Many Christians have bought into the idea that the church is about a few people who are paid to make disciples. But that's not what Jesus envisioned for his church, said one church planter.
Addressing thousands of fellow church planters and pastors at Verge: Missional Community Conference, Jeff Vanderstelt lamented how many churches are serving "almost like containers" and holding people in rather than sending them out to spread the Gospel.
"It's almost as if we're extracting people from the world instead of equipping them and sending them into the world," he said Friday.
The job of pastors, teachers and apostles is to "equip the saints for works of ministry, not to do the ministry for the saints," said Vanderstelt, a pastor at Soma Communities, a multi-expression church planting church.
"If you don't structure your church in such a way that the saints are doing the ministry and you're equipping the saints for ministry, what you'll convince your people of is that they pay you to do ministry for them and they receive it all from you," he warned.
The Feb. 4-6 conference in Austin, Texas, focused on the relatively new movement of "missional" churches and communities. Pastors and other church planters who took the stage outlined expressions of church that counter the long-held tradition in which the work of God is limited to those in the pulpit.
Vanderstelt emphasized to pastors that every single person in their church is a minister. They are to be considered full-time paid staff members even.
"We've got to call the church to be the church," he said.
As pastors were called to equip believers, Vanderstelt reminded them that being a missional community isn't just a two-hour event on a Tuesday night. Rather, it's "a family of believers living life together."
"The best place for equipping is in life," he stressed.
"How do you know if somebody's faithful? You have to see them live it out," the Tacoma, Wash., church planter pointed out. "The only way to disciple is life on life in the midst of everyday life."
"Let's not put on a bunch of events or programs that extract people from life but rather, let's equip people to live normal ordinary life with significant Gospel intentionality," he said. "It's a very different way to do church as far as I'm concerned because it says 'now your life counts.' Instead of us pulling you out of your life we're just equipping you for life with one another."
But it doesn't end there. Otherwise, Christians will only learn how to live life with a bunch of Christians, Vanderstelt noted.
Believers must also be called to do mission together and have a people group that "they're devoting their lives to and radically reorienting their lives around so they can disciple people into Christ."
Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church in Chicago, recounted to conference attendees a bold call he recently made to his mega-congregation.
Preaching from the New Testament, he told members of the church, "You are a royal priesthood. ... You're a priest. As a priest there's a particular people or there's a particular place that God has called you to."
The Chicago pastor invited those who felt God's calling to come forward to be anointed. A couple thousand people came forward, named the people or place (neighbors, co-workers, underprivileged children, etc.) they felt called to go and share Christ with, and were "ordained."
Encouraging church leaders to foster an apostolic environment and build a church community where everyone carries the divine calling of reaching and saving the lost, Ferguson challenged fellow pastors to "ordain every Christ follower."
The Verge conference drew a sold-out crowd at Hill Country Bible Church as well as an online crowd that viewed the event through live Web streaming. Other prominent pastors and thinkers featured at the conference included Francis Chan of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif.; Alan Hirsch, founding director of Forge Mission Training Network; and Dave Gibbons, author of The Monkey and the Fish.