Joby Martin: Laying the Groundwork for Revival—Part 2

joby martin

“If you were God, based on what your church is doing with the resources he’s brought your way, would you give you more?”

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Joby Martin talks about why going to Church of Eleven22 is like the last night of camp, why he sees the church as an aircraft carrier and how the church thinks of reproduction.

What is an overlooked quality that helps a church—especially a sizeable church like yours—successfully reproduce? What are you learning about what works?

In my experience, every preacher who preaches on giving says at some point, “You can’t outgive God.” But few of them believe it when it comes to their church and their church’s resources with regard to reproduction. 

So financial investment?

And investing in people. Some of the key leaders in our church have decided to move with church plants to other places. That’s hard. It has a cost when a key staff person says, “Hey, God is calling me to go and be a part of this church plant.” Those moments test us. Do we actually believe that if we put everything—and everyone—we steward in the hands of God, that he can do more with it than we can?

I’m telling you, when pastors are preaching about giving to their ministry, they want everybody else to believe that. “Come on, bring it to God. You can trust him.” But we need to believe that for ourselves, too.

“When pastors are preaching about giving to their ministry, they want everybody else to believe that. We need to believe that for ourselves, too.”

Of course, who knows the mind of God? But one of the questions I ask our folks when we’re talking about generosity is, “If you were God, from the way you spend money, would you give you more?” That’s a reasonable question for pastors and church planters too: “If you were God, based on what your church is doing with the resources he’s brought your way, would you give you more?”

When we as a church try to honor him with our firstfruits, and bring our first and best to him, we decide to invest all for his glory. But the first spend for us is a tithe into kingdom endeavors that are broader than Eleven22. 

I love that connection of church reproduction and stewardship. 

It works. And what if the real thing that God wants to do is not even in my lifetime at Eleven22? We’ve seen almost 10,000 people come to Christ since we opened the doors 10 years ago—but what if the real fruit of our ministry is a couple of generations from now, supporting the next Great Awakening, laying even a little groundwork for a worldwide revival? Perhaps our job is to build the launchpad from which upcoming generations are going to take off. 

With all of this in mind, what have been some of the most unexpected or difficult challenges that you have faced in that mission?

Division is the big one. One of the most disappointing things can be the infighting and denominationalism that we see in Christianity. It’s sad. The Acts29 Network has about 700 pastors around the world planting churches. And in every city they work in, there are multiple paid for buildings standing empty. One of the hardest challenges new church planters face is finding a place to meet they can afford. It seems like if we’re all on Team Jesus, we could figure that out.

And we are trying to meet this where we can. Eleven22 uses almost every one of our campuses as a place where other church planters can launch their churches. We have people launching churches out of our campuses all the time. Honestly, it’s not easy to do so—it is more expensive to host than we expected, they never clean up the way they say they’re going to, and so forth. But whatever—this is a way we can work and serve.

“What if the real fruit of our ministry is a couple of generations from now, supporting the next Great Awakening, laying even a little groundwork for a worldwide revival?”

On the other end of it, one of the most refreshing things I’ve seen has been how so many leaders—especially the big names—are behind the reproduction movement. I guess I have been pleasantly surprised. Guys like J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Dave Ferguson, Ed Stetzer, Steve Stroope, Larry Osborne—I mean the list is really long of people who behind the scenes are thoroughly supporting this work across lines that could be divisive. There’s a sense we’re in it together.

That’s encouraging. Talk to me briefly about COVID-19. Did you learn anything from that time that’s going to inform your work moving forward?

We had a growing online footprint before the pandemic, but we were kind of scratching our heads about it. I’m in that Reformed camp—so our crew would love to just get together and debate ecclesiology or something to death. (“Theologically, can you even do church online?”) But by God’s grace I read a book called Team of Teams by Gen. Stanley McChrystal about a month before COVID-19 hit. 

He had been put in charge of the war in Afghanistan. After about two weeks in that assignment, he could not figure out how the conflict wasn’t over. The United States had the biggest, fastest, strongest, best-equipped, best-trained military in the history of the world. Then it hit him. We were the best military of the 20th century. But we were fighting a 21st-century war. Reading that, I thought, Uh-oh. 

At that point, Eleven22 was going like rock ‘n’ roll. We had 12,000 people a weekend, seven campuses going to 10. We’re doing the thing. And I thought, What if we’re building a 20th-century church in a 21st-century culture? Finally I called my executive ministries pastor, Ryan Britt, and said, “Hey man, we’re going online. We’ll have the ecclesiological discussions about it later. But pull the trigger.” 

So we spent what felt like half a zillion dollars to get set up. And the timing was unreal. Literally, we set it up, ran a couple of tests and were ready to go the very week COVID-19 shut everybody down. 

Providential.

For sure. I still have important ecclesiological and theological questions about it. I’m for sure pro-gathering in person. But one thing that has helped me is understanding that there are multiple online audiences. There’s not an online audience. There are a bunch of people who can’t make it to a gathering this weekend, but they’ll be back soon. An online option gives them an opportunity to connect. There are people in town who are unchurched but curious, and this can be a great way for them to check things out. Then there are a whole bunch of folks around the country—the world maybe—who are checking out Eleven22 as a supplement to their local church, which I think is amazing. And lastly there are some people that for one reason or another, nobody else is discipling. We’re figuring out all the implications right now, but we have decided we’re not going to let geography limit who we disciple. 

Even that choice may have a bunch of implications for reproduction. Maybe we’ll plant churches through people we’re discipling online. Maybe we’ll have little outposts of Eleven22 in different places. Maybe we’ll connect them with other churches. We’ve done that before. But I don’t want to limit what God’s trying to do. I just want to make sure that we’re glorifying God by doing our part of the Great Commission at this point in history. 

Besides the online piece, what does it mean to adapt to the world that we have now, rather than try and idealize a world that may or may not have been positive, but regardless is passing away?

In the book, McChrystal’s big takeaway was the decentralization of their decision-making. At one point they were super pumped because they had killed the No. 3 guy in al-Qaida. He thought it would be a turning point. Well, it turns out apparently almost everybody is the No. 3 guy in al-Qaida. It was organic. The Americans found themselves hampered by their decision-making structure, which was so bureaucratic that by the time an important decision went all the way up the chain of command to Washington and came back, it was irrelevant. 

What that encouraged us to do is empower more decisions at the local and campus level, and particularly, when we are planting churches, to plant locally led, autonomous groups. Again, we’ve been part of something like 350 church plants. For sure, they lean on us for prayer and help and advice. But they are making localized decisions. 

A wonderful principle. Looking forward, what’s on the horizon for your team and ministry? 

Personally, my biggest dream is just to finish well. I have a long time to go, I hope—I’d like to do this for like 20 more years or more. But at this point, when we see the bad news of the number of people who stumble and fall, the real goal is to finish faithfully and trust God with the results.

But in the near future, we’re beginning to leverage Eleven22 to provide kingdom resources and be a blessing to other churches. God’s done some stuff here just because he decided to. But surely there are some things that we can do now to be a blessing to other churches, as so many other churches have been a blessing to us. We want to be a blessing to other churches, to the kingdom, and maybe even be an example of linking arms.

“If you were God, based on what your church is doing with the resources he’s brought your way, would you give you more?”

From Outreach Magazine  Why I Gave Up Working for God

We have never tried to build a big church. We’ve just tried to reach more people. And if you get hyperfocused on that, then maybe you’ll plant a bunch of churches; maybe you’ll plant just one. Maybe the church will be big. Maybe it will be small. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. God determines those things. Just like God determines the height of your children, he decides the size of your church. Don’t be worried about that stuff. Get really, really focused on just reaching that one more person, and then trust God with the results.

Anybody who believes the Bible and loves Jesus—we want to be a Team Jesus kind of church that’s helping everybody work together to accomplish the Great Commission. I’m not at all concerned about the Eleven22 brand. 

Jesus is the brand.