It’s easy for us church leaders to get excited about the wrong things. We dream of all the people God might bring to our church, and we rejoice if God brings that growth. But if we’re really concerned with seeing God’s kingdom expand, we should be less excited about the people we are gaining, and more excited about the people we are losing.
Of course, we have to lose them for the right reasons—not by being inflammatory or heretical, but by sending them out on God’s mission. The New Testament strategy for completing the Great Commission isn’t addition—as thrilling as that can feel—but multiplication. This is no easy lesson for those of us in ministry to learn. Kingdom multiplication comes at great cost to us. And if we want to see ministry multiply, we have to take our hands off of our desires and empower our people to go out into the world.
Success in ministry happens not when we hoard what God has given us—and that includes our people—but when we are willing to send out our best, to give our most dedicated members and most gifted leaders away. Bringing in large groups of people to hear a message is good; training up disciples and sending them out is far better. We must engineer our churches to build up and send out leaders.
Sending has always been at the heart of the church’s identity, but far too many churches in America have forgotten what Jesus told us about the success of the church. Sending capacity, not seating capacity, is the heart of the church’s greatness. Inherent in the call to follow Jesus is a call to mission, and to be called to Him is to be called to His mission. If a church is not engaging in mission, it really has no point in existing.
In other words, sending should be written into the very DNA of our churches. God didn’t create the church to hash out the exact timing of Jesus’ second coming or to get together and bemoan the worsening condition of society. He created the church to send the church.
In our day, this has become more important than ever. Even those in our own backyards will likely have to be reached outside the church. The “nones” in Western society (those who check “none” in surveys regarding religious affiliation) grow each year at an astounding rate. “Nones” don’t casually make their way back into church because the pastor is engaging or the music is cool. They have to be reached where they already are.
To reach people where they are, we have to be willing to take our hands off of our greatest resources: our people. This will hurt. But as Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). The kingdom of God works on the principle of the harvest: we reap only as we send out; living comes by dying; gaining comes by losing. It’s time for us to recover the terrifying and exhilarating joy of sending—the joy of losing.
Dr. J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C.
He is author of several books, including his newest, Gaining by Losing.