Speaker Panel: Dave Harvey, Ed Stetzer, and Jeff Vanderstelt

Desiring God 2011 National Conference

Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples

Kenny Stokes: I have some questions that came in earlier that I put in the pad and some questions in my pocket that came in more recently. Here’s a question for all of you, and any of you can take this: “What role does health play in multiplication? Meaning, when you have rapid growth, how can you develop leaders qualified to help lead other small groups and then other churches?” It’s really a question of health and maturity.

Ed Stetzer: I think one of the challenges is to define maturation and the time that’s necessary for maturation. I think that the way we would define that in the modern American evangelical milieu is very different from the way Paul, the apostle, seemed to have defined that. The one who said, “Lay hands on no man suddenly” (1 Timothy 5:22), would, from our perspective, seem to lay hands on people suddenly.

What I would say is I think it has to do with the question of I don’t think there’s a set length. It’s not that rapidity is the goal, but longevity is not the goal either. What the goal is, is disciple making, and when people have met the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and other places of what it means to be a pastor, then the church can multiply and that a pastor can lead that church.

We’ve had this discussion. We talked about this in Louisville, and because you guys tend to have a longer maturation cycle and others have a shorter maturation cycle. I would say that there’s advantages and disadvantages to both. I want to say again that sometimes that question is code word for we don’t want to plant a church for a long, long time, and I think that’s a mistake. If you want to have longevity to the maturation cycle to develop new leaders, do that, but say that in three years we’re going to plant a church, not that we’re going to wait until we’re mature because I have found that in waiting for maturity, maturity never comes and churches never get planted.

Kenny Stokes: This was from a planter who is two weeks or two months into his plant.

Ed Stetzer: Okay, well, if you’re two weeks as a believer and you’re now planting a church, you need to repent and get into discipleship with Dave and that’ll be fine.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I would say also it seems to me like a lot of churches don’t have the mechanism for raising up leaders at the very beginning built into their churches. I tell people to plant a church that’s going to be able to plant a church. In other words, you’ve got built into it the mechanisms for developing people from the very beginning of it. Then the second is that I see a lot of people send people out to plant a church with a lot of money and resources that have never actually been tested in their own context. It seems like the church is the healthiest place for people to fail and not fall too hard, instead of sending them out all on their own to fail and then they fall really hard.

Whichever mechanism you use, we’ve chosen missional community as a mechanism to raise up our church planters because they’re in a context of a smaller household raising up people and making disciples, but they still have elder oversight. If they fall, they still have a covering and then they eventually become a church planter in the midst of a context of health instead of they have to be all the health themself.

Kenny Stokes: There are three questions that relate to women in one way or another. I’ll ask a question for Dave: “What do you see as the role of single women in church planting?” This is just a reflection on how biblical manhood has influenced our churches.

Dave Harvey: Well, I think there’s many things that a single woman can do in church planting, and I love the idea of inspiring vision in them to see churches planted. The first thing would be that we need people that have a vision to be part of teams that are going out and to make the sacrifices that are necessary, which is really an enormous service. It’s an enormous sacrifice to be on a church planting team.

Then as you arrive in the new location you need to be able to occupy some of the places of service in the new church, which can be anywhere from leading in children’s ministry to serving on Sunday morning in different ways. I just think the door’s wide open when we talk about church planting. I think that it’s important to realize that oftentimes the ladies get overlooked in the discussion of church planting, and oftentimes that’s because the church planting discussion goes to the called man and it orbits around him. I think it’s a great thing to be thinking about.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I would just say I’ve wondered why we don’t do a better job of assessing church planting teams instead of a church planting person. It seems like the biblical picture is a team, and I wonder if that would change the equation a bit in terms of valuing men and women in the church planting process because we would realize we need both.

Kenny Stokes: Keep the mic. I have a question from a woman for you, Jeff: “Would the call to be involved in the lives of others look different for a stay-at-home mom, like me? There’s a lot of pressure to be involved in ministry outside of my husband and children. Commonly these are not valued, go on the back burner, and marriages fall apart while we serve others. How does the missional community change marriage and raising kids?” It’s all one question from a mom.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Well, first of all, I would say I think everybody’s engagement in the mission is going to be unique to every situation and time and place of life, so there’s no one size fits all. Second, I think when you start doing mission as a family — which I think that is the biblical picture — then it’s no longer taking away from your husband and your children. You actually see loving your husband and loving your children as actually a part of the mission because it’s how you show what the family of God looks like, and how you show what Christ and church looks like in your marriage. It becomes the most powerful picture of the gospel in a metaphor, and it’s a picture that you can give the community. I think that is the mission to live as a family together, and to show Christ to others.

Then I’ve found that my wife in particular — we have three little kids — has more opportunities for mission than a lot of single women do because of all the mothers that are looking for help and wanting to not be alone and have play dates. I mean, there’s just so many open doors for missionary activity that we get to include our kids in. Our family does mission together as a family. We don’t separate ourselves from our family to do mission. We do almost all of it with our family. It actually is building our family union, and I’m training my kids in the midst of the mission at the same time.

Kenny Stokes: That’s helpful.

Ed Stetzer: None of us on the panel are moms, and so it’s a bit like opining on things from afar. But I’m married to a mom and my mother was a mom, and I guess still is actually come to think of it. We have three daughters. Pray for us, just having three daughters should elicit some prayers. But I will tell you, that’s the challenge with us. We have three very busy children and wonderful children, but as Jeff said, we do things together. I serve with my daughters at a local Samaritans House where we minister to the poor and those without. My wife has taught on Tuesdays, the children of “undocumented immigrants,” which is the politically correct way to say it, but we might say “illegal aliens,” and she has brought our children. She’s teaching them English as a second language to do that. I think there are ways to do that.

But I also would say that my wife is a pastor’s wife. She has God’s call in her life and the opportunities and the callings God’s put in her life. So there’s not this stereotypical, “If you’re a pastor’s wife, you must do this.” I recently wrote about that, so I’ve been on a little bit of a rant about that. My wife is using her gifts as a mother and as a wife, and there are even resources. There is a book by Helen Lee called The Missional Mom, which talks about some of these ways and means that mothers can do that. But I would feel a little bit deficient, opining much more on how moms should act and live in missional ways, not being one.

Kenny Stokes: Here’s the last of the motherly questions, and this is in a different sense here: “What are the basic responsibilities of a sending or a ‘mother’ church?”

Ed Stetzer: Oh, a different kind of mothering. Well, when we do, I wrote a chapter on this in my book Planting Missional Churches In there, I actually went through and listed some of those things. I think part of it is there’s a theological covering, which means different things in different places, but there is a sense that we’re sponsored, we’re mothered by a church called LifePoint Church, and we don’t have covenant membership yet. We’re a brand new church. We haven’t covenanted as a body together, so we’re a part of another body. There’s theological covering, which requires a high level of theological agreement between mother and daughter churches.

When I was at Redeemer doing a conference with Redeemer Presbyterian, one of the things I said is that — and I think some people got offended — Tim Keller and I can’t plant a church together. We can pray together, we can encourage each other, we can train together. We could plant a church together until the first baptism and then we have to decide if we need a cup or a tub. There’s an immediate thing. A mother and daughter church need a high level of theological compatibility.

Secondarily, for a real mother church, there needs to be some involvement. There needs to be some engagement, and that’s not easy. Johnny Crist, a pastor in Atlanta, the Atlanta Vineyard, has planted 20 daughter churches and he says this: “Being a mother church is like having a baby. It’s bloody, it’s messy, and it’s painful, and it’s not easy.” To do that requires sacrifice. Everyone wants to sponsor a church by sending a hundred dollars to somebody in Nebraska and saying, “We’ve planted a new church.” No, you didn’t. You sent money to somebody and I’m glad you did, but I want you to send people. I want you to birth a baby out of your church that plants churches. So there’s something theological and there’s something organizational.

Then finally, I think there needs to be this ultimate goal to move from dependence to interdependence to partnership. I think those things kind of bring that out. I’ll be quiet now.

Dave Harvey: Well, I was just going to add that I think if you’re going to be a mother church, you have to have a culture that is defining success by reproduction. In terms of what we pray for, what we’re raising up leaders for, and what we’re aimed at, the church needs to understand that part of the reason it exists is to reproduce itself in church planting. That’s in the new members material. That’s sown throughout the church in a way that the church understands when they do plant a church, God is with us and we’re being successful with what God has called us to do.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I think another thing too that probably goes in a bit with what Ed said is that there are certain things that a new baby church plant is going to need to continue to serve its sustainability as well as its missional effectiveness. A lot of times the administrative aspect and having other advisory leaders around them can really destroy them. They get drained by the administrative work, so to help provide some of that can be helpful, along with the financial systems that keep them accountable and safe. And then they may need some leadership around them that’s more seasoned that they continue to serve like an advisory team to help them with big decisions before they have elders in place. I think those are key things to help the baby.

Kenny Stokes: I agree. Thank you. Here’s another question: “Ed, what should I say to the pastor of a struggling church when I meet with him to tell him I’m planting a new church in his neighborhood.”

Ed Stetzer: Goodbye is typically what you’d say at that point because you may not have subsequent conversations. I have never found a warm welcome from churches when you plant a church. My desire is to be as far as it’s up to me to be at peace with all men. My desire is to go in and say, “We’re not looking for your people.” Where we just planted a church, there’s a large church nearby and I made a video. We were sending out an invitation and we invited a lot of people and I made a little video to the people of that church, “We’d love you to pray for us, but this church is not for you.” By doing that, I think we were able to reduce the tension along the way.

Here’s what I found and here’s what others have found. There’s actually a study done in Hawaii a long time ago that Aubrey Malphurs cites. Church plants tend to actually have a positive influence on the other churches in a community because it causes that struggling church pastor to say, “Look, it can be done. You can reach people. We can engage this community. We can be a church on mission along the way.”

But what I would say to that pastor is simply, “You know what? We’re feeling God called us to plant a church. We love this community like you love this community. We want to love this community together with you. We’re never going to devalue you.” I saw a mailer once and I actually saved it. It said “10 reasons why church is boring” that basically listed all the reasons in the town that churches were bad and then it said, “But ours is not.” Don’t devalue the work that God is already doing, the work in those churches. Make commitments like that. Say, “We’re not going to recruit your people.”

One thing I said is that if anyone from your church comes to be a part of our church, I’m going to send them back to your church. And if you send them back to us, we’ll take them as missionaries. But building that trust is key, and then living that trust. When that person shows up and they’re a tither who likes to teach seventh grade boys, it’s hard to turn down someone who’s willing to give and willing to go do the assignment nobody wants. Be faithful to that commitment later.

Dave Harvey: I think you should identify for them that the field that you’re looking at is not the Christians in the area. The field is the lost. It’s the harvest. That’s how we’re going to be deploying our people. That’s what we’re going to be praying for. We’re not here to just reap believers from other meetings and other churches and to grow the church that way. That would be unethical.

Kenny Stokes: Here’s a question for you, Dave: “How can I be involved in church planting when I have no team?”

Dave Harvey: Well, you can pray, and I’m not attempting to be humorous because I think there’s a lot of men that have deep burdens to plant churches and to do mission, but they don’t feel like they have the support. I don’t think that necessarily having that burden is a trigger to go out into the field. I do think there has to be prayer support, and I do think there has to be for church planting, a team. It might be a smaller team, or it might be a larger team. I would suggest the larger team and the better funded team.

But nevertheless, I think that it’s good for you to recognize that absent a team, you don’t have a warrant unless you’re going into an unreached people area or something like that and you’re really just breaking new ground. I would encourage you to hold off. I would encourage you to evaluate as well why you don’t have a team. Does that reflect in some way on your own leadership and potentially your calling?

Ed Stetzer: May I disagree with that answer?

Kenny Stokes: You may.

Ed Stetzer: This is a conversation we’ve had before, and I don’t want to be a complete contrarian on this issue. I had a team when I planted this church now. I’ve never gone to a place with a team, but I’ve never planted a church without a team. I want to be cautious. Right now, the big thing to say is even to the point where people say it is not biblical to plant without a team. I think that’s a very strong statement that would be hard to justify with some biblical examples, like Philip in Samaria and others.

Here’s what I would say. If you’re going to solo plant, “parachute plant” is sometimes the hip insider language that people who dress like Jeff Vanderstelt use. That was a gift for you, my friend. But what I would say is this is. I ultimately do not think that the absence of vocational staff members willing to relocate to a new area is an indication that God has not called you there.

When I moved to the inner city of Buffalo, New York, I moved with a team named Donna and we moved into the inner city of Buffalo, New York and we knocked on doors and we met people and we saw people become Christians. And our team consisted of the second couple I married, who was a prostitute to her former pimp who had both come to Christ, been changed by the power of the gospel, and they were part of our team. Then there was a musician that came to know Christ and he became part of our team. We launched with a team, but it took us about 12 months to get that team. We raised up leaders from the harvest who became that team.

I would say statistically there’s actually some detriment to a large vocational team. The best size statistically based on our research of about a thousand new churches we studied, was about having a full-time person and then someone alongside, and then the rest were volunteer teams. When you end up with three or four vocational full-time team members, our experience has been that you end up spending an inordinate amount of time together, unengaged in the community, and without the desperation that you need to effectively plant a church among people who are far from God in a new setting.

I am very pro-team and I wouldn’t plan a church without a team, but I don’t want to give the impression — and you guys maybe you were or weren’t giving the impression — that a team is a bunch of vocational people who go with you. I think that sometimes what a lot of church planners are waiting for is that, and feeling God hasn’t sent those people to me or with me. There are wonderful movements at Sovereign Grace with those movements. That’s wonderful. They send teams of people. I’ll just say in my own experience and the vast majority of church planters that I’ve worked with and deployed has been that they tended to go in alone and raise up a team from the harvest. Now being with that team doesn’t mean there’s no mentors and partners and others and lead teams, as some call them, etc. But that’s my only caution.

Kenny Stokes: I see heads nodding here.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I would agree with you. I just think that if someone’s never been able to raise a team anywhere, I would have some great concerns.

Ed Stetzer: Agreed.

Jeff Vanderstelt: If they’re in their own church and no one will follow them there and they think they’re going to go to another one and the people will follow them there, there’s a character problem or an ability problem. Whereas where you were at, Ed, I’m sure people followed you and then you went to another place and you could do it again. So there’s some provenness.

Ed Stetzer: That’s an awesome distinction because if you’ve never started anything from scratch and gathered a group of people to accomplish something great, the first time to do it is not your church plant.

Kenny Stokes: Here’s a kid question. Actually, two kid questions for Jeff. I’ll read them both and you can respond to both somehow: “How do you make the gospel come alive and the importance of missionary living come alive to middle school and high school students? How do you speak a language they understand?” That’s the question from the youth leader yearning for missional community and gospel grace.

Here’s the flip side. This is another question: “Recently, a group of teens returned from a mission trip. They are doing the things you describe. They are loving each other like family, being intentional in missional living, and looking for ways to help the community. These kids are on fire. Their Christian parents are scared of their fervor. What counsel do you have for us as their youth leader?” THere are two sets of youth leaders, two different situations.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Well, for the first one, I think the gospel is alive in terms of it being the power of God for salvation, so I don’t think we need to make it something it isn’t. It already is. But I think if I understand the question correctly, how do we then help our students understand how powerful it is and how it relates to all of life? That is a very big question, but I’ll try to summarize it. I think C.S. Lewis said something like, “If you can’t teach what you know to an eight-year-old, then you’re just regurgitating.” Is that right or is that somebody else?

Ed Stetzer: I’d rather not say.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Okay, who is it?

Ed Stetzer: I have no idea.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Okay, great. I know something he doesn’t. Maybe I’m just wrong and ignorant.

Ed Stetzer: But I’m looking it up right now.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Either way, it’s a great quote.

Ed Stetzer: It is a great quote.

Jeff Vanderstelt: If it’s mine, I’ll take it.

Ed Stetzer: Exactly.

Jeff Vanderstelt: What I’ve found is if you do know the gospel, then you can actually translate it.

Ed Stetzer: That’s good.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I’ve found that most people don’t know the gospel. They just know how to regurgitate it. It’s probably evidence that we need to grow in understanding what the gospel actually is to the degree at which we can communicate it in many different ways. I believe that is part of the job. The church has got to do a better job of preaching the gospel every week in every context and every passage, so that the church continues to hear it preached over and over again in as many ways as possible. It’s still the same gospel. I think that has to happen.

Then second, I would really encourage you to believe that high school students and junior high students with the Spirit of God can actually get it and might be able to communicate it in ways that you wouldn’t be able to, and that’s part of the reason why I think God’s given them the Spirit. They can communicate it to their peers as well.

The last thing I’d say is that part of your job is to figure out what the real issues of their life are that they would probably look to something else other than trusting in Christ to find sufficiency, satisfaction, acceptance, or security. That’s how you’re going to learn how to apply the gospel appropriately to their context. You can say, “In Christ, you can find the acceptance of the Father through the work of the Son.” You start dealing with their real issues that they’re really dealing with by communicating the gospel and its implications for how it actually addresses their concerns, their fears, their tendency to look somewhere else other than Christ.

Here’s something regarding the parents who are terrified. I think churches should not send kids on mission trips unless they prepare their parents for them coming home. I mean that. That’s kind of funny, but it’s like, “Did you not think it was going to change them?” Maybe the church should say, “These kids are going to come back and they’re going to mess you up, and we hope so.” I think the pastors should get behind that and say, “We’re actually going to give them some opportunity to share in ways that we hope will spur you on toward love and good deeds, like Timothy. We’re not going to look down on them for their youth. We’re going to have them set an example. We want to help them do that. We know they’re going to do it in ways that are going to be a little out of control at times. Parents, we’re going to prepare you for that.” We shouldn’t just prepare kids for mission trips, we have to prepare parents for the return.

Ed Stetzer: That’s good.

Kenny Stokes: Dave, here’s a question: “People sometimes debate leaving their churches when their pastors don’t preach expositionally or are doctrinally fuzzy. Are there specific signs of missionary/missional health people should hold their churches or denominations to?”

Dave Harvey: Well, I think the greatest sign of missionary or missional health is that the gospel is central to the life of the church and the central feature in the preaching. I would hope that your experience in a local church is that the gospel is not simply being proclaimed as an altar call at the end, but that the messages are finding their way to Christ and that is working to be applied in the lives of the believer, and then the believers are being encouraged outside of the walls of the church. I think beyond that, we start moving into secondary and tertiary things, but I think that’s really the central one. That’s the biggest hook.

Kenny Stokes: Ed, “Is there a way to have a focus on place without falling into the negative territorial neighborhood parish mentality?”

Ed Stetzer: Yes, but let me mention one thing about the last one. If one of the marks of your biblical church is not mission, you ought to ask the question if that’s really a biblical church.

Kenny Stokes: Yes.

Ed Stetzer: I think that we’re in a theological renaissance right now. If it does not lead to a mission-shaped church and passion, I think ultimately it will be a dead end spiritually.

But to your question, I would say that I want you to have a passion for a place. People often ask me, “How do you know when God has called you to plant a church?” When people talk about this, people tell me there’s so many different ways. I’m not saying this is the way that you must. Someone might say, “I fell in this hole and then I heard the gospel, and now you should fall in a hole to hear the gospel.” But for me, I’ve never planted a church when I didn’t cry out with the cry of a John Knox who said, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” When God called us to Buffalo, we could do nothing else but love these people in the inner city of Buffalo, New York in our poor, inner-city, welfare-driven, crack addict church. That’s where we wanted to be. There was nowhere else we could be. I had this abiding overwhelming love for those people, and not the people who necessarily were 30 miles away in the suburbs. I had to get that love here to plant a church where I live now outside of Nashville.

I may have not been clear, forgive me if I haven’t. I want you to see the community as your parish, if you want to use the term. But I want you to see that there’s all kinds of people you won’t necessarily reach by yourself in that geographic boundary. We don’t have dioceses where these are my areas and you can’t come into them. There’s a deep need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the first Sunday of our church, which was Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, we started Grace Church. And we announced that we would be planting a church in our county within the next year. We wanted to be born pregnant, so from the first day we were working towards that. Well, that will be in our own field.

Someone said, “Well, aren’t you cannibalizing yourself?” I said, “No, we’re actually multiplying ourselves. We’re not splitting, we’re multiplying, and there’s more because there will be two.” Let me nuance what I said, and I apologize if I wasn’t clear. What I’m talking about is seeing places in a territorial way rather than a missional way. That’s the distinction I would make between the two.

Kenny Stokes: How about some questions about missional communities or small groups? One question says, “How do I effectively balance meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of my house church (or missional community), while being intentional with regards to planting a new church?” Jeff Vanderstelt: I think this person may have come up and talked to me, but I’m not sure. The way I understood it was, “How do you do pastoral care for believers that are struggling while you’re also trying to reach out to people who are unbelievers?” I said one of the greatest apologetics I believe of the gospel is when we actually do pastoral care for the broken believer in front of the unbeliever in such a way that the unbeliever comes to believe that actually you can be humble, in need, and find the gospel to be sufficient and see it transform a person’s life in the front of their eyes. I think we do too much transformative work with believers behind closed doors and the unbelieving community never sees transformation.

Dave Harvey: That’s good.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I think we need to do a better job of seeing that mixed a little bit more.

Dave Harvey: That’s good.

Kenny Stokes: Here’s another small group question: “What percentage of your Sunday morning attendees are also part of a missional community or a small group?” Maybe you want to speak across the board?

Ed Stetzer Let me address it from a study we just did of 7,000 churches from all Protestant denominations. The typical church, both the median and the mean was 50 percent. That includes any small type of group. It could be a Sunday school class or small groups. The churches that we saw transformational capacity and activity taking place, where we talk about transformation as people were being redeemed and transformed by the power of the gospel, the best of those churches were in the 80 percent and higher range.

What we encourage churches to do is to shoot towards 70 percent engagement and involvement or more there when you have that sort of model of church. Now, you asked about house churches a minute ago. That’s a whole different model of church. But in the model of church that most would be probably engaged in here, that’s what we’re working towards and pushing towards. We like to see 70 or 80 percent in small groups. That’s where we think we’re getting to a healthy place as a congregation where people are really living in each other’s lives. That is the weekly attendance in one compared to the weekly attendance in the other, just have a clear statistical measure.

Jeff Vanderstelt: Presently, our percentage is 120 percent. Our attendance on Sunday is, let’s say if it were 600, it would be at about 800 in missional communities. Partly that’s because of the way we’re doing things, because for us, missional community includes unbelievers in the midst versus our gatherings, which are not generally as much unbelievers in the midst. We actually have more people involved in a missional community involvement all week long than we do on a Sunday attendance.

Ed Stetzer: I would say that because of the way that you do church that’s appropriate and a goal. I would probably not make that a goal if I was doing more of a Sunday morning driven experience.

Jeff Vanderstelt: That’s right.

Ed Stetzer: But again, I think that’s one of the reasons people are so attracted to that model and approach, and rightfully so. You’re doing good work.

Dave Harvey: We made a decision early on at Sovereign Grace that we would encourage the churches and the pastors of the churches to require involvement in a small group as part of membership. When they’re going through their new members’ class or orientation or whatever you call it, they’re hearing that expectation. They’re being trained on why that’s necessary and why it connects you to the community in such a distinctive way. We have a lot of folks in the church that would be a part of the small group system and receive care and inspiration and connection, and hopefully mobilization as well. I don’t know if it’s over the 80 percent mark. I would imagine for many of the churches it is.

Kenny Stokes: This is addressed to Ed, but any of you can answer it: “What would you say to a dying church? You seem to say there’s little hope. How and in what way might that hope prevail?”

Ed Stetzer: I don’t remember saying the phrase “little hope.” What I would say is that it’s most usual that it doesn’t work. That’s just a statement of reality. But I will tell you that the reason I wrote Comeback Churches is because of a passion I have for church revitalization. I was a professor teaching Church Planting and Missions in Louisville, Kentucky when a little church in Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, asked me to come and help them revitalize and reach their community. There were 35 of them there. The median age was 68 years of age. They were in a 250 seat auditorium with 35 left. There was an oxygen tank or a walker at the end of every pew. There was a guy named Greg. He was 40, and they called him the youth group.

Kenny Stokes: I believe it. I believe it.

Ed Stetzer: We walked that journey. I believe deeply in church revitalization. My assigned topic was Church Planting with a specific request that I deal with the objection that we should save all the dying churches first. So I’ve been obedient to my speaking instructions. But what I would say to you is that we’re not going to reach North America solely through church planning. We’re going to need a robust strategy for church revitalization.

But what we have to recognize is that most churches don’t want to change, and change is often necessary at a large level to experience revitalization. What they want you to do is to allow them to do what they’ve already been doing, but for it actually to work this time. People have huge vested interests in keeping that going. I’ll use a quick story that I often use from my shoe. I’m going to take off my shoes. Is it okay to take off my shoes, Dave? Is that appropriate? I have funny shaped feet, and Dave can attest to it because you can see right here. See that bone right there? It sticks out right there? It’s a place where my bone sticks out.

Dave Harvey: I’d rather not have to attest to this. Yes, it’s there. It sticks out.

Ed Stetzer: All right. Thank you for your willing participation in my metaphor. I wear these shoes and I will wear them forever until they fall off my feet. I’ll get a hole in them and it’ll grow and my wife will make fun of me, and then I will come to a place like Minneapolis where it’s cold 10 months a year, and I’ll step into a puddle of water and icy cold water will shoot up. Then I will think, “I’ve got to get new shoes,” but I don’t want to change them. Here’s why I don’t want to change them because I got used to them. It’s because this hole here has been worn in by my funny shaped foot, so I don’t want to change it because it hurts to change it. For three weeks, when I change the shoes, I’ll bleed. Here’s the principle, and it’s an important principle for churches.

People and churches never change until the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of change. I think one of the principles that you have to do is you have to lead a dying church through the recognition of their impending death. At this church, Rolling Fields, I got up and I charted out from 1953, Jimmy Carter, the founding pastor. We ran hundreds at one time down to dozens, and I projected it down to zero in six years.

At that point, an 88-year-old man named Harold stood up. He was the chairman of what a lot of churches here would call “elders,” but in that context, they call them “deacons.” They function as elders. Harold stood up and he pointed his bony finger at me and said, “Preacher, we don’t want our church to die.” He said, “In 20 years, we’re all going to be dead and gone.” One of the older ladies, Helen, piped up and said, “It ain’t going to take 20 years for you, Harold.” You’re kind of like, what do you say? It’s like your grandma. She can say anything she wants.

What he said pointing at me though was, “Preacher, we don’t want our church to die. We’ll do what it takes.” When a church gets to that point, and then you lead them lovingly and discerningly through a process of engaging their community on mission and retooling and rethinking what God has called them to do, you can lead a church turnaround. We did. The median age dropped substantially. One person left very mad, but no one else did.

Two years later, the church median age was in the thirties. They run about 175 people and the busiest people serving and so excited were the senior adults. Listen, if you’re in a church revitalisation, listen, seniors are not your adversary, they’re your ally. But you have to help them see why. Another youngster coming in saying, “We got to change everything,” is not the answer. Walk them through a long process. We visited other churches. We analyzed ourselves. We spent six months thinking before and praying and discerning. I taught on why we’re going to engage our community on mission before we made changes. Then they led the way to make changes. Sorry, I got excited there.

Kenny Stokes: No, it’s good. I would actually like to ask you another question to see if we could get another personal illustration from another article of clothing.

Ed Stetzer: Let me tell you about a tattoo I have, right here.

Kenny Stokes: Here’s a general question, and this will be our last question. It relates to the balance of near and far. We use the phrase at Bethlehem “neighborhood and the nations” often. Here’s the question, and you can think about it in the balance of things: “What guidance would you give a church member about encouraging the Great Commission in a church where local missions takes precedence over global missions, or vice versa?”

Dave Harvey: Yeah, it’s a great question and I think a very relevant one for Sovereign Grace because I think our emphasis has been primarily on local church planting or national church planting, and less so on unreached people groups. We’re just kind of crossing that bridge right now. Part of it has come, I think, through the faithful prayers of God’s people in Sovereign Grace, and then folks from outside of Sovereign Grace that I’m sure have prayed for us, and I’m grateful for that.

We’re beginning to take some initial steps. But I also think there’s inspiration to be found in biographies. I mean, even some of the things we’re going to hear at this conference are going to provide fresh inspiration on why it’s a worthy goal and certainly a profoundly biblical goal to pursue those endeavors for the glory of God and for the mission. I think that question is very relevant for us, and it represents our own journey in Sovereign Grace.

Jeff Vanderstelt: I’ll just answer from our context. We’re encouraging every missional community to have a national partner, either that they’re going to pray for and get to send people to that country and help them reach those people, or that they will be committed to praying for and equipping a missionary in that country. It may be funding or prayer, but that they’ll have their eyes on another nation and not just their own neighborhood. That way they’re thinking both at the same time.

Then when they think about doing activities that are outside of their context, they can think through how they could go to that place and be a part of serving the work that God’s doing in another part of the world. They keep their eyes in both places, and our hope is that every missional community will eventually get to send teams to those countries.

Kenny Stokes: Ed, do you want to add anything?

Ed Stetzer: That’s what I’m talking about tomorrow, and so what I’ll say that I’m going to encourage folks tomorrow to every church that calls itself mission-driven would be serving locally, planting nationally, and adopting an unreached people group globally. I’ll talk more about that. I think every church can do that. One of our pastors is right now in Houston at the Asia Minor Alliance as we’re going to be adopting a country in Central Asia, a specific city, and an unreached people group there. But we’re also planting a church. Our church doesn’t say we’re the greatest example of anything. I just think ultimately that we can engage God’s global mission in all of its facets.