When the singing group No Other Name (i.e., Sam Allen, Laura Allen and Chad Smith) wanted to change the equation for the people they ministered to by emphasizing missional living and cultural engagement—and not just performance-based entertainment—it ran into a massive roadblock. The lingering question the group wrestled with was: “How do we move people (artist and audience) from a desire to be entertainers/entertained—even if it is Christian entertainment—to evangelistic, missional involvement?”
When No Other Name approached me (I have the pleasure of serving as the group’s pastor) with this question I, too, wrestled not only with the question itself, but the possible implications of what it means to live a more intentional, missional life. More importantly, it wasn’t so much my inability to analyze the struggle of my own life and that of the church I lead in coming to terms with this question or the inability to visualize how a truly missional life looks, a life empowered spiritually, engaged culturally and guided biblically. My real difficulty came when I asked, “How do I move myself and the people I lead from one point to the next? How do I cross the divide between where I (we) am to where I (we) want to be?”
Let’s be honest—these are the questions with which we must wrestle in the church, among God’s people. How many of our churches have become memorials to the Dead Sea where everything flows into it, dies, and nothing flows out? When did our churches become depositories of God’s glorious truth without also becoming dispensers of the good news of that truth? How did the church develop exclusively a come-and-see mentality and yield ground on being a go-and-tell people? We must be both. We must tell people to come and see the mighty works of the gospel (
We have become a church culture of spiritual isolationists, conference attenders, note-takers and Beth Moore Bible Study devotees. I attend conferences; I take notes; and Beth Moore has done for women’s ministry in the modern era what Billy Graham did for evangelism in the ’50s. The subculture of the Christian world is quite an impressive thing. Each year, millions are spent on buildings, programs, conferences and various Christian cultural activities. While some of these activities are helpful, we have become isolated from the mission field and insulated from the real world of sinners in need of the Savior.
Yet, in spite of the massive availability of Christian worship and training opportunities, most Christians and many of our churches remain alarmingly spiritually stagnant and unengaged in evangelism and missions. The mighty engine of the church—biblically and spiritually empowered missions and evangelism—just won’t start. Why is it that in other parts of the world—and often without buildings, budgets or conferences—Christianity is breaking out in what Phillip Jenkins calls the “global South” while Christianity in the church-saturated West seems to be contracting?
Add to these issues the truism that most believers keep waiting for someone else to get things started, and it makes for a lethal combination that kills missional living. We say to ourselves, “If someone else will step up, I will, too.” When no one steps up to get things started, we remain in the shadows of the missional life of the church or remain satisfied with the status quo.
Connect to the aforementioned factors the intimidating nature of a growing secular culture, the lack of passionate preaching, the ease of lukewarm easy-believism, the deadly definition of church membership that is non-demanding, and the ever-present temptation to avoid radical commitment and it all adds up to individual believers and churches as a whole sputtering, unable and (more concerning) unwilling to get things started.
As No Other Name and I talked, we kept coming back to the phrase “Let it start with me.” In other words, the more we talked, the more we realized it wasn’t a lack of resources—we believe God will provide whatever resources are needed to accomplish the task; and it’s not a matter of messaging—we believe the gospel is sufficient in itself to save and transform sinners who then transform culture. The issue is with me, you, us. We know and don’t do, which is sin (
To get things started would mean for more of God’s people to be on mission where they live with the people they know. It would mean for churches to move from being fortresses for worried and scared believers to launching pads for engaged and active missionaries who also happen to work in local stores, own their own businesses and attend school. How do we get things started?
Preaching that Starts Things
At the center of getting things started must be clear biblical, missional, passionate and engaging preaching that instructs and ignites a passion for God and His mission in the world. Our preaching must reflect the outline of Jesus’ ministry.
Preaching that gets things started is driven by an awareness of time—the nowness of time. In other words, believers and churches engaged in intentional ministry are not spiritual procrastinators. As was Jesus, missionally engaged people start now because they know time is brief and precious (
The coming of the rule of God in the Person of Jesus Christ is what we announce. In Jesus, God’s rule and reign as a holy and loving God was launched and is not being lived out in God’s people, the church. The pinnacle event of the kingdom was the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as Lord, which is now being preached as the good news that sets sinners free. God’s kingdom is marked by righteousness and mercy, holiness and grace, forgiveness and accountability. Entrance to the kingdom of God comes exclusively through Jesus Christ (
Preaching that gets things started calls for people to enter the kingdom of God through the transforming power of the gospel. Kingdom living is the kind of living that engages the kingdoms of this world with the alternative vision for life announced in the kingdom of God.
Preaching that kick-starts missional living is marked by change—it’s called repentance. Jesus urgently called sinners to enter His kingdom through repentance, a change of mind and heart that God initiates and effects through the Person and work of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and that is worked out in the lives of individual believers (
Repentance is punctual and progressive. It is punctual in that there is a time, season, era in which a sinner initially turns from sin and enters the kingdom of God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Repentance is also progressive in that members of God’s kingdom live lives of continual repentance—we are continually turning away from sin, continually changing. Continual repentance is part and parcel of our sanctification.
Preaching that kick-starts ministry and missions declares the good news. What is the good news? The kingdom has come in Jesus Christ. Yet, sinners cannot get into the kingdom in their sinful condition. Through repentance, sinners come to know the God who in Christ became the sin-bearer for sinners; who was raised from the dead, conquering sin; and who forgives repentant sinners, providing entrance into the kingdom of God. To those who enter the kingdom, eternal life and forgiveness are granted. This is the good news that we must deliver to all the nations (
The kind of preaching that initiates missional living 1.) urgently 2.) announces God’s kingdom, 3.) calls for transformational change, and 4.) declares the good news of the kingdom that God saves sinners (
Here’s the most challenging part. Every preacher must ask: “Am I a preacher of this gospel, or have I become a peddler of some other gospel?” (
Practical Living that Starts Things
Believers transformed by biblical preaching live with a missional agenda. They see their entire lives as being on mission. They are interested in being culturally aware and personally engaged with the power and implications of the gospel, unafraid of the challenges this engagement might bring. Missionally driven people are practical and pragmatic. They have developed two statements of faith.
First, they have adopted a Don’t-just-do-something-stand-there mindset that references the gospel. In essence, missionally driven people who are willing to get things started are smart enough to know they must first get their marching orders from God and get the gospel right. They are not impulsive, frantically doing things for the sake of doing things. Missionally driven, kick-started believers are people of conviction.
Second, evangelistic people have adopted a Don’t-just-stand-there-do-something mindset. While realizing the need for informed conviction, they also realize the need for action. Gospel-saturated and motivated people are people of conviction and action as the good news permeates their being and behavior. What do kingdom motivated people do? What do they start? When do they start?
1. They start by seeing themselves as missionaries. Rather than choosing to opt out of God’s kingdom mission, they opt in. They do not wait for others to engage before they engage. While they appreciate systems and structures, they view themselves as being on mission already. While they are glad for others to join them, they are willing to go it alone if necessary, waiting for others to follow.
2. Missionally driven people see their neighborhood as the place to begin. While desiring to go into all the nations, they do not forget the person next door is in need of the gospel as much as the woman in a remote village in another part of the world. People on mission are kind, warm, helpful, neighborly and thoughtful. They are aware of and actively help their neighbors. They shovel snow in winter, mow grass in summer, cook meals when needed, open their homes to the hurting, and are inviting and welcoming all the time to all their neighbors.
3. People who start living missionally driven lives do not make distinctions between foreign missions and local missions. They do not allow others to say, “Let others go over there,” detering them from being involved in international missions. They do not consider themselves off-duty if they’re not on an international mission trip. In other words, missionally driven people are never off-duty, but always on in the sense that wherever they are, they are on mission.
4. Missionally driven people who get things started are creative. They think outside the box and live outside the walls of the cloistered church. They find creative ways to interact with unsaved family members and unreached friends. They are unafraid of questions, undeterred by indifference and unencumbered by false perceptions.
5. In addition, people who get things started see opportunities where others see none. For example, a father of a high school football player saw a need to build community among the fathers of the players. As a result, he initiated a voluntary prayer meeting for the fathers of all the football players who would meet prior to each home game just behind the stadium bleachers. It would be called the Fellowship of Football Fathers. He did not know if it would work. The first meeting six fathers and a single mothered showed up. The name was changed to the Fellowship of Football Families (FFF). This event grew to the point that at one meeting prior to a game, more than 100 people attended, enjoying a meal and prayer time together. The movement grew, prayers were offered each week, fellowship increased, and amazing things happened because one father saw a need and took action. As an added bonus, the team won a state title the year this ministry started although such a request never was mentioned.
6. People who get things started and who remain missional starters are what I call slow burn Christians. They are not impulsive or easily discouraged. The gospel has caught fire in them and slowly and consistently burns so their evangelistic impulses rarely weaken.
7. People who get things started challenge other believers to get involved. There is something contagious about a believer who has been set on fire by the gospel. People who get things started not only engage the lost, but engage other believers, challenging them to reconsider their involvement in a world in need of the gospel.
8. People who get things started have a supreme confidence not only in the gospel of God, but in the God of the gospel. There is a strong emphasis on God’s sovereign activity in the world to bring about the accomplishment of God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. This conviction builds a confidence that helps deal with disappointment, negotiate setbacks, and overcomes discouragement and barriers to the good news.
9. People who get things started do not live as if it all depends on them. The only danger for people who get things started is for them to think it all depends on them, though it doesn’t. Jesus is responsible for building the church (
10. Finally, getting things started begins now. Again, the sense of urgency in Jesus’ message must be heard again: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” Now is the time.
The Mindset that Gets Things Started
The gospel preached and lived out in practical ways alters the mindset of the believer. Too often individual believers and churches develop a wait-and-see attitude. The gospel unleashed in the hearts of God’s people will morph their mindset into a here-and-now mindset from a there-and-then mindset.
As No Other Name and I talked about how to get things started in our own lives and ministries, we kept coming back to the excuses people make for their lack of involvement in God’s kingdom agenda. The vast majority of these excuses centered around timing: “It’s not the right time,” or, “I must wait for certain things to line up,” or, “I’ll be involved when I think I’m ready,” or, “When I get into the right setting, I’ll become involved.” While timing is important, timing also can become an excuse for inaction.
People who get things started start where they are with who they are and with what God has given them. It’s that simple. Locations may change; resources may expand and contract. Opportunities will evolve. Yet, the person who gets things started starts now. So, let us preach the gospel, live it out practically, and do so now. No Other Name members have started by inviting people to be on mission with them by participating in mission trips locally and abroad. How will you get started? Let us say—and maybe even sing—as No Other Name’s song declares, “Let it start with me.”
Pastor Kevin Shrum is Director of the Christian Studies Program at Union University’s Nashville Campus. No Other Name is a highly sought after group that has recorded multiple records with a missional purpose.