Church & Ministry
The world is already broken, and now we have gone and broken the church. Take this series to learn how to fix it.
The world is already broken, and now we have gone and broken the church.
Here’s a simple question. Do you think the disciples were special? The way you answer that question will radically affect your pursuit of God. If you believe the disciples were different than you and me – chosen, elite, anointed from birth – then you will read their story and consider it extraordinary. But if you believe that they were just average guys, invited by Jesus to simply follow him, then you might consider their lives to be an ordinary prescription for every believer today.
The fact is, the disciples were not special people before they met Jesus. They were fishermen and tax collectors, average guys. The twelve were far less educated than most Americans today, and not the group of men most pastors would choose for building a movement. But Jesus invited them to follow him, and when they responded, something special happened. For three years, they walked with Jesus and learned from him, and he rubbed off on them. And then he left. And they changed the world. What Jesus did with them, and what he did for them, made them revolutionaries. It didn’t happen overnight, and there was no quick fix, but what Jesus did for them he wants to do for everyone who accepts the invitation to follow him.
The world is winning people to its side in record numbers, with Satan as its chief strategist. Meanwhile, churches go about their business and lose more and more of the market share in the arena of ideas. It is not enough to know truth and be willing to act on it; what the world needs now are the practical tools to bridge the gap.
We broke the church, and with God’s help we can fix it. Are you in?
Chapter 1: The Broken Church
“Pop quiz!” blurted Pastor Jun Escosar, director of the School of Missions for Victory in the Philippines. He had seen us slip into the back of the room, my friend Nick, my co-pastor Steve and me.
“You hit the ground in a closed country, and you don’t know a soul. You have nothing but the clothes on your back. What is the first thing you do?”
My mind raced. I was a competitive student, and I was certain I knew the answer. After finishing a graduate degree from Wheaton, my wife Tracy and I had moved to Utah to plant a church. We had lived this pop quiz, and we survived to tell the story. Alpine Church was the fastest growing Christian church at the time, and in my heart I was proud.
Back to the question. “Get a job,” I thought to myself. After all, that’s what I did to supplement our small missionary support. I had my contingency answers lined up as well. “Write a good sermon,” “Produce a great church service,” “Get the right staff on the bus.” These were all backup answers, and I was certain one of them was right.
Pastor Jun called on a young Filipino in the third row.
“Make one disciple,” he answered.
Pastor Jun smiled. “That’s right. Just make one disciple, and equip him to do the same.”
We broke the church by getting away from the simple strategy of Jesus.
Jesus did a lot of things in his earthly ministry, but the main thing he did – aside from going to the cross for us – was to mentor a small group of regular guys.
Read the Gospels for yourself. Even when Jesus preached to the crowds, he often went further with the 12 to bring clarity to their understanding. Jesus took a great interest in his small group of disciples. He poured truth into their minds intentionally every day, and he patiently helped them to discover and apply that truth in their everyday lives.
And then he left, and he released his disciples to do the same thing.
Professional Preachers and Consumer Christians
The typical Church in America looks nothing like Jesus’ model. Most Sundays we gather up our families into minivans and drive to church to listen as a professional pastor delivers a professional sermon. Then we nod and smile and thank him for the talk, and we get back in our minivans and forget all about it. He did his job, and that’s the end of it.
Americans are accustomed to the consumer mentality. We go to the big box stores and get pitched the newest products. We sit down for lunch and get great service from start to finish – or else they lose our business. And we go to church with the same mentality. The videos, the music, the sermon – all of it is product. And we are ever evaluating, ready to take our business elsewhere if need be.
But disciples of Jesus are not supposed to be consumers. We are called to be the servers at the table, not the ones eating. In fact, disciples are the product itself – it’s what the church is supposed to make. We are to be a disciple factory, with one batch of disciples making another batch, and that batch making another one, and so on. All with the authority of Jesus and under the power of the Holy Spirit.
At Alpine Church, Christians sometimes come to me to complain about our services. “The sermons aren’t deep enough. The music isn’t moving enough.” Those comments are dead giveaways for consumer Christians. They are looking to be fed rather than to feed. They are viewing their church experience as a product, rather than seeing themselves as a producer of disciples. But it’s not their fault. I drew them to my church with my slick sermons. I doted over then with my pastoral training. I created the consumers that were breaking my church.
At Alpine Church, we put a major emphasis on creating a seeker-friendly “gateway” worship service, and we’ve always encouraged our people to invite their friends and neighbors to the service. If you would have asked one of our faithful attenders how he or she could “do their part” at our church, the answer was simple: invite more people. That’s what we taught them, and now we know that’s how we broke the church. By teaching our people to invite their friends to church – without equipping them with a clear strategy for follow-up discipleship – we were inadvertently promoting a broken strategy. By offering Kids’ Church and a youth ministry – without equipping parents with the tools to do the heavy lifting at home – we were setting up our families for failure. By teaching about discipleship from the pulpit – but failing to define it clearly for those listening – we were confusing everyone. Pastors are the ones who set up the system in the first place and frustrating even our most faithful attenders.
John is a great example. I recently asked him the standard question that I like to challenge young men with.
“Are you discipling anyone right now?”
“Uh, no. I don’t think so.”
“Did anyone disciple you?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What does that even mean to you?
Silence. I clarify.
“What comes to mind when you think of discipling someone?”
“Maybe sharing the gospel with them? Inviting them to church?”
This lack of clarity isn’t John’s fault. He was raised to be a consumer: attend church, hear a sermon, go home. He doesn’t feel the personal responsibility to actually make a disciple, and even if he did, he doesn’t feel equipped. When John brings a friend to church, he will most likely ask me to lead the guy to Christ. After all, I’m the professional.
Inviting people to a church service is not a bad thing, but it should never have become the main thing. Jesus wants regular people personally discipling, not just inviting people to hear a professional sermon.
Fisherman and Pharisees
The fact that Jesus wants regular people doing the work of the ministry is made clear in the calling of his 12 disciples. Jesus did not come to the Pharisees or the religious elite of the day when he chose his inner circle. He grabbed average guys with no particular skills for ministry and then he transformed them into world changers.
Matthew 4:18-22 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The fishermen were regular guys, just going about their ordinary business. They weren’t looking for a career change. They had no illusions of being world-changers. But Jesus called to them, and they responded. They went all in, even though they had no idea what that meant.
What message would it have sent if Jesus chose Pharisees instead of fishermen? I believe the early church would have been very different. Instead of a movement for the masses, it would have been relegated to the smart, rich and powerful. It would have elevated head knowledge above heart obedience. It would have made the early Christian message inaccessible to the average guy. And it would have created a massive divide between qualified teachers and the average Christian.
It would have looked like our church today.
The viral, grassroots strategy of Jesus from 2000 years ago is almost nowhere to be found in the church today. And this in spite of the fact that we have more resources at our disposal for making our message viral than ever before. Satan is using the internet and social media to cast his net and spread his lies, and he is gaining followers in record numbers. Meanwhile, the Christian Church is squandering the opportunity to use those same resources for the spread of the gospel.
Picture the Christian church as a football stadium on gameday. Where would you be? In the stands? On the bench? On the field? Your position or title in the church will most likely affect your answer. If you’re a senior pastor, you might call yourself the coach. Elders and key volunteers might see themselves as the players, blocking or running or passing. Faithful Christian attenders occupy the first few rows of the stadium, and nominal Christians have taken the seats in the upper deck. Seekers occasionally find their way in to watch the game.
But Jesus has a different picture in mind. In his playbook, every believer is in the game – and when a seeker comes to faith in Christ, he gets on the field immediately. And the name of the game is disciple-making (we’ll define it clearly in a later chapter). Volunteering to serve in the church or community is great, and it is certainly a part of the Christian life. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Jesus is most interested in one thing: regular people helping regular people pursue God.
Even as you read this, ask yourself a few simple questions:
Confused and Broken
As it is in business and sports, so it is in the church: the best leaders are the ones with the greatest clarity. Having a clear mission as an organization allows you to have a steady vision for your future along with strategic objectives for getting the job done. Ultimately that is expressed in a culture that matches the stated mission, so that everyone in the organization is aligned and moving forward together.
Without a clear mission, any team or organization is doomed.
Most American churches wander aimlessly without a clear mission because their leaders are unclear about the biblical mandate for the church. Other churches build buildings and preach sermons and create programs – but they’re aiming at a shadow of the target, going for butts in seats and bucks in the offering but failing to equip believers to get in the game. Churches that operate like this will die slow, institutional deaths. They are broken.
When we opened our second campus at Alpine Church, we brought on one of our faithful leaders to be the campus pastor. Gerrod is a godly man, hard-working and sincere. He was a business owner and untrained in ministry, but we could see the call of God on his life. We prayed about it, invited him on the team, and rejoiced with the church as he accepted the position. Soon he started asking questions.
“So, what’s my job?”
“Uhhh, pastor the people.”
“No, what do I actually do every day?”
“Just be you, man.”
We weren’t very helpful. He kept pressing.
“Can I have, like, a job description?”
We wrote something up and gave him the document. Then we mostly ignored it, and on occasion we updated it. One thing was clear: none of us were very clear.
This should have been a clue to us. In our growth and expansion, we hadn’t taken the time to truly define what Gerrod’s job was – or the job of the average attender. We lacked clarity. Everyone knew our mission statement: to help people pursue God. But aside from putting on a good show every weekend, no one really knew what it actually meant. How, exactly, do parents help their kids pursue God? Many of them were failing, and the church was unable to help. How was an Alpiner supposed to help a neighbor find Jesus? Beside inviting them to church, we had no clear directives or strategy.
But at least we were starting to ask the right questions. We knew there was something not right about how we did ministry, and we were determined to figure it out. In spite of our simple mission statement, nobody was actually making disciples. The pastors were professionals and the people were consumers. We knew that something had to change, and we began to put the pieces together when we took an unexpected trip overseas.
Set Up: Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
What is your initial reaction to this topic? Explain.
Who are you discipling right now? Can you give a name?
Can you describe exactly what “discipleship” means to you? How would the person you’re discipling articulate it?
How likely is that person to go “disciple” someone else? How will they do it?
In one phrase or sentence, what is your church’s mission? In a few sentences, what is your church’s strategy for accomplishing your mission?
What percentage of your church’s average attenders could articulate your church’s mission?
Takeaway: Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
Chapter 2: Re-Visioning Church
“Just focus on great sermons. Without that, your church won’t grow.”
Lyle Schaller spoke with the conviction of a seasoned veteran. And he had earned the right, having studied, consulted for and written about churches for more decades than I had been alive – times two. I listened intently.
“And develop a good worship team as soon as possible. Those are the two keys. Preaching and music. That’s how you’ll attract the people.”
I filled my journal with his words. I still couldn’t believe I was sitting in his living room. I was nothing to him – or to anyone, for that matter. I hadn’t even started my church yet, and I was shocked to learn that he attended a church that I once youth pastored. The senior pastor graciously connected us during a fundraising visit.
“But I’d like to be multi-site,” I eagerly explained, “with mid-sized congregations everywhere instead of with the “mother ship” strategy. And I want to introduce multiple teaching pastors as soon as possible, so the church isn’t centered on my personality.”
“Well I’ll tell you what,” said Mr. Schaller as a smile spread across his face. “Come back and visit in 5 years to let me know how that works out.”
He was trying not to crush me in my youth.
“If it works, you’ll be the first.”
In our quest to identify what was broken about our church, our pastoral team started using the term “X”. “X” was our vision, our target, our ideal church. It was church the way Jesus intended for it to be – as far as we could understand it – the beautiful and radiant bride of Christ. We didn’t pretend to shoot for “Y” or “Z”, because we knew our church would never be perfect this side of heaven. But to us, “X” was attainable.
But what was “X”, the desired target? If we could not envision a healthy church, how could we become that church? We had identified some of the problems in our church: professional pastors, too many consumers, and a lack of clarity. We had the sense that we were treating the symptoms of a disease, and we were finally serious about getting to the root cause. That’s when God brought us a messenger.
I still remember the first time I met Nick Belangdal. He was a quiet, unassuming man from a southern province of the Philippines. He had been attending Alpine for several months, but I first met him in preparation for a missions trip to Mexico. Little did I know that Nick was a powerful, influential businessman with great vision and an impressive skill set in computer programming. But his influence on me would have nothing to do with his work life. He was the one to introduce me to Victory Church.
At the time, Victory Church was a massive multi-site church with over 35,000 attenders spread across 13 campuses in metro Manila. Nick had come to faith in the church in his early college years, when Victory was still in its early stages. I learned about it when Nick and I spent a week together on our Mexico missions trip. As we drove to our worksite every day, Nick would sit up front with me and insist that Alpine Church was just like his church back home. I couldn’t understand how our tiny church in Utah could be similar to a massive church in Southeast Asia, but Nick insisted that it was true. The more he talked, the more intrigued I became. This church was bigger than any church in the US. Why hadn’t I heard of it? It sounded too good to be true.
Nick offered to take me there so I could meet the leadership team. Within months I was on the plane with Nick and Steve Bennetsen, a co-pastor at Alpine who would investigate this mysterious church with me. When we landed in Manila, we had no idea what a dramatic influence this church would have on our ministry.
Steve and I were given backstage access to Victory’s top leaders immediately, and we were quickly impressed. Victory had 13 campuses and over 70 services every weekend, with live teaching at every venue. We were able to check out a service at one of the campuses, held at a city mall. When we got to the venue, we were shocked at the size of the crowd waiting outside the door, held out by security guards until the attenders from the previous service could clear out. We were lucky to find seats, as the walls were lined with a standing-room-only crowd. The music and teaching was great, but to our surprise, nobody acted like a rock star. In fact, because of the multitude of quality leaders and communicators, I had no idea who was in charge. It was exciting and confusing. We had never seen anything like it.
In our experience, megachurches in America had a clear formula: rock star teacher + rock star band = lots of spectators. But at Victory Church, either everyone was a rock star or no one was. We couldn’t tell. Nobody acted like it, that’s for sure. But the crowds were just so big.
And it turned out that nobody was really just a spectator after all. We started talking to the regular people to try to discover Victory’s secret sauce. Why were all of these people coming? The answer surprised us. It wasn’t about the exciting services after all. Every person we interviewed was there because of a friend, not because of a rock star celebrity. Ordinary relationships with regular people had brought them in.
And that’s when we discovered the secret sauce. It came out in a single word, one that came up in almost every conversation. Here’s what it sounded like:
“Tell us a little about your faith journey.” That was my typical opening statement.
“I came to faith at Victory two years ago. Mikko discipled me.”
“Wow. That’s great. Who’s Mikko?”
“Oh, he’s an old friend from college. He discipled me, and now I’m discipling three of our other friends right now. Two of them are getting baptized this month. It’s exciting to see what God is doing at Victory.”
Did you catch the word? Without prompting, people would naturally start talking about “discipleship”. Everyone was discipled, and everyone was discipling. We were baffled. After a few days of this, Steve turned to me with his observation: “Either this is the greatest church we’ve ever seen, or it’s a cult.” I agreed.
It’s not that anything was obviously wrong. It just seemed too good to be true. We couldn’t deny how different Victory was from Alpine. Our church was growing too, but nothing like this. And if you were to strike up a casual conversation with even our most dedicated leader, the magic “discipleship” word would almost certainly not be uttered. Discipleship – whatever that meant – just wasn’t happening at our church. We were beginning to wonder about the definition. So we asked.
“What exactly do you mean when you say Mikko discipled you?”
“Is there a system or a process?”
Again, hesitation. The answer seemed obvious, but he gave it anyway.
“It’s called the Four E’s: Engage, Establish, Equip and Empower.”
“Can you explain it?”
“Discipleship is relationship. Mikko knows me, so he just invited me to go through a booklet called ‘One to One’. That’s the first E. I turned him down for a long time, but eventually I was ready. He talked through the booklet with me and helped me to see my need for Jesus. After I accepted Christ, he invited me to Victory and I went through the next steps, getting established and equipped in the Christian faith.”
“So is there a book for that, too?”
“Yes, there’s a curriculum we use at church. It’s simple.”
“And what’s the last ‘E’ about?”
“In the end, I’m empowered to do the same thing Mikko did. I start praying about who to engage in my life, and when someone is willing to respond, I bring them through ‘One to One’. That’s what I’m doing right now with my three friends.”
It blew our minds. The answer was shockingly clear. At Victory Church, “discipling” meant bringing friends or family members through a common curriculum using a clearly-defined strategy with a common goal in view. And it was not about turning existing Christians into better Christians. They were reaching people outside the church, engaging them through intentional conversations, leading them to faith, connecting them into the life of the church and empowering them to go out and do exactly the same thing. It was revolutionary, literally.
I admit, we were still skeptical. We continued to observe and interview and take notes, but the veil was still over our eyes. We were seeing it, but we weren’t fully believing it. The leadership assured us that it was for real, and that it was future proof.
“You’ll see when Pastor Steve Murrell transitions back to the US. We’ll keep growing.”
Pastor Steve was their apostle, their planting pastor and architect of their discipleship culture.
“Many churches would implode after losing their main guy. But we’ll keep growing, we’re sure of it. Pastor Steve showed us how to make disciple-makers. We’ll keep doing it.”
They were right. Five years later I visited the church again with Scott Creps, another teaching pastor at Alpine Church. Victory had grown to more than 70,000 people – doubling its size since our first visit.
We have learned the secret sauce. There was nothing magical about their curriculum, and we did not come back with their booklets. It wasn’t what their curriculum was, but rather that there was a curriculum. What Victory Church has is exactly what most churches in the United States are missing: A discipleship culture with a clear toolkit and strategy for disciple-making.
Everyone’s Doing It
A church with a discipleship culture is one where disciple-making is the rule, not the exception. In every church I had ever been a part of, only an elite few felt equipped or empowered to make disciples. Usually those few would be separated from the crowd and set on the course for full-time ministry. But that is not how Paul taught us to build the church. Here’s how he described the strategy:
Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
Read that verse again, and then try to answer this question: Why did God give the church its leaders, and what is their job? The biblical answer is clear, though almost no one seems to truly get it. Ministers are supposed to equip. Members are supposed to minister.
Most American churches pay their pastors to preach and their youth pastors to entertain and their kids leaders to babysit. The people at Victory Church paid their pastors to equip them, and then they did the actual ministry.
Jesus was a master strategist, and he modeled how to grow a movement. He intentionally poured into a handful of average guys, and then he equipped them and sent them out to do just what he did, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then he left.
That’s it. That was his vision. Everyone is discipled. Then everyone makes disciples.
Today, cultural Christianity has brought us miles away from the simple picture of the early church. I appreciate people who have been trying to get this right, and many have done great work (or the like)… But on the whole, cultural Christianity has brought us miles away.
Steve Murrell said it like this: “We make disciples, Jesus builds the church.” He simply taught that when we do our job, Jesus does his job.
This is how the church should be.
What business are we in?
In the business world, companies that don’t understand their mission are vulnerable to in-fighting, sideways energy and hostile takeovers. Churches, too, are vulnerable to “mission drift”. The best leaders have clarity on their mission and they find a way to spread that clarity throughout their organization. Those are the companies that are taking over the world.
So what business is the church in? This is an important question to be able to answer, not just for its leaders but also for its members. If we can get clarity on this answer, it should change the way we do church. And the answer is simple: the church is in the business of making disciples. If we make disciples, we win. If we don’t make disciples, we lose. It’s that simple. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many sermons we preach or how many people come to listen. It doesn’t matter how many people we have fed or clothed or how many abortions we’ve stopped or which political candidate we get behind. Every event, outreach and program stands and falls on the ultimate metric: Did we make disciples? Did we make disciple-makers?
But let’s ask this question another way. What is our product? Coke produces soda and Toyota produces cars. What does the church produce? What does your church produce? If our mission is to make disciples, our product should seem obvious. Disciples, right?
Most people think of a disciple as someone who has trusted in Jesus for salvation and is trying to live an honorable life on this earth. I believe this only two-thirds true. A genuine disciple does a third thing, according to Ephesians 4:
Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
A genuine disciple doesn’t just hear the truth and live it, he speaks the truth. In the context of that passage, that means he does the ministry. He makes disciples. So the thing the church produces isn’t just disciples. It’s disciple-makers. The church that Jesus envisioned was one that turned every believer into a personal disciple-making machine.
That’s what Victory Church is doing, and it’s what every church should be doing. In this book, we’ll show you how.
Set Up: Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
What is your initial reaction to this topic? Explain.
What was your church like growing up? How does that compare to your church today?
What’s the best church you’ve ever been a part of (or heard about)? What made it so good?
What’s your initial reaction to the idea of a curriculum or a strategy for disciple-making? Do you think it can work in the American culture? Defend your answer.
What tools do we have today that the early church was lacking? How is your church using those tools?
Takeaway: Write a personal action step based on this conversation.