There are few things more predictable than the weakness-to-greatness plot of a good sports movie. Imagine a story where a championship team decides to let their star players go to other teams to improve the quality of the league. You can picture how the plot would go. The team is mocked in the press. But the star players change the face of the league as their skill and love of the game pushes their new teams to elite status. Meanwhile, back on the original team the plot would surely involve some scrub player with personal issues who was almost cut but rises to greatness.
Most of us have seen movies like this and we know the narrative trajectory. But this kind of story isn’t really representative of reality, is it? How many of us would actually do something so counterintuitive? Churches are not sports teams, their work is certainly more meaningful, yet could it be that our churches should pursue that same story arch by being willing to give up some of our best people, trusting God to raise up others?
I think so. According to their gospel purpose and commission, churches are designed to raise up and send, raise up and send, raise up and send—all the while replenishing their own ranks through faithful and regular discipleship.
God’s ways of winning are sometimes counterintuitive to the pragmatic mind. And we should expect this. After all, isn’t the church designed to put God’s wisdom on display, not our own? Consider God’s greatest triumph—sin atoned for, wrath diverted, curse broken, and death defeated through the binding, beating, dying, and rising of the Son of God, all on the behalf of sinful man! Victory secured in the hour of greatest weakness – humanly speaking.
So what if your church did what seemed counterintuitive to health and growth? What if you discipled and sent out your best and brightest people to start other churches? Would your church actually get weaker?
I can hardly tell you that this is the right thing to do every time. There are different stages of life as a church and churches with different needs. This is matter of wisdom, not a mandate. But I can speak both from experience and God’s Word that the general practice of sending your best people means:
- new and healthy churches will be planted,
- and your congregation will mature.
1. New and Healthy Churches Will Be Planted
Living overseas and seeing scores of missionaries pass through, I’ve been surprised to see that churches often send the unprepared and immature to plant churches among the unreached and least-reached. Meanwhile, the home churches have brilliant staffs with theological training and ministry acumen.
But imagine with me what it would be like if churches sent the people they have invested countless hours and solid resources into, people with strong theological footing, well-honed gifts, time-tested discernment, proven holiness, and a thoroughly gospel-centered philosophy of life and ministry. If churches did that, what do you think would happen? Precious seed would be planted in the barren corners of the earth – that is what would happen.
Unreached peoples are an urgent reality, but to reach them they need more than just warm bodies and boots on the ground. They need healthy, gospel-centered churches planted in their midst. And this happens when established churches prepare and send their best people to plant those churches.
Look at Paul. He sent guys like Timothy and Titus, bright guys whom he had poured himself into. And in Paul’s writings we see that he did this because he had an ambition to reach those who had not yet heard the gospel (see Rom. 15:20; 2 Tim. 2:2).
Of course, you may wonder if you do this what will happen to your church. But don’t fear. It’s a win-win. The health of your church will also benefit. When you send your best…
2. Your Congregation Will Mature
In sports they sometimes call this “churning the bottom of the roster.” When you get rid of people who have risen up as the best and brightest, it compels you to raise up others in their place. When this is happening regularly in a church, by God’s grace, that church is going to mature.
Please understand that churches should not send everyone. And some of your best people you should keep! You want a strong heart that can keep pumping blood. Still, it can be easy for churches to settle down with a staff of dependable people where everything seems to be going smoothly, but without that “churning” the congregation could actually begin to stagnate and atrophy. The Scriptures give us a pattern of discipling and sending out, discipling and sending out. This should be normal life for a church so that when the younger Christians witness the older Christians walk this path, they better understand what path they have to walk, what shoes they need to fill.
Maybe it’s time for your church to consider sending some of your best people to plant gospel-centered churches across town or among the nations. Maybe it’s time to send them to support a work that has already begun. Don’t fear a void in your ministry. Through faithful discipleship God can and does raise up people to meet every need.
This article was originally published at 9Marks.org. Reprinted with permission.