Everybody thinks they are in “the middle.”
It’s the people to the right of you that are extreme crazies and all those to your left have no convictions whatsoever. Recognizing that “the middle” is a subjective term, I still want to propose a middle ground for understanding pastoring, planting, and being a missionary.
There are many things to consider when serving in pastoring, planting, or missions. My intent here is not to address them all, but to encourage you to consider two aspects. I call them “grids.”
These two grids to look at church ministry are theological and missiological grids. The tendency, as is always the case, is to drift to either extreme to the detriment of the other end. There are some who are only concerned about theology, without ever considering how to relate to their community. Others are obsessed with being relevant and will cast aside biblical convictions if they clash with cultural values.
I don’t think either of these are healthy ways to lead churches. A balance is needed. Church leaders must think both theologically and missiologically. Now, that’s a “balance” and a “middle” that I need to explain. As such, I’ll illustrate why a middle ground is needed. I want to explain why each grid is vital. In demonstrating the value of each, the goal is for you to recognize the importance of both.
Today, I want to concentrate on the theological grid. Why should we be concerned with theology if our goal is to reach the community?
“How do we start churches if we don’t believe Jesus is the only way?”
I’m invited to speak at numerous different Christian organizations, networks, and denominations. Rarely do those invitations surprise me. But when I was asked to speak to a group from a mainline denomination that would be self-identified as liberal, I have to admit, I was a little surprised.
They gave me four hours to teach on anything I wanted. So I got up there and I taught on the gospel. People were taking notes and I thought, “This is kind of awesome.” But at the end, they wanted to ask some questions about outreach. They asked something like, “How do we get our people to think urgently about evangelism if we don’t believe Jesus is the only way?”
At first, I had no idea how to respond. They’d heard me speak about the gospel and its implications for several hours. But, with a big smile on my face, I said, “First, let me just tell you that you repent because Jesus is the only way.” There was some nervous laughter across the room, but this wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted a pragmatic solution that could solve their decline. They wanted more churches simply because they needed more churches.
Obviously, this was an extreme example, but there is a temptation for any church leader to focus so much on the pragmatics of reaching their community that they forget to keep themselves grounded theologically.
To what are we winning people?
There are others who are not as extreme. They have good motives, but without stronger theological convictions they can lose their way. These church leaders go into the situation with an “anything goes” mantra that will cause trouble later.
They pastor, plant a church, or engage a people group using any means necessary because “people need Jesus.” They use whatever it takes to draw in a crowd, gain attention, or reach the lost. Pastors in some places come up with shocking sermon series or surprising stunts in the community. The goal is to gather people in and let them hear about Jesus and nothing is off limits.
I understand that desire (or the temptation) to reach people and then worry about teaching and discipleship down the road, but a church leaders must think long term from a Kingdom perspective. Theologically, church leaders have to recognize that they, like all other believers, have been called to make lifelong disciples of Jesus, not temporary converts.
You can do lots of things to gather a crowd or reach a community, but are those things consistent with scripture and the Gospel? In the end, you have to ask the question, to what am I winning these people? Or better yet, to whom am I winning these people?
When leading a church through pastoring, planting, or being a missionary, theology matters. What we believe has implications for how we behave. If the gospel is not properly understood, it cannot be persistently proclaimed. If the teachers of the church are not well-engaged, a bibilcal church will not be present.
Pastors, planters, and missionaries need to be grounded in the theology of the gospel. There is no long-term relevance outside of the eternal things of God. Furthmore, they need to work from a theological grid as to what church is, what evangelism is, how discipleship matters, and more.
However, as I hope to show in the next post, the right theology must be communicated in a way that makes sense to those we are trying to reach. We need a theological grid, but being a church leader also requires a missiological grid as well.