I did what everyone expected me to do. I planted a megachurch. I wrote a bestseller. I started a college, planted other churches, and spoke at conferences. But there was a big problem: I lacked peace. Based on what I read in the Word, there were too many inconsistencies. My lifestyle did not resemble the life of Jesus, and the church I read about in Acts seemed so foreign. I realize that Jesus lived in a different culture and that Acts was written about a unique time in history, but I am convinced that certain qualities should always be true of Christians and the church.
It was no surprise to my wife, Lisa, and me when we sensed the Lord leading us on a new adventure. After seventeen years of fruitful ministry in one city (our entire married life), we left some deep and irreplaceable friendships to enter the unknown. I don’t recommend this to everyone. It is not God’s plan for every person, but it was for us. Simi Valley no longer seemed like the place I was most needed for the spread of the gospel. That was enough for us. Shouldn’t all of our decisions be based upon what is going to have the greatest impact for God’s Kingdom?
I wrestled with the number of Bible-teaching churches in this small city. I struggled with having so many godly leaders in one church while other cities were lacking or completely overlooked. I was frustrated with my own inability to motivate people to structure their lives around disciple making. I could fill a room and preach a sermon, but I couldn’t figure out how to compel the people to leave that room and actually make disciples. I could generate excitement, but not urgency. I knew Jesus wanted more for his church, but I didn’t know exactly what, and I didn’t know how to lead them there.
Looking back, I can see now that part of the problem was my example. We all know that it’s difficult to teach our children to do something we are not modeling. I told people to make disciples while I spent my days dealing with problems and preparing sermons. I wanted the people to share their faith regularly even though I rarely did. I expected the church to live adventurously while I continued my routine.
Peace began flooding back to me when we sold our home, packed up the family, and headed for Asia. It’s weird how uncertainty can actually bring peace while ease causes the opposite. We chose Asia because I heard so many stories about the faith of the believers there. I wanted to witness it firsthand and see if the Lord was calling me there. I thought I might fit in better overseas and be better utilized in a different culture. Regardless of the outcome, I was enjoying the process. It was a rush to be in foreign countries, praying with my family, and asking the Lord if he wanted us to stay. In many ways, it was a dream come true.
We learned a lot while we were in Asia, but I concluded that the Lord was not done with me in America. He wanted me to take what I had learned from the believers in China and India and apply it here in the States. Their passion and commitment reminded me of what I read in the Scriptures. They displayed New Testament Christianity in the twenty-first century. They showed how rapidly and effectively the gospel spreads when every believer makes disciples. I am convinced that their mentality and approach to church could be just as transformative in the States.
But we would have to be willing.
So I’m back in the United States. I’m still unsure of God’s overarching plan for me, but this has been one of the best seasons of my life. I spend most of my days in San Francisco with a group of friends who go from person to person, explaining the gospel to anyone who will listen. A church is developing where disciple making is central and unity is natural. We are quickly becoming a family. I have found that it is much easier to put aside disagreements with fellow soldiers who sacrifice to make disciples.
I have more peace about my pursuit of those who don’t know Jesus (I’m less of a coward). I have seen tremendous spiritual growth in my children. I love watching them share their faith and hearing their excitement when they witness the supernatural. We have seen God answer many prayers supernaturally. We are less attached to the world and more focused on eternity. My wife and kids are becoming more like Jesus, and our lifestyles more congruent with the New Testament. As my sixteen-year-old put it after our first outreach, “It felt like we popped out of the Bible.”
The church I am a part of is a work in progress, but it is headed in the right direction. It is becoming more and more like what I see in Scripture. There is life, love, sacrifice, commitment, and power. Much of my time is spent actually making disciples, and ministry is making sense within this framework.
For too long, I wrestled with the simple math. Things made sense when I managed fifty people and saw them reach out to five hundred. I felt like a successful manager. It made sense when I was entrusted with five hundred workers and saw them reach five thousand. But that’s when the system crashed. I was given the huge responsibility of leading five thousand workers. That’s a massive workforce! And while we saw some good things happen, I didn’t keep the workers multiplying. The growth we saw did not make sense considering the size of the army. The math didn’t add up. I was wasting resources.
The issue is not about having a small church or a big one. It is about how to keep the great commission at the forefront of every believer’s mind. It is about helping the church go beyond “come and listen” to “go and tell.” It is about believers experiencing real life and about the church of Jesus shining brightly.
Platt, D., & Chan, F. (2013). Follow me: a call to die. a call to live. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.