Dr. Ray Ortlund joined us for our 2019 annual retreat and delivered a timely encouragement to our Summit Collaborative pastors. The churches we long for will require diligence and wisdom in doctrine, culture, and spirituality.
By J.D. Greear
At The Summit Church, there are some key themes and philosophies that we are currently implementing to remain focused on calling and obedience towards making disciples. What does it look like to be faithful? How do we remain faithful? And what does it look like to replicate faithfulness in others to that end?
If you are in your first couple of years of church planting, this might not apply to where you are now, but as you move into your third year, fourth year, and beyond, I think you’ll be able to relate.
Many years ago at The Summit Church, there was a group of people who said, “Jesus and his mission will be first.” That was expressed in two primary ways: They were willing to do whatever it took to reach the lost (even if it was uncomfortable), and they were willing to do whatever the Holy Spirit said.
But here’s what happens: When churches like ours get big and “settled,” so to speak, they experience a natural inertia. Within a generation, they move from mission to maintenance. They go from being reckless in the mission to being comfortable in the institution.
We see a dichotomy between first generation faith and second generation faith. There are vast, yet subtle, differences between the faith and activity of the first generation in the local church versus those that inherit the product of their labors. This dichotomy works as a framework from which a church may be able to assess its own efficacy in faith to follow in obedience, or its laziness and lack of initiative to follow out what God has called them to do. (I was first presented with this framework by one of our campus pastors who got it from his days in Campus Outreach. I am not sure where it originated, but I want to give credit where credit is due.)
Scripturally speaking, every succeeding generation has to receive and reinvigorate the faith they inherited from their predecessors. I especially want to highlight the story of Moses passing on his leadership to Joshua at the end of Deuteronomy. When Moses passed on his leadership to Joshua, Joshua had to make his own leap of faith in order to lead the Israelites. Joshua could not merely just take what Moses did and was a part of, expecting it to work with his own generation – he had to create in himself, and his generation, another first generation faith in order to execute God’s will for them. With this, I encourage that we, as church leaders, ought to not only inherit the blessing of those who labored before us but to be faithful to seek what God has ahead of us.
If a church is entering into a period beyond their first generation, then they have to reassume the first generation’s faith to make sure that they are still seeking God in total faith and obedience. It really is life or death for a church. Lack of this will lead to plateauing, if not actual death in the church; not even necessarily plateauing or total fallout in numbers, but in sheer spiritual health, the church may be in danger of becoming stagnant and lukewarm in faith. Therefore, let’s constantly re-evaluate ourselves, our staff, and our congregation on this matter since the vast majority of church leadership and membership is currently reaping the benefits of someone else’s audacious faith that occurred years to decades prior. The goal is to be the second wave of the first generation instead of the second generation.
The Summit has put this First Generation/Second Generation mentality before the congregation initially by way of the “First” campaign which touched on finances and putting the congregation’s first and best before God. Then by the “Who’s Your One?” initiative which touches on personal evangelism. The latter has been put forward to the entirety of the Southern Baptist Convention in an effort to revitalize a sense of personal ministry outside of the church walls. The “Who’s Your One?” initiative works on three core theological assumptions of this.
First, the core of our commission is to spread the Gospel and make disciples. There are two particular passages that anchor down this point. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus explains that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7). Though we ought not to neglect the ninety-nine (those internal to the church), what we do for the one (those external to the church) brings the most joy to the Kingdom of
Heaven. The second passage is the Great Commission text in Matthew 28. The only verb in that passage is the command to make disciples, everything else is a modifier of that verb. Therefore, the action of making disciples is the focal point of the Great Commission.
Second, ordinary people are the tip of the Gospel spear. I would boldly put out there that the call of the “minister,” in a round-about way, is actually a call to leave the ministry in order to equip the saints of the church to do it. This is because the vast majority of ministry should be happening outside of the church building. The early church took hold and ownership of the vision, conviction, and commission God had given them and enacted it with little to no resources and without relying on high capacity leadership strategies.
Third, in today’s increasingly post-Christian world we know that we need to reach people outside of the church. At some point we cannot focus on improving our “product” (e.g. guest services, better sermons, etc.) and expect people outside of the local church to come inside of our doors when most people have total apathy towards ever thinking of entering a church to begin with. The fact of the matter is that improving or developing what we have on the inside will not affect the people on the outside. Interpersonal relationships and having answers for the questions people have in life is the bridge over the great divide. It is only by going outside to the people that we can invite them into the church.
The faith of the previous generation was awesome, but it’s not enough to take us there. As we look to the Promised Land, let’s do whatever it takes to put God and his mission first in our churches and in our lives.
This article is an excerpt from a collection of talks from our 2019 Summit Collaborative Retreat about what it looks like for us to run with pace, to build strength for long-term movement. You can download the entire book for free below.