From Lost to Leading

John Burke | December 16, 2014

Donna grabbed another beer as Shanna poured a frozen margarita. “We met this couple down the street,” Donna informed her good friend Shanna, who lived in their neighborhood. “Steve and Joanne. Really nice people—they invited us to their church. Said it was a ‘come as you are’ church, and I think Ryan and I might try it.”

“Well, just don’t try and drag us into anything like that!” was all Shanna said. Shanna and Tim had only been to church twice in their lives, and the little they knew about Christians had put a bad taste in their mouths.     

When Steve and Joanne showed up, Shanna and Tim did meet them. As it turned out, Tim and Steve had a common love—Xterra off-road bike racing! Tim and Steve spent the evening sharing stories of off-road wipeouts. After that night, Tim and Steve started riding together regularly. Then came a few dinners where all three couples hung out together.

Tim and Shanna soon joined Donna and Ryan, Steve and Joanne, and others, serving people in need by throwing an inner-city block party. Tim and Shanna were finding themselves making more and more friends among these Christians. They still had no desire to attend church, but they found themselves feeling a part of the relational Network with these “church people.”

Four months later, Steve asked Tim after a ride if they wanted to come check out the small group that Donna and Ryan had been attending. To Steve’s surprise, Tim hesitantly said, “Maybe so.” Tim later admitted he was afraid they’d go “all Jesus” on him and be like Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. But they overcame their fear and went.

Steve recalls, “That first night, Shanna shared with everyone that she can’t even conceive of God as a loving Father because she was born out of a one-night stand and was abused as a child. Tim shared that his father became a born-again Christian about two years ago and that he’s asked him to ‘leave them alone’ about that. There was obviously a lot of pain and bitterness in their past. No one acted shocked or put off. We didn’t try to fix it; we just listened and let them talk.”

On their way home that night Tim looked at Shanna and said, “Wow, they didn’t try and force Jesus on us. If it stays that way, I think I can keep going.” They not only kept going, but started attending church as well, learning more about this God Steve and Joanne followed. It took months of learning, reading the Bible for the first time, and making friends with a number of Christians, but fourteen months after that first party, Tim and Shanna were baptized as followers of Jesus in their own hot tub!

Tim and Shanna illustrate how people tend to find faith and become the church in a post-Christian world. It is not enough for one Christian to befriend and share her faith with another person. That worked in a world with knowledge of and respect for the Bible. However, in today’s post-Christian context, unchurched people often need the intersection of three elements in order to find faith and become the church:

 

1. A friendship with someone with the attitude of Jesus—demonstrating an unshockable love that values people like Jesus did.

 

2. Relational momentum with a Network of four to five other Christians whom they enjoy hanging out with and who make them feel like they truly belong.

 

3. A “come as you are” learning environment where they can learn about the Way of Jesus even with doubts, questions, and struggles.

 

With the intersection of these three environments, groups of people often find faith. Like the woman at the well who brought her friends to Jesus, Donna and Ryan brought Tim and Shanna, who brought their neighbors, her mother, and others along with them on the journey to faith.

At Gateway Church in Austin, and in nearly 100 churches we’ve helped equip and plant, we’ve seen thousands of people come to faith along with their friends, grow in faith, then become leaders in the church. An "as you are" culture is free from the baggage of religion and driven by grace, creating an environment where people can go from lost to leading. That's why we say: "Come as you are, but don't stay as you are."

In our post-Christian world, one-off evangelism does not produce the lasting fruit that comes from an “as you are” process—where Tim, Shanna, and friends find faith, grow and develop, and eventually lead others.  “Lost to leading” must be our scorecard if we are going to see the church in America grow.  How many of your leaders today were like Tim and Shanna 3-4 years ago? Are you leading to create intentional, seamless pathways where people go from lost to discipleship to leading others?

If this is not happening, then the church is dying. It may take 70 years for it to die, but unless our evangelism produces disciples who make disciples out of the culture, any church growth is really a giant church swap. And we can be missional and serve “those people” and share our faith with “those people”—but if “they” never became “us,” something’s wrong. That’s a good indication we are not engaging people with the attitude and actions of Jesus. If they don’t want to be like us, maybe it’s because we’re not much like Jesus.

To become an “as you are” leader, start praying, leading, and organizing your church or group so that your unchurched friends can come as they are, but not stay that way. Leading by example will force you to rethink how communication, processes, systems, and discipleship happens so people truly go from lost to leading.

John Burke is founding pastor of Gateway Church, Austin and author of No Perfect People Allowed, Unshockable Love, and Soul Revolution.

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