I am at the Advance 13 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. The theme of the conference is “building faithful AND effective churches.” Wednesday was the long day as we listened to many hours of teaching. Once again, I have chosen to break up my thoughts on the day into a blog post for each session (Wednesday there were three). These are my thoughts of the morning session.
“How to Serve Local and Global Communities” by Brian Fikkert
The first session of the morning was a short talk by Brian Fikkert on how the American church has blown it when it comes to helping solve the poverty problem in the world. To be honest, when he began talking about this issue, I was nervous. And I think it is for good reason. You see, he began with the same old statistics that we have all been shamed with before: “40% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day; you are part of the richest people to ever live on the face of the earth;” and other things like that.
But as he developed his idea of poverty, I was pleasantly surprised. He encouraged us to never define poverty as the lack of stuff. That will never help bring long-lasting results. There is a deeper fundamental definition for poverty. He argued that since God has wired us for relationships (God, self, others, & creation), poverty is fundamentally rooted in those relationships being broken.
Our help of the poor begins with our realization of our own poverty. Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things and our solution to help must start with Jesus being the answer. It is not about putting bread into their hand, as it will never bring eternal results. It is about putting their hand into the hand of God. It is rooted in reconciliation of broken relationships.
The one thing I took away from his talk was that my pride often is seen even in the good things of helping people. When I define poverty as “stuff”, I feel as if they need me to help them. In so doing, I have raised myself up and lowered them. But if I enter their situation with knowledge of my own poverty, I am one with them.
“Thinking Bigger about Business” by Andre Mann
In Acts 8:1–2, we are the gospel spread through the dispersion of the people of God. The gospel spread, not through the professional apostles going places, but through the people of God spreading. Andre Mann encouraged us in his short session, to think that the way the gospel can reach the world is through it reaching the businessman or teacher or store owner.
He showed, through a map, that the fastest growing economies in the world are also the most unreached places on earth. He encouraged us to think that maybe God has merged those two. I was encouraged to think that the businessmen in the church are not just the giving base; they are the missionaries that God might be calling. We should be equipping, training, and sending them out to the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Why Faithful Churches Grow Deep and Wide” by J. D. Greear
I have heard of J. D. Greear in the past, but I have never heard him preach. I have never read anything he has written. But after this session, I really want to hear more of what he has to say. I was greatly encouraged and convicted at his message, which began with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20. He reminded us that these are our marching orders. To make disciples implies two kinds of growth: width and depth. To make disciples means that we are seeing people come to faith and we are seeing them grow to spiritual maturity. From here, he launched into his main two points.
1. Those That Grow Wide, But Not Deep, Are Not Growing As Wide As They Think.
He defended his statement with three main points. First, converts that don’t persevere as disciples do not make it into heaven. That might sound controversial, but he did a good job of showing that it is once saved, always following. Second, converts in a post-Christian world will increasingly have to be won outside the church. As we make disciples, we are teaching them to take the gospel outside the walls of the church. Third, Jesus said the greatest width would occur through the multiplication of leaders, not the building of audiences. It might not be as cool as the big show, but multiplying leaders is how you reach people for several generations.
2. Those That Grow Deep, But Not Wide, Are Probably Not Growing As Deep As They Think.
He was very clear to emphasize the word “probably.” He did acknowledge that some of the greatest prophets and leaders preached for years and never saw any fruit. But the very fact that Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations proves that Jesus was telling them to dream big.
This is no doubt the place that I was really challenged. I have argued for years that I just want to take the church deep and trust God for the width. And in many ways, I still agree with that. But he pushed back a bit. Could it possibly be that I say that because of apathy, laziness, or even a lack of belief? Could it be that I really don't think God wants to do something big and so I don't look for it; don't pray for it; and don't work towards it?
He quoted Charles Spurgeon who was talking to a young pastor who had asked him why he saw so many converts. Spurgeon replied, "Son, you don't think that every time you preach people be saved, do you?" The young man replied, "Well, no." Spurgeon said, "That's the reason why people are not saved."
Of all the teaching times so far, this is the one that impacted me the most. I was really challenged to think bigger, think more strategic, think more clearly on what it means to be deep and wide.