Around 2010, I was sitting in my office when a young pastor on my staff asked to talk with me. He shared a vision he had to call our church to send 100 full-time, vocational missionaries to unreached people groups around the world.
I chuckled a little under my breath. Why? Because most churches over the course of 20 years might send one or two missionaries from their church. But 100? To unreached people groups? It seemed like a little bit of a stretch to me.
Not wanting to dampen the young man’s vision, I told him that if he built the systems, in the following year I’d preach a sermon series on going to the nations and we’d see what happens. He left my office and got to work.
Later in the year, The Austin Stone Community Church began a three-week preaching series on going to the nations in the name of Christ. At the end of the series, we had made plans for an informational meeting for anyone to come and hear more about this crazy idea we had to send 100 people from our church to unreached people groups around the world. On the last night of the series, we announced the meeting and I preached the final sermon. Afterward I was planning on heading to the informational meeting after I talked to a few people in the foyer.
As I was walking down the hall of our church to the meeting, I honestly was thinking I’d only find about eight or 10 people sitting around a table, politely chatting over snacks and coffee until the meeting started.
But as I got closer to the room, I saw the young pastor, whose vision began this whole thing, running down the hallway toward me. When he got closer, I could tell he was very excited. Out of breath, with a huge smile on his face, he all but yelled, “Matt, there are 517 people in there waiting to hear about going to the nations!”
That night was the beginning of what could only be described as a movement. Over the next decade, our church sent more than 300 people to unreached people groups all over the world. Pretty crazy stuff!
Many people have asked, “Matt, how did that happen?” The obvious answer is the Holy Spirit. Despite all our flaws and failures, God was moving in our church, and we were simply along for the ride. But if you forced me to answer that question from a human perspective, I’d probably start talking about culture.
Culture is defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Right now your church has a culture, even if it’s not one you like. Your church has attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize it.
Think about it for a second, what kind of culture does your church have? Is it friendly? Missional? Outward facing? Prayerful? Or is it mean? Pharisaical? Consumeristic? Make no mistake, your church has a culture, and that culture will play a huge role in its effectiveness toward making an impact for the kingdom of God.
As I look back on The Austin Stone, I now realize that a culture of every member “living on mission” created an environment for so many people to respond to the call to the nations. We wanted every person who came to our church to understand and deeply believe God had called them to live on mission for God in the spheres of influence in which He had placed them. We talked about it in our small groups. We taught it in our college ministry. We constantly spoke about it in our announcements. But, first and foremost, what created that culture of living on mission, was the pulpit.
The primary vehicle that builds the culture of a church is its preaching. Of course, in instances like the home church movement, that might be different. But in your standard local church, it’s the pastor and his preaching that ultimately will set the course of a church’s culture.
Ten years before we began the process of sending so many missionaries, we were slowly building a culture that created an environment for it to happen. My very first sermon at The Austin Stone was about being a multiplying church. I taught on how we were going to try to change the definition of “church” from “how many people we can get to come to our church and stay” to “how many people we can get to come to our church and be sent out into the harvest.”
Every chance I could, I would slip language into my sermon about the fact I was not the only person supposed to be doing ministry. I taught that my job as a pastor was to equip the people of the church to “do the work of ministry.” Every year we did some kind of extended sermon series about “living on mission” and how God has called every single person in the body of Christ to view themselves as a missionary. Looking back, I guess it stuck. Because after 10 years of screaming “live on mission” from the pulpit, people moved when we gave them the opportunity.
And they moved in mass.
I want to be clear: Preaching is not the only tool to build culture, but it certainly is an important one. If you are a preacher of God’s Word, I want to challenge you to give serious thought to what kind of culture you are building through your preaching.
God has given you the remarkable gift of speaking to and teaching the body of Christ. Be wise. Be strategic. Be intentional. Your words matter more than you know.
You are building a culture through your preaching. Make sure you’re building a culture that glorifies God and leads His people to do the same.
Published February 15, 2023