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Monday, October 19, 2015

"Gaining by Losing" (J.D. Greear)

TITLE: Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send
AUTHOR: J.D. Greear
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (256 pages).

How is it possible to gain when we are losing? Can one really be profitable to give everything away? It just does not make normal sense. Yet, for author and pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, this is exactly what the Church needs. In the foreword, Larry Osborne agrees as he goes back to the game of checkers called "Giveaway Checkers" where the winner will be the one who had given away all of his checkers. Osborne also points out three key weaknesses in existing churches.
  1. Many churches have a "truncated gospel" that tends to be more head knowledge than heart.
  2. There is a long history of "clergy-centered ministry" that raises such a high bar for missionaries to be that many feel they do not make the cut.
  3. There is "spiritual myopia" among churches that see growth in terms of how many people they pack into their churches instead of how many people they send out.
With this intriguing foreword, Greear begins with his counter-cultural approach to what it means to be Church. It is like the kernel of wheat in John 12:24 that falls on the ground and dies so that many seeds can be produced. He reminds me of one quip I have heard from Mike Stachura: "The mark of a great Church is not its seating capacity but its sending capacity." This applies what Jesus has taught all along in Mark 8:36 that questions us about what good will it be for a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul. Why not give of oneself to the world and save many souls? Giving of oneself is the mark of a healthy Church. For God is a sending God who had sent prophets, priests, kings, servants, and Jesus to bring us good news. If we want to be Christlike, we must take mission very seriously and not delegate it only to a small group of people called the "Missions Committee." The biblical missions committee is the whole Church.

Greear uses the image of three kinds of ships to describe the mission of the Church. The first kind of Church is like the "cruise liner" that basically offers sports, entertainment, children's programs, in-house activities that cater more to members' preferences. The second kind is the "battleship" that sees the mission as warring against the world that focuses more on spiritual warfare and members as soldiers fighting for the kingdom. This will invariably cause a focus on numbers. Greear recommends the third kind: "aircraft carrier" where members are constantly being trained and prepared via drills to be ready for any war. On such a ship, the goal is to be able to send aircraft to battle from a distance. Such a ship is likened to a mission sending agency or church. Looking at the postmodern world, the author is convinced that no amount of attractive church services can entice unbelievers to come; Multiplication is much better than mere addition; God accompanies every one who is sent out; a Church's greatness is always about sending, not keeping. One may wonder how Greear gets such an idea in the first place. This is revealed in Chapter Two where he begins his first years as a pastor at Summit trying to make a big name for himself. He remembers three significant moments. In trying to build the Church, he fails to see that the purpose of church is not to grow the church numbers or coffers but to win the city for Christ and to bless and serve them. It is not "my kingdom come" but God's kingdom come. It is about letting Christ's mission shape our search for jobs and vocations. It is wanting the presence of God to be connected with his heart for mission. Sending must be the DNA of each Church.

Part Two of the book describes "Ten Sending Plumb Lines," or ten ways in which the Church can become a mission-sending agency where every member is a missionary.
  1. Swimming in the Gospel: Mission is not about the sending. It is about the pool we are sent to. We build ships not for fun but for a purpose. The gospel is not just the diving board but the actual swimming after the dive. A heart change is necessary.
  2. Everyone is Called, not just the missionary. Whatever vocation each of us has, we need to re-imagine and realign them in the light of the gospel mission. Every Christian has a duty to make disciples and to use one's vocation for the glory of God.
  3. All week is important, not just Sunday: The Church needs to be more missional and not get stuck at the attractional phase. 
  4. The congregation needs to move from Audience to Army: The people of God are disciples and missionaries in the making. People need to be challenged to be leaders; empowered to lead; willing to be sent out; and to see success not as incoming numbers but outgoing members to do the mission of God.
  5. The Church Makes Christ Real and Visible: Through love displayed; through service; through outward demonstration of truth in action.
  6. Making Disciples the Way of Life: What's the point of all the teaching, the talking, the training, and the programming if at the end of the day, there are no disciples being made? From pulpit preaching, Sunday School teaching, and all aspects of Sunday service, we must remember the primary purpose of being a Christian is to make disciples. 
  7. Every Minister is a Missions Pastor: Discipleship is essentially about helping members go from the training field into the mission field. Every pastor needs to have missions in his/her ministry work. All are called to build a mission ethos into the Church.
  8. Live Multiculturally, not merely Hosting Multicultural Events: Like Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit touched the Church, churches need to be open to people of all cultures, by elevating "the third race" which is essentially the "Christian" identity. From language use to adapting food cultures, cultivate unity and acceptance of all ethnicities.
  9. Take Risks: We need a leap of faith, the ability to risk getting our feet wet so that the gospel can be shared. Send out our best for the sake of the next project or initiative. Not taking risks means automatic decline.
  10. Perseverance and Relentlessly Saying It: Coming up with a vision or some mission statement is one thing. Helping others understand and own it is another. 
The single big idea in this book is about every Church a sender, every member a missionary, and every program and activity as having a "sending" mentality. It is a wake-up call for churches that have long been stuck in a maintenance mode capacity or churches that have become dull with regards to missions. I understand that many churches may react against Greear's seemingly radical idea with questions like, "What about our own needs?" and "Our Church is already shrinking, so how can we send our best people away?"

For that, let me suggest how we can use this book. If a Church is struggling in terms of volunteers and lukewarm spirituality, the thought of fully applying the book will be rejected outright. For such churches, it takes a while to move from surviving mode to thriving mode. That does not mean ejecting the whole book altogether. For dying churches, this simply means praying, seeding, and hoping. For a Church that is running on maintenance mode, the programs and activities of the Church can be continued but with a new missions twist. With intent and purpose, ministers and leaders of such churches can prepare three to five year programs to move the ship around to the gospel purpose. For churches that have the resources but do not yet know what to do with the resources, use this book absolutely. Every church will need to understand their own situations and to do a situational analysis. Then appropriate the book according to the stages of growth. This means having a leadership core of likeminded people. It means being prayerful at every step of the way. It means knowing one's identity as in Christ. It means knowing what we exist for.

I recommend this book highly for all church leaders and members.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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