J.D. Greear, lead pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, has been noted for taking a 300-member church and growing the congregation to more than 9,000, making it one of the 100 fastest-growing churches in the U.S. So perhaps Greear can afford to say that pastors should stop their obsession with "gathering and counting" and instead get excited about the possible impact of "raising up and sending out" their members.
But what the North Carolina pastor suggests is not exactly revolutionary, as he points to the nearly 2,000-year-old command of Jesus for his believers to "go and make disciples of all nations," the basis of what Christians call the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:16-20.
Another passage Greear points to is John 14:12.
"One of Jesus' promises, He said that greater works would we do than even He did. Think about that? How can any one person do a work that is greater than Jesus' work? He didn't mean that we would preach greater sermons, that we would pray with greater insight, or see greater miracles," Greear said in an interview with The Christian Post.
"What He meant was when the Spirit of God was distributed on all the members of the Body of Christ, the collective impact of that they had in the world would be greater than if the Spirit stayed centralized on just one person, even [if] that one person was Jesus Himself. So he says when I send the Spirit onto the whole Church, it will be greater."
But Greear did not always see things that way. The Southern Baptist leader and former Middle East missionary reveals in his latest book, Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send, that God had to challenge him personally before he saw the light.
That challenge came a few years after Greear started leading Summit Church in 2002. His primary focus at the time, perhaps like many other pastors, was to put more people in the pews.
"The church I pastor did not start out as a sending church. During my first years there, my focus was entirely on growing the church. I sincerely wanted to reach people for Jesus, but I was also pretty interested in making a big name for myself," Greear confesses in Gaining By Losing.
"So I wanted a great big church. And I was pretty sure God was into that, too, because it seemed like a win-win for both of us," Greear confesses in the book.
He also writes of his prayer for God to send a "massive revival" to his city.
Would it be OK if the spiritual revival came about through the work of another local church? — is what Greear said he felt like was the response.
"I knew the answer was supposed to be 'Yes, Lord, You must increase but I must decrease. I knew that was the right answer. But that wasn't the real answer. The real answer is 'No, I'm not OK with that because I want our church to grow,'" Greear told CP.
"I realized that a lot of times [when] I'd made the statement 'thy Kingdom come' it really had the undertones of 'my kingdom come.' I had to go to our church and basically repent and say, 'I'm sorry. I felt like I've led you guys wrongly. Our focus has been on becoming a great big church. Instead, our focus needs to be on reaching our city with the Gospel and then getting the Gospel around the world in the places where Jesus is not known. And if God grows a great big church with us in the process, then so be it. …"
Greear told CP, "That was a big turning point for us, because it marked this time where instead of simply trying to grow a great big ministry for us, it was like 'let's take our hands off of that and let's reach people. And if we can grow the Kingdom bigger by sending our best people and resources, then so be it.'"
In the transcript below, Greear discusses additional aspects of Gaining By Losing, including why he believes the attractional model some churches use to draw worshipers in is biblical, as well as myths and misconceptions some Christians have about "seeking God's will" and being "called" into ministry. The transcript has been edited for brevity.
CP: What is the meaning of the subtitle of Gaining By Losing, that "the future belongs to churches that send?"
Greear: Churches, for way too long in the Western world, have one criteria for how you evaluate success, and that was size. You know, a successful ministry is a big ministry. But all the promises that Jesus gave about the greatness of the Church and the expanse of the Great Commission are all tied to raising up and sending out, not gathering and counting.
One of Jesus' promises, he said that greater works would we do than even He did. Think about that? How can any one person do a work that is greater than Jesus' work? He didn't mean that we would preach greater sermons, that we would pray with greater insight, or see greater miracles. What He meant was when the Spirit of God was distributed on all the members of the Body of Christ, the collective impact of that they had in the world would be greater than if the Spirit stayed centralized on just one person, even that one person was Jesus Himself. So He says when I send the whole Spirit onto the Church, it will be greater.
Well how we build our churches kind of turns that principle on its head. We talk about successful ministries as leaders who gather huge audiences of people around them who benefit from the anointing of the Spirit on them.
But Jesus, His push was raising up leaders to send them out. Thirty-nine of 40 miracles in the book of Acts happen outside of the church. I often tell our congregation that means that for a guy like me who works inside the church, I only have access to one (unintelligible) for the power of God. The Spirit of God wants to pour out His power through them in the community, not just on me in the pulpit. ...
I think what you're gonna see in the future is fewer flashier megachurches that are fighting for a larger piece of a rapidly sinking pie. For the rest of us, we're gonna have to learn the pie. And we're gonna grow the pie not by having better performances that attract people in, but by empowering people, raising them and sending them out with the power of the Gospel into the community.