The Great Commission Is Completed through Multiplication, Not Addition
The following coincides with a book I am releasing this August, called Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send, in which I talk about how to engineer your church or Christian organization for effective multiplication and sending. Sending capacity, not seating capacity, should define a church’s “success” in mission! If you are interested, check-out or pre-order here!
Jesus’ vision of the church was not a group of people gathered around one anointed leader, but multiple leaders going out in the power of the Spirit. It’s a claim that very few of us take seriously: Jesus literally said that that a multiplicity of Spirit-filled leaders would be greater than his earthly, bodily presence (John 14:12).
Can you imagine the power of a church in which ordinary members know what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God and led by the Spirit of God? God’s plan to glorify himself in the church never consisted of platformed megapastors, cutting edge art, or expensive buildings. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things in themselves, but the real power in the church is found the Holy Spirit moving through ordinary people as they carry his presence into the streets.
Luke goes out his way to show that the biggest advances of the gospel happen through ordinary people. Of all the miracles in Acts, 39 of 40 were done outside of the church. We need to expect that kind of ratio today, too. In our post-Christian age, fewer and fewer people casually “make their way” into churches. The de-churched are becoming the unchurched, who view Christianity the way you or I might view Islam. I wouldn’t meander my way into a mosque, even if their music was awesome or if their Imam was an engaging speaker doing a helpful series on “relationships.” We can’t expect cutting edge music and entertaining speakers to continue doing the trick. People in our day will increasingly have to be reached outside the walls of the church, and that means individual believers living filled with the Spirit is more important than ever.
It also means that, as a church, we’ve got to focus on empowering and equipping those in our church for ministry. It’s always encouraging to see our attendance numbers grow, but I know that incremental growth won’t make a difference for 99% of the people in Raleigh-Durham. We need to empower our people to multiply God’s power where they already are. As Paul says, God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:11–12). What that means is that when I became a pastor, I left the ministry. Our role as pastors isn’t just to “do ministry,” but to equip our people to understand their calling in God’s mission…and to carry it out.
God’s kingdom advances as we multiply our leaders, not as we hoard them. At the Summit, that means we’ve recently developed what we call a “leadership pipeline.” It’s a way for us to help people clarify their calling and gain the competence to accomplish it. At the intern level, we help members become leaders; at the apprentice level we help leaders become ministers; and at the resident level we help ministers become specialized pastors (church planters, missionaries, lay elders, etc.). We want to fill the homes, the offices, the neighborhoods of RDU with leaders–not merely Christian converts, but Christian disciples.
Those that know him well say that Jack Welch’s (the legendary CEO of G.E.) greatest gifting was his ability to spot and raise up leaders. An impressive number of CEOs came from G.E. Welch gave away some good leaders, but the leadership culture he created attracted many to replace the ones he “sent.” He knew that multiplication was greater than addition. And that is what we desire as a church, because the greatest ministry power happens not as we add to our numbers, but as we empower and release people into the world It happens when we open our hands to God and say, “We don’t want to be a group of people gathered around a leader, but to be a leadership factory.”