Here’s the third and final post in this series from an anonymous friend. Anxious for your thoughts, additions, and questions!
In the first two posts of this series (Part 1 | Part 2), we looked at the 5 things that best characterize mega-churches. But moreover, we discussed how these aren’t actually things that characterize just mega-churches, but American churches in general. Thus, it’s not so much about size as it is about the defining trajectory of the church.
- BE A DISCIPLE FIRST. I think we would be pretty surprised to find out how many of the pastors leading churches have never been discipled themselves in the way that Jesus and the NT would understand discipleship. Perhaps they’ve been trained to run the organization of the church and perhaps they have advanced degrees in theology or Bibilical studies, but this does not mean they can do the things that Jesus did for the reasons Jesus did them. Do they know God and his ways, or do they just know about them. There’s a big difference. The key to transitioning to a discipling culture? Be a disciple first.
- THEOLOGY FOR DISCIPLESHIP. The fact of the matter is that most churches have a theology (or at least a presenting one) that leaves discipleship as optional. How can this be? With Jesus and the NT, when the Gospel was proclaimed, the obvious next step was discipleship…not fire insurance. We need a robust theology and Gospel that never makes discipleship optional.
- PATTERNS AND EXPECTATIONS OF DISCIPLES MULTIPLYING. It’s no good talking about discipleship and people being producers and not consumers if we can’t give them practices, patterns and basic expectations for how to multiply disciples. We don’t have to have a perfect relational system or process (because no such thing exists), but we should feel confident that our process for producing disciples who can make disciples is working.
- MULTIPLY YOURSELF. The goal of every Christian leader is to multiply themselves in such a way that they work themselves out of a job. We don’t need one of you. We need 10 of you! So the first step is knowing WHO those people are. Who are the people you are currently giving everything you’ve got so they can not only do what you do…but do it better?
- GIVE THEM YOUR VEHICLE. Each leader has a different kind of platform or vehicle. Some people have a platform in front of thousands of people. Some have a living room in front of 12 other people. Or anything in between. You have a vehicle and the people you’re investing in need to learn how to drive it (whether it’s a worship service, Missional Community, Small Group, team meeting, etc). How will you give someone that space so they can learn to do what you do? Will they start off being as good as you? No. Of course not. But how else will they learn to be better? This requires taking the long term view over the slight frustration in the short term.
- IT’S THE SAME THING. There will probably be small changes in your order and structure of service, but it’s amazing to see how little changes in the worship service but how vastly different it feels to be in it when you’ve really gone after these first two shifts. Dallas WIllard often remarked that for people who make these kinds of transitions, they’d be shocked to see how similiar the service is. And yet it’s so different. People are singing for all they are worth for different reasons. People submit to the teaching of the word. They humbly come to the foot of the cross to participate in the Lord’s Supper. They repent of the things in their life that need to be re-oriented towards God and his coming Kingdom. This is the same basic stuff of the worship service…but it’s with a group of people “doing the stuff” because discipleship and multiplication (being a Kingdom producer) is the center of their week the other 6 days.
- STORIES. If you’ve got a group of people who are scattered in missional families of blood/non-blood relations the other 6 days of the week who are oriented around Jesus (discipleship, doing the things Jesus did), you’re going to have some stories to tell. Now, obviously they will be telling stories in these other groups who are quickly becoming their spiritual family, but the churches I’ve seen who have taken on this ethos really allow space for stories every time the scattered family gathers. Remember, in the service, you give time to what you value. If you’re valuing “Sunday as the overflow,” the stories of “the stuff” that’s happening during the week only emphacizes this. If you are highlighting, every week, the stories of how people are following Jesus in the every day comings and goings of life, suddenly, this seems normal to everyone. Following Jesus in a more profound way, becoming a Kingdom producer, is the group norm. The importance of putting that front and center cannot be overstated.
- PUT A NUMBER ON PAPER. The churches I’ve seen really go after this have put a number on paper of what % of their budget is going to go outside of the “machine” of the church within a 5-10 year period. They then build a comprehensive plan around achieving this. Sometimes it’s suggested that churches should just blow everything up and go from there (sell the building, get rid of most the staff, etc). While in some cases this might be appropriate, what normally happens is the church is blown up and everyone leaves and goes to another church…who has the same % of money going to the “machine” and the net affect is nothing. What’s needed is a journey that will take years.
- BRAINSTORM. Spend time doing some exercises that help you do some real mental gymnastics. “If we had to cut 20% of our budgettomorrow, what would we do?” It doesn’t mean that you cut that tomorrow. Or anything tomorrow. But when you are asked to do the impossible, it shows you things that are possible that couldn’t be seen before.
- RESEARCH. You’d be surprised at the number of business people who have created flexible, high-profit margin businesses to walk alongside non-profits to serve as as financial engine. Or investors who have found investment strategies that wildly benefit local churches and their businesses at the same time. These kinds of ideas are already out there…and many of them are already working. Are we even looking for these ideas?
- START A THINK TANK. Sometimes churches put the most successful business people as Elders or Board Members. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but often they are in this position because we are more committed to the churches financial well being than for them to serve as spiritual overseers. I’ve seen a few churches who get their most successful business people together, people who have started multiple companies and seen a lot of success, and they started a Think Tank of how their church could invest using Kingdom principles and create a financial engine. We often use wealthy people to stroke checks to the church. That’s fine, but their business-savvy minds is where we need them in the future. And they love doing this kind of work. What if we got to a place where every cent of money given to a church goes to the needs of people inside and outside of the community because there was an economic engine paying for the organizational needs of the church? There are churches close to seeing this reality right now.
- PUT MONEY ASIDE. It’s nice to have a Think Tank, but eventually you need to try some of these ideas out for an economic engine that walks alongside the church. That will require some money. Whether it’s coming out of the budget or you’re meeting with investors to make the ask, you’ll need money for it.
- ACTUALLY GO AFTER THE KINGDOM. The way most of our churches function (or are trying to) is as mini-empires. Sometimes the growth of our empire means the growth of the Kingdom…but many times it doesn’t. Take this for an example: What if a new site really needs to be launched in that part of the city for the good of the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is better served if it’s a church plant with complete autonomy from your church. Are we OK with that? Will we invest time, energy, resources and relational capital into initiatives where the church may not see a return but the Kingdom has a massive breakthrough? “Seek first the Kingdom and the rest will added unto you.”
- EXPECT MISTAKES AND FAILURE. If we are sending people out, training them to be Kingdom producers rather than consumers, we’ve got to expect that they will have mis-steps, mistakes and failure as they go. This is normal. Chances are we all learned from our own failures to have the competencies we do now. If the church is about the Priesthood of all Believers and we think everyone gets to play, we have to let them learn to play. But along the way they will not skip the normal process of learning as you go. We have to re-calibrate from our American understanding to a Kingdom-oriented one. Instead of “hiring talent and firing failures”, it’s about “developing people and seeing mistakes/failures as the stepping stones to Kingdom breakthrough.” Usually if churches aren’t seeing mistakes, mis-steps or failure, one of two things is happening: Either they aren’t being completely honest or they aren’t willing to really risk anything for the Kingdom.
- DEVELOP NEW VEHICLES. When you look at the spectrum, there really aren’t many missional vehicles that people with 9-5 jobs can drive that are proven to be easy to drive, multipliable and effective for the Kingdom. Most of our vehicles are great at keeping consumers happy or are time-intensive and cumbersome. This means we need to pay enormous amounts of time and attention to developing new vehicles for mission and discipleship. The churches I’ve seen who have been doing this well end up experimenting with a safe group of people willing to be guinea pigs (ha!…just a metaphor), and once they stumble on to something…they multiply that out.
- The pastors looking at making this shift. You need to know there is no silver bullet and this will take lots of time. And then more time. This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it’s also the most rewarding. Because it’s going to take this long, you need to know that you are doing this for the right reasons. Are you doing this to be the savior of the church or because you are earnestly going after the Kingdom of God and being a disciple of Jesus? If it’s just for ego, you won’t be able to finish the journey. It takes too long and is too difficult. The good news is that there are communities who have made the journey before who can help you. But you’ve got one other indispensable thing: The Holy Spirit.
- People who tend to throw stones at churches trying to make a shift. You usually see the strobe-throwing at mega-churches trying to make an important shift, but it’s starting to happen with others as well. For those who like to throw stones…put them down. If for no other reason than you don’t know the context of each individual church and the heart of the leaders and what God has asked them to do. What if we assumed the best of people? Also, we probably shouldn’t ask for results in two years (which these kinds of people seem to demand). The transition is just starting to get traction in the first two years. Most incarnational/missional folks talk about how it will take 5 years before you start to see movement in a given neighborhood. Could we give the same kind of grace to churches trying to shift this kind of culture? In reality, it’s the same kind of process.