Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18



Madness In Missions Methodology

The quest for the “silver bullet”.

Have you ever noticed in the movies how there is always that discovery which works perfectly, albeit magically at times, to fix the problem, provide the cure, or divert the crisis? A potion that restores youth, a hospital capsule that automatically does surgery, an arc reactor that can keep the shrapnel away from your heart, or a silver bullet that can slay the otherwise immortal.

We have an insatiable desire it seems for results and quick fixes. This desire spills over to every area of our lives. It has touched our churches and over the years that I have been serving for the cause of the gospel overseas, it has become clear that this yearning has touched our mission methodology as well. As I have read books and sat through seminars over the years, I can’t help but sense that as a church that has been given a mission -a mandate- we are obsessed with finding our “silver bullet”. In our mission methodology, like an alchemist of old, we have gone mad trying to unlock what everyone since the days of the apostles has apparently missed – the formula for explosive, exponential kingdom growth. A silver bullet to the monstrous need of the unreached.

In most cases such a search comes from compassionate hearts and a desire to glorify God. But as the methods come and go, each claiming to be more biblical, useful, replicable than the other, it seems that we need to be reminded that we have not been given the mandate of seeking a “silver bullet”.

We all end up employing some kind of methodology in missions. But we are in danger of sacrificing faithfulness to our Scriptural mandate on the altar of success, when our focus gets locked onto our methods and their ensuing results. In fact, we can become so concerned with seeking the “silver bullet”, that when we think we find it, like some miracle cure that actually makes us into monsters, we sometimes fail, and even refuse, to see the negative impact of that “miracle” method (Anyone see I Am Legend?) When our methodology seems to be working we may fail to see that our biblical basis is not as biblical as we think. And perhaps we are then inhibited from discerning the fruit from faux results.

Some Classic Examples

Books and articles, training courses and seminars abound promoting “the biblical pattern” for rapidly multiplying churches and disciples.

The Four Fields approach claims to have unlocked the “kingdom principles” in the parables of Mark 4 which will lead to the reaping of a great harvest. The “person of peace” approach looks to the sending of the 72 in Luke 10 as the pattern for kingdom expansion. T4T, “training for trainers”, uses passages like 2 Timothy 2:2 and John 4 as its model for rapidly multiplying “trainers” to take the message of the kingdom to others.

There is actually a lot of good in a number of these programs. The problem with them is that they often flow from less than careful exegesis, they are judged on pragmatic criteria, and the whole counsel of God’s word is not taken into consideration in the use of them.

For instance….

Four Fields looks to parables which describe the kingdom of God and its growth, without considering the purpose those parables were spoken – which was to expose the misunderstanding the religious leaders had of the nature of God’s kingdom and as judgment on them for their rejection of the Messiah.

The “person of peace” approach, appeals only selectively to Luke 10 as the model for kingdom expansion – the commands found there to hurry, to take no clothes, and to eat only what is served are ignored. Other methods which led to kingdom expansion, like sermons to large crowds in Acts 2, are also ignored by this philosophy.

The T4T approach appeals to 2 Timothy 2:2, without pausing to consider the context it is written in – the local church – and the qualifying requirement of “faithful men”. Not just eager men, not just willing men, but faithful men. How do you know if someone is faithful? It takes time in a community of accountability. And what are they being trained to do? To preach, something which is often downplayed or redefined because traditional preaching and the development of preachers is seen as cumbersome to rapid multiplication – which seems to be the primary virtue by which all tactics are judged in this approach and others like it.

All of these methods are promoted for their supposed source in Scripture and their proven track record of yielding results, of bearing “fruit”. (And there may indeed be fruit.) But there are some potential flaws with many of these systems which lead to other problems, some of which may not be seen until years down the road. The hurried development of “trainers” or “kingdom agents” or “men of peace”, circumnavigates Paul’s long view for the training of “faithful men” seen in 2 Timothy 2:2. The focus on obedience in “discovery Bible studies” used in the CPM approach can confuse the gospel and simply lead to the exchange of one set of religious principles for another. That same CPM system can lend to a lack of clarity on conversion which can lead to a confused identity. A lack of understanding of why we are not disciples and how we become them, leads to people claiming to embrace Jesus as “king” without clearly understanding their need for him as Savior. This leads to a deadly ripple effect which ends in man-powered religion, the people you “reached” having something no different than what they had at first.

You may disagree with all my observations but the bottom line is that no method is a “silver bullet”. No method, as long as fallen and finite people like ourselves are at the helm, is going to be perfect. This article is not being written to write off all methodologies nor to offer yet another method to the madness of mission methodology. This is meant simply to help us latch onto some guiding principles for our methods, and to hopefully get us to admit that more methods are not what we need.

The Bible promotes a mandate more than a methodology. Therefore, all methodologies must be tested as to whether or not they are faithful to that mandate.

There is a madness in mission methodology that is driven by one ultimate question: “Does it work?” Admittedly that question is always surrounded by lots of biblical language and qualifications, but at the end of the day the argument made in defense of many methods is: “It works and you can’t argue with results.” As one man promoting CPM methodologies told me, “Numbers don’t lie.” But as Pastor and author, Mark Dever, once wisely said, “Numbers lie all the time.”

If the question “Does it work?” is driving our methodology, we are in serious danger of swerving from the mandate.

We must admit that different contexts may call for different methodologies. But how do we evaluate these methods?

It has to be on the basis of faithfulness to the mandate, in light of the whole counsel of God’s word.

What is the mandate? We can certainly look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 to understand that, but to understand Matthew 28 we need to look at the whole counsel of God’s word.[1]

“Make Disciples”

How does someone become a disciple? Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in response to the preaching of the word of Christ.[2]

“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”

How does a disciple come to obey all that Christ commanded? In the context of the church, led by faithful, trained, and appointed men, where they are equipped to speak the truth in love so that everyone is built up to maturity.[3]

One of the problems with missions today, is that very often the simplicity of the mandate – proclaiming the glory of God in the face of Christ, displayed at the cross – is overwhelmed by the complexity of the method. I fear that in our quest for the “silver bullet”, we have ceased to be stunned by the glory of Christ which compels us to say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”[4]

This was the heart of Paul as he drew near the end of his life. Motivated to a life of suffering by the grace he had been shown in Christ, he reminded Timothy of that hope and the necessity of speaking it.[5] “Preach the word, Timothy. And since you won’t be around forever, get some faithful men and train them to do the same thing. Preach the word to the end, that is our mandate, even if people don’t want to listen.”[6] There was no need for charts, or diagrams, or statistics, there was simply the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ which compels us to speak the word of reconciliation, resting in the knowledge that whether people receive it or not, whether we are “effective or not”, Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.[7]

Let us end the madness! Behold the glory of Christ and then proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. The woman at the well needed only mercy to release her to speak. The demoniac needed deliverance to proclaim his Savior. Peter needed grace to compel him to boldness. Paul needed love for the chief of sinners to control him. The result of hearing, believing and being transformed by the gospel is that we proclaim the gospel – this is our simple mandate. When we know the gospel, we speak the gospel, which leads to eager gathering around the gospel, resulting in transformation worthy of the gospel. This is how “the kingdom grows”, be it fast, be it slow, be it winter, or be it spring, there is no substitute for simple, genuine faithfulness flowing from a heart touched by the grace of Christ.










[1] This is precisely what many methodologies fail to do

[2] Acts 20:21; Romans 10:17

[3] Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:16-17

[4] Acts 4:20

[5] 2 Timothy 1:8-13

[6] 2 Timothy 4:1,6;1:12-14;2:2;4:2-4

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:14-20;2:14-16


Sustained By Glory

When Katie and I got married we had a pretty normal American, Christian life. We had a starter home we were paying the bank for, I had a good job in construction management, we had a good community group and a good church. Then about a week into our marriage, while reading the Bible together at our hotel in Sorrento, Italy, the words from Isaiah 6 jumped off the page. “Who will we send? And who will go for us?” This divine inquiry was met with the newly sanctified lips of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.” I turned to Katie and I said with moist eyes, “I think our lives are going to look different than we thought.” She smiled and said. “Okay.”

Fast forward literally 10 years from then to when I am writing this in early December 2017. We have six kids, we are on the other side of the world, we live off of support from generous gospel-partners, and this spring will mark 9 years of cross-cultural ministry in a part of the world where the unreached have converged. There have been many ups and downs, many things to rejoice in, and many things that have been and continue to be difficult. Probably among the greatest of those difficulties is what many of us face who have followed the call across cultures – which is that the people we have given ourselves to love, that we share the gospel with, that we point to Christ, just seem so hard, so unreceptive, and there just seems to be so little fruit.

What has kept us going these years and what is going to sustain us for many more? How do we keep from giving up or keep from sacrificing faithfulness out of desperation for something to “write home about”?

What I have found is that the answer to that question is found in the very passage of Scripture that God used to compel us to the field in the first place.

During a season of discouragement and wrestling with various ministry models I happened upon a lecture from D.A. Carson about the parables in Mark 4. In that lecture he necessarily spent a good bit of time looking at Isaiah 6, which Jesus quotes from as context for his parables. From Isaiah 6 Carson pointed out, and I am paraphrasing, that we often read the “Here Am I. Send me!” and then we fail to read on to see the description of the ministry that Isaiah was being given. He would preach and God would use his preaching to actually harden the hearts of his hearers! He would proclaim great promises and yet see no immediate fruit. And it was here that Carson, paused and said solemnly, “If you are not willing to accept that God may be calling you to an Isaiah ministry, you need to stay out of ministry because you’re dangerous.”

So the question is, if it wasn’t appreciable results the sustained Isaiah in his ministry what was it? What compelled him to embrace this sending into what would, for the time, be a thankless and fruitless ministry?

The answer? It is what Isaiah saw that compelled him and sustained him. He saw the glory of God. In this case, I believe he saw “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6) It was this same sight of glory that would lead John and Peter to say in the face of persecution, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It was this same sight of glory that sustained Stephen as the condemnation of the Sanhedrin came down on his head. It was this sight of glory that would lead Paul to suffer for the sake of God’s elect.

If your people-group is your goal, then when your ministry looks like an Isaiah ministry you will either compromise or give up or be miserable. But when your proclamation is an overflow of the glory you have seen, continuing in it is not dependent on results but on the glory itself which will never cease to shine. When ministry is an overflow of seeing glory you live knowing as Paul says, that “God… always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance  of Christ among those who are being saved  and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death  leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life  leading to life. Who is adequate for these things?  For we do not market the word of God  for profit like so many. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Faithful ministry is being done when we speak in Christ, from God, and in the sight of God. Secure in Christ regardless of results, proclaiming a message from God despite how foolish it may sound, and for his approval alone when everyone around us seems to demand and only be impressed by measurable results. We endure in faithful ministry when it is not driven by our outward circumstances or results, but by our communion with God. So what sustains us in faithful ministry? Seeing him. Seeing him -having him as our greatest reality, our inspiration, our prize! Where am I getting this? By reading on to chapter 3, 4, 5! We now with unveiled face by the Spirit behold God’s glory, therefore we do not lose heart in ministry, and now knowing Christ and seeing him, we consider suffering, even the suffering of seemingly fruitless labor, as but preparation as we, viewing people differently now, live as reconciliation-proclaiming ambassadors of Christ.

We get the aroma by being around him. We get the glow by gazing at his face. And we carry that aroma and we shine that radiance regardless of how it is received. And regardless of what happens – we are triumphant. Isaiah was. He didn’t get to see it. But he was triumphant.

It is the sight of the glory of God that compels us to speak. It is the sight of the glory of God that causes us to not help but endure. And it is the perfect sight of that glory which will be our prize.

I don’t ever want to lose that as my motivation for endurance. Because it is there that we have peace, we have joy, that we know that we triumph in all circumstances. It is there that we do not lose heart. We proclaim what we see, we see because God has opened our eyes and we can’t help ourselves, and if anything comes from this proclamation it will be because God will make others see, because he makes others smell the sweetness of what we have come to smell – the aroma of Christ, the glory seen in his face.

“We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That is what allowed John to endure. What he had seen and heard. In the end, it didn’t matter whether people wanted it or not, it simply overflowed and God, in ways we see and ways we cannot, will use that overflow. So look. So smell. So endure until you get what you ultimately want – to see him face to face, to breath in the aroma of his robes as he embraces you and welcomes you into his uninterrupted joy.

Undermining Discipleship, By Focusing On Discipleship

Did you know that it is possible to focus on discipleship in such a way that undermines discipleship? I say that understanding that one of the things that has plagued evangelicalism in the past century, perhaps stemming from revivalism, is that the church has focused so much on decisions for Christ, on “conversions”, that it has failed to “make disciples” as we have been commanded. The reason that has happened is multifaceted and I won’t try and address that right now, but one must suspect the message that was being preached that led to those conversions if discipleship was not a natural overflow of those decisions. And it is that “natural overflow” that I am concerned with when I say that it is possible to focus so much on discipleship that we undermine discipleship.

It is true, the magnitude of the damage done when the aim is not discipleship, I have seen it with my own eyes. A mission team rolls into a village in India, presents the gospel, ask everyone if they want to go to heaven, many say yes, you mark down the decisions. Tada! Mission accomplished. Off course not much, if anything, has been accomplished because a church has not been planted, the biblical context in which discipleship happens. This is a problem. But it seems we could have an overreaction to the conversionism that has marked many evangelistic and missions efforts, an overreaction that would lead to a problem just as bad. We could overreact in a way that results in a kind of discipleship that is not what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned his church (Matthew 28:19)

This requires us to ask the question, what is discipleship? The simple answer we usually give is “following Jesus.” This is not wrong. But it is incomplete. It leads to many more questions. Because if we simply call people to follow Jesus, we could inadvertently end up simply calling them to trade one religious system for a another one that offers a better deal. And trust me, I see people do that all the time! We could look at discipleship as what Dallas Willard has rightly called “long obedience in the same direction”. But this too is incomplete because it doesn’t deal with the root and nurture of discipleship which is essential.

I will argue that biblical speaking, discipleship is:

Love for God expressed in glad obedience to the Lord Jesus

And I want to argue that the distinctives in that definition are immensely important. To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and his truth is right, over against secularism, or Islam, or Buddhism, is good. But it will not end in the kind of discipleship Jesus calls us to. It is not enough for a person to say Jesus is God and to begin to follow his life and conform themselves to Scripture. All obedience is not good or acceptable, but only obedience that is glad obedience because it is an overflow of love for God.

So the question we have to ask is, “Where does that love come from?”

It comes from the knowledge that God first loved us (1 John 4:19). But why is understanding that God loved us first significant? Because at “first” we were not disciples, we were not even trying. We were enemies of God, sinners against Him, incapable of pleasing obedience. And yet, despite our situation “he loved us and gave His Son as the wrath-bearing sacrifice for our sins”, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(1 John 4:10; Romans 5:8,10)

It is this knowledge that ignites love for God in our hearts that leads to glad obedience to the Lord Jesus and this is true discipleship.

So true discipleship begins with the understanding that I have sinned against God, not cognitively, but with conviction from the heart. It begins with a glimpse of the glory of God in Christ that makes the heart desperate for relief from sin’s guilt and power. And then with gladness the heart embraces the good news that despite my helpless, hateful state “ God, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins made us alive together with Christ.”(Ephesians 2:4)

When like David in Psalm 51 you come to know the bone-crushing reality of your guilt, and you receive the good news that Jesus was crushed for you, this leads you to gladly embrace him as Savior and bow to him as Lord – and this is discipleship. Discipleship is the journey that begins with the cry “Woe is me! I am ruined!” and “Brothers, what must we do?” or “What must I do to be saved?” It is the life that begins with calling upon to the Lord to be saved at the preaching of the word of Christ. (Isaiah 6:6, Acts 2:37,16:30; Romans 10:13)

So what does this have to do with focusing on discipleship in a way that undermines discipleship? Discipleship begins with conversion. Despite what some methods in missions seem to be promoting these days, someone does not become a disciple by osmosis. I fear that in our desire for results and in our legitimate desire to move away from “conversionism” (I don’t know if that is a word), we have undermined discipleship by erasing the clear and shining line that is crossed when someone goes from darkness to light, when someone is transported from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, when someone comes alive, when the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” shines into the heart to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:4; II Corinthians 4:6)

I am convinced that true discipleship begins with sound, clear, obvious conversion. Why? Because of how the Bible testifies that disciples are made and motivated.

If we lose sight of conversion as how disciples are made and an integral to how they are motivated, it is possible that we end up with people who have traded one religious system for another religious system. You end up with faulty discipleship because it is not motivated by the kind of radical, life-altering love that is infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit when we come to see that Christ suffered and died in our place to bring us to God. (Romans 5)

Examples of this kind of false discipleship can be seen all throughout John’s gospel, but nowhere is it more clear than in John 8. There were new disciples, listening to Jesus’ teaching, following him around. But what was the problem? They didn’t see their real need. So when Jesus confronted their sin head-on, they turned against him. I fear that much that we do in the name of evangelism, and especially in missions, calls people to follow Jesus, expecting they will move to repentance and faith by osmosis of some sort without ever bringing them to the point of seeing their hopelessness, the depth of their sin, their real need. And this means they aren’t brought to a place of crisis where they call on the name of the Lord as one who is desperate for saving grace. Which means they never truly become disciples: those whose lives are marked by love for God expressed in glad obedience to the Lord Jesus.

So perhaps a better definition of discipleship would be: Obeying God because you love God, loving God because he first loved you, and knowing he loved you because he sent his Son to be the wrath-bearing sacrifice for your sins.  

There is a reason Paul, and John and Peter, build their calls to obedience upon the truths of the gospel. In Ephesians, before Paul says a word about ethics, about action, he prays his readers will understand the power at work to save them, he prays that they would comprehend the magnitude of the love of Christ and in between those two prayers he unpacks the glories of the gospel and he does this because he knows that getting that from the heart is what makes real disciples. (Ephesians 1:19;3:17-18)

So how do we keep from focusing on discipleship so much that we undermine discipleship? We preach the gospel, we call people to repent and believe in the good news, and then we help direct them to understand what that good news means for their lives, what shape love takes as it overflows out of their hearts toward the One who loved them first.


As Long As It’s Green: a ministry lesson from my sad lawn

Where I live green grass is a prized possession. In fact, green grass, green trees, and the accompanying freshness to the air are rare things. The general lack of color and staleness can drive you to the point to where anything green is welcome.

This was my attitude toward my small lawn last year as summer was in the midst of its fury. Water is expensive, care takes time, but I tried. I went out every day and judicially watered. But as I did this, I noticed that grass wasn’t the only green thing growing. Other greens things were growing, weeds, some even with thorns. And I remember joking to my wife, “As long as it’s green, I’ll take it!”

Fast forward about six months. Portions of my lawn are green. From a distance you get that refreshing glimpse of life on the parched earth. But getting close you realize that I have a problem. There is very little grass. And one day as I was praying and watering my weeds, I was struck with the danger of having this same attitude in ministry, to look at my church or the pioneer field I have been called to and think, “As long as it’s green!”

How did my lawn get to the place of being green but unhealthy? Filled with weeds and thorns?

I) I was looking for the wrong results

I was more concerned with my lawn appearing green, than I was with the health of my grass. Perhaps if I done the patient work of nurturing the health of the grass there would have eventually been little place for the weeds. In my desire to see green I failed to see that the long-term goal was not greenness but the health of the grass.

So also in ministry we fall into the mistake of seeking the green rather than seeking the grass. We are content as long as there are results. The problem is that what we judge as results may not be what they appear from a distance. The seats may be full on Sunday, but is discipleship happening? Churches may be multiplying rapidly, but is conversion unclear? People may be excited, but is their excitement based on any kind of doctrinal depth? People may be caring, but is there a disturbing lack of holiness?

I have seen many pastors and missionaries so desperate for any results that they have essentially redefined what the goal of ministry is. They have veered from a biblical understanding of the gospel, of conversion, of discipleship, of the church – all because they just want some results, some green. Much like I redefined what a healthy lawn looks like, because I just wanted a green patch in a desert place.

The other thing, which relates to ministry, that led to the demise of my lawn was…

II) I wasn’t doing the difficult work of weeding

Out of fear of the bare spots that would show, the brown, parched earth that would be exposed, I left those weeds and continued to nourish them in their growth as weeds. As a result the good work of watering was actually being wasted. I was spending time and money to maintain something that would eventually rob my lawn of its health.

So also in ministry, we can end up encouraging the growth of weeds by failing to slow down and do the painful, patient work of persevering in faithful preaching and discipleship. Sometimes ministry is as much about weed clearing as it is grass growing. As the word of God is faithfully preached, the gospel is clearly heralded, and the hard work of discipleship is maintained, this may lead to many green sprigs proving to be nothing more than weeds. This can be one of the hardest and most heartbreaking aspects of ministry, but it is there and it is real. And we must not allow the pain and the desire for “green” to lead us to jettison what it is that we have been called to do.

The bottom line is that because of my desire for a quick and easy green lawn, I didn’t do the patient, dirty work of weeding and ultimately is was because I was looking for the wrong results. And the end result was something that was green, but unhealthy. The grass was nearly no more.

So what are some ways to avoid this sad result:

  1. Don’t assume that results indicate good practices

One of the biggest lies propagated by missionaries and church planters is that results (whatever that may be defined as) indicate good practices. Just because something is green does not mean it is healthy. So you may have planted 10 churches that have planted 30, which have planted 90. What are you calling a church? What are you calling a member of that church? And how did it come about? One of the greatest tragedies in missions is that the wisdom of God has been jettisoned and the Scriptures have been abused in order to justify the unbiblical means which bring about these “results”. Stick to what God has told you to do without twisting the Scriptures in order to justify your pragmatism.


  1. Do the nurturing work of meaningful discipleship

There is no short-cut to a healthy ministry. I have seen ministries that will point out how this generation wants everything now, without even realizing how much that has permeated their approach to ministry. New programs and better music may not be bad things, but they can’t replace the slow and steady work of discipleship. Don’t mistake leadership ability or willingness to lead a Bible study as an indication that someone is ready for either of those things. Know those that you minister to, know whether they are “grass or just green” by spending time with them in the word, calling them to respond to it in loving response to the love of God. 

  1. The hard part: Don’t let what will damage the community remain

1 Corinthians 5 contains in it instructions for the difficult work of what to do when what is green turns out to be a weed. You remove it in the hope that it will return renewed, exhibiting the evidence of spiritual life. Many churches are active and full, but if you put it under the lens of Scripture you will see that there is little evidence of spiritual life. Paul warns that a little yeast effects the entire lump of dough, this is a call to carefully examine our ministries and the supposed fruit they are producing. And it is for love of souls and jealousy for God’s glory that we must not allow people to be deceived into thinking they are something they are not. That means inspecting who is brought into church membership and being willing to remove someone from that membership when their life lacks the evidence of being converted.

  1. Know what fruit (or grass in this case) is supposed to look like

This helps understand and define the last point that was made. We need to understand that a true disciple of Jesus exhibits their genuineness by their confession and life of  “repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”. I think it is helpful to consider the words used in Romans 10. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (acknowledge rebellion and repent) and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (put all your hope in the cross-work of Christ) you will be saved.” There must be clear sorrow for sin, a desire to be free from it, and evidence in love and gratitude that the person is trusting in the Son of God alone for salvation.

  1. Understand what the objective is and be willing to engage in the long-term, consistent, prayerful labor that it will take to reach that objective

II Corinthians 2:15-17 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 

II Corinthians 4:5 – “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 

These are two very helpful texts for understanding our objective. Is the aim to make disciples, as we see in Matthew 28? Yes. To baptize and instruct? Yes. But the foundation of that is this understanding that Paul gives us. We speak Christ. We don’t manipulate, we don’t deviate, we don’t practice cunning. We simply, albeit foolishly, speak Christ. The objective is to make Christ known – beyond that is all in God’s hands. That is going to be one of the biggest things that keeps you from seeking the green above the grass, understanding the bounds of your ability and responsibility.

I should have understood that the objective was not a green lawn, but the sowing and maintaining of the grass. So also in ministry we must understand that our objective is not what only God can do, but what God has given us to do. Understanding that will help us focus, despite the results, on what God has given us to do rather than wasting time and doing damage trying to replicate what only God can do. 

Just because something looks alive doesn’t mean that it is. You have to look at its fruit and its leaves. When someone says their ministry is bearing a lot of fruit maybe they need to ask “what kind? What are we calling fruit? Is it grass or just anything that is green?

But, before I close this post, I must say on the flip side that it could be that your yard is just brown (metaphorically speaking), because there is no care, no urgency – just plain ministerial laziness. Laziness is just as or more dangerous than is pragmatism.

This is an exhortation to faithful attendance to what God has given us to do. It could be that you “lawn” will be brown all your life due to many factors outside of your control. I have this one section of that same sad lawn that just stays dry and brown no matter how much I seed it and water it. And it is in that situation in ministry that understanding your responsibility as a worker in God’s vineyard is so important! You pour out your life like sprigs on the dry ground, you water, you pull up weeds, you water some more, but you can’t control what the soil is like. You can’t give the miracle of life. You can just supply the material and that is all you are called to do. Understanding this is crucial, lest you find yourself longing for anything that is green, smiling and rejoicing in a patch of thriving weeds and thorns.

Stop Sending Them! – Why More is Not Always Better

Stop Sending Them! Why More Is Not Always Better

“Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest.” Matt. 9:37-38

These passages of Scripture have been slapped on the prayer card of many a hopeful missionary getting ready to head into the field. These and others verses have burned in the hearts of many churches and people who have recognized that we Christians have been given a task – to make disciples of all nations.

The nations, those groups of people that have yet to hear the Gospel, were sadly neglected by the church for generations, therefore, it is only right as the church reforms and conforms to the authority of Scripture that the church would correct “mission drift” and would pursue the task for which it was born – to be the mechanism for God saving his elect from every corner of the earth.

But like every corrective in life even the corrective must often be corrected. The pendulum always swings both ways before it settles and in my admittedly short years working among the nations, square in the middle of the 10/40 window, surrounded by UPGs, it has become clear that the missional corrective needs a few nudges itself.

The task that we affectionately call “The Great Commission” is immense. (Matt. 28:19) An immense task that requires vision, dedication, and a lot of manpower. But that being said, there are some times when to the western church I want to say,

“Stop sending them!”

The workers are few and the harvest is great, but that does not mean that more workers is always better. It seems that the impatience that so marks the current generation has infiltrated the missionary movement under the guise of “urgency”. This impatience, rather than being curbed by church leaders, is often fostered and even encouraged.

The result?

A lot of people going to the nations that shouldn’t be going – at least not yet.

The question that has more and more come to my mind that I wish churches would consider is this: Why would you send someone to plant churches that you would not hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder? Why does it seem that “passion”rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters?  Why on earth is the bar – the standard – set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?

The stories of the challenges of frontier ministry, the stresses, the temptations, are very real, and time and again people are sent to face those challenges who have zeal but a lack of understanding. And the wise man rightly said by the Holy Spirit:

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” (Proverbs 19:2 ESV)

That proverbs sums up the state of missions in many ways very well. Desire without knowledge. And desire without knowledge in the business of missions is dangerous – even spiritually deadly.

The field white for harvest is filled with laborers destroying the crop and themselves with a misuse or disuse of the tools God has given them for the labor. It seems to this observer, at times, that no one thought to make sure these people can swing the scythe of God’s word before they sent them into the field. Imagine a field full of people swinging a scythe in the wrong direction and sometimes from the wrong end, and too often – if I dare drag out the analogy a bit further – they are not using the scythe at all. Not a pretty picture.

No one thought to spend some time testing this person’s ability to discern between wheat and weeds. Lacking discernment they sheave weeds and write home about how successful they have been.

As a church we have been given a mission, a way we are to walk in, but many feet that set out to proclaim the gospel of peace miss their way – because they have desire without knowledge.

The workers are few, but our impatience is our undoing. When churches have initiatives to send a certain number of people by a certain time, their desire to meet that goal can short circuit discipleship and propel people into the field that will be harmed and cause harm.

Paul is a great example to us of patience. From the moment of his conversion he was told what his purpose was to be, yet it was more than ten years that passed before the beginning of his first missionary journey. In the interim he spent three formative years in Arabia, time in his home city of Tarsus, and then served at the church in Antioch until he was finally sent with Barnabas by the church of Antioch on his first missionary journey. This is Paul, mind you, who already at the point of conversion had immense knowledge of the Scriptures. And even though he had been told by Christ himself what his mission was to be he did not really begin in earnest until he was sent by his “home” church of Antioch at the Holy Spirit’s leading through the elders and congregants.

If you speak to an older generation of missionaries you will find that in by-gone days Bible college was a requirement to be sent. If you read the biographies of guys like Adoniram Judson you will find that ordination was required! These days if a church gives approval, a few evaluations and a two-week bootcamp later people can be approved for the field. Such a convenient and streamlined system is meant to enable more and more people to go to the unreached.

But more is not always better.

The challenges people taking the Gospel to hard places will face require a character that is mature and proven. The questions missionaries will be asked require a theological knowledge that is deep and wide. And the raging enemy that is encountered requires a faith that is dug down deep.

Many missionaries slide into pragmatism in ministry because they do not really know their God. They slide into heresy because they do not really know their message. Many slide into sin because they are immature and unaccountable. Church, stop sending these people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.

Desire is commendable, but desire comes and goes. Calling is required, calling rooted in truth and affirmed by those in authority – a calling that has as its sole aim the glory of God and has as its bedrock the sure promises of the Gospel revealed in Scripture.

More is not always better, but with the right reformation more can be better. There is a word for when you try to find a midpoint between quantity and quality – it is called mediocrity. Local churches should have the long view in missions, faithfully making many disciples who will be able to go out and persevere in faithful Gospel ministry. Labor for quantity without sacrificing quality by a single degree.

It should be no wonder that the attrition rate among missionaries is so high, that doctrinal ambiguity is so pervasive, and that missionaries falling into gross sin is so common. People are sent that should not be sent because churches are sending people too soon.

If anyone reads this, whether you are a pastor or someone looking to go to the field, I want to leave behind a few suggestions on how to prepare people to go to the nations:

1)Teach them well so that they will be able to teach others well and don’t send them until they have shown they can do the same. (2 Tim. 2:2)

2) Make sure that they are able to articulate sound doctrine and refute false doctrine. An inability to answer objections and correct falsehood is a recipe for disaster when encountering other religions or worse – errant missionaries. (Titus 1:9, Eph. 4:14)

3) Make sure they are able to submit to biblical authority in their lives. Are they mavericks who have never really had the level of accountability that challenged their autonomy? If this is the case they need to spend some time with that kind of accountability before they can be sent with confidence. (Heb. 13:17-18)

4) Connected to #3 is the need for proven godly character. This is something that can only be ascertained over an extended period of close interaction and persistent discipleship – not a session with a counselor and a personality profile. Unchecked sins get worse on the frontlines, not better. (Heb. 12:1)

5) If you would not make a man an elder in your church, then don’t send him to plant churches in a pioneer situation. If you are sending someone who isn’t elder material or isn’t quite there yet, or sending unmarried women, then I would suggest sending them someplace with an established church where you know their spiritual development and ministry could continue under the watchful eye of faithful shepherds. (Heb. 10:24-25)

6) The aim of every pioneer worker you send should be to join an existing church or to gather believers and start a church ASAP. If there is no church then I would suggest moving with a core of people to plant a church or do outreach into new areas from a place where there are enough expat believers to have a church. No Christians were meant to be alone and Paul set an example to seek out believers when he entered a new city. Ecclesiology and missiology should be inseparably intertwined. Churches plant churches, yet many churches contract out the mission that God has given them to para-church organizations that don’t have the authority that a church does. An occasional email, a questionnaire, and a field visit every half-decade hardly applies as Biblical oversight. Para-chruch organizations should serve the valuable and specialized role of helping churches do their job, while not taking over their job. Provide active, authoritative oversight until a church is planted or those you send are plugged into a relatively healthy, existing fellowship. (Acts 20:28, 16:13)

7) Finally (for now) let there be consensus in the sending church that these people being sent are called and ready before you send them. This will safeguard the ones being sent and give them an amazing boost of encouragement that they are part of something bigger than their own ambition – which can fade or redirect quickly. (Acts 13:3)

I write this not out of a desire to dampen a church’s missional drive, but to encourage a long view with faithfulness as the aim in that missional drive. John Piper says that the Christian walk is coronary, not adrenal. We run a marathon, not a sprint. Ministry is the same way. Godly urgency embraces careful preparation for ministry. This truth becomes unclear if our main aim in missions is converts. The main aim of our sending must be the glory of God and it is for that we must prepare and be prepared.

So if necessary, for now, stop sending them. The glory of God is at stake.

A Good Thing Gone Bad – Introduction


The warfare that we wage, is a spiritual warfare. One that is primarily a matter of truth and falsehood, according to the Scriptures.[i] It can be surprising how much of the material in the New Testament is polemical and how often the exhortation is to stand firm on truth, hold fast to doctrine, to make a good a confession. Since that horrific day in Eden that mankind was plunged into depravity there are forces at work, taking truth and twisting it, taking something that is good and misusing it, drawing people into this cycle of taking what God has created and morphing it into something that is a god itself. God gives us a monument of his glory in the Gospel and we take it as a token of our worth.

The history of the church is littered with extremism and complacency, with antinomianism and legalism, with passiveness and judgmentalism. Every revival has resulted in residual excessiveness and strange doctrine –ranging from the bizarre to the coldly indifferent. Every reformation has resulted in radicalism – both to the side of legalism and antinomianism. The reason for this is the war that we wage. In fact we should expect heresy to grow around the triumph of truth and for foolishness to arise around Spirit-driven fervor. Why? Because since the Fall there has been a war against truth. We have a real enemy who is “the father of lies”[ii]. And he is a liar who knows truth when he sees it and will stop at nothing to undermine it. He is subtle. He is cunning. And he is sinister. He is the enemy of the truth.

The church harms itself when it thinks that spiritual warfare is primarily about what goes bump in the night. The enemy knows he cannot beat God, so he tries to rob glory from him, and what is the greatest display of the glory of God? It is his Gospel, “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”[iii]

In the garden, Satan went after the ones made in God’s image, meant to reflect his glory. Defacing those images was the closest thing that he could do to diminishing the unfaltering, unapproachable glory of God himself. Since that time God has been unfolding his magnificent plan of redemption, by which to restore those fallen image bearers into monuments of his glory, a glory that would shine more brightly than ever could in Eden – the glory of his grace.

When Jesus came on the scene he shone with the radiance of the Father’s glory.[iv] Satan tried to deface that too and when he was unsuccessful he tried to outright destroy the image, but in doing so he unleashed with fury a light beyond compare. The perfection of God’s love and justice in a single, macabre scene on a Roman cross in Palestine. As the temple veil tore and the ground shook the enemy likely knew he was doomed, especially as fallen man looked on and said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”[v] God’s glory was vindicated and his triumph guaranteed when on the third day following this crucifixion for the first time in history the incarnate Son of God burst the bonds of death with immortality, never to die again. Truth would prevail. God’s purposes were relentless and his glory would not be diminished.

In the coming days under the New Covenant the apostle were keenly aware that they had a foe that until the final battle would not cease his attacks on the glory of the Creator. Paul warns with certainty the Ephesian elder that wolves will come and devour the flock.[vi] The warfare would continue to be a warfare between truth and error. For it is in truth, namely the truth of the Gospel, that the glory of God is displayed in brilliant purity. Paul urged with passion for Timothy to guard the Gospel.[vii] He rebuked the Galatians for accepting another “gospel”.[viii] Until Christ returns the church has been given a deposit to proclaim, to live, and to guard. It is the Gospel. And every assault of Satan, at the end of the day, is an assault against this Gospel. Why? Caught it yet? Because it is there that the glory of God is most fully seen.

In the midst of this battle, the church which is a “pillar and buttress of the truth”[ix] is not without its scars. The study of church history shows two things: that there is a war against truth and that truth ultimately prevails. We see the warfare against truth in that with every true reformation in the church there is extremism on one hand and stagnation on the other, with every revival there is excessiveness on hand and coldness on the other. This is not the fault of the Gospel, in fact, it proves that the Gospel is still going forward because war is being waged. Wherever truth is, there will be the battle.

And that is the topic of this book or blog post series or personal rant, whatever it turns out to be. I believe that the truth is going forward, as it should, but there is a battle being raged. In some places the battle is very obvious, but actually those engagements, while important, are not the things that are the most troubling. In fact, those great battles grow out of the covert operations which go not only unnoticed, but applauded. It is the battle fought by those “clothed as angels of light” preaching another gospel[x], it is those wolves dressed in very convincing sheep’s clothing. It is those who believe they do God a service with what they preach. And most tragic is the damage done by those sheep that are charmed, duped, and downright deceived into swallowing Gospel that has been laced with poison.

We rejoice that the Gospel goes forward, but if we are not alert, we could end up doing more harm than good.

[i] II Corinthians 10:4-6
[ii] John 8:44
[iii] II Corinthians 4:3
[iv] John 1:14
[v] Mark 15:49
[vi] Acts 20:2
[vii] 1 Timothy 6:2
[viii] Galatians 1:6
[ix] 1 Timothy 3:15
[x] Galatians 1:8, II Corinthians 11:14; We will deal later with what makes something another Gospel.

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