Why You Should Fish and Not Cut Bait
An Appeal to Leaders to Take the Gospel to the Next Generation
We will tell the next generation to praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:4b)
Some of life’s most defining moments occur when leaders find themselves at a crossroads. In biblical history, Moses encountered it at the Burning Bush. Joshua understood it shortly after Moses’ death. David faced it in the battle against Goliath. Elijah saw it on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal. In American history, Abraham Lincoln faced it as he prepared his infamous Emancipation Proclamation in September, 1862. Winston Churchill experienced it when he told his countrymen on October 29, 1941: “Never, never, never give in.” Those words are still remembered as one of the defining moments of Twentieth-Century history.
What made these crossroads moments so memorable? Why was each of them so strategic? What put these defining events in the history books? In each situation, you see the leader choosing the opportunity of the occasion over the obstacles of the conflict. Take Moses as an example. Why did he leave Egypt? What compelled him to be the God-ordained leader of the Israelites for the Exodus? Let Hebrews 11:24-27 explain: “by faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (emphasis added).
Moses’ defining moment came when he chose opportunity over obstacles. He knew God was the Lord of opportunity and all that was required from him was to step out in faith and do what God directed him to do.
When David realized that Goliath of Gath was nothing more than a long time descendant of the Anakites, an evil race already condemned by the Lord (Deuteronomy 9:1-3, Joshua 11:22), he spoke these words to the Philistine giant in a defining moment in his life, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
Defining moments define leaders. They have a way of crystallizing the true fiber of a man of God. They also reveal courage and faith in the midst of a culture of mediocrity.
A defining moment is before you today. Of course, it looks different than a burning bush, a nine-foot giant or a fiery furnace. But it’s just as real and just as significant. And you, along with the other leaders around you are at the crossroads of an opportunity. What will you choose? Opportunity or obstacle?
What is this defining moment? What is this crossroads? It is the privilege to mobilize yourself to take the gospel and its power and authority to the next generation who live in a culture that’s radically different than the one we knew when we were their age.
This type of crossroads defining moment is not unique to us. The more I read, talk to pastors and study the national scene, the more I’m convinced that denominations and for that matter the entire evangelical movement is at this point of evaluation and decision. Either we will seek to understand this culture and learn how to reach this new generation or the church as we know it will dwindle and diminish. It’s as simple as that. Warning lights have been flashing for more than a decade. Our world is changing rapidly. The issue before us is whether we’re willing and ready to pray and to mobilize ourselves to be the gospel change agents to a culture that’s falling apart.
In any defining moment, only the true leaders see the opportunity. Certainly, the Israelites couldn’t see past Goliath like David did. And the people in Nebuchadnezzar’s day couldn’t see beyond the golden idol and the fiery furnace like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could. Joshua knew the Promised Land was ripe with opportunity, but many of the spies couldn’t see past the giants. So, in every community of faith, there’s a need for godly, spiritual leaders to see the opportunity and SEIZE it for the Kingdom of God.
What is this opportunity? What stands before us at the crossroads of our lives at this moment? It’s the invitation of the Lord to advance the gospel and authority of his kingdom to the power centers of our culture through the lives of our people so that the fabric of our society is changed for the glory of God in fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate. I’m calling this gospel-centered movement to equip Christians to take the Word of God to the culture the Kingdom-Driven Ministry Model.
Up to this point, there hasn’t been a model developed quite like this one. At least one that I’m aware. There is no praxis-level book written on this approach. Of course, there’s much talk these days about “the Kingdom of God,” but up to this point, no church has developed a praxis model that shows in tangible ways how a congregation can take the gospel to the streets and impact its culture for the glory of God. In essence, we’re developing this approach to ministry out of a strong conviction to return to the priorities of Jesus’ ministry and the principles that made First Century Christianity the vibrant faith of its day. It doesn’t have the “bells and whistles” that exemplify the pragmatism and relativism of many ministries today, but it does follow the actions that Jesus and his early followers took when they went out “proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12, 14:22, 19:8, 28:23, 31). From an extended time of deep Scriptural and historical study, I have sensed God’s leading to begin articulating this approach. For some reason, I believe he wants his church to develop this model so that the full power of the gospel can recapture our culture much like the revival that sparked the Protestant Reformation in Germany, France, Switzerland, Scotland and northern Europe in the 16th Century. In Luther’s, Calvin’s and Knox’s day, not only did the gospel change people, but also entire towns and villages were transformed for the glory of God. And the gospel power in their day has the same gospel power and authority to work in our day. The issue for us is clear—do we have the courage to step out in faith at this defining moment and commit ourselves and all that we are and have to seeing this revival and transformation come?
The defining moment is now. Months, even years have been spent praying, discussing and developing an initial phase. Some future steps will have to be learned by trial and error. Like the Israelites, the water won’t open until we take a step. But it’s time to fish. We don’t need to cut more bait. Our society is rapidly degrading. Culture as we know it is deteriorating at an accelerated pace. People’s morals, behaviors and thinking is totally different than it was a generation ago. A whole new society has arisen that doesn’t know God or the things of God. The opportunity before us is simple—will we mobilize ourselves to take the gospel to them in ways they will understand and embrace?
Surely any Christian in their right spiritual framework wants to see the gospel advanced. I know of few believers who don’t want to see culture changed for the glory of God. But all too often the methods that are employed to reach this new society are a generation or more old and ineffective. These archaic approaches do not appeal to the post-Christian-minded, scientific-reasoning, philosophical-thinking, technology-loving, abortion-affecting, divorce-impacting, sports-infatuating, materialistic-craving society of our day. When I grew up as a late baby boomer, the slogan of the day was, “If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?” In this generation, that slogan reads, “If Jesus is the answer, SO WHAT?” In the minds of countless numbers of youth and young adults in this culture who are searching for reality, relevance and relationships that are meaningful and dependable, we must structure the presentation of the gospel in a way that touches, connects and claims them for Christ.
Methodology is NOT the same as theology. The big hindrance in our church and in most churches today is that we have focused so much on the content of the message that we’ve lost the context of its presentation. We know the truth but we don’t know how to communicate it in a way that connects to real life. The reason why more than 70% of all young people who graduate from high school never come back to church is because they see the church as irrelevant. Another way to say it is that the church has failed to connect the message of the gospel and the glories of God’s Kingdom with the realities of real life in this culture. So often today’s preachers and Bible teachers have said, “Trust in Jesus” and “Let go and let God” when their audience today has never had anyone around them that they could trust or believe. And if they can’t confide in human flesh around them, what makes us think that they can trust someone who’s invisible? Who are we kidding?
The Kingdom-Driven model is a dynamic, organic, flexible paradigm for ministry that takes the central thrust of Jesus’ life and ministry and organizes believers to be the real, relevant and relational church that this new generation seeks. By mobilizing Christians to be active on the frontlines of ministry to the influential centers of culture, the authority and power of God’s kingdom is carried and communicated in relevant, understandable ways. And not only will people’s lives be changed, but also the culture will experience a revival in mind, heart and morals.
The Kingdom-Driven model is gospel-saturated. It’s Spirit-led. It’s context-minded. It’s relevance-oriented. It seeks to do what Jesus did in his gospel ministry—present the profound truths of the Kingdom of God to people on the front lines of culture in tangible, relational ways.
Real transforming, spiritual revival can come only when some of the following influential centers of life and culture receive the power and values of God’s Kingdom:
- The Church
- The Family
- The Government
- Public Education
- The Arts
- The Media
This list is not exhaustive, only a starting point of consideration. Each community will have its own unique “power centers” and they must be individually examined, prayed over and strategized. The key to advancing the kingdom is to see the light of God’s gospel and power shine on these fortresses. With this in mind, the only way each of these spheres and others can experience radical spiritual transformation is when believers who already lived, worked and interacted in these spheres could band together and begin praying for God’s kingdom to come to that respected sphere. In a sense, these people would form a “sphere team” that would storm the throne of heaven and wait for Christ, the Commander-in-Chief to give the marching orders. In this paradigm of ministry, the place, power and practice of prayer is paramount to effectiveness. It’s a strongly held conviction that the only way true spiritual revival can come to any sector of life is when believers in that given sphere seek God’s face first. Then as God gives them opportunities to march off the map with the gospel, they will move forward with a kind of power and authority that few have seen before. It’s the kind of power that can mark a modern-day revival.
God is still looking for leaders who have the kind of faith and courage that will move mountains today. But a new methodology is needed to connect the gospel with the present and future generation who are feeling the effects of a shattered world—emotionally, economically, socially, physically and spiritually. Today’s youth and young adult culture demands a model that’s intensely spiritual, biblically relevant and relationally rooted. The Kingdom-Driven Ministry Paradigm will be the talked-about model for years to come. This is a defining moment for the church and for you as a leader. Will you step out in faith and in courage? Will you fish and get others to fish with you?
Why should you embrace this Kingdom-Driven model? What makes this plan so biblical, relevant and effective for our time?
1. The Kingdom-Driven Church expresses the central thrust of Jesus’ mission and activity. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah by saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). As he began his Galilean ministry following his temptation, Jesus preached this message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). Numerous times in his presentation of divine truth, Jesus would preface his teaching by saying: “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” And oftentimes he would validate his knowledge of this truth and his authority to teach it by performing miracles (Matthew 4:23, 9:35) or by declaring forgiveness of sins to a penitent sinner. As he neared the end of his life, he told his disciples that the end would come only when the good news of his kingdom was preached to the whole world (Matthew 24:14). Since the Kingdom of God was such a dominant theme in his preaching and ministry, shouldn’t it occupy a primary place in our life and work too?
2. The Kingdom-Driven Church models the priorities of the early believers and the First-Century Church. Philip preached the good news of the Kingdom and the name of Christ (Acts 8:12). In Ephesus, Paul spoke boldly in the synagogue for three months about the Kingdom of God in a persuasive way (Acts 19:8). Peter encouraged his readers to add Christian qualities such as goodness, knowledge, self-control, godliness and others to their faith so that by demonstrating that their calling and election was from God, they would receive a rich welcome into his kingdom (2 Peter 1:5-11). Because the Thessalonian Christians were commended for their time of persecution and suffering, Paul told them they would be counted worthy of God’s Kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5). This same adversity would mark the apostle John’s life on the Island of Patmos as “a companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Throughout the New Testament Gospels and Epistles, the consistent theme that motivated Christ and the early believers was the Kingdom of God.
3. The Kingdom-Driven Church prioritizes the role of believers in a dark and dismal culture. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the provisions in life because we are more valuable than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Instead, we are to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). When we make the Kingdom of heaven our top priority, God promises to supply all that we need to fulfill his purposes on this earth. If the preaching of the Kingdom of God to the towns and villages across the land was the reason behind Jesus’ mission (Luke 4:43), shouldn’t this be our priority too?
4. The Kingdom-Driven Church clarifies the mission the church plays in the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate. In the Great Commission, we teach and preach the good news of the gospel as Jesus did throughout Galilee and beyond (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, Luke 4:43, 8:1, 9:2). In the Cultural Mandate, we express dominion and authority by living a life of servanthood as Jesus did (John 13:15-17), demonstrating a compassion and care for the sick (Matthew 4:23, 9:35), exhibiting a child-like trust and humility before God (Matthew 18:3-4, 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17) and by confronting the evil strongholds under the power and authority of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:25-28, 16:19, Luke 11:20). Jesus’ words to John’s disciples about his identity should clarify our work in declaring his kingdom: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:5-6).
5. The Kingdom-Driven Church fosters deeper growth in the Christian faith and life. In his signature teaching time on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples: “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19b). Christ held a high and holy view of the Law of God and he obeyed it completely. In fact, he told his disciples “that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The kind of commitment Jesus demands is both high and consuming. But the rewards and blessings are great also. Anyone who commits to the kingdom way of life that Christ modeled will grow deeply in the Christian experience as God’s habitation works in them and through them. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brother or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30, emphasis added).
6. The Kingdom-Driven Church can involve numerous people at any level of involvement. Because this is a Holy Spirit-driven process, the church works in a team mindset. Everyone begins with prayer, seeking God’s face and discerning his will and direction for the given sphere of participation. Then as the Lord brings opportunities and entry points for the church to advance the gospel, numerous people can participate depending on their interest, passion, experience and conviction. Letting the Lord lead this process enables momentum to build in a congregation, and slowly but surely as breakthroughs start to happen, hope, faith, excitement and greater participation grows in the ministry. When God chooses to bring his Kingdom to a particular sphere of life, people want to get on board!
7. The Kingdom-Driven Church enables many believers to express their faith in areas where they have familiarity, passion and expertise. Too often in the church, believers don’t participate in ministry because they lack the interest, spiritual gifts, knowledge or skill to do the work needed. In this paradigm, the focus for ministry is on finding and encouraging believers to express their faith in areas where they have knowledge, experience and convictions. People are more likely to serve when they have a working understanding of the sphere of culture and life that’s before them. Because their profession or passion puts them in this sector of life daily, they’re more likely to offer their help, resources and networks to see advancement happen. The Kingdom-Driven Paradigm allows everyday believers the opportunity to bring God’s kingdom to light in their daily work and life. It says to believers, “You can make a difference for Christ right where you live and work for the glory of God.”
8. The Kingdom-Driven Church encourages broader connection to the greater Body of Christ. In his high-priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for the sanctification and unity of his people (John 17:17-23). I believe that unity is best expressed when the broader Body of Christ is brought together to further a cause that’s bigger than any local congregation. The Kingdom-Driven Model concerns itself with the advancement of God’s kingdom in a local community, county, state, nation and world. I’ve yet to see one church by itself do that and see its surrounding culture change in the process. I believe the Lord intended his people who are scattered everywhere on this earth in every sector of life to be his shining lights in a dark and dismal culture. To shine the brightest, we need networking, partnerships and cooperation between local congregations in any given locality and region. When you’re kingdom-minded, you look outward to the fields that are ripe for harvest, and then find people to help you do the plowing, planting, cultivating, watering and reaping.
9. The Kingdom-Driven Church encourages church vitality by fostering a healthy balance between lay followership and elder leadership. The beauty of this paradigm is that it moves us from simply thinking about the Faith to doing the Faith. Not only does it enable us to trust in the sufficiency and authority of God’s promises and power, but it encourages lay ministry and elder leadership, two essential functions in a healthy, vibrant church. All too often the opinion from the pew is that the pastors, staff, elders and deacons are the ones who are to do the work of the church. After all, “That’s what we elected and/or pay them to do.” This paradigm changes this mindset and restores the biblical importance of lay ministry and elder leadership in the ministry as Paul taught it in Ephesians 4. Genuine spiritual renewal will come when the Body of Christ operates the way it was created to function, and this model attempts to use every part of the body to see this happen.
10. The Kingdom-Driven Church allows you to evaluate progress and impact more tangibly. Too many times churches evaluate their success or progress on improper gauges. Sometimes increased numbers in stewardship or membership are touted as signs of renewal. Other times increased participation to a church program (Sunday school class, youth group) is often cited as the evident mark of credible progress. While increased numbers in these and other areas certainly bring encouragement and inspiration to us, I don’t think they are the essential signs of tangible progress. Churches can grow in membership, programs, staff and budget and at the same time see the community around them decline socially, economically, spiritually and physically. I’ve seen this phenomenon too many times in too many places in my life around our country. People on the inside of the church are patting themselves on the back and saying, “Revival has come,” when the community across the street is suffering from double-digit unemployment, high crime, malnutrition, deficient health care, single parent burdens and housing disrepair.
In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats Jesus tells the sheep on his right side to “take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34b). Why did they receive this inheritance? Jesus answers: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36). In Jesus’ estimation, the real signs of tangible progress towards revival and renewal come when people’s lives and the culture as a whole is changed permanently for the sake of his kingdom. And this model helps us evaluate this progress more discreetly.
11. The Kingdom-Driven Church utilizes congregational resources to their maximum extent and effect. It stands to reason that people give their time, heart and money to things that drive them. This approach to ministry will stretch man hours, dollars and other resources to the fullest extent because more people will be personally involved in the ministry over the course of time. To say it another way, you’ll get more “bang out of your buck and from the church body.” People will give more and resources will go farther because they’re giving from the heart, not just from the head.
The Kingdom-Driven Paradigm is an attempt to return to the actions of the First-Century believers in order to see a new reformation come to our time. In your minds and hearts today, you have the opportunity to drive a stake in the ground and make a commitment to reach the next generation for Christ and his kingdom in ways that are fresh, relevant, biblical and reformed. This is a defining moment for the church. It’s time to fish. Cut the bait later.