As a result of my time at a think tank in Atlanta, I spent some time listening to the message of several pastors who are leading either reproducing or multiplying churches, and I confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for some time.
The success of a church is not determined by how well the pastor teaches or the best of the music. What causes some churches to rise to the top and not others is the depth, breadth, and clarity of their vision and teaching. Consider the webpage of Hope Chapel in Hawaii. There is simply no way anyone could mistake Hope Chapel’s intent. Are the goals of your church as deep, broad, and clear?
I’ve heard a couple of Ralph Moore’s messages. While they are clear and well done, he is not the most electric preacher on the planet – good, but not great. So here is the message – you can spend as much time as you want perfecting your message, but if the goals of the church aren’t crystal clear and embedded in every fiber of the church, and if you’re not developing obedient Jesus-followers, you’re just pissing in the wind (I can’t think of a more pungent way of expressing the utter futility of not making obedient Jesus followers).
So why am I harping on the quality of preaching? Because most pastors spend too much time on their messages and not enough time developing obedient Jesus followers.
Most pastors spend too much time on their messages and not enough time developing obedient Jesus followers
For example, I’m coaching about a dozen church planters, and one of the things I have to keep driving home is this: the less time spent on their message, the better. A great sermon is useless if new people aren’t showing up. So I tell them, instead of spending time on your message, spend it making sure new people are showing up and being developed into Jesus-followers.
Pastors, no matter what size your church is, the quality of your goals and disciple-making are more important than anything else. Pray that God will lay clear, biblical goals in your heart and that He will give you the ability to cast the vision behind those goals in such a way that it becomes embedded in your members. Disciple making is more important than getting butts in seats.
Disciple making is more important than getting butts in seats
Of course, this raises a dilemma. Focusing more on making disciples than bringing in new people is risky. There are no guarantees it will work. It may also feel as if it is distracting you from making sure your church is able to survive for the short-term. On the one hand, it will slow down your ability to bring in new people. On the other hand, it may result in more people long-term because if you can pull it off, you won’t be the only one bringing in new people. You’ll have many people sharing their faith with their networks because that is what a Jesus-follower does.
So I asked myself, what have I learned from these churches about what it takes to make obedient Jesus-followers? The following are my observations:
- Although it’s not central to disciple making, suitable biblical content is helpful in supporting the role modeling and mentoring of the pastor and staff. People need to know their faith. So some classwork is needed, but not the normal form of classroom teaching. This is not a class where you memorize scripture or absorb content. This class is one where you learn, and then go and do, and then come back for debriefing. Remember how after Jesus spent time with his disciples he sent them out two by two to knock on doors. That’s the kind of class needed to make obedient Jesus followers – we learn and then practice what we’ve learned.
- A passion lies deep in the heart of the leader for the fulfillment of Jesus’ last will and testament – “Go make disciples of all people groups.” The leaders must have a passion for those who are not Jesus-followers. This emphasis on making obedient Jesus-followers is not a fad; it is something embedded in the very heart of Jesus and the gospel. How we have missed understanding this for so long, I don’t know. It would appear either that we’re stupid or that we just don’t care beyond our own church.
- The pastor and staff are mentors and role models who make obedient Jesus-followers. The “monkey see, monkey do” concept applies to making disciples. We can’t expect people to do what we’re not doing. If the pastor and staff are making disciples, it’s easier to show the congregation how to do it. I remember being at Perimeter Church in Atlanta and hearing the executive pastor talk about how their pastor leads someone to Christ every week. Now I know this is probably an exaggeration. But still, that is what their pastor is known for. So when he teaches about disciple-making being the responsibility of all Christians, he has credibility and people listen and are encouraged to follow suit.
- A different understanding of pastoral education is needed for most mainline churches. Since I am a United Methodist, I have to address the concept of seminary training because multiplication is almost impossible if pastors have to go to seminary before leading a church. It takes almost as much education to be a minister as it does to be a physician. But multiplication doesn’t have time for that. Most of the multiplication will take place through the efforts of pastors who haven’t been to seminary but who have a passion for people who don’t yet know Jesus. You don’t have to be smart or know a lot of systematic theology to make disciples. Multiplication won’t happen if pastors have to first go to seminary. It’s time we realized that fact. Of course I can just hear denominational officials screaming while reading this. But let me ask you this: how are things working for you? Are you growing?
You don’t have to be smart or know a lot of systematic theology to make disciples.
Now I know for most mainline leaders this sounds like heresy. But Methodists especially should know the wisdom of what I’m saying about trained pastors. Methodists took the gospel from the east coast to the west coast through the work of uneducated circuit riders. That is not much different from what I’m proposing. Drop seminary training and ordination based on education and start relying on ordination based on passion for people who don’t yet know Jesus. Much of the rest of the global Church is doing this and is thriving.
It’s time we all owned up to the sad state of affairs that established churches in the West are facing. We can’t go on doing what we’ve been doing and expect to survive, much less thrive. We have only one chance – give the gospel a chance and do what is necessary to make obedient Jesus-followers. That is our only hope and it is a God-given hope which we dare not ignore.
We have only one chance – give the gospel a chance and do what is necessary to make obedient Jesus-followers
And for those of you who are in thriving churches, I implore you to consider moving to multiplication. I know you are doing well, but overall we are losing the battle. Let me ask you – how many people can you reach by doing multi-sites or by growing larger and larger compared to what you could accomplish if you raised up a large cadre of people who are willing to go and spread the word? What would happen if the West had hundreds of churches like New Hope in Honolulu? Consider one more time: New Hope planted seven churches that have planted over seven hundred churches. Think of how many people were reached!
Bill Easum has a thirty-year track record of growing congregations in two denominations. His last church, which he re-started and pastored for twenty-four years, grew to be one of the largest United Methodist Churches in South Texas. His record of “evangelization” and “social justice” ministries was acknowledged by Industrial Areas Foundation in New York as one of the finest examples in North America. Since 1987 Bill has devoted his time to consulting, coaching, and speaking. Bill is the Founder and President of The Effective Church Group, formerly 21st Century Strategies.
This article was originally published through Effective Church Group. Used with permission.