People ask me all the time, “How did you and your team get so many people to become missionaries during your time at The Austin Stone?” My answer is always the same. I tell them that ultimately it was the work of the Lord, but that “living on mission” and using the pulpit as the primary place to call people toward that lifestyle was something we intentionally focused on from day one as a church.
1. The Bible instructs us to preach toward mission
Why we chose to take that approach is simple. The Bible tells us to.
Read Paul’s words again as he exhorted the church at Ephesus: “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Paul makes a point in these verses that, in my humble opinion, is critical for pastors to understand. Paul asserts that God gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers for what reason? To equip the saints for the work of ministry. Who does the work of ministry? The saints. In other words, the people sitting in the pews. Our job as pastors is to equip them to go out the doors of the church and do the work of ministry.
Somewhere along the way in the local church, we’ve lost this vital message. As pastors, we’ve subtly told our people that we are the ones who are supposed to be doing the ministering and that they are supposed to sit in the pews and consume what we teach. The result is that the everyday person sitting in the pew doesn’t realize they have the power of the resurrection inside of them. Our job is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” then unleash that untapped power on a lost world for the glory of God.
Charles Spurgeon gave these convicting remarks:
If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself; you will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him (emphasis added).¹
You may have heard the quote that every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter. But the context of Spurgeon’s sermon is key. He called the everyday people of his church to action! He spurred them toward evangelism in the context God had placed them: family, friendships, and the workplace. Spurgeon was not begging his people to come to Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear him preach, but he called his people to speak of Jesus themselves, wherever God had them.
This simple but effective approach to preaching should be a regular part of your sermons. The Bible clearly tells us to equip our people for the work of ministry.
2. Seeing others be used by God is more rewarding than growing a church
For the first time in over two decades, I’m not a senior pastor of a local church. After a diagnosis of severe heart disease and much prayer and counsel with my wife and children, we felt it was time for me to step away from that post. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my time as a pastor. One of the questions I’ve pondered is, What did I do in ministry that has meant the most to me? Stated another way, Of what am I the most proud? As I look back at how I spent my time, effort, and emotional energy, what do I now think was worth it all?
One thing I can tell you is that many things I thought were important as a young, ambitious pastor don’t mean anything to me now. Church attendance, for example. I was really concerned with how we were growing. You see, church growth is kind of contagious. Honestly, it brings opportunity. Some good and some not. You get asked to speak at conferences. Sometimes, book deals come your way. Your social media account grows. You get the picture.
At the age of 27, looking toward the future, I honestly thought that stuff would be so cool to experience. Well, turns out, I got to do all of those things. The church grew like crazy. I got to speak all over the place. I wrote some books. And guess what? Now that I’m on the other side of ministry, those things mean very little to me.
I wish I had that time back with my family from those times speaking at conferences. Most of the books I wrote probably sit unread on the shelf of some guy’s library. Nobody really cares that I pastored a large church. And, if I’m being honest with you, I don’t either.
But, as I reflect on my time as a pastor, there are a few things I experienced that now mean the world to me, things I wish I would have given more time to. Here they are:
- Seeing the men I discipled thrive as husbands, fathers, and pastors.
- Seeing everyday people come to Christ, being equipped for ministry, and then be used by God in ways they never thought possible.
- The churches we planted and the missionaries we sent.
That last one is key. As a former pastor, this is one thing that encourages me more than anything else about my time in ministry. There are people and churches, all over the world, that exist because of The Austin Stone who are still spreading the name of Jesus, even though I’m no longer a pastor. And many of them will still be spreading the gospel long after I’ve gone home to be with the Lord. When you take a second and think about it, that’s pretty cool.
You see, the reality is that one day you will be in the same position as me. One day, you will be on the other side of being a pastor. And I promise you that you will do the same kind of reflecting. In light of that reality, make sure you are spending your days pouring yourself into what will actually mean something to you after it’s all said and done. In the meantime, don’t preach to grow your church. Preach to grow your people in the work of the ministry. You will be glad you did.
3. Preaching toward mission will grow your church
The final reason why preaching toward mission is so effective is that calling people to leave your church so that they can live on mission will actually grow your church. I know that seems counterintuitive, but that’s the really cool side effect of missional preaching that not many people talk about.
I’m convinced that congregants are growing weary of churches that are inwardly focused. Why? They’re a dime a dozen, and it’s not biblical. There’s something attractive about a church that defines success, not by how many people come to their church, but by how many people are sent from their church. I find this to be especially true in the younger generations that are more cause-oriented than other generations in recent history.
Every year at The Austin Stone I gave a sermon during which I would say, as kindly and pastorally as I could, something like this:
If you are here and you are not a believer, we are glad you’re here. You can stay as long as you like to have your questions answered and discover if you want to be a follower of Christ. If you are here and you are hurting and wounded or tired and burned out, you can stay as long as you need to to find healing. But if you are here and you are a Christian and your plan is simply to sing some songs, listen to a sermon, and then just go on with your life—with no intention whatsoever of living on mission for the glory of God—I want you to find another church. I love you. There are lots of other churches that would love for you to come and fill their seats. But not us. If you have no desire to live on mission, then I humbly ask you to leave because we need your seat.
And here’s what would happen every single time:
- A few people would leave. Some would be offended that I had the audacity to tell people to leave a church. Others would leave because they knew I was talking to them, and they had no intention of changing.
- Within a few weeks, our attendance would be larger than before I ran people off. Every single time! Why would a church grow after the pastor politely told people to leave? Because it was clear we cared more about the growth of the kingdom than we did the growth of The Austin Stone. It grew because the people I offended had no intention of living on mission or expanding the kingdom through their lives. They were consumers and were hurting our church. So, when they left, our church was healthier.
Looking back, I’m convinced that preaching toward mission was one of the most effective growth strategies we ever implemented.
¹ Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1873), 126–127.
Excerpted from Preaching for Mission by Matt Carter. Download a copy of this free eBook today.
Published September 6, 2023