Advancing. Not Strolling.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
For this message I owe much to Jim Putman, Founder and Pastor of Real Life Ministries, and to our Teaching Pastor, Shane Segars. I took Shane to lunch at McDonalds to pick his brain on this topic. His help was worth every dime. In fact, he should have opted for a more expensive restaurant.
Matt. 4:18a As He was walking along the Sea of Galilee,. . .
Jesus was not taking a leisurely stroll. Walking with resolute step, He was on mission, walking into history books, into a future world He foresaw.
Jesus was marching, focused on His strategy to change our planet. The plan was organizationally simple, and still points us to unchanging, Biblical principles that should be powerfully affecting our outreach efforts.
Jim Putman noted the importance of studying not only Jesus’ doctrines but also His tactics. “Too many Christians have divorced the teachings of Jesus from the methods of Jesus, and yet expect the results of Jesus.”
We at Second have been diligent to study, correctly interpret, and obey Jesus’ teachings. This sermon is an effort to help us do a better job of enacting His methods. I pray this will help us see more of Jesus’ results.
I am not savvy enough to know precisely what the new paradigm in USA churches needs to look like, but I know we need help. Of 360,000 USA churches, 15% are growing. Two to five percent are experiencing growth due to unbelievers being won. Fifty percent of evangelical churces had zero converts in 2010. In the USA the gates of Hell do not have to prevail against much these days. Churches seem powerless to alter society’s slide into sin.
We have to figure out how to change this failure, and we can, because God’s church works if it uses God’s methods. If church is done right, people will be saved and discipled. We need to learn again our Master’s approach.
His method began with inner space, with one Person. Jesus lived a perfect life, reminding us holiness matters most. He closely communed with the Father. Knowing God’s will for our future at Second will require an unwavering commitment on our part to daily be in the Bible and in prayer. Without holiness, all else is for naught.
Jesus ministered to the sick, poor, and hurting. The disenfranchised were always on His heart. He also came to seek and to save the lost (LK 19:10). We must have a heart change toward lostness if we are to impact the world. If we don’t care as Jesus did, we won’t win people as Jesus did.
The first method of Jesus we need to imitate is in our inner space. He was a worshiper (holiness), a minister, and a missionary (evangelism). Each of us is to be all three. Our outer success always hinges on inner success.
Jesus’ second step, the one taken in our text on the shore of Lake Galilee, was private space, calling to Himself co-laborers with whom He would form a close-knit group. Of the four brothers He called here, three became His nearest acquaintances. We too need close spiritual friends.
Let me hasten to say, this friendship was as much for Jesus’ sake as for the three’s. Being human, Jesus needed support. The three helped Him. When headed to the death throes of Gethsemane, Jesus took the three.
We need peoplewe can trust ourselves to, and share our heart-secrets with. The heart is deceptive. In nothing do we err more grievously than in self-analysis. We misinform ourselves. Close friends can help us accurately know us. They can prod us—are we doing daily devotions, have we recently had spiritual conversations with the lost, and ministered to the hurting? My wife, family, and a few ministers have filled this role for me.
Jesus’ third step would be personal space, what we would call a small group. He chose twelve believers “to be with Him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).
The Twelve were trained to win pre-Christians, and were the first recipients of the Great Commission. Small groups are incomplete if they don’t include unbelievers. Having small groups for the sake of having small groups is not what we are to be about. None of Jesus’ methods is a panacea in itself. We too often start small groups that are but smaller carbon copies of larger groups we are already in. To impact our nation, we have to have a change of heart about the purpose of a small group. Evangelism was the original purpose of Sunday School. We somehow changed it to a seminary.
A small group is the best environment in which unbelievers can come to know believers well. In the small group, we can, before a lost friend comes, talk about possible embarrassment or discomfort that might happen.
What if someone curses, brags about drugs and alcohol use, or disagrees with us politically? A small group can in advance discuss these possible scenarios, and create a safe environment for unbelievers to come to.
I recall my agonizing response when one of our key soulwinners told me our church was the last place he would bring lost friends he was trying to win. He felt they would not feel welcome here. I hope his words were overstated, but I agree small groups are a better place to bring the lost first.
Outreach should be a small group’s primary emphasis, but not its only one. With a group of twelve, Jesus shared life, training, and teaching. He opened His life to them. Jesus was able to use them because they were teachable and moldable. I fear we often avoid small groups because we feel no need to learn and be trained. We think we know and do enough already.
In small groups, developing and modeling happen. We know people’s business, their ins and outs, and the names of their family and pets. Billy Graham, when asked what he would do if he were a Pastor, said he would surround himself with 10 or 12 men to share himself with for several years.
The fourth group was social space, the calling of the 70 (Luke 10:1ff). They went to cities as laborers in the harvest, proclaiming the kingdom had come near. They were assigned tasks. This is still a perfect size for banding together to do mission and ministry. We hope our ABFs fulfill this role.
A group of seventy can help us stay on mission by keeping us from being inward focused. Twelve can become a self-absorbed group, closed due to people becoming too close knit, too much like a club or a clique. We enjoy each other so much we become a holy huddle, no one else can get in.
It is interesting to note, seventy is the average size of a USA church. That’s about how many people an individual can know by name, be personable with, and co-labor closely with. It is no coincidence Jesus sent this size of a group on mission. This is where people get mobilized for mission and ministry. We as a group can have impact.
Seventy doing something huge can be sustained. One, three, or twelve can get exhausted quickly. In a church as ministry-minded and missions-minded as Second, it is easy for workers to burn out. Laboring from within a cluster helps. It allows time for rest while the work can continue unabated.
Boomers are often abdicating work roles in church. They want to be gone due to retirement. Seventy can band together to get the job done.
Jesus’ fifth group was public space, the multitudes. As a sidebar, no one here has enough time to do all four of these last groups independently of the others. They have to be, in reverse order, subsets of each other. In our multitude we find 70, in this 70 we find 12, in our 12 we find three.
Crowds followed Jesus everywhere. In a large gathering the Bible is proclaimed, invitations to respond are offered, and people are inspired. A worship service can cause believers and unbelievers to want more of God.
A large crowd gives credence to the Gospel. It proves the one friendly believer a particular unbeliever is interacting with is not an aberation, not totally different from all other Christians, who might be deemed jerks.
Again, I am not wise enough to know what new paradigm will lead us from defeat to victory, but we do need to reevaluate our Master’s methods to discern what we are missing, and what might help us in difficult times.