All is not well in ministry world, shared one concerned pastor and church planter.
Distressed with the state of pastors and churches throughout America today, Shawn Lovejoy, founder of churchplanters.com, spoke truthfully to some 2,000 people at the 2011 Radicalis Conference.
"The church planting world, the church planting movement on the surface looks like a successful movement," said Lovejoy, "but I want to tell you being up close and personal with it that there is a dark side of the force."
Citing a study conducted by Exponential, which surveyed over 2,000 church plants, he stated that eight out of 10 pastors who were currently out in the field planting churches felt the following primary emotions: drivenness, discouragement, disillusionment, and discontentment.
Pastors admitted that the large majority of them were struggling spiritually, relationally and emotionally.
Wrestling with the questions of why, Lovejoy wondered what was going on in churches that were allowing this to happen? And what was wrong with pastors?
"Here's the conclusion I've come to: I simply believe that … in our desire to be successful in our church planting ministries, we've actually forgotten how God defines success."
"In our long list of ministry tasks full of agendas, we've forgotten the most important task," the Alabama pastor continued. "I really believe that it's pastors who have neglected, forgotten and forsaken the most important commandment. It's called the Great Commandment. I do not believe we think it's all that great. If we did, it would be the great pursuit of our lives and our ministries."
Looking to the Scriptures, Lovejoy pinpointed the problem in Matthew 22. Tested by the Pharisees, who hoped to trick Jesus, they asked him, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments."
In regards to the second greatest commandment, Lovejoy described how Jesus knew that everybody had overlooked this command before even though it was found in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19.
"It's always been God's heart. When you get this right, you'll have everything else right. If you get this wrong, everything else will be wrong in your life."
Knowing that the mainly pastoral audience was already familiar with these commandments all too well and understood it, Lovejoy reminded them of the audience whom Jesus had originally spoken to.
He was speaking to the religious leaders of the day – people who knew the law backwards and forwards; people who were brilliant expositors of Scripture, but poor lovers of people.
"The truth is, most pastors I know are the modern day Pharisees," Lovejoy confessed. "We are brilliant pastors. We're good with people, or so we think we are. We are brilliant leaders and preachers. [But] a lot of us are poor lovers of people."
And though it was their tendency to defend themselves by speaking of the sheer numbers of people they met every day or that came through their church doors, he explained, "The Bible says our hearts are deceitfully wicked. I have found in my life oftentimes that what I think I'm doing for God, I'm doing for Shawn Lovejoy – I'm doing it for me. "
Instead of loving people, pastors and church leaders were simply just assimilating with them.
"What is happening would not be happening if we really believed the Great Commandment was that great. If we really believed love was the measure of success," Lovejoy added.
"Somewhere along the way … we substituted our love for people for the love of growth and crowds. We've measured success like everybody else in the world does: get it big, be famous. That's why our sense of significance, even our self-worth, is tied to numbers."
Speaking of the radical sacrifice required of true love, Lovejoy asked, "If you go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, what was the one requirement for sacrifice?"
"Something had to die."
Jesus comes along, as the eternal sacrifice, the eternal Lamb of God, Lovejoy revealed. And he sacrifices himself for us so we could be made right with God by placing our faith in him. Then [God] speaks through apostle Paul in Romans 12 that you and I are supposed to be living sacrifices.
"What's required for you and I to be a living sacrifice? Something's got to die."
Pointing out what needs to die for pastors specifically, Lovejoy stated, "Our agenda, our definition of success, our desire to succeed according to the way the world measures it."
It was an everyday death – being a living sacrifice was not just a one-time thing, he explained. Jesus said to take up one's cross daily. Confessing of his own unwillingness to sacrifice every day, Lovejoy painfully advised the audience that radical sacrifice requires a radical death – like Christ.
Any model of church that was not rooted in Christ's love was not a biblical model. Any model without Jesus was a non-biblical model.
"The sooner we begin to realize we've got to stop chasing models and start chasing Jesus, the better off we're all going to be."
So was the church planter telling pastors and leaders stop trying to grow churches?
"No. Jesus said 'go' didn't he? I'm not saying we should stop going, I'm not saying we should stop pursuing the Great Commission. I am saying clearly, we must stop pursuing the Great Commission at the expense of the Great Commandment."
But it wasn't always this way, Lovejoy declared. Most pastors and most leaders came into ministry wanting to do it right and make a difference. Somewhere in their desire for success in their ministry though, they forsook their first love who called them into the whole thing.
Like the church in Ephesus, where, in Revelations 2:4, the people were said to have forsaken their first love, pastors and churches today face similar struggles as the New Testament churches. And the solution was the same as it was back then.
Believers needed to "remember the height from which you have fallen or God will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place." In order to radically sacrifice oneself to God, radical love was first required.
Lovejoy shared of his own sacrifice, after finding his first love again. Little by little he began putting himself on the altar.
It started with his pinky toe. Is that enough Lord, he jokingly asked.
"I want you to lay it all on me; your motivations, your agendas, your tasks, your salary, your financial package, your staff. I don't want you to hold anything tightly that belongs to me."
The fruit of that sacrifice for Lovejoy was love, freedom, significance, fulfillment and success.
"I'm re-embracing, being re-energized by loving his Great Commandment."
Asking everyone in the audience to walk away with a new definition of success today, he concluded, "Radically sacrifice your life, your ambitions on the altar today and … just start growing in your love for people.
"When you walk away from here today you will be wildly successful in his eyes. Is that not what we want?"
Lovejoy is the lead pastor of Mountain Lake Church and co-founder of churchplanters.com. For 10 years, he has led his church to go multi-site and plant churches in some of the most challenging places in the world. Churchplanters.com is one of the most influential church planting ministries in the world.
Radicalis Conference 2011 kicked off on Tuesday at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Pastors Rick Warren and Pete Wilson were among two of the other speakers on Thursday . The event concludes Friday.