Reality Checks for a High Impact Church
From the series The High Impact Pastor
Have you ever considered the incredible influence Jesus’ disciples had on the 1st century world? I mean there was only a handful of ‘em preaching... so how were they so successful? In this message, Chip answers that question as he wraps up his series “The High Impact Pastor: Building God's Church Jesus' Way”. He identifies 6 barriers that keep church leaders from effectively changing their world – and how to overcome them.
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About this series
The High Impact Pastor
Building God's Church Jesus' Way
As our world continues to thaw from the pandemic, now more than ever, the Church has to act like the Church. And that can only happen with healthy, God-focused pastors leading well. Through this short series - "The High Impact Pastor: Building God's Church Jesus' Way" - Chip offers hope to church leaders who are discouraged and struggling spiritually, mentally… and even financially. Stay with us as we learn what Jesus is saying to pastors in these challenging times… and how everyday people – like you and me – can learn to support ‘em!More from this series
In this session, I want to ask why were the early disciples so successful in such a hostile environment? It was dangerous. I mean, think on day one, day two, first ninety days, first six months. No professional staff, no building, no money, great opposition. I mean, what was it about them that made them successful?
I’m going to give you three reasons.
Number one, they believed the promise of Jesus. I believe that with all their hearts they were successful when Jesus said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” the early disciples believed it.
They saw Him raised from the dead, they saw the miracles, they saw the power, they experienced it. They had been used by God and they knew He made a promise. And I’m going to look at life through the lens of that promise, not look at life through the lens of my circumstance.
The second thing, and the reason I think they were successful is they clearly defined the goal. They were about making disciples. It was early. They weren’t, I don’t think, measuring how many people happened to show up at the outdoor meeting or who came to the catacombs or here we are. We’ve got some people that came to the temple when we are gathered.
They were dispersed, there were multiple small groups. Yes, they gathered, but I think their goal was crystal clear in their time with Jesus. They could clearly define: fruit is what matters. And later on, the apostle Paul would articulate very clearly that the way that fruit looks like, at least for the Western mind, is a Romans 12 Christian.
The third thing is, and this is very important, what they did is they developed, are you ready? Transformational environments.
You know, a good seed in good soil produces fruit a hundred percent of the time. But there are some plants that only grow in certain environments, right? There are certain plants that, way up high in mountains, they only grow at a certain altitude. Or there are certain plants that only grow in the rainforest. There are other plants that grow in a desert, but don’t grow any place else.
And I think what the apostles learned from being with Jesus is they developed a transformational environment so that the seed of God’s Word, the community that was created, the values, their leadership, what Jesus modeled, and what they learned.
They went out and preached, but sometimes we forget. He called them to Himself and they debriefed. “How did it go? What did you do? What about this? What about that?” The greatest leader that has ever lived was Jesus Christ. I mean, the proof is today.
And so, let me give you four or five things that create a transformational environment.
Number one, if you can’t define it, you can’t achieve it. And so, what I want to tell you is that clarity is a necessity. You have got to be clear. What is the goal? What is a disciple? If you can’t define it, people can’t follow it. If you can’t define it, you can’t achieve it.
Second, you get what you measure, not what you hope for. It’s the need for metrics. We actually do get what we measure, right? Most of us have measured buildings, and bodies, and budgets. So, that’s what we get. The harder things to measure are fruit. So, we have to change our metrics. How do we qualitatively measure fruit, discipleship, loving God, loving others?
The next is you get what you inspect, not what you expect. This is the need for evaluation. You know, for years as a pastor, I just sort of expected, you know, I’m going to preach the Word and people are going to grow and I hope they find their way. I didn’t really have a clear plan, I didn’t really have a clear strategy. Now, God did a lot of good things. That’s a wonderful thing. But what I learned is that if you inspect: How is it really going? If you measure the church by: What are the people’s names that are fruitful? How – who and how am I investing in them? What is God’s plan for them to invest in others? How do the weekend services fit into bearing fruit? What are we doing in terms of equipping people to learn their gifts?
In other words, if you don’t inspect those things, if you don’t have clear metrics then pretty soon you’re sort of casting the seed lots of different directions and we don’t get the kind of fruit that Jesus produced.
And the last one is you can’t impart what you don’t possess. In other words, authenticity. I can’t ask, dream, desire that people in the church are going to be Romans 12 Christians if I’m not that. And it doesn’t mean I’m perfect or you’re perfect. Absolutely not. What it means is I am on that path, because more really is caught than taught.
You know, I’m not sure how many notes the disciples took, I’m not sure they had a lot of notebooks or a lot of files or videos that they could always look back on. In fact, you and I both know they didn’t. What they had was a life incarnation lived before them of truth and love and compassion.
And they did what Jesus did and they taught like He taught and they evaluated like He evaluated. And over time, pretty soon, in fact, it was a negative comment. They were “little Christs.” They were so much like Jesus they are called Christians. It happened in Antioch. And it was actually a derogatory term, but it stuck.
And it just meant that these followers of Jesus were so much like Him that that’s what we are going to call them. And you know what? I think the greatest need today is we need Christians to live like Christians, that are so much more like Him.
Matthew, after giving all of his sower and the seed, gives us six specific parables. And these parables are really to help them understand, “Now, this is how the kingdom works. Here’s the warnings,” because, okay, good seed, fruit is the goal, the sower filled with the Holy Spirit, it’s going to happen in this environment. Now, here’s what you’ve got to be careful of. And He’s going to give us six parables. And I would like to suggest that each parable really will give us a temptation.
What will keep you from really growing a high impact church? And then I want to give you what I think is the temptation and then I want to give you the antidote. Are you ready to roll? Let’s go.
First parable is the wheat and the tares. And what He tells them there is there is going to be continual conflict. He gives them the parable and then a little bit later He explains it. And He says that in the kingdom, in your ministry, as we minister together, there’s going to be a mixture inside the Church. There’s going to be legitimate sons of righteousness and there are going to be those that are the sons of the evil one. And Satan has planned these things and He’s saying that there is going to be continual conflict.
All the time there’s going to be difficulty inside the Church. Genuine disciples, non-genuine disciples. And He says the field is the whole world, it’s not just in the Church, but there is going to be this battle between good and evil. There’s going to be worldviews about this is light, and this is darkness, and they are going to be in conflict.
And here’s the temptation. I think the biggest temptation is discouragement. There are few things that will take you out of the ministry faster than getting discouraged, when you lose heart, when you say, “This is never going to end.”
See, there’s something in my psyche and something in yours that, “Okay, we are going to work really hard, we have a plan, we do this,” and we make progress, and then bam! We get hit. And then, okay, well, we do it again, we do it, and bam! We get hit. And then we see growth and there’s progress and then, oh, there’s betrayal. Bam! We get hit.
It’s like, “Man, I just can’t take this. I thought that if I was faithful and if I did these things and I followed Your plan, Lord, when’s the time when it smooths out and it just really gets better?” And we all have that, right? What Jesus is warning those disciples and you and me, He says, “It’s never going to end. It’s not going to end until He comes back. You are in a battle.”
And so, here’s the antidote. The antidote is to remind yourself it’s a warzone. Remind yourself that the battle never ends. You might jot down Ephesians chapter 6. Just know that the devil doesn’t take holidays, that you are in a battle, but here’s the good news. This battle happens in this little thing called time.
I love one author who talks about a line that represents all of eternity. And he says in all of eternity, all of time would be just one, one maybe an inch. And inside that little inch of all of time, of all mankind, there’s a tiny, microscopic dot that is your life and mine. Maybe it’s fifty, sixty, seventy years. Who knows?
And what Jesus is reminding them is that there’s this huge battle, but the implications go on forever and ever and ever. Don’t lose heart. In fact, the wisest man in the world said, “Whatever you do,” literally, above all else, “watch over your heart, for from it flow the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23.
And that’s why we are going to talk about the needs to encourage one another, the need to, yes, work hard, but get refreshed. Discouragement, Jesus is going to say, is going to come, because it’s never ending, the conflict that we face.
The second parable is of the mustard seed. It takes a long time to grow. But when it grows, it provides incredible impact and shelter for those that are in need.
The temptation here is insignificance. I know what it’s like to be a pastor of thirty people, thirty-five people out in the middle of nowhere. Literally, when we went to our tiny, little church, I could walk out of the tiny, little church and as far as the eye could see, all I could see was fields and a couple cows. And it wasn’t like a couple years. And I thought, Lord, I prepared for ministry. I have worked hard. I am doing, I obeyed You. I left a good job! And this is it? I mean, You want me with this little group of people in this little place forever and ever? And I got so discouraged because I felt like it was insignificant. What I am doing doesn’t make a difference. I love the words of Francis Schaeffer. He says, “There are no little people and there are no little places.” God is at work. He will have different fruit in different places at different sizes, but there’s nothing insignificant. And what He wanted to remind them of the mustard seed is it starts very small, and it takes time. But He is going to work.
And here’s where I think the antidote is our metrics. We have to redefine success, not in how many people are coming to, but what kind of people are leaving.
Did you get that? It’s not how many, but it’s what kind? Are they committed, fully devoted Romans 12 Christians? And what I will tell you, it takes a long time to develop and grow that. But once you do, it multiplies and it multiplies and it multiplies.
The third parable is the parable of the leaven. It’s a picture of something that happens very slow. Leaven multiplies, it happens in the dark, it’s out of sight. And He’s saying that the real growth is going to happen with internal growth, not external. He’s going to say that there’s going to be dark times and there’s a struggle and you can’t see what is going on.
And the temptation is isolation. When it gets dark, when you don’t see results, to be patient, to wait. And the antidote is deep friendships.
Ask yourself, if you’re married, certainly your wife or your husband. But also, who are two or three people in the church that you could open your heart and open your life and say, “Let’s become fruitful, Romans 12 Christians together. I have issues, you have issues. Let’s dream a dream for what God could do in this body and how He could use us.” And you have to have friends.
I was thinking of the man that had the greatest impact on my life, probably, was a bricklayer. And he did not have any formal education, he went to high school, he had no Bible training. But all the things I’m talking about, he did with me. I was not very, I don’t know how to say it, I didn’t want to grow very much. I trusted Christ and I went to college and he had a little discipleship ministry and there was just three or four people in his living room. It didn’t seem like much to me. And he wanted me to read the Bible and I had a hard time getting up and then he started giving me these little cards so I memorized the Bible and I didn’t do it very often.
And I would sleep in for church and another person told him, “You’re wasting your time with Chip. He’ll never amount to anything.” But his name is Dave Marshall and he wouldn’t give up on me. And on Tuesday mornings, he would knock on my door, and we would go down to a little kitchenette and Dave painstakingly, every week, opened this, God’s Word, and taught me how to study it. And then he prayed with me. He cried with me when I went through a very challenging time when I was injured. He walked through the deepest valleys with me.
He had me in his home, I ate so many meals in his home, I watched him date his wife, I watched him raise his four children. And three years later, I began to catch it. And all of a sudden, instead of duty, I wanted to get up and be in God’s Word. And pretty soon I found that when I would memorize God’s Word, it renewed my mind and it helped me not to sin and where I was struggling and God was giving me promises and He started to use my life.
And after about three or four years I realized, I want to be a man like Dave. I mean, not a bricklayer. I want to be a godly man like Dave. And then I remember thinking, Wow, after all these years, he’s so in love with his wife. I want a marriage like Dave’s. And then I watched him with his kids and, I want to be a dad like Dave. And you know what? In many ways, I became a man like Dave. I became a dad like Dave, and I have worked on my marriage the way I watched Dave.
What I want you to understand is that it starts very small and there are times that are very dark. You need others and I need others, that we do this journey together.
The fourth parable is the parable of treasure in the field. And he sells all that he has because he finds this treasure in this field and for the joy for it, he buys it. And I think the temptation here is the temptation to quit.
This parable teaches that those who make impact in the kingdom, there are times where God will show you something that you can’t see, right? That treasure is under the ground. It’s invisible. It’s the riches, it’s the rewards, it’s the calling of God. Over against what you own and what you have and where you live and your possessions.
And there are times God has called me to do this. He calls us to give away everything, to turn and leave family and leave what is secure for what we can’t see. And we embrace it. And sometimes, I think pastors say, “That’s just too hard, and I quit.” Or the other extreme is they do it. But when they do it, they have this self-righteousness, like, “I’ve given up more than others. Why don’t people give as much money away? Why don’t people do what I have done?” And they become self-righteous.
And the antidote is perspective. The antidote is 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 16 through 19. And Paul is defending his apostleship, he talks about all that he has been through, and finally he says, “You know these challenges? These challenges of being beaten up all these times, these challenges of having rods three times, being a night and a day in the deep, the pressure of the church.” These, he calls them, “momentary light afflictions are not to be compared to the surpassing glory that God is going to bring.”
He says, “Because those things that are seen are temporal, and those things that are unseen are eternal.” So, the antidote is an eternal perspective. And you get that by renewing your mind with His Word and I get that by sharing with other friends and pastors and people in the Church. And reminding one another, when all these circumstances, it’s hard! This isn’t all there is.
In the next we go from the treasure in the field to the pearl of great price. And I think this is teaching that there are times in ministry where we have to let go of the good in order to get the great.
Just imagine yourself as an actual merchant. I mean, someone that has pearls. You’re wealthy and you’re doing well. And then there’s this one great pearl that is of greater, greater value. But to get it, you have to, you have to sell all the pearls that you have. It takes a lot of faith.
And I think in ministry, there are times, maybe for many of you, this is that time. You have a lot of good things. There are people coming to the church, there’s a lot of good ministries going on, you are helping a lot of people, you’re – everything thinks you’re very successful. And for you to say, “Yes, that’s true, but I am going to shift and take a lion’s share of my time and my energy around discipleship, around bearing fruit, not growing the church. Around what needs to happen in me instead of just what happens through me. I am going to take an assessment of my life and I’m going to give a lot of the good and it may get slower and harder at first” - a lot like a mustard seed.
It might be a lot like you’re doing things behind the scenes a lot like leaven, that no one sees. And something happens internally. And what is happening internally is the life of Christ is being birthed in you in a fresh and powerful way.
And when you speak, it has more authority. And when you speak, the power of God comes out. And when you live out this life, people catch your faith.
You had to take the good pearls that you had and you had to exchange them for the greater, the deeper that God wanted.
And so, I would encourage you to say that the temptation there is to avoid complacency. You know, when it’s going pretty good and when everyone thinks you’re pretty hot stuff, and you say, “Hey, I mean, why should I revamp my ministry or our church? Everyone thinks I’m doing it great.” That’s when you have to say, here’s the antidote, it’s got to be innovation. I want to learn, I want to read, I want to ask God, What is it – what do You want to do in me, Lord, that I don’t see?
The greatest thing I learned from that bricklayer, he said, “Chip, if you want to grow, you have to be FAT.” And I said, “What do you mean, ‘fat’?” He said, “No, you need to be faithful, available, and teachable.” He said, “Chip, when you give your word, be faithful to it. When you say you’re going to go there, go there. Do what you say. You need to be available and change your schedule for what God wants. But here’s the big one. Be teachable. Find the people that are doing what you’re doing. Find people that preach and learn from them. People that have grown ministry and learn from them. Don’t be proud. Don’t be content. Don’t be complacent. You have to be a lifelong learner.”
And then, finally, He gives us the dragnet. And the dragnet reminds us of the fish, the bad, and the good, that justice is coming, and the King will call everyone to account, but not until the end.
And I think the temptation is procrastination. Just somehow the status quo and as we drive on our streets or our villages or our cities or wherever God has you, you know, if you’re not careful, you forget many people are lost. They don’t know the Lord. They are going to a Christ-less eternity. And if we, in our churches, don’t tell them, who will?
So much that I see that has happened is people have turned inward. The Church has turned inward about, “What about us?”
And that’s not Jesus and the early disciples. That’s not the great movements in history of the Church. There is a day coming when every person, apart from Christ, will be judged. And there’s a day coming, not for our salvation, but for a reward called the Bema Seat, 1 Corinthians chapter 3, where you and I and every Christian will give an account. Our stewardship of our life. The Lord Jesus will look at you and look at me and say, “What did you do with the time I gave you? What did you do with the gifts I gave you? What did you do with the leadership I gave you? What did you do with the church that I entrusted? What did you do with the Word that I made available to you? What did you do with your time, your talent, and your treasure?”
And I will be evaluated and you will be evaluated. And we will have parts of our life that will be wood, hay, and stubble. Where it was ministry to impress people or where we were lazy here. And it’ll burn up. And we’ll have others that are gold, silver, and precious stones that will tested by fire, not for our salvation.
And we will hear our Lord and our Savior say, “Well done, thou good, thou faithful servant.” And so, the antidote here is the fear of the Lord in reflection. Don’t always be about activity – go, go, go.
I read a proverb every day, because I always want to remember that the most precious thing in all the world that I could ever receive, according to the Proverbs, is wisdom. And wisdom is knowing what is God’s will and God’s way in every situation? And what should you do and why should you do it and how should you do it? And I want the wisdom of God to lead me in my marriage and in my parenting and in my pastoring and in my teaching, in my decisions, in my relationships, in my finances. And as I have that wisdom, there’s a fear of the Lord.
And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And it’s the fear of the Lord that brings God’s blessing. And it really means this: God, I just want to do things Your way. I believe that Your way is best. I want to honor You in all that I do.
You know, I think if we could have been sitting, the eyes of Jesus was to these disciples, “Men, I love you.”
And so, what I would say as we look at these is there are two or three applications. Number one, come up with a personal game plan. How are you going to be a Romans 12 Christian? How are you going to practice coming before God, daily? To do life in community, weekly? And to be on mission, 24/7?
The second is, I would encourage you to really, don’t look at the current situation and emphasize what you have lost. Instead, look at it as, “God has provided an opportunity like no other in world history for you to rethink, reschedule, realign, and redesign the ministry that He has entrusted to you at the church, to focus on fruit along with what you are going to do in your regular ministry. It’s a great opportunity; don’t miss it.