This is a Guest Post by Thom S. Rainer. Dr. Rainer is president of Lifeway Christian Resources. His blog is fast becoming a “go to” resource for church leaders. I respect him as a leader, pastor, father and fellow introverted friend.
Four Reasons the Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission in a Church
In my latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, I highlight several symptoms that can lead to the death of a church. These symptoms can become sicknesses themselves, sicknesses that lead to death. Some churches begin with a great heart and a great effort toward the Great Commission. But the methods used become the focus rather than the Great Commission itself. As a consequence, the Great Commission becomes the great omission.
There are a number of New Testament passages where Jesus sends out His followers. The text that is used most often to refer to the Great Commission is Matthew 28:19–20: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The imperative in those verses is “go.” But as we go, there are several sub-commands. We are to make disciples. We are to baptize. We are to teach.
Those are a lot of action words.
But the deceased church, somewhere in its history, forgot to act upon the Great Commission. So they stopped going. And making disciples. And baptizing them. And teaching them.
It stopped depending on Christ. Why? Here are four common reasons.
1. “Going” in Christ’s power requires effort. Certainly the results are dependent upon Him, but obedience is work. And obedience in His power means that we are praying to Jesus so we can reach others. That requires an “others” focus. That requires us to look beyond ourselves. That requires us to get uncomfortable. That requires us to go. The deceased churches simply gave up on going.
2. Obedience to the Great Commission faded. It usually faded gradually. It’s not like one day the church was sending out dozens of members in the community and it suddenly stopped. Instead the decline in the outward focus was gradual, almost imperceptibly gradual.
3. The church had “Great Commission amnesia.” That really may be too kind. Perhaps that description implies that the members were not at fault, that they no longer had the ability to recall or know what they were supposed to do. But they really knew better. They just used amnesia as an excuse.
4. Most of these dying churches had “Great Commission disobedience.” They chose not to remember what to do. They chose their own comfort over reaching others with the gospel. That is why the autopsy results concluded that the Great Commission became the great omission.
I am an obnoxious optimist about churches in America. I know many are struggling. Indeed, some are dying; about ten churches in the United States die every day. But I still remain an optimist because I see God’s work in so many congregations across our nation.
The essence of a “great omission” church is that the congregation has lost its passion to reach people. Typically, the efforts of those churches are pointed toward taking care of the members’ preferences. When the preferences of church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.
Churches can reverse the painful decline toward death. They can avoid becoming another casualty subject to an autopsy. Indeed, church members can decide to stop asking how the church can meet their own preferences, but ask how they might serve Jesus no matter what the cost.
Then the church is no longer a great omission church. She is then a Great Commission church.
We are celebrating our Easter number this week. It was a incredible day.
Whenever we talk about celebrating an attendance number, I hear the same questions — why celebrate a number? Do numbers really matter? Isn’t it about glorifying God — whatever the number?
Well, yes, it is about glorifying God — regardless of the number.
In fact, our staff set a number we thought we might reach — a stretch goal — made preparations towards reaching that number, worked hard, prayed continually, led the church to do the same, but then we consistently reminded each other that we would celebrate whoever God brought Easter weekend.
And, God blessed us beyond what we imagined.
But, why is the number important? Why count people in the first place?
Here are a few reasons:
Measure of effectiveness – Who builds a house without first counting the costs? (Luke 14:28) We needed a number of how many possibly could show up in order to plan effectively. What if you were planning a meal for 6 people and 15 people actually came? Would you have enough food prepared? Probably not. So we needed a number. But, there was far too much preparation that went into planning the day not to actually count to see where we were most effective. What worked? What didn’t? How could we improve next time? We couldn’t answer those questions well unless we counted.
Numbers represent people – We know that near 90% of our community is considered “unchurched”. They don’t attend church anywhere regularly. Those are real numbers — representing real people. Numbers matter, because setting goals pushes us to be more assertive in reaching unchurched people. If we believe in our mission “leading people to Jesus” — which we do — then why would we not do everything within our abilities to help it become a reality? In fact, to know the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it — would be a sin. (James 4:17) We know we need to be on mission, Jesus told us that, and setting a numerical goal is one way that helps us accomplish that mission even better. So, we count.
Substance of celebration – When people participate in a goal there will always be a natural tendency to want to know “How did we do?”. For example, if you set a goal to lose 10 pounds, you might track along the way how you are doing. And, you don’t celebrate until you make progress towards the goal. The only way to tell how we did towards our goal of attendance is to count. Again, you should celebrate regardless of the number of people who attend, because God is actually in charge of attendance. We do preparations, but He draws people to Himself — Scripture is clear about that — but if you are going to work hard — and expect people to ever want to work hard again — you have to celebrate the hard work. In my experience, planning to celebrate actually motivates people more towards the goal. Which goes back to the other two reasons.
That’s just a few of the reasons that come to mind of why we count people. I’m sure there are others. By the way, throughout the Bible God’s people counted. They got into problems when the motive was to honor man, rather than out of obedience to God. We must guard our hearts in this area. One way I do this is continually reminding myself, as I stated earlier, that we will celebrate regardless — and that God is in charge of attendance. And, by asking myself, am I going to be content with our efforts if we don’t reach our goal? And, yes, God has and will test our motivation.
Do you have any reasons for counting you’d add?
Visiting a church for the first time, or after not having been for a while, can be intimidating at times. You often don’t know what to expect. You’d love to ask, but you’re not sure who to ask or even if your question sounds silly. It’s not. Probably others have the same question as you.
I was asked a question recently about what someone should wear Easter Sunday if they visited Immanuel. It was such a great question, because it made me think. What if someone didn’t come, because they didn’t know the answer? I get that. It would almost be easier not to visit than to wear the wrong thing. Less complicated. The safe choice.
This person asked. And, so I was able to answer.
It made me think some other questions people may have about visiting a church the first time. I thought of some of the more common. This post actually originated in one of our lead staff meetings. Someone suggested, “Why don’t you compile a list of of the top questions people may be wondering, but haven’t asked, and write about it?” Okay, here you go.
Keep in mind, this is written for Immanuel, but I suspect most will be true for many churches you’d visit Easter Sunday. And, I’m nearly positive about this — most pastors would prefer you ask rather than wonder and not visit at all. So, if you don’t know, ask. Please.
Here are 7 frequently asked questions about visiting Easter Sunday:
What should I wear?
I posted this answer on my Facebook recently. At Immanuel Baptist Church, you’ll see all styles of dress. Some will wear suit and tie and dresses and hats for women. Some will wear jeans and t-shirts. We may even see shorts if the weather is warm enough. To answer your question, choose an outfit you already own, one you feel comfortable in, and join us. (No speedos please, but that’s just a personal request, otherwise, you’ll be fine. )
What will we do? What can I expect?
We will have a fairly typical worship schedule. We will sing some songs, have a short greeting time, I’ll share a message (my intent will be to share hope), we will sing some more. We will attempt to have a blend of songs and music all ages can enjoy. And, yes, in full transparency, and in case you’re wondering, we will receive an offering. Our offerings support the full range of ministries we offer in the church, community, and around the world. You are not required, however, to participate during this time unless you choose to do so.
Will you embarrass me?
I certainly hope not. It will be a primary goal not to do that. I don’t personally like to be embarrassed when I visit somewhere new, even in a church — and I’m a pastor — so my goal is to create an environment that is comfortable for all. You WILL NOT be singled out as a visitor. We don’t make visitors stand, raise their hand, or even fill out a card if you choose not to do so. (You certainly won’t be asked to sing a solo, unless you sing really, really loud — and then you’re on your own. )
How long will the service last?
Slightly more than an hour. I’d love to say an hour, but sometimes the service ends up being an hour and 5 or 10 minutes frequently. At the most, you’ll be with us for an hour and 15 minutes. (Walking to and from the car time and all.)
What time should I arrive?
That’s a great question. And, I’m really trying to help when I suggest you get here a few minutes early. Maybe even as many as 10 or 15 minutes early. It takes a little while to make your way through our building, especially if you have children to check into our children’s areas or this is your first time. We especially want you to find a seat where you are most comfortable (some want up close — some want in the middle), and you’ll feel more acclimated to the room if you have a few minutes to adjust before the service begins. We have a special Easter bulletin you can be reading while you wait for the service to start.
Do you have something for children?
Absolutely. Birth through 5th grade have their own activities designed especially for them. They will enjoy a worship experience that will engage them at their level. Of course, we don’t keep you from bringing children with you in the worship service if that is more comfortable on a first visit, but our experience is that they truly do enjoy the service designed for them. Either way, we love when entire families join us Easter Sunday.
Can I only come one time? Really, for what am I signing up when I come Easter Sunday?
There’s no obligation beyond Easter Sunday. It’s a “free look”. Promise. Being honest, we do ask you to fill out a contact card and, if you do, we will follow up with you. And I hope you do. I love seeing who God brought to us as visitors. I love meeting visitors. But, even if you fill out a card, we allow you to tell us how you want to be contacted. Phone, email, social media, or visit — or none — you tell us. We won’t put any unfair pressure on you to ever come again. We hope you will, and we’d love if Easter triggered that desire in you, but that’s your call — not ours.
I hope that answers some questions of those who think about visiting our church. I’d be honored if you are our guest.
What other questions do you have? Seriously, I’d rather you asked.
Easter. It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity second only to Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.
We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church — and yours.
I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday — such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday.
I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter Sunday. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter Sunday, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.
Gospel is shared – Duh! But, after we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel — if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter Sunday.
People feel welcome – I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived — let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter Sunday (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!
Next is highlighted – I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will be studying some of the Psalms in our next series. People need to know that — in hopes that they’ll want to return.
The church is presented well – This is the Sunday, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I told our deacons Sunday night I hope they are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have a cleanup day scheduled Saturday.) Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.
Our people are encouraged – I hope people who call Immanuel their home church — even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter Sunday.
Children are safe and have fun – If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this Sunday. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church.
People leave with hope – Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us Easter Sunday. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior — whom we are celebrating — the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer — there is HOPE — in Jesus Christ!
Easter Sunday is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this Sunday, joining the Church in Easter worship.
Acts 13:22 says, “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.‘”
Previously I posted on this truth of David being a man after God’s own heart. (You can read that post HERE.)
The following words describe the heart of David as seen in his own writings:
(All verses New International Version)
Humble – Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Psalm 62:9
Reverent – I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:3
Respectful – Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9
Trusting - The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
Loving – I love you, O Lord, my strength. Psalm 18:1
Devoted – You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. Psalm 4:7
Recognition – I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. Psalm 9:1
Faithful – Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6
Obedient - Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Psalm 119:34
Repentant - For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. Psalm 25:11
David’s example is a great road map for how we are to live our life.
Which of these areas need your greatest attention for improvement?
I wrote recently about another fallen pastor. I shared how devastated I was at the news.
I’ve been amazed at some of the rude comments I’ve received. And, I love that this is my blog and I can delete them if I want to. It’s like they never read my post about Christians being less mean online.
Seriously, though, some people seem to think pastors are supposed to be super humans. Sure, pastors are held more responsible in the eyes of God for how we lead in the church, but we aren’t any better –or more equipped — at living a victorious Christian life than any other Christian. It’s all grace. It’s all a work of His Spirit. Apart from Him I can do nothing. And, whenever I stop submitting my will to His will — I fail. Every time. (One guy commented that since I said something like that in my previous post that I must be hiding an affair also. What? I deleted that comment.)
I think the undue pressure on pastors is one of the leading causes of pastor burnout. And, ultimately complete failure. And, granted, much of this is self-induced pressure. I admit that. And, no that is not an excuse. Sin is sin. Sin is a horrible offense to a Holy God. All sin. And all have sinned. And fall short of His glory. (That was my last sermon series by the way.)
I received lots of positive feedback also, but, like us pastors often do, I couldn’t get past the few negatives to celebrate all the positives. (I wrote a blog post about this problem some pastors — and others — seem to have.)
So, it led to this post. Just some random thoughts about pastors. Especially those who disappoint you. And me. Because I’ve been disappointed by pastors too. Shoot, I’ve been disappointed in myself.
Let me share a few things you may not know about pastors. Seven things to be exact.
Because I like the number seven.
And, let me be clear. I’m not taking this lightly. Sometimes I write more light-hearted to balance the extremes of those who seem to have forgotten how to even smile. And, yes, I think we are to rejoice — find joy — even in the midst of suffering. Because I read that somewhere.
To the contrary. Times like this, when another pastor falls, always reminds me of the horribleness of sin. It always causes me to look inward again at my own life. (And, that’s never a bad thing to do — “Search me God” — as David prayed.)
But, there are some things you need to know about pastors.
7 truths about pastors who disappoint you
One person, working on behalf of self, can’t destroy the work of the Holy Spirit, working on behalf of God. Your pastor may disappoint you, but that ultimately can’t destroy the work God began in you — even through the pastor’s teaching. You may be stunned for now, but you’ll grow back stronger if you continue to surrender to His will.
Pastors — and even a local body — come and go. But the church — Christ’s body — is here to stay. God WILL protect His church.
People will deceive you — even some pastors. But God’s Word will never fail you. Ask yourself — who are you extending ultimate trust to anyway?
Pastors lead. I write about it consistently on this blog. I believe God uses people to lead his church. But ultimately they aren’t in control. God is. He WILL have the final word.
Just because we preach truth, doesn’t meant we’ve always mastered it. We are still being sanctified too. Isn’t that why we need a Savior? And, why the pastor isn’t your Savior?
Pastors are often skilled at acting like everything is okay — even when it isn’t. You’ve fooled others before — right? So has your pastor. Some pastors have this false idea that we are supposed to keep you from seeing that we are human. Almost like it was seminary trained into us. (BTW, if I was supposed to get that in seminary — I didn’t.)
A pastor is less likely to be transparent with unpredictable outcomes. If they doubt the grace you’ll extend, they’ll be less likely to share their deepest struggles. We’ve almost created a system that makes it difficult for the pastor to have failings. And, yes, again, much of this is self-induced pressure.
We need help. All pastors do. All people do. We need people who truly care. Who can accept us flaws and all. Who will love us on days we are doing everything right and days we seem to do everything wrong. People who will call a sin a sin before it reaches the magnitude that destroys other people’s lives, damages our greater witness, and hurts the Kingdom work we felt called to do. And, isn’t that a primary purpose of the church — making disciples? We need the church too.
That’s my seven. Okay eight. But, sometimes we miscount too. Even on Sundays We aren’t perfect. And, there. Told you. Random. But, you need to know.
So I’ll stop there for now.
How’s that for honesty?
Now, again, none of this is aimed as an excuse. It’s just for transparency.
What are other random facts about pastors others may not know?
I was devastated — heart sick — this morning to open my Facebook and the top story shared by a couple ministry friends was the resignation of pastor Bob Coy due to moral failure. Coy founded and led Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States, attracting some 20,000 people every week. In addition, Coy shared on a radio teaching program heard worldwide.
I heard of another pastor within the last couple weeks closer to home. I have personally dealt with nearly a dozen churches in the past couple years who lost a pastor due to a moral issue. One of the leaders in our denomination used the word “epidemic” recently to describe the number of pastors who are leaving the ministry because of moral failures.
I debated actually posting anything about this, however, having dealt with this issue so many times, and knowing there would be a flurry of news reports about this resignation, I decided to add a perspective to hopefully help steer some of the thoughts and discussions. Most of my readers are from the church — the body of Christ. This is intended as family talk. I believe there are things we can learn from times like this — as tragic as they appear to us.
It does not negate Bob Coy’s teaching. No doubt now there was sin in Bob’s life. And, obviously, this sin was occurring while he was teaching. But, that doesn’t mean his teaching wasn’t true. Frankly, I love his teaching. My first church was an hour from where I lived. I was there for a one year commitment and I listened to Bob Coy every Sunday driving to that church. His teaching helped me be a better teacher. I’m certain his influence still impacts me today in a positive way. Many times I hear people wondering what it means from all the things they learned under a pastor who falls. There are thousands who have been positively shaped by the teaching of Bob Coy. If the person was teaching truth, God’s Spirit is the ultimate teacher and that doesn’t change with yesterday’s resignation.
The enemy gets a new “attaboy” for his efforts. Satan loves to attack the good ones. Others will now say, “See, pastors are no different from us.” And, we are not, but the enemy will attempt to use this to draw people away from their faith in Christ.
Bob Coy can be restored. Fully. It will depend on his repentance, humility, willingness to be completely transparent to those who need to know, and his acceptance of the grace of God. But, he can be restored. God used Moses, David, Noah, Jacob and so many others as Biblical examples of how He can use what is sinful for eventual good.
Every pastor is susceptible. Stand guard. If we ever believe we are above temptation we have opened the door for the enemies prowl to be effective. Most of the time it begins subtly. No one wakes up in a single day and thinks about destroying their personal life. It happens gradually over time. The time to build our systems of accountability, support and protection is always now.
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale is still a great church. From what I read they are handling this as well as could be expected. My prayer is that few would leave and the church would see a renewal during this time. Many times, as in our personal life, with proper leadership, a church can grow stronger during a trial.
We don’t need to know any more. We now know enough. It’s bad. We need to avoid our natural tendencies to want to know more about the situation than what the church and the Coy family chooses to release. And, hopefully that will be minimal. More information only stirs more false information and broadens the damage. People often criticize a church for “not extending grace” to the fallen pastor, but many times the grace is extended — to the person, family, and everyone involved — in not sharing all the details.
Christ and His church will survive. The gates of Hell shall not prevail. Jesus promised this.
I’m so burdened by this news. I have a heart for the hurting pastor. For several years I’ve owned the domain name hurtingpastors.org. I recently acquired ministrytransition.com Right now they point to my blog, but my hope has been to launch a ministry aimed at helping fallen, burdened, or misplaced ministers. We are losing too many men and women who once sensed a call of God on their life, but have, for whatever reason, left their current position. The Kingdom is left void of the ideas, passion and work of someone God intended to use for His glory. As my friend said, it’s epidemic.
This is a good time to pause, pray for Bob Coy and his family, for Calvary Chapel, and for your pastor and church.