I usually devote this blog space to aspects of my life story which demonstrate the power of transformation. But I’m going to do something slightly different today.
Dr. Tom Mercer came to be a youth pastor at my home church (as a teen — Foothill Baptist Church in Upland, California) about the time I left for college. But I’ve long admired him and his ministry. After he and his wife Sheryl left Foothill (having presided over a rapidly growing and very dynamic youth group there), he founded the High Desert Church in the Victorville, California area. In 30-some-odd years that church has grown tremendously, thanks in part to Tom’s amazingly insightful approach to the purpose and mission of the local church. They are now a “multi-site” church with several different large campuses and at least 4,500 families in attendance.
I had the privilege this weekend of reconnecting with Tom at a denominational retreat in Olympia, Washington, where he was the featured speaker. He rocked three sessions, challenging our local churches to “oikocentric” exponential growth, and really stirred the pot. I wanted to capture some of the things I learned or that he reinforced in my heart — and how better to do it than a blog like this?
Believing in Jesus
The first thing seems very simple and I almost missed it. But he said it over and over again, in support of several ideas that are very important (such as, “our” church does not belong to us; it belongs to Jesus; and furthermore we must focus on the purpose of the Church as defined by Jesus, not by us; and that purpose is to seek and save the lost, seeking to help turn Jesus-enemies into Jesus-lovers).
Tom kept saying, “I believe in Jesus. He is my Lord. That means, if He says something, I need to take it very, very seriously. And I make no apology for it.” Christ’s purpose (Luke 19:10) was to seek and save the lost. He said He would build His church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (in other words, His Church would be robbing Hell of the damned).
The Pendulum Principle
And in a very important passage, John 15:1-10, Jesus says repeatedly that we are to “abide in Him” (the True Vine) and to therefore “bear much fruit.” This is not an either/or, it is a very important both/and proposition. Some Christian traditions have said, “Our purpose is to know God.” They retreat into the desert and seek to spend all their time getting to know Him. Others say their purpose is to make Him known. But to Christ, loving God and loving people shared equal weight. You can’t really love God effectively without also loving people. You can’t know Him without also making Him known. Both/and.
The Precision Principle
Speaking of balance, Tom (who used a lot of military analogies, understanding that we are involved in a battle — not against flesh and blood, but a spiritual battle) invoked the notion of a precision-guided munition. It has a target, and is only effective when it is guided precisely toward that target, and when collateral damage is therefore minimized.
“Oikos” is the Greek word for “household,” and was used over and over again in the New Testament to describe how evangelism was done. “Today salvation has come to this household.” Tom pointed out that at least 95% of Christians come to Jesus in large part through the influence of people in their immediate “households” (their network of family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers or fellow students). But the resources churches expend (ineffectively) on seeking to reach people through other means are extravagant. If we took those resources and made them like precision-guided munitions, focusing on the people in our “oikos” instead of outside of it, we would get much more bang for our buck. So to speak.
And this also works out in churches in a very interesting manner. Tom estimated that 20% of the people in our churches are critics who are basically gone, they just don’t know it yet. Right now they are fundamentally unreachable. They are playing a game, or they just don’t care. On the other side of the spectrum, 20% are sold out. They do all the heavy lifting, most of the donating, most of the volunteering. They love and follow church leadership and need very little prompting to do the right thing.
Churches frequently waste their time by targeting their appeal primarily to either the 20% on the left (who won’t respond) or the 20% on the right (who have already responded). Instead they should focus on the 60% in the middle. These are your average Christians who can be readily moved in God’s direction if only we work strategically to do that. They already want to love and follow God, they just need to figure out how. Our churches should be designed to teach them, and our resources dedicated to this purpose (rather than being bottlenecked by the three biggies: buildings, Sunday services, and professional pastors).
There were several other key principles and points he shared that were extremely valuable, but for now I’ll leave it there. I’m eager to begin seeking to implement “Oikos” ministry through our church’s community group structure, and seek to focus our groups on the purpose God has laid before us: to make disciples while it is still day!