Last week, the Send Institute ran a poignant piece by John Davidson that argued for the decoupling of church planting and entrepreneurship. Davidson writes, “Rather than framing planting as ecclesial entrepreneurship, the church would be better served if we framed it biblically. The way to do that is by calling it what it is, apostolic ecclesiology.”
He argues that the business nomenclature that characterizes entrepreneurship stands in stark contrast to the simple sentness of the biblical apostles and those who follow in their patterns. I’m a big fan of John Davidson.
Is there anything our world needs more of?
Our present missiological matrix necessitates a wholesale change in the normative ambition of kingdom disciples. This begins, at least in part, by the posture of both those leading existing churches and those starting new ones.
The public perception regarding this work might be at an all-time low. There was once a day when the mention of the word “pastor” conjured images of maturity, wisdom, and tender care. These days the term is more often conflated with abuse of power, predatory behavior, or chauvinism.
Much of this we’ve brought on ourselves. The siren’s call of the grandiose platform, international audiences, and the adoring fans, has lulled far too many of us from the simple course to which we were called.
For many, there may have been a time when “simple sentness” was the passion of our hearts. God captured our very souls with the good news of Jesus and we longed for others to experience his grace.
But something happened. Simple sentness wasn’t enough, so we continually grappled for more. In reality, Jesus wasn’t enough. As with most things in ministry, it was easy to hide our ulterior motives behind a veil of Christianized vocabulary, but in reality, the goalposts had moved a very long way.
It was no longer about God—it was now about the great thing we were going to do for God.
This subtle shift produced a culture of leaders operating with entrepreneur instincts which, at the end of the day, lead down a road of pragmatic, ends-justify-the-means rationalization that produces the dumpster fire that is evangelicalism’s reputation today.
What’s worse, those left in the wake of such leaders are pressed in one of two directions. Some jettison the faith altogether. The gospel seed that was sown in their life is plucked away by the enemy due to the scandal of the church and the blatant hypocrisy of those entrusted to lead.
Others copied their heroes and ran after the same sub-biblical goals. For them it became all about the outcome, whatever that outcome might be. Most are somewhat laudable aims, perhaps, and worthy outlets for kingdom energy.
Yet, in an effort to make a difference for Jesus (at least in our minds), these projects become an end, in and of themselves. We’re all about the thing…for Jesus. Peruse social media for any length of time and you’ll see the venomous words spoken by those whose entrepreneurial aim is undermined or second-guessed.
Perhaps we can chalk this up to the nature of humanity. Since Babel, every human civilization testified to the propensity of people to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11). Created to multiply and fill the earth, our ancestors were intent on consolidating for personal notoriety. Not much has changed in the thousands of years of history that followed. Fallen flesh doesn’t like simple sentness. We’d rather build our own tower for our own glory.
Our kingdom come.
It’s interesting that juxtaposed to the horrors of Babel is the call of Abram (Gen. 12:1). Abram, later Abraham, was called by grace to be a blessing to the nations. And what does God promise? “I will bless you and I will make your name great” (Gen 12:2).
God promises Abram a name, not one that he will earn through kingdom-building, but one that he will undeservedly inherit as a grace gift. Today, the mere mention of Babel conjures up images of confusion and chaos, whereas Abraham is known as the great father of our faith. One name remains—the one given by God.
Lesson? From a study of Scripture, or just a brief online perusal, it becomes excruciatingly clear that God eradicates the names of self-seeking clergy who work to make a name for themselves and yet gives great honor to those who humbly live to glorify his name.
One wonders if this ancient tension lies at the heart of the missional malaise of the church in North America. Are we so consumed with making a name for ourselves that we miss out on the name God wants to give? Are we so obsessed with consolidating and branding our little babels that we’re unwilling to leave our idolatrous towers in order to go to the place of God’s calling to become a blessing? Has the dark exchange of hoarding our blessings replaced our call of becoming a blessing?
Perhaps. And in that sinister swap, we have actually removed ourselves from the place of true blessing and have actually perversely sealed the fate of our coveted names.
So, maybe there’s a worse fate than ending your life without venerating multitudes knowing your name. We can all think of many who would have rather ended their ministries in humble obscurity than going down in public humiliation. The exchange has always been a short-term pact that comes at a horrific price.
I’m convinced that if much is going to change in our day regarding the evangelization of North America, it’s going to come because there was a new generation of courageous and unpretentious leaders who were willing to give up their names and live simply sent.
Your kingdom come.
Jeff Christopherson is an author and Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board.