People who have been shuffled around from church to church make up most large churches today. They come together to hear well-polished sermons and expect a missions pastor or some other church leader to organize outreaches that accomplish the Great Commission. As J. D. Greear points out, “90 percent of evangelicals have never shared their faith with anyone outside their family. . . . 95 percent of the church growth we celebrate merely shuffles existing Christians around.”
The church is shrinking in the West. Pastors can no longer assume people will visit their church because they have impressive facilities and family ministries. Therefore, members need to be trained and pastors need to begin seeing themselves as leaders called to develop leaders. The primary purpose for leaders in the church, after all, is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
In Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send, Greear tells us how his church shifted focus from growing in numbers of attenders to training and sending disciples to make other disciples. Multiplication beats addition every time.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, separates Gaining By Losing into two parts. The first unpacks the book’s thesis: that churches need to shift their focus from building up their own kingdom to building leaders who will be sent out to build up God’s kingdom. The second part unpacks what Greear calls the “10 sending plumb lines,” which are the directional markers for all ministries at his church. Two appendices outlining his church’s international and domestic church planting strategies follow this.
Church Leadership’s Chief Purpose
The chief purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints to fulfill their two major callings: making disciples and using their vocations for God’s glory. Greear doesn’t separate sacred and secular vocations to pit them against one another. Rather, he demonstrates through Scripture and the writings of the Reformers that our vocations are a means God uses to bless the world. Pastors need to help those in their congregations learn how to leverage appropriate opportunities and skill sets to make disciples throughout the world.
The Muslim world isn’t open to Christian missionaries, but they are open to American business people. Ordinary Christians who have been discipled and are in turn making disciples in their own backyard should be exhorted to look not for a calling but at what Jesus has already commanded us: go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). “Whatever you are good at,” Greear writes, “do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”
Church As Leadership Factory
Believers must be ready to take the gospel with them from their church into their workplace. We can no longer assume people will come to church when facing personal or family crises. Today, people are more likely turn to a self-help book or their “spiritual” friend who practices an eastern religion.
Moreover, the members of our congregations spend most of their time in their workplace and neighborhoods. The best ministry ideas arise from members of our churches, and great pastors empower people to accomplish these ministry ideas. Of course, Greear points out, “We have to guard against heresy or unhealthy ministry practices.” This means the leadership of The Summit Church doesn’t endorse every idea someone comes up with. They’ve developed three helpful classifications for ministries:
- Ministries we own: These are ministries central to the church—small groups, ministry training, and the Sunday worship service.
- Ministries we bless: Ministries run by members that the church’s leaders encourage and watch from the sidelines.
- Ministries we catalyze: A mixture of the first two. These are ministries the church is invested in but with ownership left the hands of members.
Churches need a process for producing and empowering leaders who are in turn deployed into the world, Greear explains. Success is not seen in developing a larger congregation, but in producing more disciples that might not be part of the sending congregation. Pastors must learn to let go of some of their best leadership, remembering that “we cannot outgive God.” We’ve been given gifts so that we can in turn be a blessing to others.
Engaging the Community
How does your community see your church? Churches must take a proactive role in finding ways to engage the community they’re in by discovering ways they can love their neighbor. Greear went to the mayor of his city and asked him to list the five most underserved parts of their city. This gave The Summit Church a good place to start.
Loving neighbors by serving them in job training or whatever their context demands does not replace the command to make disciples. If the multiplication of ministries and service projects isn’t yielding disciples, then we’ve failed. The point of community service is making the gospel known to the homeless, the orphan, the prisoner, the international student, the LGBT community, and the Buddhist monk. These people won’t walk likely into your church—no matter how engaging the sermons and music are. “The ultimate mission is not to paint a fence, feed a prisoner, or tutor a child,” Greear contends, “but to make a disciple.” And disciples are best made through forming long-term relationships, which develop ideal forums to present the gospel.
Gaining By Losing is an excellent book for small groups and church leaders to read and put into practice. It includes numerous practical ideas for reaching your city and sending leaders out all over the world for the sake of the good news.