J.D. Greear: Gaining by Losing—Part 2

“A ministry that is not discipling people to think about that global mission is not really discipling people.”

“As pastors all we’re doing is fighting for a bigger piece of a rapidly shrinking pie—dechurched and bored Christians. Those of us who want to reach the rest of the culture have got to figure out how to grow the pie.”

In Part 1, J.D. Greear traced his own journey of faith and ministry and concluded the church is clearly called and obligated to be a sending church, not just a gathering church. Here, in Part 2, he candidly discusses how that conviction is working itself out at The Summit Church. 

Would you characterize The Summit Church as a sending church, or is this an aspirational statement of what the church should be? How satisfied are you right now with where your church is at?

[Laughter] “Satisfied” is a tricky word. I’m pleased; I don’t think I’m satisfied.

Let me tell you about a transformational moment in my life as a pastor.

In 2005, three years into pastoring this church, we were growing like crazy. We started getting some attention. I was pleased. I thought God must be pleased. One afternoon I was praying for our city, praying that God would send a revival to Raleigh-Durham like nothing that state had ever seen. It was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but it was just as clear as if it were audible. He said, “OK, what if I answer this prayer, and what if I do send an awakening that’s the kind of thing they’ll write about in 100 years. But what if I don’t use your church to lead it? What if I used your friend’s church down the road?”

I knew the answer was supposed to be, “Oh, Lord, you must increase and I must decrease.” That might have been the right answer, but it wasn’t my real answer. My real answer was, “I’m not OK with that. I want my church to grow.” And I realized all this time I had been teaching our church, “thy kingdom come,” but what I really meant was “my kingdom come.”

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So I went to our church and I acknowledged it. I said, “I feel like I’ve led you wrongly. We’ve been growing and there’s a lot to celebrate here, but our vision is not to grow a great big church. Our vision is supposed to be reaching our city. And if that means that God grows a great big church in the process, so be it. But it means if he sends out some of our best resources and our best people to take the gospel to other places in our city or other places around the world, then we’re not going to fight that either. We’re going to have an open hand, because it’s not about him growing our church for our benefit. It’s about him using us, working through us, as a vehicle of blessing for our city and for the world.”

That’s a major philosophical shift, of course. Did it change what you did as a church?

From the outside if you had only been watching our actions you wouldn’t have seen a lot change in what we did. But it was a seismic shift, especially for me as the pastor.

Here we are 10 years later; we’ve taken on the goal of planting 1,000 churches. So far we’ve planted 25 domestically—and when we say planted what we mean is, we send out on average 30 of our members and a fully funded pastor to go and start a church. We bring that pastor on our staff for a year and we just give them a headhunting license. We say, “You recruit whomever you want to take with you.” We help pay for their first three years as a church and we give them that year of preparation. Every year, I’m telling you, when this group of people we’re commissioning stands across the stage it’s always a little moment of panic for me.

Last year 130 people stood on our stage. And I’m looking up at that group of 130 and I’m seeing key volunteers, leaders, friends, elders, people who help lead worship ministry. And usually people who volunteer to go on church plants are pretty big givers too, because they’re engaged. And I have this moment of panic because I don’t want to lose these people, but it’s the principle of the harvest. As you open up your hands God multiplies it.

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In addition to church planting, your church is spinning off community organizations. What does that look like?

Our vision is to see 100 community-blessing organizations grow up out of our church. We’ve developed three categories of ministry: Own, Catalyze and Bless. Own is what we do as a church, like a traditional ministry. We think of it, we staff it, we pay for it.

On the other end is Bless, and that’s a ministry that a member has the idea for and we pray for them, love them and support them.

The middle category is Catalyze. That’s a ministry that usually begins in the mind of the member, not me. And they’ll come and say, I’m thinking about doing this. Rather than just bless them, we say, OK, how do we bring the resources of the church—whether that’s money or networking potential or professionalism—how do we make that ministry idea that you have even greater and more successful?

When we began to think that way is when ministry really began to take off in our church. What we say now is the best ministry ideas are in the mind of the congregation not in the minds of the pastors. In the book of Acts, 39 out of 40 miracles happen outside of the church.

I tell our church, “Look, 39 out of 40 miracles happen not where I work 50 hours a week, inside the church; 39 out of 40 miracles happen where you work—outside the church.”