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.
What role do spiritual gifts play in mission?
I love going back to Acts 2:39, where Peter says, “This gift is for you and all of your children and as many as the Lord our God will call.” That’s perpetual. That wasn’t just the day of Pentecost. It was generational, for all of us. When our gifts come alive, evangelism happens. And that’s one thing I want people to know. The reason Peter connects the gifts to the power of the Holy Spirit is, when you’re operating in your gifts, you’re naturally glorifying Jesus. That’s what they’re for. Evangelism is naturally going to happen when you’re activated in your gifts.
Gift-driven ministry is a big deal for us. We look at the gift mix. We try to leverage what people are passionate about ,rather than come up with a five-year plan. Each time we reach new, unchurched people, the Spirit comes and dwells within them, and there’s a new set of gifts, which means there is new direction, because the Holy Spirit is strategically placed. I call it Jesus with “you skin” on. He’s expressing himself through you to the world.
In the book, you quote A.W. Tozer: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what you do would go on and no one would know the difference.” How can we make sure the Holy Spirit is palpable in our churches?
Almost any suggestion I give is going to break a typical church today, but in a good way. And I have no problem with Jesus when he says, “Look, I can’t put new wine in an old wineskin.” We’ve got our structures and all that, and we want to preserve it. But I think it’s keeping us from some of the good wine.
Look at your service. Does it exist for Christians? If it does, then you’re really only entertaining them. If you really want the best for those Christians, go on mission with them. Do church in a public space or break up and go into the community and do something radical and different. Serve people. If your Sunday service doesn’t incorporate mission in it somehow, then you’re not doing it right. Master the art of doing church in public spaces or develop community in the heart of your service.
When I started doing church for the unchurched and we had people sitting in small groups, it worked. They wanted to talk. Someone might say, “Hey, I don’t like this. I want to go sit in rows and stare at the back of people’s heads,” or, “Hey, get me in and out of here in an hour.” Unchurched people are like, “No one’s ever talked to me about this stuff. Do we have to stop now?”
So change your seats up. Go to Ikea and get some coffee tables. Instead of doing three points in your sermon, do two, and take 20 minutes for discussion. And here’s what happens in those groups: Your church immediately becomes mission.
It’s just ironic to me that we hold an hour-long service for all the stuff we could be doing during that time. Instead, we talk about doing it, and then we tell people to go do it during the week. The shift came for me when I said we were just going to do it during that time. Then it becomes about equipping and discipling people, rather than saying, “Here’s how you do it. Now go do it. Bye.” Instead, it’s doing those things together.
In the church today, there is a common progression of first believing, then behaving, and finally belonging. How is that different than how Jesus taught and modeled community?
It should be belong, believe, behave. That’s because Jesus was apostolic, so he created community and accepted people before they believed or behaved. Jesus created that gospel-culture first, that sense of belonging, based on who he was.
When we deal with people, the church needs to treat them as Christ would: You’re accepted here, you belong here and it’s OK that you’re a mess and don’t believe. That’s the thing that we really try to emphasize to people, that we’re messes and God accepts us, and so when the grace is flowing, that’s very contagious. I think people need to feel grace before they believe grace.
How can we use this principle to more effectively minister to young people?
Young people need to see our edginess if we want to reach them. They need to see Christianity in action. One thing they always relate to is Christianity on mission. When they see it in a village somewhere in Africa or they see it taking care of the widow and orphan—when they see true religion—they connect with it. So if I’m sitting in a café and I hear a bunch of young people talking, guess what they’re talking about? They’re going to be saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m part of this social entrepreneurship in the slums of Delhi, or the outlying villages, and what it does is it provides economically sustainable …” You name it, they’re going to be involved.
This generation is motivated toward social events and social impact, because they saw their parents live for the almighty dollar, they saw 9/11 and the economic crisis pull everything out from under them, and they realized that’s not what life’s about. That’s why you’ve got this evolution of tiny homes, because they’re not as materialistic. They’re looking for impact. Christianity and mission are the answer to that.
They’ve seen the church live the American dream and fail. They’ve seen the church build the bigger barns, exist for itself and become a religious country club where the elite thrive and one guy’s up there as a megastar—and they’re just not into that. They’re saying, “I want to make an impact, and I can’t do that on a Sunday morning by going to your show.” Forgive me. These are fighting words, but I’ve seen this myself.
I started as a youth pastor. I would go overseas with these young people who didn’t give a rip about the gospel of Christianity. I’d take them to New Zealand, or Hungary, or Mexico. It didn’t matter where we’d go, because if we took them somewhere and we got them on mission, where they knew they could affect brokenness and they could be a part of God moving in the world, it lit something in them. And so when I talk about mission as the missing ingredient, it’s the one thing we’re not offering in church.
It’s the same thing with the exiles—the ones who have left the church not because they’re backsliding, but because they want to make an impact. They care less about drawing crowds and more about penetrating them. Less about building bigger barns and having the dream of their own church building. That’s crap to this next generation. They don’t want it. What they want is what the church isn’t offering: mission. If we will lead the way, they will follow. But they’re not following us because we’re not leading.