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Jun
20

Put Up or Shut Up

Put Up or Shut Up
Several months ago I had the privilege to worship at a large, mega-church in our area. The pastor spoke on the Great Commission. It was a good message, and I appreciated what he had to say. But I left with a very uneasy feeling. That uneasiness was caused because I really didn’t think anything would be different as a result of what he said.

I was in Orlando last April for the Exponential Conference where Ed Stetzer talked about the Southern Baptist Church being in decline for the first time. He said that’s also true for many other denominations, including ones that claim to be evangelical and Gospel-focused. What’s the problem? Well, there are probably many, but one analysis was absolutely correct: the people in our churches are not talking about Jesus with their friends and colleagues. We’re supposed to be “salt” and “light” in the world, but too often the salt has lost its saltiness and the light has been hidden under a bushel.

In my work with Grace Global Network, I’ve consulted with several denominations in the area of church planting and turn-around churches. Here are the facts: we’re closing more churches than we are starting. Not only are we not staying even with our country’s growth, we’re losing ground. Attendance, giving – and perhaps most important, impact – are all down.

The Heart of the Issue

But the question I have to ask is “why?” Certainly we all preach about evangelism and missions. But are we actually showing people how to do it? Are we training (call it discipleship, mentoring, leadership development, whatever) our people how to do what we are telling them to do? We need to remember that the Great Commission was given after three years of training and personal discipleship that Jesus had with His men.

The end result today when people attempt to share their faith (if they ever do) is usually frustration and failure.

Let me use a baseball analogy … it’s the bottom of the ninth, our team is behind by two runs, bases are loaded, two outs, and we send a hitter up to the plate who has never picked up a bat in his life. The coach gives the signal to hit away. The fans yell, “Get a hit! Smack a line drive into the gap!” That’s exactly what he should do. But the batter has never been coached. He’s never even taken any batting practice. He’s never studied the pitcher to know what he might throw in that situation. The fans yell louder, but it won’t help. He’s not prepared to do what they’re asking him to do. He’s likely to fail … and probably will never play baseball again.

And so it is in our churches. Ephesians 4 talks about leaders “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.” Unfortunately, I don’t see very much of it happening in churches today. We have great preachers and great programs … but we’re making little discernible impact on the world around us. Sometimes we get our people to try to share their faith. But without adequate training, they fail, feel embarrassed, and probably will never attempt to tell others about Jesus again.

One of the fallouts of this is that the church expects its pastors to do all the work in ministry. How many times have I heard people say, “after all, that’s what we’re paying them for.” But as you know, pastors aren’t the workers, they are the coaches who equip others to do the work. The University of Tennessee isn’t paying Head Football Coach Phillip Fulmer to tackle, block, run or pass. They’re paying him to recruit, coach, train, and motivate his players to do those things. By the way, I was just on their website and counted 24 “football staff.” That’s more staff than the total number of starters on offense and defense combined! Do you know what they’ve done? They’ve identified every skill necessary for a UT football player to succeed (from strength and conditioning to scholastic success) and they’ve staffed to those objectives.

I spend much of my time consulting with churches and mentoring pastors. Previously I’ve served with Campus Crusade, been a teaching-pastor at a mega-church, been an adjunct professor at several seminaries, and been involved planting several churches. But I also spend a bit of my time as a leadership/communications consultant to major corporations through TightRope Communications. What is interesting is that I have some wonderful opportunities to share my faith when I have my “corporate” hat on. I find greater freedom, more genuine opportunities, authentic conversations, and lasting fruit than when I have my “ministry hat” on. Interesting, isn’t it? People don’t want to listen to religious professionals (we’re paid to talk about Jesus) … but they will listen to people they know and work with if they are credible.

Last spring I was working a project in Norfolk with a defense industry contractor. I was helping them craft an oral presentation for a $500M government contract. Needless to say, there was a lot of pressure and tension in the room that week. Some of their careers were on the line with this one. To make a long story short, our conversations eventually turned to finding balance and meaning in life … and I had a great opportunity to share my testimony and the difference Jesus has made in my life. My guess is that I never would have gained that audience with my “ministry” hat on.

The point: the people in our churches have the opportunity to rub shoulders everyday with people who need Jesus. But they don’t necessarily have the training, skills or experience to give them the confidence to step up to the plate in those situations … so they remain silent. In addition, they are so influenced by a relativistic culture that they don’t believe Christianity has any unique truth-claims anyway.

My wife Linda teaches 3rd grade at a private school in our area. She’s led 6 of her 16 students to Jesus this year. Several of the other teachers have said, “I’d love to be able to do that, but I just can’t.” Sure they can … my wife doesn’t have any special gifts in evangelism. But she’s been trained and discipled and has learned over the years how to effectively communicate her faith in Christ.

When we were at the Exponential conference, I spent an hour interviewing Randy Pope. He’s the founding/senior pastor at Perimeter Church in Atlanta. Randy is a good friend, and we spent most of the time talking about this very issue of discipleship. He talked about how “small groups” weren’t working at their church … they just turned into Christian cliques … and disciples weren’t being built. But Randy was regularly leading men to Christ and discipling them himself. So the elders in his church tasked him with developing a way to equip others to do the same thing. Randy described the “Life-on-Life Discipleship” program he’s developed there … it’s a 3 year small group program that takes people through a balance of Bible study, theology and skill development. At the end, they come out ready and equipped to lead others through the same process. Not everybody signs up … but they now have hundreds go through it … and they’re seeing significant growth.

That’s what Jesus did with His men. They watched Him minister, pray and do the miraculous. He had taught them, trained them, sent them out, critiqued them and encouraged them. He didn’t just “tell” them. It really was a “school of discipleship” where training and genuine life-change occurred. See our “cycle of growth” for a description of the process-flow involved.

While in Ft. Myers, we were part of launching Summit Church (summitlife.com), which grew to 1500 in four years. Stetzer listed it among the 15 churches in the country most effective in reproducing and multiplying other churches. We tried to instill this missional DNA right from the beginning. Again, not everybody gets it … but many do. In just over four years, they’ve taken 52 missions trips, started dozens of churches around the US and helped start hundreds overseas. But even with a strong missional mindset, we have to keep training people. Jesus had His men for three years … we think we’re done when they go through a weekend seminar or a Sunday School class!

What excites me is when men and women are equipped to represent Christ in the marketplace. If we are going to become “salt and light” in the world, that’s how it’s going to happen. Salt must come into direct contact with the meat in order to preserve and season. Light must come into contact with the darkness if it is going to counteract the darkness. But it takes teachability and training.

My son asked me an interesting question as we were driving back from baseball practice a while ago. At that point he was in 11th grade and had been sitting at lunch with some non-Christians seeking to influence them for Christ. They asked some questions he couldn’t answer – but he knew I would have the answer. So we talked – and role-played the situation – until he felt comfortable that he could do it. The point: he was teachable (he wanted to learn) and he knew where to get the necessary training (good old dad).

While at the Exponential conference, my colleague Greg Kappas and I took Bill Easum out for dinner. Bill’s been one of the premier church consultants for the last three decades. I asked him what he feels is the greatest challenge to churches today – and without missing a beat, he said, “Developing leaders.” He said we can get a lot of people to usher, count money, be elders and deacons in the administrative sense … but he said he feels the church is doing a poor job at developing what he called “spiritual leaders.” In the context of our discussion, it was obvious he was talking about men and women who can lead the lost to Christ and the found to maturity.

I think of three significant turnarounds that we continue to work with in SW Florida. One church went from an angry and divisive 35 to a hope-filled and missional 650 in three years, added 3 staff and is moving into a building program under the leadership of their pastor, Stephen Bowe. Another went from 70 to 550, and just built a new $8M worship center and educational wing. Led by Tim Neptune, giving has been off-the-charts. They’ve also launched 3 new churches in the area in the last six months. When Frank Brand came to his church in Estero they were less than 100 strong. They’ve grown to over 400 (in season) and are seeing a lot of people come to faith in Christ through personal evangelistic contacts. It started with their pastor (he has a real gift in evangelism) but he has now trained others to share their faith. Each of those situations are unique, and there are many reasons for their growth … but one of the main reasons has been that each of these pastors bought into the idea of “equipping” and building leaders.

I was with one of their leadership teams recently, telling the story of when I was planting a church in North Carolina. A husband and wife came up and asked if I would come over and talk with one of their neighbors who was interested in knowing more about Christ. I said no because they weren’t my neighbors. (Oooo, what a bad pastor!) They were their neighbors and God had placed them there as His representatives. But I volunteered to train them to know what to say, and to give them some resources they could use in their witnessing. The next week they came back asking for more help, which I willingly gave them. Obviously there are times we as pastors must get involved – either the situation is time-critical or way beyond somebody’s skill level. But if I had done so in this situation, I would have robbed this couple of the joy of ministry, and made them dependent on me in order for ministry to happen. The non-Christian couple did come to faith in Christ … but more importantly, if you can say that, the couple in our church developed a heart for evangelism that will last them a life-time.

I’m convinced that’s what’s got to happen if our churches are going to be healthy, thrive and grow. I want to encourage you all to keep thinking biblically. We must build men and women into leaders – and disciple “faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”