It’s no secret that my desire is to reach, equip, and care for service men and women, their families, and the communities that support them by living out God’s story of life, freedom, and community. Actually, that’s the specific vision of Story Church—the beginning of a church planting movement near military installations.
As my family and I have prayed through and been called to our specific task, I think about a Navy SEAL’s saying: SEALs don’t overcome a situation by rising to it, but by falling back on their training.
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to serve as a trainer, catalyst, and director of church planting. As well, I’ve been able to study the early church and the journeys of Paul within my doctoral work. So, as my family and I engage on our mission to reach and care for military communities by living out God’s story, I cannot help but to “fall back” on all of my training.
Much of that training is steeped in understanding biblical church planting strategies. Lately, I’ve been focusing on Paul’s church planting journeying—where he went, how he got there, and what he did when he was there.
To state that the Apostle Paul had connections and contact with the Roman military is an understatement. I believe Ephesians 6 and the armor of God is but one good example.
But, whether Paul, like many Roman citizens of the first century, used the Roman military roads for easier travel, safety, or convenience, or for the purposes of the spreading of the gospel within the military could be somewhat subjective.
However, we do know that Paul chose towns, villages, and cities that had a great Roman military presence. For instance, looking at Paul’s escape from Iconium to Lystra, the notable book of Acts scholar John Polhill observed that the small Roman colony of Lystra was connected to Pisidian Antioch by a Roman military road, “located in the hill country surrounded by mountains” employed and equipped “as a Roman military post.”
Reaching the military of any country is significant in the way that they are deployed throughout other countries—it resembles diapsora mission. The military as mission way of life takes on a two-fold meaning— (1) dutifully serving the mission of the country, and (2) living out God’s missional story of life, redemption, and restoration.
Eckhard Schnabel validates how Paul broadly reached the Roman military, “In Caesarea Paul had contact with Roman Soldiers, centurions and tribunes (Acts 21:32, 37)”We’ve also read the words of Paul, written to the Philippian church regarding how he witnessed and proclaimed the gospel to whole “Praetorian guard.” (Phil. 1:13). Regardless of arrest, imprisonment, or journey, Paul had much engagement with the Roman military.
Story Church’s vision is not only to care for service men and women, their families, and the communities that support them, but to see true gospel love, transformation power, enrichment, restoration, and reproducible disciple-making sending.
“Pastor, I need to speak with you a moment.” Of course—this is usually right before service.
“I’m just feeling like God is leading us to another church—something that offers much more.”
I’ve heard this “revelation” before, but I’ve come to an understanding. They’ll return at some point for pastoral care. That’s not an arrogant or boastful statement, but an observation made from time.
All the bells, but no whistles
I’ve seen church members go to larger congregations with thousands. They love the feel of vibrant worship, gads of opportunities for their children, and the overall mega-environment.
Who can disagree—the church I pastor doesn’t have a coffee shop?
Don’t get me wrong, I wish we did! And, I’m not a disgruntled small church pastor. I love Christ’s church—big or small. And some of my pastor friends of larger congregations get this—not everyone will want to “plug-in.”
I think, for the most part, small church people move to large churches in search of the bells and whistles. However, they don’t understand the small group concepts of missional living. The result is they’re left with some bells, but no whistles.
When major life tragedies occur—a death in the family, hospital visitation, prayer covering, spousal failure or infidelity, or a traumatic family addiction—there’s no pastoral care and support. There may be vibrant worship in the larger church they’re attending, but there’s no “perceived” fruitful care.
A bell and a pomegranate
The priest would come before the Lord on behalf of the people—and upon the hem of his robe were “a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate” (Exodus 28:34). I’ve always thought this was a fascinating verse.
I’ve often wondered, why a bell and a pomegranate? In my humble opinion, I believe there must be evidential worship and fruitful nourishment—both—not one, or the other.
The emblematic bell and pomegranate—like modern day emojis—expressed to Israel how the Lord’s “kingdom of priests” were to serve. It is imperative for God’s people to have outwardly expressed lives of worship and nourishing soul care.
When a believer leaves a small church for a much larger one—not understanding the missional DNA of small group—they may perceive that “pastoral care” will be like the small church. Hence, in due time, the believer will return to the small church for pastoral “pomegranate support.”
Can we be frank?
I don’t enjoy church bashing—that’s not me. Big church or small church—God should be glorified. But the reality and perceptions of pastoral care in the two entities are vastly different. The larger church pastor is more administrative than soul care. He may be available for tragedies, but rarely for visitation, counseling, or hospital care.
The larger the church, the more difficult it is to “tend the flock.”
Regardless, I have witnessed believers return to the small church after age, sickness, or tragedy occurs—they’re seeking pastoral care that they presumed would be available.
The only way for larger churches to provide the bells and pomegranates are communal groups. Yet, the majority of the transfer growth that “exoduses” the small church will not engage life groups. The statistic is true: Only 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in any form of discipleship activity.
However, I also fear that “transfer growth” Christians, pursuing larger churches, are more likely seeking to slip-in-and-out unnoticed and prefer it that way. Until calamity strikes.
I don’t know of a formidable solution—maybe you have one?
But, here’s what I do know. When a member leaves for a larger church, the small church pastor feels neglected, hurt, and deserted. While they may understand that the person will eventually return for pastoral care—they feel used.
Perhaps those feelings are wrong? Perhaps. But pastors are people, too. They’re not immune to emotions. While the small church pastor struggles to get by on a “pint-sized” income with no benefits, they know in their heart that the deserting member is supporting another pastor.
Serving God is not about money, but there should be family and love.
David Kinnaman, “New Research On the State of Discipleship,” Barna Group, https://www.barna.org/research/leaders-pastors/research-release/new-research-state-of- descipleship#.VqDcJFJQmDU.
What would you say if I told you that about 50% of millennials would answer, “No”?
A recent Barna article validated that “Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”
So, what’s the deal? How could a believer of the gospel, no matter the age, think sharing the story of God is “wrong”?
Well, I think I know why, and I’d like to help.
The Blame Game
There’s a lot of murmuring about the millennial generation—some say they’re lazy, self-centered, and they’re an entitlement generation (i.e. everyone receives a participation trophy).
Two of my children are millennials. They were part of the entitlement “project.” But I don’t place the blame on them. Honestly, I don’t think blame for anything is productive or problem-solving, unless used for solutions.
If the millennial generation is any of the aforementioned attributes, could it be because they were taught. What I mean is—who handed out those trophies?
Likewise, when I read articles like Barna’s—articles about the Millennials and their faith—their lack of commitment—I ask again—who’s to blame?
Was it the children that dragged themselves to baseball, soccer, and football on Sunday mornings? I think you see where I’m going with this?
I think millennials get blamed for a lot. But I know my own children—they don’t fit that description. They’re hardworking, driven, and committed to their faith.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s our fault because we’ve taught them the wrong story?
The Western Story
The problem with much of Christianity is its draw into the Western story. Christianity has taken on the values and declared allegiance to its foreign neighbors of Western culture.
Greek tradition and philosophy have played a tremendous role throughout Western history. The current Western culture derived from a humanist ideology birthed during the Enlightenment—that human reason and intellect (what we call “science and fact”) are far superior than the Bible, which can only be believed by faith.
Newton employed mathematics in defining physics.Eventually, the Western story developed into man as relatively good, implementing immense reason and intellect to overcome negativity, disease, and poverty. Man becomes capable of creating an eschatological (end times) utopia where everyone and every form of love is accepted (accept God’s story).
Which leads us to one reasonwhy 47% Millennials believe it is wrong to share the gospel.
The Western story stands in great contrast from God’s story. Nevertheless, the Church marriedWestern humanism—refashioning the biblical metanarrative into short stories consisting of reasonings of literary genre, hermeneutical criticism, and theology.
But God’s story cannot be reduced to theology—as the biblical story is a comprehensive story about what it means to be truly human. It’s about being human as God designed, as He places us in the midst of His story that finds “its center in Jesus Christ.”
The hinge of Western culture finds its identity in human reason—Cogito, ergo sum— “I think, therefore I am.”
God’s story is not Western, it is an account of all of cosmic history—of the entirety of creation, nations, peoples and the purposeful design of the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Judge of the entire universe.
And the hinge of God’s story is the kingdom of God breaking through into God’s world. It is the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ.
If half of the Millennials think that sharing their Christian faith is wrong, it’s because they view Christianity as one ofmany religions—instead of the story.
The comprehensive story of God is not man’s escape from this world, but God’s victory within it. All humans are parts of God’s story, awaiting God’s triumphant return to renew and restore all things as they were designed.
As Newbigin elegantly writes, “Salvation means that man is released from bondage, and that the contradictions of which we have spoken are overcome…It means ‘wholeness.’ It means the healing of that which is wounded, the mending of that which is broken, the setting free of what is bound.”
God’s story—is about cosmic restoration centered in the work of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God broke into this world to renew creation—one person at a time, sharing God’s story, until the King returns.
God’s story is not about the deliverance of man to escape the troubles of this world to enter into a heavenly paradise. God’s story is about what it truly means to be a person.
“The Bible tells a story that isthestory, the story of which all of human nature is a part.”
This means the Bible is not a book about condemnation—but God’s story. The Word of God is not telling the story about anotherreligion or faith, but how God has demonstrated great love and compassion to man.
The Scriptures are not about evangelism, but “an appeal of personal love which seeks not to coerce submission but to evoke love.”
The call of God— “Follow me” (Mk. 1:17) is a personal invitation from the brokenness of this world, to enter into God’s inviting and communal story of freedom, restoration, and Kingship.
“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong,” Barna.com, Faith & Christianity, Feb. 5, 2019.
Don’t get me wrong, literary genre, hermeneutics, and theology are a good thing, but if we’re too focused on criticisms and not the metanarrative, we miss the point. Michael Goheen, The Church and Its Vocation, 23.
Throughout God’s story, there have been many biblical “heroes.” Men and women of seemingly great renown—great courage and incredible resolve.
Men like David, warriors in battle, leading men to victory against insurmountable odds. Or women like Jael, an apparently ordinary wife with remarkable fortitude and bravery—launching a tent peg through the sleeping enemy (Judges 4:17–22).
Everyone loves stories. Especially stories about overcoming adversity—they’re the feel good, sort of chicken soup for the soul, stories.
When I reflect upon my life, I know my story. I know that it’s filled with defeats, trials, and sometimes, some wins. I also know that I’m not a hero. In fact, Jesus is the hero of my story. And, if I’m even more transparent, I’ve had way more failures in my life than victorious triumphs.
But as I’ve written before, Failing is Not Failure. When we learn from our failures and use them for success, those failures can become victories.
They Didn’t See That Coming
One of my recent devotional readings led me to Joshua and the battle of Ai (Josh. 7, 8). Joshua spies out Ai and organizes a small battalion of 3,000 Israelites to go up to battle against them. However, because of Israel’s hidden sin and idolatry, they flee in defeat.
The people of Israel didn’t see that coming! Their sin was revealed, but the people took action and repented. They refocused and centered their lives upon God.
Afterward, the Lord then encouraged Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.” This time, Joshua used defeat to bring victory.
As in the previous battle when the Israelites fled, Joshua engaged the city of Ai. Once again, the same troops, same battle plan (sort of), so battle looked like defeat.
Joshua had the men flee—but—only to draw the enemy out from the city and into the open. The plan worked.
Again, the people of Ai thought that they were routing the Israelites, but as soon as they were outside of the city, Joshua had his men sneak in and burn it to the ground!
The people of Ai didn’t see that coming! Joshua had the enemy surrounded—drawing them out into the open—there was nothing hidden and nowhere for the enemy to go.
Using Defeat for Victory
One thing that I have learned in life—when pride sets in it blurs my vision. Whenever I’m facing defeat, I have to ask probing questions: is there any hidden sin that I’m not seeing? Am I trying to do things in my power, or for my own glory? Am I trusting in God to be my “dreaded warrior”? How can I use this defeat for success? How can I honor and glorify God with my defeat? What have I learned?
Maybe I am building my empire and not God’s? Those are just some of the questions I think about. I also ask the Lord to “cleanse my heart,” to “search me and see if there are any wicked ways within me.”
When we confess our sins, our pride, and our motives, it brings the enemy into the open. Our adversary no longer has “ammunition” to use against us. To the enemy, on the outside, we may look the same, but internally, we have been renewed through repentance, probing, and reflection.
God is now able to use our defeat for victory. As Joshua used defeat for victory, we too can use our failures as springboards to victory. But, the central focus must not on us, but on the grace of God given through Jesus Christ.
What have you learned about your situations lately?
There are gads of books written about discipleship.
The true answer—what we read in the Bible and what see with our eyes is not the same.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the majority of Christians possess an inch-deep faith. Only 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in any form of discipleship activity.
But—I believe change is coming. More believers are opening their eyes to the benefits and obedience of communal disciple-making.
So, what happened?
In the early church, baptism unified new believers with Christ, as disciples under Christ’s Lordship (Mt. 28:19–20; Jn. 20:19–20). By the second century, the church had developed a three-year process of discipleship training, called catechesis, prior to baptism.
Baptism necessitated an examination and call for obedient discipleship. Historian Philip Schaff notes:
We should remember that during the first three centuries…adult baptism was the rule…Hence in preceding catechetical instruction, the renunciation of the devil, and the profession of faith.
Candidates for baptism would partake in the church’s communal teaching, instruction, and spiritual disciplines, but not in the Lord’s Supper.
Disciple-making consisted of the cultivation of spiritual maturity within the ecclesiological community. The early church made disciples in the same manner as the Twelve—they lived out activated faith in communal life—together.
In the infant stages of the church, catechesis specifically related to communal instruction of the disciple-making process.By the late first century, Clement of Rome (c. 35–99), a disciple of Paul (Phil 4:3), provided evidence of following Christ’s Great Commission “commands” to “instruct” baptismal candidates.
By the late second century, Origen (c. 184–253) and Tertullian (c. 155–240), referred to catechesis as discipleship instruction and disciplines.,Yet, discipleship still took place within communal gatherings.It was distinctively a shared life-on-life spiritual maturity.
As time progressed, the church formed schools—such as, Pantaenus, a converted 3rdcentury philosopher and highly regarded gospel-proclaimer, who founded a “catechetical school” in Alexandria.These catechetical schools provided a more structured discipleship than a “random outdoor meeting.”
By the early fourth century, the church had received an onrush of enthusiastic converts. With increasing heresies and sects, a move from the Apostolic Tradition to a “specified three-year catechumenate” became the preferred model of discipleship.
Heresies established the classroom style and didactic shift from the communal teaching-gathering. The church desired all new believers to possess “treasured knowledge” of the Eucharist and baptistic doctrine.
The biggest shift
A great change occurred due to heretical teaching, but infant baptism was the catalyst. With the (latter) assistance of Augustine of Hippo and Emperor Constantine marrying the Church to the state, infant baptism became the catalyzing shift.
Baptism became viewed as a “rite of entry into” the communal church.Believers were “born” into the church, instead of the stringent ties of baptismal catechism. Discipleship developed into a study of doctrines instead of a life-on-life baptistic Christ-identified community.
While catechesis evolved into didactic doctrinal training—it was still a form of discipleship. And, for argument sake, could be done in community.
Infant baptism is not to blame for today’s lack of discipleship.
How should we view the shifts?
All of the disciple-making shifts were factors of enculturation. Society influenced the church. I, personally, do not fault what occurred—it is what it is. But, how do we respond?
I think it’s wise to research our past—not for blame, but correction. If life-on-life communal gatherings were the incubator for disciple-making, then let’s shift back.
David Kinnaman, “New Research On the State of Discipleship,” Barna Group, https://www.barna.org/research/leaders-pastors/research-release/new-research-state-of- descipleship#.VqDcJFJQmDU.
Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 218.
Philip Schaff, and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church,Vol 2. (Grand Rapids: C. Scribner, 1910), 255.
When I was 7 years old, I caught our cat with its arm in my brother’s fishbowl. The cat was poking, prodding, and antagonizing the goldfish. The cat didn’t get the fish, but I know how it felt.
I’m connected to many pastors who live the “fishbowl” life. I’ve heard their “horror” stories of being prodded, poked at, and antagonized. Sometimes, I am in sheer disbelief that anyone would be so heartlessly treated. For the sake of my love for Christ’s church, I won’t share those stories.
What I will do is shed light on the reality of why pastors leave the ministry—here are my top five.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Over 50% of pastors are paid $50,000 or less—many even below the poverty line. As well, those pastors receive no benefits, medical insurance, or retirement options.
When they leave the pulpit, the church casts them aside.
While the pastorate is a calling, the church should have a true love for their pastor—excited to say, “We take great care of our pastor.”
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gushes with love for them—but it’s mutual. The Philippians were passionate about their “partnership in the gospel” and they “well supplied,” Paul (Phil 1:5, 4:18).
I know many pastors barely making the income needed, causing them to become bi-vocational (which has pros and cons). The dilemma is not bi-vocationalism, but that these churches expect “full-time” (and more) work. It seems Jesus was right about the “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). The business world cares more for their peoples than the church.
Perhaps I meant—lack of leadership? While deacons and elders may be in positions, they may also give no support to the pastor.
When leaders have no desire to serve or to cultivate spiritual disciplines, the pastor is the one who suffers. He’s stuck with a rudderless ship. He’s a lone captain at sea, navigating “storms,” with no guides.
Without leadership, the pastor takes the brunt of the finger pointing when things don’t go as planned. Business meetings become gripe sessions—or the contrary, no one cares.
When bad leaders are in positions they are spiritually or experientially unqualified to partake, there’s no vision, mission, and reaching the lost. The pastor becomes a chaplain, overburdened and leaves.
Toxicity can be fatal. I’ve worked with churches that have closed and some existing ones that should!
Wherever there’s gossip, inside concentration, or manipulation—there’s toxicity. I have an ex-pastor friend who was forced out. The church belittled him at corporate meetings, made his life miserable, and asked him to supply his preaching outlines for review. They wanted to rule the pastor.
I know another ex-pastor whose treasurer would withhold his check. He would have to hunt him down to get paid—even though the church had over 1 million in the bank!
I know 4 others with similar situations—never to return.
80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
A pastor’s family will always see, and feel, how he is being treated. Whether lack of compensation, undue stress, or other—unlike any other profession, the family worships where the pastor “works.”
Consequently, the pastor’s home becomes an unstable environment. I know a pastor’s wife that literally cried and begged her husband to leave the church—for the sake of the family.
Unfortunately, wives (and children) of pastors experience emotional, relational, and spiritual stress. They hear all of the gossips. They may question: where is God? Is this what the church is really about?
The family of a pastor sacrifices much.
70% of pastors do not have a close friend and constantly fight depression.
True, and I know why. Many pastors have stated an inability to confide in church members. They feel that whatever they say, or do, will be used against them at some point. This is truth.
Pastoral loneliness is a horrible certainty—going through life with no close friends and feeling depressed. It’s a reality that pastors neglect to share and a major reason they leave.