Gaining by losing … now that’s a foreign concept in our culture today, is it not? How do I gain if I lose something? It’s a foreign concept in the church as well. The American church, by and large, is all about attracting people to its building, building up a church and a big ministry, and growing, growing, growing. But what if that’s not the model that Scripture actually gives us? What if Jesus teaches us that there’s actually a different mindset we should have when thinking about advancing the Kingdom of God?
J.D. Greear, Pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, NC, argues just this. In his new book, Gaining By Losing: Why The Future Belongs To Churches That Send, Greear argues that churches should not be focused primarily on their numbers and in growing bigger and bigger, but should be focused on discipling, equipping, and sending out their members for the greater work of the ministry. Oftentimes this means sending out a large group of some of your most valuable members in order to help start a church plant across town, or even across the country. That’s the “losing” that we’re talking about. But as Greear makes abundantly clear, though it may seem that that particular church has “lost” those members, an even greater “gain” has occurred for the kingdom of God in the neighborhood, city, country, and world.
Greear likens it to the Middle school math illustration where students are asked to choose between receiving $10,000 a day for 30 days, or getting $0.01 doubled each day for the same period of time. Almost all Middle schoolers opt for the $10,000 per day because it seems like the greater amount, and offers the most immediate satisfaction. However, with this choice, the student will have $300,000 at the end of the 30 days, whereas the student who opts for the penny doubled every day would end the month with over $10.7 million!!
The point is this: Many churches and leaders opt for the “$10,000 a day” model. You tell Pastor “X” that you have a strategy that will grow his church by 1,000 per month for a year, or a strategy that will enable him to disciple 1 person per week, who in turn will disciple 1 person a week, and so on for a year, odds are he will choose the 1,000 per month growth strategy. Why? Because it feels much more gratifying. It has more immediate and tangible results. However, we as churches and pastors need to get over the “short view” of ministry, only looking to what God would do in our church and through our ministry in the here and now, and adopt a “long view” of ministry. As Greear argues, “If we take the long view of ministry, growing and sending out disciples will take priority” (33).
And that is the goal of the book — to help the reader gain a long-term view of ministry, a view of ministry that God has given us, rather than one that we come up with. Greear says that his hope for this book is that it “helps you to see that your greatest kingdom potential lies not in your ability to gather and inspire your people at a weekly worship meeting, but in your capacity to equip them and send them out as seeds into the kingdom of God” (17).
“The question is not if we’re called to pour our lives out for the mission, only where and how” (47)
So how does he help the reader see this? Honestly, this rubs against so much of modern-day church culture and growth strategy … so how does he convince the reader that this is biblical and the better strategy for every church to adopt?
After the introduction, he begins the book by laying the framework. He does so with a very helpful illustration, comparing the church to 3 different boats.
Many people, he says, see the church as a cruise liner. In this understanding, the church offers Christian luxuries to the whole family, catering to their needs and entertaining them. And if their church ever ceases to cater to an individual’s preferences, well then there are plenty of other cruise liners out there. This would be the model of many “mega-Churches.”
Others see the church more like a battleship. The church is made for the mission and fights for this mission with all its might. Now this is certainly better than the “cruise liner” model, but its problem is that it sees the church institution and staff as being the primary battle-fighters.
A better, model, Greear suggests, is that the church is like an aircraft carrier. Like battleships, aircraft carriers engage in battle, but in a different way. Aircraft carriers equip planes to carry the battle elsewhere. This is the way the church should function: equipping and sending (see pages 27-28).
Following the laying of the framework, Greear shares his own (painful) journey toward being a leader and a church that is primarily focused on sending, not gathering. This chapter was a very interesting, honest, and humble account of some of the things he saw in his own heart, and in the heart of his church, and how he went about correcting those things.
Following these two chapters are ten chapters with ten “plumb lines” that serve as directional markers for building the ministries of the Summit Church. He suggests that by adopting these ten “plumb lines,” and evaluating in light of them, your ministry can become one that is focused on sending and equipping rather than gathering and growing. Below are these Ten “Plumb Lines”
- The Gospel is not just the diving board, it is the pool
- Everyone is called
- The week is as important as the weekend
- A church is not a group of people gathered around a leader, but a leadership factory
- The church makes visible the invisible Christ
- The point of everything is to make disciples
- Every pastor is our missions pastor
- We seek to live multicultural lives, not just host multicultural events
- Risk is right
- When you’re sick of saying it, they’ve just heard it
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and found it quite helpful. I admit that my own heart gets sucked into thinking with the “gather and grow” mindset rather than the “equip and send.” Books like this are very helpful and needed correctives to these ways of thinking. I am very thankful for Greear’s ministry, his writing, and his honesty and humility to help pastors across the nation and the world learn from his mistakes and struggles in order to better equip, disciple, and send those in our churches out for the work of the ministry. I am confident that this book will stretch, challenge, and equip you to adopt this mindset as well.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Zondervan Publishers and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.