I have only traveled internationally a couple of times in my life, and I have only left my home continent three times. I am clearly no expert on intercontinental travel, but I am fairly confident that a US resident will need more than a car to reach five of the six other continents. A vehicle working here is not necessarily a vehicle that will work everywhere.
I feel like most churches, pastors, and Christians struggle to understand this concept when it comes to reaching the world around them with the gospel.
The vehicle you have been using to reach the world around you is probably not the vehicle you need to blaze new ground in the places outside your world. Andy Stanley makes a painfully obvious observation that pastors and churches need to understand:
“Your [church, discipleship program, evangelism plan, missions strategy] is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently getting.”
Think of every frustration you have with your church. Think of every person you wish you were reaching. Think of every empty seat you long to see filled with a person committed to following Jesus. Think of every ministry and mission you wish you could fund.
Now, recognize the brutal truth – your church is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently seeing.
Every problem has to be met with a solution. If your solution to seeing an ocean between you and your destination is to just keep driving, it won’t be long before you are sinking.
You may already feel the water around your ankles. But you can stop. You can find a new vehicle. You can get where God is calling you to go.
Let me share 5 absolutely crucial steps to get where you want to go.
- KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!!!! I cannot overstate this enough. Most churches and pastors have no idea where they want to go. You need to be able to answer that question in two sentences or less. If it takes more than that, no one else will remember everywhere you are trying to go, and you will end up going by yourself. Two sentences. Where is your [church, ministry, discipleship program, evangelism strategy] going?
- Ask questions until you have to look up more questions to ask. Once you know where you are going, ask questions about everything! Why are we doing that? Who is helping us get there? Should we be doing that? Is that working like we were promised it would? What do we need more of? What is our cost benefit for every ministry and event we have at our church? Ask questions until you have exhausted yourself learning about where you are, refining where you are going, and evaluating what you have and what you need. Never stop asking questions.
- Be personal, loving, and generous as you evaluate people. Prioritize people as you try to go to a new destination. Go as slow as they need to go. Communicate clearly, then communicate clearly again, and again, and again. A leader who arrives as a destination without people following is not a leader – you’re a lone wolf. A leader who arrives at a destination with a trunk full of dead volunteers is not a leader – you are a sanctified sociopath. Prioritize people as you reach your destination.
- Be obsessively relentless and coldly ruthless in evaluating systems. Once you know where you are going, you need to evaluate everything you do, every penny you spend, every word you say, every program in place. My dad was part of a major mega church that would literally spend millions of dollars on a massive Christmas production every year in order to reach the lost with the story of Jesus and the gospel. Over the course of a few years, my dad was able to present a brutal truth to the leadership of that church – their 20 year tradition, taking millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, and every ounce of leadership capital every year, was, and had been, failing to fulfill its purpose. Every year. I am proud to say my dad was influential in killing one of the most loved traditions in one of the most important churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I am proud because my dad was ruthlessly committed to reaching the lost. Be absolutely ruthless in evaluating your systems, because no system is worth the soul of a lost person in your city who will not be reached with that system.
- Take the action you know you need to take. As you deal gently with people and harshly with systems, you will find times where action must be taken. Pray for the courage to take that action. I once had a mentor tell me courage was the most important quality of a leader, and I did not understand that at all – until I looked back and saw all the ways my inaction had hurt the church I was called to lead and the people I was called to shepherd. Be strong and courageous. Take action as soon as you know action is needed.
Just over 10 months ago, my church I am helping to plant had a really great women’s bible study going, led by a seriously gifted teacher in our church. At that time, we were a church plant team that had not even launched yet. That rocking bible study was amazing, but it was not leading people to disciple other people, which is why I speak of that amazing bible study with an incredibly gifted teacher in past tense. Having a great women’s bible study is not what we need right now. We need our people to disciple other people. So we were ruthless in our assessment of that system, and we took the action we needed to. We broke up our great bible study led by a phenomenal teacher to start three small bible studies led by less gifted teachers.
Now, almost a year later, we have four women who are teaching the bible to other women on a weekly basis. We have seen two women find their place in our community with relationships they never imagined having in the church. We are currently seeing a marriage saved, and one of those small groups, led by one of our not-as-good-as-her teachers was the catalyst that led to life change for both the wife and husband. We know where we are going, and we aren’t about to let the wrong vehicle stop us.
Pastor, find and use the right vehicle to get you where you want to go. You will never regret dropping the program that wasn’t working in order to embrace the one that will.