Risk a Challenge

“Some of the people we’ve ministered to the most still aren’t showing up consistently.”

Thus writes one of the young church planters I am coaching. Below is my reply.

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Oh man. You’ve put your finger on the most frustrating and perpetual struggle of church planting. My counsel in the face of this issue, which will not go away, is threefold:

1. People Can’t Be ‘Church Plant Fodder’

You have to determine in your heart that you will resist valiantly the temptation to use people as “church plant fodder”; to minister only or primarily to those who can reciprocate by fueling your mission and aligning with your vision.

2. Discern if Someone is a ‘Person of Peace’

You have to, at the same time, employ the “person of peace” strategy, which is actually less of a strategy and more of a matter of spiritual discernment. [The “person of peace” is someone who, whether already a believer or not, seems to be open toward you and ready to serve you in one way or another.]

Even though we don’t want to reduce things to “butts in the seats”, people’s attendance is one indication of their spiritual temperature toward you and toward the things you’re committed to spiritually and missionally. There’s a sense in which you do need to be choosy about who you invest in. You are a finite person. You have to choose how to use your limited time, talents, and treasure.

Invest in the people who know, like, and trust you. Use that relational leverage to challenge them to kingdom faithfulness, and to invite them into your communal process of walking with Jesus in day-to-day life alongside you and the community that is forming around you. In other words, when you discern that certain people are in your sphere of influence and that your invitations and challenges will matter to them, invite and challenge them further, and further, and further.

3. Risk a Challenge and Invite them In

If you aren’t sure where someone is at with you, take the risk of a challenge. This is something that is hard for me to do. I’d rather people start to know, like, and trust me in obvious, ego-stroking ways, merely on the strength of my charisma, charm, and intellect. But that’s all vanity.

If someone is showing some receptivity to your ministry, but a lack of commitment to the mission God has given you, take the risk of looking them in the eyes and say: “I think the next step for you is to make a commitment to what God is doing among us. Don’t stay out on the edges of our extended spiritual family forever, taking from us what you need, when you need it, but never pressing your own gifts and value into our family’s mission. Instead, get in on what God is doing here.” This is a spiritual version of “poop or get off the pot.” And I believe in this challenge. Some will rise to it. Others will go away. It’s worth it.

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What’s your perspective on this perennial ministry frustration? How do you strategically and missionally deploy your finite energies and competencies so that your mission moves forward, while at the same time you are not reducing human beings to “church plant fodder”?

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