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PastorpreneurOutreach Beyond Business as Usual
By John Jackson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGod's Call to Bold Action
The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. —Proverbs 28:1
Business as usual just won't cut it anymore. The church has been a bedrock foundation of Western society for hundreds of years, but today the church is standing on the edge of irrelevance. We need a fresh, bold, articulate vision for ministry. Incremental change and small refinements in current ministry practices are of only limited value in making the church a dynamic force for good.
In his insightful book, Dancing with the Dinosaurs, William Easum wrote, "If churches only improve what they have been doing, they will die. Bureaucracies and traditional practices are the major cause of the decline of most denominations in North America."
George Barna goes one step further when he says, "Let's cut to the chase. After nearly two decades of studying Christian churches in America, I'm convinced that the typical church as we know it today has a rapidly expiring shelf life."
Throughout church history, God has called men and women to galvanize the church's vision at crucial times and to originate bold new strategies that make a difference. The Apostle Paul's missionary journeys established churches throughout the Roman world. He boldly proclaimed the gospel of Christ to Romans and barbarians. Nothing could stop him. He was a revolutionary when he was free and when he was in prison, when he was popular and when he was despised. His passion for Christ energized his generation, and his example of zeal and strategy for the cause of Christ continues to influence leaders today. In a summary of his passion for taking the gospel to every person in the world, he wrote: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.... To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Paul didn't feel bound to do the same things in the same ways they had been done before. The church was brand-new, and his strategy was directed by God to meet the complex needs of establishing the church. Paul is not alone in his pioneer spirit. In the great history of missions, people like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor charted new courses to win the world for Christ. John Mott and the Student Volunteer Movement responded to the world's needs and reached millions of people who had never heard the name of Jesus. In recent decades, churches like Willow Creek Community Church, Saddleback Community Church, and a host of newer churches have broken the mold of church strategy. They began with only God's clear call, and they have become examples of vision and activism that directly and indirectly touch millions of lives. All of these pioneers remind me of the proverb: "The wicked man flees though no one pursues, / but the righteous are as bold as a lion" (Prov 28:1).
Seeing the success of others' bold strategies, we are left with the questions: Are we content to remain comfortable doing ministry the way we have always done it, with some positive but limited results, knowing in our hearts that we aren't making much of a dent in our culture? Or will we take the risk of boldly trusting God for a fresh vision, powerful strategies, and incredible results? I believe that a fresh Spirit-led burst of entrepreneurial activity will lead the church to greater cultural impact than ever before. God is even now calling a church planting movement into being across the country that demonstrates an entrepreneurial passion to reach the lost in our generation.
Three Crucial Elements of the Vision
God's call in our lives is shaped by three crucial elements that together form our vision of how He will use us. They are: being gripped by the heart of God (which determines our motivation), our grasp of the needs of people around us (which shapes the direction of our service), and the gifts God has given us (which determine the effectiveness of our service).
These three factors are not linear. We don't first fully know the heart of God, then examine where to serve, and finally use our talents. Rather, loving God, serving others, and understanding ourselves are all ongoing processes. These elements are interwoven and enhance each other. As we see God use us, our understanding of His grace deepens and we become even more committed to meeting the needs of those around us.
We should never take our motivations for granted. We never get beyond the temptation to become proud, selfish, or lazy. No matter how long we've been believers or how successful we've been, we should never stop asking ourselves, "Am I being faithful to the Father? Am I answering His call or am I pleasing myself?" This reflection is not destructive, guil-tridden, morbid introspection; it is a right and reasonable assessment. It is the same honesty that David exhibited when he prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; / test me and know my anxious thoughts. / See if there is any offensive way in me, / and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps 139:23-24).
Go for the Gold
Elisabeth Elliott has written eloquently of her husband's preparation for the mission field. Jim was a young lion who compared his commitment to Christ and the Great Commission to miners who went to the frozen Yukon a century ago. Both expected great risks and hardships, although the difficulties of the journey paled in comparison to the promise of rich rewards. The miners had been after tangible but temporal gold, while Elliott sought "spiritual" gold, silver, and precious stones that will never pass away (1 Cor 3:12). In those days of steeling himself to face the risks that lay ahead (dangers that proved to be very real indeed), Jim copied part of "The Law of the Yukon," a poem by Robert W. Service, in his journal. Elisabeth Elliott included the passage in her book, The Path of Loneliness. It reads:
Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane, Strong for the red-rage of battle, sane for I harry them sore. Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core.... And I wait for the men who will win me—and I will not be won in a day, And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle and suave and mild, But by men with the hearts of Vikings and the simple faith of a child, Desperate, strong, and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat. This poem touched Jim Elliott's deepest longings to be strong in the cause of Christ, to have the boldness of a lion and the faith of a child in taking the gospel to the world. The promise of gold was worth any sacrifice to the miners who braved the incredibly difficult journey over parts of Canada and Alaska to get to the goldfields. That expectation instilled them with passion, hope, and courage.
As church leaders today, what are the promises and expectations that drive us? These things are not always clear for most of us. It is easy for us to be comfortable and reasonably successful doing what we've always done before. Many church leaders are satisfied with small changes, tweaking systems, and a little growth. Some of us, however, know there's more. We're convinced that now is the time for a new direction. Now is the time for boldness.
God's promise to us is even more compelling than the promise of Yukon gold: It is the promise of being used by the God of the universe in His holy cause to rescue men and women from darkness so they can experience the joy of His kingdom. And the promise to each of us is that if we follow God's heart and path, in the end we will hear those wonderful words, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master." That reward will be worth far more than gold. Jim Elliott's clear perception of unseen treasure and his tenacity to take any risks to accomplish God's purpose is the theme throughout this book. And because he was so inspired by the miner metaphor to illustrate our commitment to Christ and His cause, we will refer to it often.
Let's take a look at some of today's bold and entrepreneurial pioneers. At Westwinds Community Church in Michigan, founding pastor Ron Martoia and his congregation regularly and creatively utilize drama, technology, and strong relational connections to invite previously unchurched people to respond to Christ. They are helping the church speak the language of the culture instead of demanding that the culture speak the language of the church. Martoia described this bold strategy in his book, Morph! At a turning point a few years ago, he had to choose between following the normal, accepted patterns of ministry that offered incremental growth or taking the risk to do something new. He didn't know if the unbelievers in his community would respond positively, and he didn't know if his own people would run him out of town on a rail, but he was willing to trust God for great things. He risked failure, ridicule, and irrelevance in his own church. He risked being labeled as a rebel—and if his experiment didn't work, a failed rebel—and possibly never finding another church that would hire him.
When Ed Young Sr. put a fitness center, basketball court, and bowling alleys in Second Baptist Church in Houston, many people criticized him for being worldly. But Young understood his community, and he believed God wanted his church to be a haven for families as well as an outreach to the lost. As a result, the sports emphasis attracted people to his church who would never have come first to a sanctuary, yet who felt completely comfortable coming to the church to work out. Most of them made new friends there, and many of them came to trust Christ as their Savior. This strategy is fairly common today, but it was radical thirty years ago when Ed Young took this bold step.
Kirbyjon Caldwell became the pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, an old church of about sixty people that was seeing, at best, slow growth, if not complete stagnation. After God gave him a fresh vision for ministry, he established nine nonprofit corporations to address problems of subpar housing, education, and vocational skills. These corporations helped improve the living conditions for people in the community as the church was introducing them to Christ, which proved to be a powerful synergy of efforts.
I have also participated in a conference with Bishop Vance McLaughlin of Potters House in Fort Lauderdale and Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Church in Los Angeles. Both men are amazing presenters, but far more important, their churches reflect their heartbeat for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment in their local and global contexts. These and a host of other pastors have embraced entrepreneurial strategies to equip their leaders and to reach their communities for Christ.
With any target audience, Christian leaders must learn to think outside the box. Contemporary evangelicals are increasingly comfortable blending social activism with preaching the gospel. We are happy to volunteer at a homeless shelter and to give groceries to the food bank to provide a platform for the message of Christ. But middle and upper class people also have needs that can be creatively addressed through entrepreneurial strategies. Robert Schuller, who established the Crystal Cathedral in upscale Orange County, has long been a pioneer in reaching out to people. His simple but powerful philosophy is: "Find a need and fill it. Find a hurt and heal it." That perspective will always lead a church to relevance in its community.
In Granite Bay, California, my friend Ray Johnston established Bayside Church in a community holding the perception that only women and weak men are interested in Jesus Christ. Spirituality, they believed, is only "for those who can't cut it in life." Before going to Granite Bay, Ray had ministered to teenagers all across the country. He positioned his new ministry to speak powerfully to the hopes and fears of "up and outers"—that is, high-income people—especially in their relationships with their teenage children. He risked speaking of the relevance of Christ to those who saw no relevance, and in fact, who have long held very negative attitudes toward the message of Christ and the church. In fact, Ray has personally been instrumental in his church and in my life helping me to understand that "Good Deeds create Good Will, which creates an open door for the Good News."
During our first year at Carson Valley Christian Center, a man came up to me during one of our training events. He said, "I've listened to you, and I've watched what you're doing here. It doesn't look like you have a 'Plan B' if your strategy to reach the community fails." I told him, "You're exactly right. We're completely committed to our vision, sink or swim." That man was a shrewd observer. From the beginning, we determined to trust God for great things. We didn't think small, we didn't believe small, and we didn't behave small. I went to meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and told them our dream for our church to have a significant impact on this community. The risk was that I'd be laughed out of town after a couple of years if we didn't grow. This clear and singular vision for our church wasn't developed in a vacuum. God brought together a wonderful group of people who sacrificed time, money, and energy to invest their lives in reaching this area of Nevada for Christ. We all risked a lot.
Bold leaders often face risks in the area of finances. In the first century, religious leaders expected to be funded by those who followed their teaching. Certainly, Paul could have instructed the churches to provide for him. They often did so voluntarily, but not always. Paul was so committed to the vision of reaching the world for Christ that he used any and every means to keep himself on the cutting edge. If funding was available from the churches, he accepted it. If not, he gladly made tents to fund his ministry. He never complained because he had "learned the secret of being content" (Phil 4:12) as he passionately followed Christ and took the gospel to the world. His example is one we can learn from today.
From Him, by Him, for Him
The vision of what God can do through us is not one we concoct on our own. It is given to each believer by God, it is accomplished by His power, and we do it for His glory. Author Os Guinness says that the calling of God is not just for pastors. As each of us is gripped with the love and power of our Lord, we gladly give up everything to follow him and accomplish his purposes. "Calling," wrote Guinness, "is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service."
Those who are gripped by big goals understand that when God is the source of those goals, He provides wisdom and strength to fulfill them. And those who are motivated by seeing people's hearts changed realize that we have the unspeakable privilege of being God's partners in touching others' lives. Our dream of being used by God comes from Him, our desire is purified and directed by Him, and its fulfillment is for His honor because He deserves our glad obedience and praise. Far too often, people (even church leaders) simply try to squeeze Christ into their busy lives, expecting Him to accomplish the goals they have already set for themselves. Christ is worthy of much more than that. He is the Lord, the Sovereign over all of creation, the Alpha and the Omega, the Word, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus' call to His disciples was simple: "Follow me." That calling was absolute, complete, and compelling to the Twelve. It is no less for us today. As Guinness clearly stated, God's calling forms the basis of our identity so that everything we are and everything we do has far deeper meaning because every thought, word, and deed can honor the One who has called us to be His. He deserves our very best, and that very best means that we are willing to sacrifice all for Him and risk all for Him. We are no longer content to play it safe. No, we grow bold and want the reputation of His goodness and greatness to spread to every part of our communities and our world. He deserves nothing less than that.
Excerpted from Pastorpreneur by John Jackson Copyright © 2009 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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