Most cars come with four- or five-speed transmissions. Today’s Corvette sports a seven-speed unit. The car nearly flies at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.
The purpose behind all multi-geared cars is efficiency. An engine doesn’t need to work as hard to get the vehicle moving in the lower-ratio gears. And as a driver shifts toward higher gears, the engine is free to deliver speed rather than pulling potential.
Let’s look at seven shifts that can increase the speed of evangelism to a level necessary to change our culture (Note: five of these shifts are what Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird, authors of Hero Maker, have identified as five essential practices to shifting from being the hero to becoming a hero maker—practices necessary to lead a Level 5 multiplying church; where Level 1 is shrinking, Level 2 is plateaued, Level 3 is adding, Level 4 reproduces and Level 5 multiplies itself).
1 Shift Into Multiplication Thinking
We need to recast our role away from ministry doers to minister makers. We’re called to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12, ESV). Unfortunately, many pastors burn out because they do ministry rather than equip others to do it.
What does that look like practically for you as a leader? For starters, learn to stay away from hospitals. Train your members that they are the church and that the church, not just the pastor, should engage people when they hurt. We even encourage lay leaders to lead funerals, baby dedications and baptisms. Hawaii is unique in that the law allows us to commission cell group leaders to perform marriages. We require a certain magnitude of leadership before endorsing these people. But the single-salary freelance pastors within our congregation do these things in preparation for a few of them planting churches.
We need to back away from touting raw numbers and instead learn to think in terms of ratios: What percent of a zip code attends church? What percent of our country follows Christ? Because we thought of Hawaii in terms of its population rather than focusing on building a large church, we inspired others to plant churches. The net result was far beyond our projected goal. We did this while the state was predominately Buddhist and only four percent of the people claimed any relationship to Jesus.
2 Shift Into Disciplemaking
Jesus didn’t seek converts; He sought disciple makers. His call was for all who would come after Him, including you and me: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, ESV). Yet many of us find ourselves so busy doing ministry that pastors commonly say, “I’m too busy to make disciples. I leave that to others.”
In today’s church, disciple making that leads toward more disciple making and eventual church multiplication is hard to find. Instead we’ve traded disciple making for “discipleship.” The first is outward in focus; the second practice aims to help a person gain knowledge of God. Worse, that knowledge doesn’t always translate into obedience. This shows up in the parity between the churched and unchurched in divorce numbers, premarital sex statistics, etc.
One place to start is with your principle staff members. I look at my staff as though their names were Peter, James, and John. You should have an inner circle, and disciple making should radiate out from there—this includes freelance pastors working entirely with freelance volunteers.
Disciple making asks that we, “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matt. 28:20, NLT). Learning stuff is different from obeying commands. The phrase “thy will be done” is the mark of a true disciple. We are losing the culture while building amazing programs. Something must change.
3 Shift Into Gift Activating
Too often, we look to fill slots in our ministry machine rather than help people discover and utilize their spiritual gifts. If we agree that every believer possesses a spiritual gift, one of our primary tasks should be to help them discover and implement that gift. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “a spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Cor. 12:7, NLT).
If you aren’t prepared for it, the truth of this scripture can be dangerous. We don’t control the Spirit’s agenda. He has gifted people for things you never dreamed about. Once you begin recognizing gifts, you move people from spectators to implementers. They’ll invent stuff that doesn’t fit your tight paradigm. Practice gift activating with both caution and flexibility. Cast vision for each disciple to live as a potential pastor over his or her personal parish. Again, their job is to make disciples as it best fits their gifting.
As you do this, expect to expand your boundaries far beyond your church campus. Your people interface with people who are unlikely to be attracted to you. True follow-through with these people will require single-salary, freelance planter to planted microchurches—if we are to reap fields that are white unto harvest. While discussing this in a seminar in Colorado, a young pastor pointed out that Jesus described those fields as an opportunity while we wring our hands over the “problem” of unharvested fields.
4 Shift Into Permission Giving
We need to move spiritual authority from “ours” to “yours.” We won’t win the world by aiding people in our ministry. They need ownership, not aid. Aid creates dependency; ownership generates strength. Ownership will come when we grant our disciples permission to act as the Spirit leads. The best-selling leadership book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and A. Beckstrom comes to mind. The book’s premise points out that a “spider” organization is one where all authority is centralized while a starfish-like group generates autonomy. If you cut one leg off of a spider, it will live. Cut away two legs, and it can’t feed itself. But cut off all five legs of a starfish, and you get six starfish. Each leg will grow a new animal while the central body does the same.[i]
If you would rise to Level 5 multiplying status, get away from asking your church, “Can you assist us?” to “How can we assist you?” Remove artificial boundaries and allow for ministry overlap. In short, discipline yourself against the use of the word “no.” Realize that what Paul describes is true of your members, “…my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24, NLT). Help them finish their work, not yours.
5 Shift Into Hero Making
Personal insecurity can cause you to seek the role of hero in your own story. Change that to hero maker, and you immediately multiply your capacity to change the world. Move away from self-promotion to relentlessly promoting others. Repeat the best stories of other people’s accomplishments until they become integral to the fabric of your movement. Celebrate, especially, those who move out on a mission, short- or long-term. John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Could you say the same on your deathbed?
6 Shift Into Movement Making
Jesus contextualized disciple making with the phrase “as you go,” both when He sent the Twelve on a trial run (Matt. 10:7) and in the commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18) where the original verb for, “Go therefore,” is the same as the “as you go” in Matthew 10. The suggestion is that wherever these people went, they were on a mission from God.
The use of the term “missional church” seems to limit the mission to a few chosen people or to a church dedicated to touching a community in some unusual way. Back in California, we thought we had a unique calling to plant churches, which only reflected our ignorance of the call on every church. Movement thinking incorporates all of this in the everyday life of fully functioning disciples of Christ. Remember the task is His, not ours. The church is His, not ours. You can plant churches while missing the greater good for the “Jesus Movement.” I’m not talking about some 1970s phenomenon, but the movement to dominate humanity with the love of God. You can be a movement maker where every participant is on their own mission to love people and disciple them into faith in Jesus Christ.
7 Shift Into Kingdom Building
It’s possible to plant churches, even launch a network that is ultimately designed to build your own kingdom and bring glory upon yourself. If we’re going to change culture, we need to shift allegiance from “mine” to “His.” When I speak of “my church,” I’m referring to those people with whom I fellowship most closely in my journey. I don’t speak of it as its supreme leader but as someone fortunate enough to participate in what Christ is doing in and through us.
We were horrified at our first-year anniversary celebration in the first congregation we planted in Kaneohe, Hawaii. By that time, we had planted two churches. We invited them to come party with us but felt defeated when two leading elders from one of those congregations left their church to join us the following week. Since then, we’ve never invited churches we’ve multiplied to anything but a movement-wide training event (we invite everyone from around the world, but few come from outside Hawaii). We’re not in the business of shearing other people’s sheep!
Shifting the kingdom building away from you allows you to move from ecclesiological self-gratification to long-term plans toward fulfillment of the Great Commission. You grow less concerned with adding and more concerned with multiplying disciples who make disciples.
I recently met a young couple who’s planting a Southern Baptist church in a notoriously difficult area of Oahu. Others brought strong core teams into the area, only to meet rejection from locals who saw them as outsiders. The results—failure. This couple is doing it differently. They both have good secular jobs and planted purely from disciple-making opportunities at work and in the neighborhood. Their paradigm is not to convert and then disciple people. They (rightly) believe in discipling people into a relationship with Christ.
Less than a year old, their congregation is nearly 100 percent the results of their disciple-making effort and that of their disciples. They number around 40 people at this point and are deciding whether to multiply or add further before multiplying. Their secular jobs mean that money is no issue. Discipling from scratch takes longer, but the results are healthier. They chose to think about long-term Kingdom effects rather than short-term gain. They’re more concerned with reproduction than ingestion.
While the 21st century church struggles with pragmatism and perfection, it finds itself losing the culture. The first-century church laid down its life for God’s Kingdom and overtook the most powerful empire in the world. We need to shift into a Kingdom mentality—His, not our own.
[i] Ori Brafman & Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Penguin Group: New York, 2006), p.40.
Please comment: We’d like to hear your thoughts about these seven shifts. Are the vital, or do you see the as window dressing–why?