Pastoring a Sending Church: An Interview with Pat Hood
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional seat First Church to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more concerned with growing the church than sending the church. Sadly, I was focused on the wrong scorecard.
We measured success like most other churches—the three "Bs": budgets, buildings, and butts in the seats. According to this scorecard, we were knocking it out of the park. We were reaching a lot of unchurched people, receiving record offerings, baptizing a lot of people and building new buildings. Everything seemed to be going right, but I knew in my heart something was desperately wrong.
Here's a principle that we learned: to be truly successful, your definition of success much match God's definition of success, and you must keep score on the right scorecard.
Oh, you can do some really "good" stuff. You can attract a large crowd and maybe even make the list of the 100 fastest growing churches in America. You can build some really big and really cool buildings. You can collect more money than the IRS . . . well, maybe not. But, you can have all these "wins" and still lose if that is your end game because success on God's scorecard isn't just about buildings, butts, and budgets. It is possible to be successful in each of those areas, yet not make any disciples. So we became relentlessly focused on not only bringing people in, but also on raising them up and sending them out.
How do you measure success now?
Don't misunderstand, numbers are very important at LifePoint. We count the number of people in our weekly worship gatherings. We count the number of people in small groups. We count our money. We set goals to increase attendance, giving, small group participation and serving. So, don't think I'm saying keeping score isn't spiritual. My intent is to help you understand that numbers don't tell the whole story nor do they necessarily measure success. As a matter of fact, if winning is all about getting more people, more money, and building bigger, cooler buildings, then you're never going to win because butts, budgets, and buildings are all moving targets.
So, as important as Sunday worship gathering growth is, our greatest concern is not having more members—it's having more missionaries. So we know we're being successful when we hear stories of people like Brian, a long time LifePointer who is a strong leader and loves football. So, Brian began coaching in our local youth football league in order to use his passion and skill as an opportunity for the Gospel. It's been amazing to see how God has used him and how many young football players have connected with Jesus and LifePoint because Brian is living sent. That's success to us.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced leading LifePoint to become a sending Church?
That's a great question. Leading a sending church is the most fun I've ever had, but don't think it has been all cookies and Kool-Aid. It has also been one of the most intense challenges I've ever faced. If you desire to lead your church to follow the direction of God rather than the whims of people, you will experience more challenges than a woman trying to become the president of Iran—that, I can guarantee.
If the mission of Satan is to keep lost people lost, who do you think is going to intimidate him more: a "successful" church whose mission is to play it safe, attract large crowds and build bigger buildings, or a church that is courageous enough to become a sending church, that deploys missionaries to the football fields, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods—that shares the Gospel and plants churches, both in our communities and around the world?
For instance, becoming a sending church is difficult because it will require your church to come face to face with our consumeristic mentality that leads us to be more concerned about our desires and preferences that the heart and glory of God. It will require you to challenge people rather than pamper people and this is tough in today's self-centered, attractional, consumeristic culture.
We had to re-allocate money in our budget. We had to send our best leaders. We had to begin to think global, not just locally. We were forced to be more externally focused than internally focused. Missions was no longer a department in our church, it was the essence of what we were about.
All things seem obvious, but when you start to live them, the consumeristic, internally-focused church culture begins to rare it's head. You have to be okay with losing people in order to pursue the heart of God. You have to be ok with be criticized for caring more about people you don't have than those you do have. You have to be willing to even lose staff that just can't make the transition.
Managing a church can be comfortable and safe but leading a church is guaranteed to be messy and dangerous. So, it really comes down to asking the question, "Do I want to continue to play church and maintain the status quo, or do I want lead the church God had called me to pastor to experience the unequalled joy of pursuing His heart for the nations?"