Americans spend $700 billion on all Christian causes.
Of that number, $45 billion goes to any kind of work overseas.
That amounts to 6% of money that the church gives. Of that 6%, only a fraction of that money ($450 million) is sent to ministries working among those who are considered unreached. This is roughly the same amount Americans spent in 2015 on diet programs. It’s just over what we spend on Halloween costumes for our pets.
What these numbers reveal is that a staggering amount of the money we give to God ends up being spent on us. It stays within the church for the benefit of the church. It pays for pastors and buildings and programs for people who largely know and hear the Gospel. And very, very little goes towards people who have never heard of Jesus.
In fact, for every $100,000 that Christians give to the church, $1 goes to the unreached.*
Statistics, especially good ones, are our friends. They show us where our priorities are. They are like a mirror being held up to our faces so we can see what we look like. My point in sharing these statistics is not to be critical. It’s not to say that even some of the things we’ve spent money on aren’t good.
But friends, we can do better.
If we’re going to do better, it will require all of us to say no to some of the “good” things in order to say yes to better things. It will require we take a hard look at family budgets and church budgets and say “What does this line item in the budget say about our priorities?”
What good things are you committed to? Your building? Your pastoral staff? Your worship experience? Or are you committed bringing the good news of Jesus to the ends of the Earth? As it is written “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news.”
When Jesus came to the Earth, He didn’t ask for a tenth of what we had. He came and asked that we give our all to Him. This is not just a reality for individuals, but churches as well. And we have to decide if we are going to give everything to Him and let Him decide what we keep.
What would it take for giving to the unreached to move up higher in our spending priorities? What if instead of the money to the unreached being a fraction of 1% of our budget, it was 20%? What would that require you and your church to sacrifice? And would the rest of your church tolerate it? And what would everyone’s reactions say about their priorities?
We can do better. But we must change. Will you change with me?
*Most of these statistics can be found on http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats
Several years ago I had a friend who I started talking to about discipleship. I looked him in the eye and asked him, “If you lead someone to Jesus today, would you know how to help that person grow in the Lord?” A kind of glazed look came over my friend’s face as he realized that he really didn’t know what would come next if he lead someone to Christ.
My friend isn’t alone. In fact, my experience in Christianity in the West tells me that very few people know how to share Christ and fewer know how to disciple those they lead to Christ. This hinders the spread of the Gospel.
Before we go too far, I feel like it’s important to say that I understand not every Christian is going to be an evangelist. I don’t primarily consider myself an evangelist and many of the people I know who share the gospel regularly aren’t evangelists either. But every believer should have a basic understanding of how to share the gospel and disciple new believers. This is part of what Paul means when he says that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15). Every believer is called to be a witness and a disciple (and therefore a disciple maker), but not every believer is called to be an evangelist.
You are called not just to be a Christian and pursue your calling, but regardless of your calling to lead people to Christ along the way. And as you lead them to Christ, you will need to baptize them and instruct them in following Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less than that.
If you are an elder or teacher in the body of Christ, make sure that those around you can articulate the gospel and know how to respond when someone says yes to it. This can make the difference between leading one person to Christ and many more people coming to Christ through the testimony of a new brother or sister.
For those of you who don’t know how to share the Gospel with those around you, here is a clear, simple, reproducible way to share it that we’ve used many times with those we know:
Many times, though, leading people to Christ is the easy part. Teaching them to obey the Risen Christ and helping them to lay aside their old lifestyle is much harder. So next week, we’ll look at a process we’ve used here to raise up disciples.
Until then, what do you think is the main difficulty you have in sharing the gospel and discipling new believers? Let me know in the comment section.
Disclaimer: If you ever see a footnote on the bottom of a post, it’s likely to become a follow up post at some point. This post originated here.
There is a giant market in Christianity in the West for all things “missional.” In fact it’s so large, we’ve started naming things missional that aren’t. And much of the missional conversation has begun to center around doing good works for our neighbor–caring for the sick, empowering the poor, advocating for those at the margins.
All of this must include sharing the gospel. The missional movement will go completely off track if it abandons the story of Jesus as the way to the Father and the only answer for the human condition. In fact, while good works are important and cannot be ignored, sharing the good news must take priority in our lives. I say this as someone who has taken in people without homes and cared for the fatherless. Only the Gospel of Jesus ultimately saves people.
Our model for all of this should be Jesus Himself. He sets the terms and conditions for how Christianity should be lived out and demonstrated on the Earth. We should be surprised, then, to find that much of the missional movement not participating in the power of the Holy Spirit and advocating for a display of His power, because Jesus regularly relied on the Holy Spirit to sustain His mission.
Hear me on this: I’m sure Jesus would welcome us caring for the poor. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us for extending love to those who seem outside of the social norm. I’m sure Jesus would encourage us to care for the sick. I just see Him do it in the Gospels in a radically different manner than the missional church in the West.
A few examples of this:
After being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days by the devil, Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches in a synagogue. He teaches from Isaiah 62, proclaiming His intent to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, open the eyes of the blind, and loose the oppressed. After being chased out of the hometown for not doing many miracles, he moves on to Capernaum where He sets a captive free by casting a demon out of a demonized man (Luke 4:14-37). There aren’t many in the missional movement I hear practicing freeing people in this way.
Jesus frequently emphasized caring for the sick. But we don’t see Jesus establishing hospitals*. What we do see is Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-17), a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12), and a man born blind (John 9:1-6). These are just some of many healing miracles that were the method Jesus used to “care for the sick,” (John 21:25). I hear many advocating for better healthcare in the missional movement, but very few people praying for healing.
Jesus also did a number of other miracles for the benefit of others. He fed those without food. He did this twice through miracles of multiplication (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39). This is rarely how I hear missional people speak of feeding the hungry. And I hear very few answers from the missional crowd about how to deal with demonized men who live as outcasts that no one knows how to deal with. But Jesus ends both the oppression and the isolation by rebuking the demonic presence and freeing the man (Mark 5:1-20).
Jesus did all of these signs as proof that He was truly the embodiment of God’s Kingdom (John 2:23, John 6:2, John 15:24). And He did these miracles, not because He was God incarnate, but because He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit (see perhaps my favorite missional verses of all time, Phillipians 2:6-8, and John 5:19 & Matthew 12:28).
Not only did Jesus rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be on mission Himself, He told us to do the same. He said that those who believed in Him would do not only the works He did, but greater works (John 14:12). And he commanded the apostles not to begin attempting the mission until the Holy Spirit came and gave them power to do the mission, too (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5). Once this happened, they embarked on a very similar story as Jesus did.
My point in bringing all this up is that we often try to carry out the commands of Jesus in the power of the flesh. And while I’m sure there are true and real times Jesus has asked us to bandage a wound, be a friend to the lonely, and be an advocate for the poor, I want us to remember that the Jesus of the Bible had a radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit to deal with the true ills of society, not just manage the side affects. He brought the resources of Heaven to bare on the problems of Earth, not just the efforts of men.
The only mission we are called to is the one Jesus started. We aren’t to bring just our resources to bear on the world’s problems. We’re to draw on the Holy Spirit to truly heal the evil around us. If we want to engage in the true mission of Jesus, I think we need that same radical, powerful trust in the Holy Spirit Jesus had.
But the choice is ours: Will we do mission our way, or Jesus’?
*This is not a critique on hospitals nor me advocating not going to doctors. It’s purely a statement of fact.
Lately being “missional” has become the new buzzword in Christianity in the West. We have missional church, missional community, missional bible studies, and even missional worship services.
I love everything that being missional is about. I probably use the term more than most people. But when we use the word missional so much that it can mean anything we want it to mean, I think we start to create confusion that is unhelpful. In some camps, missional has come to mean anything that is new, trendy, or designed to reach a younger crowd. And while missional is new, trendy, and does reach a younger crowd, not everything that does these things is missional.
We get the word “missional” from the Latin phrase “missio Dei” or “mission of God.” The idea behind the phrase is that God has a mission that He has been pursuing from the beginning of time to reclaim humans who have wondered away from Him. God, who is the ultimate missionary, has been coming to humanity to turn them back toward Himself.
God’s mission then, takes its ultimate form when Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth to announce and embody the Kingdom of God and suffer, die, and rise again to purchase our entrance into that Kingdom. Jesus’ leaving the Father’s side and embarking on mission is our key to understanding what “missional” really is.
Missional means we leave where we are to spread the good news of the Kingdom where people are.
The truth is we cannot be missional if we don’t leave and go to people. Missio Dei is also where get the word missionary from. So we shouldn’t be surprised that missional embraces the idea of leaving our home or place of comfort behind. It means crossing boundaries, whether those are our neighbors of another race across the street or they are national boundaries as you enter a foreign land.
But another truth about being missional is that we have to speak and spread the Good news. Certainly Jesus did good works. He healed the sick (supernaturally). He cast out demons. He welcomed the poor and the outcast. All of these were displays of the missional God’s heart of love. But all of these signs pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with humans. Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom was near.
And so being missional means leaving where we are and going to the lost. It means doing works that point to the Kingdom* and declaring the nearness of God’s Kingdom that people can enter into. It’s both.
But your church isn’t missional if it’s not going to where lost people are. Missional is not waiting for lost people to come to you. It’s going to them. Your community isn’t missional if it’s not talking to lost people about the nearness of the Kingdom, no matter how often you hang out at the bar or the local coffee shop. Your Bible study is only missional to the degree that your group goes and shares Jesus with people far away from him. The other things you add the word “missional” to?
Well…you get the idea.
I’m not arguing you stop being missional if you use the word. Instead, let’s direct our effort to doing the things that are truly going out to where lost people are and doing and speaking the words of Jesus.
That is truly missional.
*I would argue that one component that the “missional movement” typically misses is doing the works of Jesus that way that Jesus did them. Healing the sick typically becomes taking care of their physical needs. Jesus laid hands on blind people and they saw. In my mind, this is truly missional.
Sometimes in our pursuit of Jesus and the mission of spreading the Gospel, we come to forks in the road where we have make decisions. The hard part about these forks in the road is that they seem rather small, but sometimes have serious implications.
This past weekend I was with a bi-vocational pastor who buys, renovates, and sells homes. We were laughing about a time about 3 years ago when he had a house for sale that was just outside of the mission field God had called me and my wife to. The house was literally across the street.
What was the problem with a house across the street? In many ways, nothing. Except the fact that everyone in my mission field believes that the people who live on that side of that street can’t possibly understand what life on this side of the street is like. In my eyes, that made me a worse missionary to my mission field, so I turned the house down.
This is just one example of several things we’ve intentionally chosen to do for the sake of the mission God has called us to. We’ve had to decide whether to send our kids to a school in our neighborhood or somewhere else. We’ve had to only consider houses with living rooms and dining rooms big enough for a church to meet in. We’ve had to say no to opportunities that have taken us away from our mission field, like board opportunities and ministry trips.
My point is that a life of mission will mean making some very natural choices intentionally. You won’t have to make the same choices we’ve made, but the choices you make will impact the mission you are on. Don’t believe the everyday or supposedly “non-spiritual” choices you make don’t affect the mission. They absolutely do. Make choices in your life by lining up your natural decisions with the call of Jesus on your life. This is what the Bible calls faithfulness.
Yesterday I was asked to share about our house churches’ approach to mission with some leaders at a local congregation here in my city. And this opportunity has had me mulling over what has helped us as we’ve followed Jesus into the harvest.
But one of the ideas that I’m having trouble shaking is the idea of how comfortable a Christian subculture can be. It’s a common thing–I’ve seen it in my life and the lives of others–that when we give our lives to Christ we often also join a church. And each church often desires to draw us into its influence–sometimes for good and sometimes for poor reasons.
Whether it was for good reasons or bad reasons, this can have the effect of limiting our influence among the lost. We can spend time building relationships, practicing disciplines, and enjoying the benefits of being the church…and all of these things are good in their place. But all of this can also steal us away from spending time with those who need us the most–the lost.
I’ve also seen believers in the pursuit of holiness and closeness to Jesus pull away from the world. They want purity and distance from temptation–and again, this is good. However, we can develop our own little Christian ghettos–places so secluded from the world–that we become judgemental toward the sin of the world. We aren’t able to lovingly interact with a world that is just as lost as we were. In fact, we look down on it.
Enjoying relationships and pursuing holiness aren’t bad things in the right context. But we have to be willing to “leave the comforts of home” so to speak. We have to be willing to forsake the benefits of Christian culture in order to reach a non-Christian one. All cross-cultural missionaries know the pain and power of this vital step. As part of a church you love, you have greatly benefited. But because of the call of Jesus to a particular mission field, you have to leave the church that you’ve benefited from in order to start a church where there is none.
I believe God is calling more than just a handful of people to cross the ocean and live out this reality. Instead, God is calling His entire church to take on the identity of a missionary and that will mean having to leave the culture of Western Christianity and crossing into the worlds of the inner city, the business world, and even suburban soccer moms. Not all of us will cross oceans, but all of us can re-arrange our schedules, change how we spend money, and change how we relate to the unsaved.
There’s nothing wrong with home. It’s just that unbelievers don’t live there. The world by and large has stopped coming to our doors for answers. And the ones who truly, really need the gospel certainly aren’t swinging by for another meeting. So you’ll have to go to them and get used to living near them. But take heart, you’re in good company. God has already gone ahead of you.
More on that tomorrow…
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who are considering joining or starting house churches. One of the odd realities of the house church movement in the United States is the belief that apostles (sometimes also referred to as “workers”) are needed to start legitimate house churches. I hear this a lot, but I believe it’s harmful.
So I will fairly often get a question that goes something like this: “I live in ___________ City. I don’t have a group believers who want to start a house church and no apostle will come help me. What should I do?”
I understand why people would look at the Scriptures and think that apostles are the only ones who start churches. But it’s a fairly odd belief for a movement that has based much of its identity around the idea that Jesus shows up wherever “two or three are gathered.” If Jesus meant this, and I believe He did, then church begins when two or three legitimate believers gather in his name, not when an apostle shows up to pronounce them a church.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think apostles are incredibly important, essential really, to the building up of the body of Christ. I also think that apostles do plant churches and probably plant more churches than people with other giftings in the body. It’s part of their nature. But to say that an organic church must be started by an apostolic worker is a great way to get less house churches started.
An argument could be made here that more house churches could be started without apostles, but they would be of lesser quality, less focused on the glory of God and more prone to be outside of what the Lord intended. Except the Scripture doesn’t paint that picture. Here a few places where it seems that Scripture shows us hints of non-apostolicly founded churches:
- Acts 2:42-47- This is the Jerusalem church that was birthed after the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 in the upper room. Now I won’t argue that the apostles didn’t help form the house churches described in this passage, obviously they were a vital part of the community. But they were 12 men out of 3000 people. There was no way the apostles could have spent a significant amount of quality time with each house church there, especially not in the way many understand the modern apostle/worker starting a house church.
- Acts 11:19-21- Here is a church or a number of churches (“a large number of people”) that was formed by “those who were scattered because of the persecution.” We know that this doesn’t include the apostles, because Acts 8:3 tells us the only people who stayed in Jerusalem were the apostles. Now, apostles were eventually involved. I think apostolic input into any church is important. But this church started when believers scattered by the persecution started preaching the gospel and people came to the Lord.
- Colossians 1:7- The church in Colossae was started not by Paul, but by Epaphras. Paul had never been to Colossae but wrote his letter to them to encourage them in their walk. I would actually argue Epaphras was an apostolic worker, but if you want to get super technical about it, Paul never calls him that.
- Revelation 2 & 3- Again, we don’t know a lot about most of the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 other than the church in Ephesus. What we do know is that Paul started the church in Ephesus, but other unnamed believers started the churches in Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philladelphia, and Laodecia. These were most likely churches that were established as the Gospel went out from Ephesus into all of the region. These were all affirmed as churches by Jesus himself, even though Paul only planted the church in Ephesus.
I say all of this to make the following point: If you can’t find an apostolic worker to help you start a house church, you are not abandoned by God. Quite the contrary, you could be a vessel the Lord uses to lead unbelievers to Christ and see a church formed. This is why I want you to plant a house church.
And given what we see in many of these Scriptures, I think it’s very appropriate for apostles to help with the ongoing maturing and equipping of house churches they didn’t start. Part of their role as a bond-servant of Christ is to serve churches in just such a manner. Paul tells us explicitly in Ephesians 4 that God “gave some as apostles…for…the building up of the body of Christ.” So to say we don’t need apostles would be silly.
But to despair, to give up hope, to stop believing God for the formation of churches without an apostle ready and willing to help is just not what I see in the New Testament. I see a whole people learning to follow Christ and willing to risk even their physical lives to share the gospel with those who have never heard it. And when those souls come to Christ, there should be no wringing of hands because no apostle is present. There is simply a confidence that the God who has led them this far would continue to empower and sustain them.
And in this way, we don’t just gain apostles, but we embody the kind of apostolic Christianity I believe God wants to restore in the Earth. May it be so, even for those who are reading this today.