and He goes with you. Through very imperfect people God works to create His perfect and beautiful Bride, the Church.

Pray that God’s will be done, and that He would build His church. Then stand on your feet, roll up your sleeves and by the power of the Holy Spirit, go and make disciples.

> Read more from Ed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

In the Numbers: Embracing Stats as a Vital Ministry Tool

I love statistics! I know what you’re thinking…I’m a nerd. Possibly. But, the truth is there are more nerds than you realize when it comes to statistics.

Stats a important for a number of reasons, and, although they can easily be misused or misconstrued, overall they can be helpful to pastors and others in ministry. Here are three reasons why.

Those of you who know me know my tentative relationship with all things sports. But, with our move to Wheaton I wanted to approach our new home missionally, so, I took in a Chicago Cubs game.

It isn’t that I know nothing of sports; I just haven’t kept up much. Going to the see the Cubs play, I’m learning the players, balls, strikes, touchdowns, and the like.

Even though I haven’t been that guy as a sports fan, Donna and I went to see Moneyballwhile it was in theaters. Now, almost everyone thought it was a movie about baseball—or about Brad Pitt—but it wasn’t. At least not at the core.

Moneyball was all about statistics—analyzing players’ performance, then selecting and playing those players based upon advanced stats. Home runs, hits, runs scored, and RBIs were recreated in aggregate, often using cast-off players, rather than one superstar player. It was a revolutionary approach to the game, and it was based on a statistical foundation.

Statistics, of course, aren’t limited to sports. What about those of you who are investors? Do you research the performance of a company that you are thinking about investing your money in? Sure you do.

What about those who have an important and possibly dangerous surgery coming up, do you want to know the odds of a successful surgery and recovery? Of course. Very few people want to go into it with no idea of the possible outcomes.

Numbers and statistics are part of our daily lives. Pastors and church leaders should embrace them as part of ministry.

How then do we use them?

Before I share how we should use statistics, let me share why some uses fail. Statistics shouldn’t be used to change a priori assumptions. For instance, we should not stop trusting scripture simply because someone may get up and say 74% of people believe the Bible isn’t what we think it is, so let’s stop believing it. The truth is that the Bible is authoritative regardless of what others say.

Also, statistics shouldn’t be used to determine how we do ministry. For instance, just because someone gets up and says that 90 percent of the church plants today implement the Launch Big model, doesn’t mean we should implement the same model in our next church plant.

Statistics shouldn’t be used to change our definitive beliefs nor determine how we do ministry. But they can be used in the following ways.

Statistics Help Define Reality.

Have you ever heard the statement, “facts are our friends”? It’s true. Statistics can be our friends in helping us determine reality. Statistics provide us information on people’s thoughts and behaviors. In short, they give us a starting point. For example, one research project showed the majority of people in the 7,000 subject churches were not using their gifts.

For many pastors and leaders this would have come as a shock. Others may say, “That explains a lot.” Either way, it helps pastors and leaders understand reality both for themselves, their church’s leaders, and other members.

Statistics Help Teach People.

Beyond defining reality, statistics can be used to help people understand how the church is engaging or not engaging. Research can demonstrate how the church thinks and why the church responds to certain issues.

Research is often a needed tool pastors can use to change a church’s opinion. If a pastor says, “We should build a gym to help the community” the church might question the expense. But, if the pastor says, “Ten percent of the population within 3 miles of our church are under 17 years old, and most of them have nothing to do after school. If we built a gymnasium we could run multiple ministries to meet their needs and maybe open their hearts to the gospel.” Those statistics paint a different picture that help many understand why the cost might be worth it.

Statistics Help Leaders Make Strategic Decisions.

The first use of statistics helps us define reality by giving us a bases and foundation. The second use of statistics helps us teach people, especially our leaders and members. The third, and probably most important, use of statistics is that they help us make strategic decisions.

If churches understood that one of the reasons why people weren’t using their gifts was because they didn’t know how, the leaders could then make strategic decisions as to howthey should teach their people how to use their gifts. As a result, churches could offer classes, produce material, preach a series, or write a blog series on spiritual gifts with the goal of reversing the statistics by changing the reality.

Statistics can also help determine what staff member to add next, when and where to have small groups, how many groups can be started each new semester, or how demographic changes should change outreach efforts.

In short, statistics are a great tool to assist pastors and leaders in being more effective and leading their churches or organizations to be more effective as well.

> Read more by Ed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How Does Church Planting Relate to God’s Mission?

Every church involved in a new church, and every church planter starting one, needs to answer the question: what is church planting?

For some, the word planting comes across as insider language. In the sub-culture of the church planting world there is an entire language mostly unknown to the outside. We’ve all heard of planters talk about “doing a parachute drop church plant,” or “starting with a launch team.” What do these words even mean? More importantly, what is church planting about?

That’s an essential question, really.

Church Planting or Church Starting?

When we talk about church planting it can be a little different than church starting. What’s the difference? Well, I think church starting happens a lot of ways. The most popular church starting strategy involves a group of people getting mad, leaving their home church, and starting another church. In most cases I wouldn’t advise this strategy.

Church planting, on the other hand, involves an individual, mother church, and/or a group of people going out to start a church for the purpose of engaging a community through gospel proclamation and demonstration.

Church plating, unlike church starting, should/must be mission driven.

Church planting grows in the soil of lostness (hence “planting”) where men and women far from God are challenged with the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ by a group of intentional believers.

Church Planting and Gospel Movements

Church planting is about planting the gospel. And growth in church planting comes from making disciples.

As such, any movement of churches that’s going to be serious about reaching the lost world is going to be involved in church planting. In fact, most of us who write in the field of mission believe that any movement or denomination desiring to grow through conversion should aim for at least a three percent rate of church planting every year. (Take a look– most growing groups and denominations have over that percent and most declining ones have under that percent.)

Think of it this way, if a movement has a hundred churches one year they need to plant three the next year– at the very least.

Church planting is essential to the growth of the Kingdom and the work of Christ through His church. The networks, movements, and denominations that are thriving are thriving because they’re planting new churches. The key thing to remember here is that church planting is reaching lost people through the making of disciples that then gather into congregations.

Planting and the Mission of God

How does church planting relate to the mission of God? The mission of God is bigger than church planting, but it certainly includes church planting. Why? You can’t love Jesus and despise His wife. The church is the bride of Christ, and if you love the work of Christ you love the church.

Now, you and I both know that the church is a mess sometimes. While the church is the stunning bride of Christ, she sometimes looks more like Shrek than she does beautiful. But again, you can’t love Jesus and hate His wife.

Ultimately if you’re going to love the mission of God, you have to love the church of God which is sent out for the mission of God. Ephesians 3:10 tells us God has chosen the church to make known His manifold wisdom. Therefore the church is the tool or instrument of His Kingdom agenda.

If you want to change the world, and if you want to see God at work in the world, plant change agent churches. I think anyone who loves Jesus and His church would, by extension, love and be about the mission of God proclaiming the gospel of Christ– and that is done effectively through church planting.

Conclusion

So is it the mission more than planting?

Yes, it certainly is more than that. Is every church that’s planted necessarily a good thing? No, there are always exceptions, but as a whole, I think church planting is integral to the advance of the Kingdom. And more church plants doing more of what God wants us to do is a good thing.

For this reason I think church planting and multiplication is so essential to the mission of God.

None of our churches should be a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.

Instead, as we plant churches that plant churches that plant churches, the Kingdom advances. The gospel is preached, men and women become believers, churches are formed, and those churches become agents of gospel transformation.

So, want to be missional? Great– just don’t forget church planting.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Joel Sprenger — 07/14/13 12:40 am

My thoughts for what they are worth. - The problem with all church plants in a de-christianizing society like ours is that they compete with already existing churches. Actions speak louder than words and the action of planting a church speaks loudly to the pagans that we believe that God cares about our denomination and the teachings and practices that are unique there-to. There are very few Bible verses that say in effect 'believe thusly', not zero but very few. Compare that to the number of verses that say 'act thusly'. This should give us some idea of what is important to God. Something that I think would help the The Church immensely is if all believers would memorize John 17:20-23 right after they memorize John 3:16,

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Why Being Fruitful is as Important as Being Faithful

In many corners of the church today, there’s an unhelpful and unhealthy division between theology and practical ministry. This division is damaging to both the discipline of theology and the practice of ministry because one without the other causes an imbalance.

Part of the cause of this division is the large number of theologically-minded people who spurn practicality as pragmatism. This can be seen as an overreaction to the Church Growth Movement of the 1980s.

Such critics rigorously decried a methodological mania as devoid of theological foundation. They took aim at folks like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and John Maxwell, accusing them of having only a modicum of theology accompanied by mountains of methodology.

Unfortunately, those theologically-minded people concerned with too much practicality, strategy, and leadership, threw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than looking for the proper place of practicality, strategy, and leadership, they found no place for it.

There are theologically-minded people who are producing large bodies of literature attempting rebuff any emphasis on the practical. They are teaching a whole world of people—a whole generation of pastors—that practical ministry, leadership strategies, and coaching don’t matter. I feel like some think practicality in any degree is heretical. It’s ecclesiology that matters, they say. All that matters is theology, they say.

They are creating a division, where no necessary division exists.

Contrary to that line of thinking, you have to consider the effectiveness of your ministry as well. Effectiveness isn’t only measured by the straightness of the angles in your division of the word of truth. Resist the urge to cluck your tongue when the topic turns to statistics and best practices, even if you just want to rush straight to ecclesiology and soteriology.

Honestly, it seems in some instances the “love” for theology is an excuse for failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed outreach efforts. And, of course, that’s not what they say—they say they are just being faithful. The problem is they are not working in such a way to also be fruitful.

Here’s the danger. If we raise up a generation of theologically-minded people who have no tools for applying it to practical ministry, then reproduction stops. If we become so theological to the neglect of the practical, then ministry will be hindered.

That doesn’t mean we embrace the practical to the neglect of the theological. It’s also dangerous to go too far in the other direction. Practicality cannot be the driving force. Pragmatism cannot be the central focus of what we do. You have to be theologically-minded as well as practical.

Some essentially say, “I just want to do anything I can to reach people for Jesus.” That’s a bad idea. Don’t do anything you can to reach people for Jesus, because then you will end up losing the gospel.

The way we do ministry has to be driven by what we believe about the gospel and about theology. But if all we care about is theology and not how we might best apply theology in the world then we’re not taking seriously the gospel and theology.

> Read more from Ed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How Cultural Understanding Drives Church Effectiveness

In each era and each cultural environment, the church defines its missiological quest in culture.

Now, that does not mean that everything is on the table. There are marks of a biblical church that matter in every cultural setting. However, each church has a quest to figure out how to engage its community and organize its ministries. That’s its missional quest and every church should ask such questions.

Taking into account the missiological quest, churches then ask based upon the current cultural moment what is the most effective way to accomplish the tasks of a biblical church? This is the cultural question.

While the missiological quest should never change, the answer to the cultural questions do change.

Though not in every way, the how of ministry is in many ways determined by the who, when, and where of culture.

Observing Paul’s missionary journeys show that he employed different strategies, methods, and/or terminologies in reaching Jews compared to those used in reaching Gentiles. The mission (and the missiological quest) was the same, but the cultural question changed the way he engaged the host culture.

With the cultural question constantly changing, this gives us contextualized church models.

It’s not just an evangelism question; it’s deeper. How we do church also changes from one culture to another. For example, how long does the service go, what approach to music, how to we disciple, etc?

Think of it this way: Missiological quest + Cultural question = A contextualized church model.

Let me illustrate the above.

Thoughts from the Seeker Church Approach

Think back to the seeker church movement.

Many such churches blossomed in a day when a lot of boomers were asking questions about church and faith and rejecting established traditional churches. In addition, given that many thought church was boring and irrelevant, they attempted to enliven church with its children and youth programs, the music, and the preaching style and content.

When I planted in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1994, I utilized many of the methodologies of this model. We didn’t try to demean other churches. Rather, we tried to communicate our different approach to church. I also (occasionally) wore a Hawaiian shirt, shoes without socks (I know; don’t judge me), and we had a band that sang contemporary music.

Soon after, many other churches in our community also had a contemporary service!

They wanted to have a contextualized church model—and that’s the right impulse.

They asked questions about what approach to church, within bibilcal norms, would connect most effectively with the context.

Given the cultural milieu at that time, the answer was: implement a genre of music that would resonate with people in the culture; provide them with substantive, practical, and relevant programming for their children; let the sermon topic and content be on their level, not for the religious elite; and if a building is built, make sure it doesn’t resemble a spartan, dated church building of the past century.

I’m not saying this was all great and perfect, and we did not do everything like everyone else, but I am saying that it aligned well with the context, and many such churches reached a lot of people (and many of them also discipled well).

Now, looking back, some may contend the seeker church model was wrong (and continues to be). I’m not writing to evaluate it, though I think that is a worthy undertaking and have done so in the past.

However, my point is the model lined up well with its culture. Looking back over the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s, seeker church approaches reached a lot of unchurched and dechurched people—those who were disenfranchised from the traditional church.

While it worked then, this model is no longer as well aligned with the predominant cultural milieu. The shift is not true everwhere, but most would say that the seeker model does not engage our culture as well today, partly because culture has shifted to more of a negative perception of the church and organized religion in general.

In other words, there are still seekers, but now many don’t see the church as the place to find answers. Seeker strategies are predicated on the idea that they are.

Although people claim to be more spiritual they are skeptical of institutions, including religious ones, thus they opt out of organized religion altogether. Therefore, for the most part it doesn’t matter how “cool” or “relevant” churches are.

Those who would have gone back to church because of the “cool-factor” have already gone back.

Changes in Approach

What we have witnessed over the last decade or so, particularly in newer church models, are many in the church trying to engage the missiological quest for a new generation. So, new church models are taking into account the spiritual, post-Christian, pluralistic, skeptical, individualistic, consumerist, and diverse culture.

The church then thinks through the practices and methods that would be most effective at reaching the culture.

In his book Gaining By Losing, J. D. Greear asserts, “[I]f we want to reach the next generation, we are going to have to equip our people to reach them outside the church.”

That’s a question shaping new models of church of church practice.

Hold Your Mission Tightly and Your Models Loosely

When you look back on the last fifty years of church models, what you will find is that the models were most effective in their mission when they were contextualized (geared to their host culture). This drives some theologically-minded people crazy, but it’s what we train and require missionaries to do.

And, we must not forbid our churches to do the very thing we require international missionaries to do.

In other words, models were the result of the church understanding its missiological quest and asking the cultural question.

What we must learn is models come and go, for the culture is always changing and shifting. This doesn’t mean we cannot learn from each model and incorporate those things that are still effective. However, the takeaway from church models and cultural alignment is this: hold your mission tightly and your model loosely.

Be firm on the mission, but flexible on the methodology.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Recent Comments
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 
Reminds me Tony Morgan's classic post entitle “What If Target Operated Like A Church?” I wrote about this in a blog post "Is Your Church Like Target…or More Like A Mall?" https://goo.gl/2qQIy3
 
— bruceherwig
 
Challenging and very good
 
— John Gilbank
 

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