Peyton Jones: The Lost Art of Mission—Part 1

When church planter, pastor and self-described “punk” Peyton Jones published Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church in 2013, he called the American church to stop building up and start building out through multiplication.

Now, Peyton has written Reaching the Unreached: Raiders of the Lost Art, trading a punk persona for a cinematic adventure fit for Indiana Jones. And he’s calling church leaders and their flocks to radically transform the way they do church by living on mission, to abandon sterile, predictable church services for an adventure as exciting as Acts. That’s the only way, he says, the church will effectively reach the unreached.

In this interview, Peyton talks about how church leaders can take their people on the adventure with them.

Describe the message of Reaching the Unreached.

It’s what every pastor, every leader, wants to know: How do I mobilize my congregation on mission together? It’s practical and from the trenches. It’s about multiplication. I’m a serial church planter. I do what Paul did: I plant, and I move on. So immediately I’m thinking about mobilizing people. I’m identifying gifts, raising up leaders and getting the heck out of Dodge. The name of the game is mobilization. It’s getting the average believer activated for mission.

Talk about the book’s allusions to Indiana Jones. What’s the connection?

Indiana Jones came from the idea that many years ago, I would sit in my pastor’s office wishing people would leave me alone so I could read more theology books. But I started feeling frustrated, unfulfilled and empty, tired of preaching about what other people did, tired of reading books about Hudson Taylor and not doing those things myself. Then God started taking me on this journey into the realm of risk and mission. And I started realizing he wants to do some radical things.

But this isn’t a book about me. It’s a book about every person sitting there wishing they could go on the adventure of the book of Acts but not knowing where to begin. I think this is our human experience. We gotta get out of being the Princeton professor giving lectures.

Everyone wants a silver bullet when it comes to reaching people, but you say there’s no such thing.

Everybody is trying to make money selling their courses, and Luke is like, “Hey, I gave this to you 2,000 years ago.” But everybody wants the silver bullet, because nobody wants to do the hard work of getting on your knees and admitting you don’t have it all together. This is so un-American to do, and I think being in Britain for 12 years helped me with this. In America, you fake it till you make it. The British don’t act like that. You go into a prayer meeting in Britain, and they are just begging God to show up. There is a sense of dependence on the Holy Spirit.

We are trying to do this through methodologies, through someone’s program. I think that’s where leadership is right now, if we would admit it.

I feel like in the church right now, we still think, “We got this,” because we’ve got crowds. Those people who are trying to sell you the silver bullet don’t tell you that the key to turning it around is the link between the Holy Spirit’s promised power and mission. Every time Jesus promises amazing things, they’re linked to mission. He promises he’ll be with us, but he tells us to go.

Our problem is that the Lord doesn’t go with our armies anymore. But that’s because we don’t go anymore. We’ve gotten comfortable.

What’s an easy way for pastors to begin incorporating mission into what they already do, especially if they don’t feel called to plant churches?

Pastors need to lead others into mission. For example, Sunday mornings for the church in Long Beach (California) were outreach. We were attractional and missional.

Jesus took the disciples with him. Paul trained guys on the job. He took Timothy on mission with him. A couple church plants later, he left Timothy there, because Timothy had already cut his teeth in ministry along the way. So Sundays became outreach for us. We’d eat meals in the community before the service. I would be the first one to talk to people, to engage, to go up to the gangster. I think people respond well to seeing it modeled.

We started learning, but we learned on the way and we learned together. And I’d be very frank with them. I’d say, “Look, I’ve never done this before.” Or, “I have no idea what I’m doing, you know.” I think mission is like that. It doesn’t have to be polished. You don’t have to have it all together or have all the answers. You read Acts, and there’s a lot of adventure, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of switching and changing.

You talk a lot in the book about how Christians are bored with church, because their churches aren’t leading them on mission. How do we make church exciting for believers while also reaching unbelievers?

We need to go where the unreached go. My approach to church planting is the opposite of what you’re taught in church-planter training. For example, they’ll often teach you to go to a neighborhood, pick your church name, gather your core team, raise your funds and then roll out your sexy logo, launch your website and Facebook group, and hope against hope that unchurched people are impressed enough by that stuff that they want to come. But they don’t give a rip. They don’t come, and that’s not the way that Paul did it.

Paul never started a church in a synagogue or building. Paul rolls into a city and infiltrates the community in a very natural way. He goes to the marketplace where people are connecting. If people get converted, then there is a reason to plant a church. Mission for Paul was entering the rhythms of a society.

The church has really neutered itself by trying to do ministry behind the four walls, whereas the lost art is doing what the apostles and Jesus did. We need to learn to do ministry like that, and we would be so powerful. The future belongs not to churches that can gather a crowd, but to churches that can penetrate them.

Read Part 2 of the interview »