Plumb Line # 3: “The church is not an audience, it’s an army.”

Posted by Pastor J.D. on June 16, 2011

Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points for our staff.  They are a way to encapsulate our theology and philosophy in short, memorable phrases.

Leadership Plumb Line # 3 for us is: “The church is not an audience; it’s an army.”

In John 14:12, Jesus made an astounding statement to his disciples: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

On one level, that seems like an absolutely absurd statement. We would do greater works than Jesus? How could that ever be?  He raised the dead. How do you do “greater” than that? And would we have closer communion with the Father—or understand Him more, or have more anointing on us–when we preached? Would we receive answers to prayer like He did?

I don’t think there’s anyone who could say with a straight face that they have “greater” power in their ministry than Jesus did. Thus,  “greater” could not mean “greater” in quality, but greater had to mean in terms of quantity. Now that Jesus was ascending back to Heaven, the Spirit of God (Who was the source, Luke notes, of even Jesus’ power on earth) would not be limited to one person (Jesus) or even a group of leaders (the disciples); He would be within every believer. Every believer would now be ministering in the power of the Spirit, and that would produce a greater net effect than even if Jesus had Himself stayed here to minister. Wow.

Unfortunately, much of the way that we program our churches is still as if the Spirit of God resides on a few primary leaders. Most churches are merely an audience gathered around one anointed leader, basking in his oratorical greatness, listening to his prophetic insight. Now, I certainly want to give due weight to God’s special giftings in the Church—He has placed specially-called apostles, teachers, prophets, pastors, etc.  That said, the whole point of John 14:12 is not that the Spirit of God would reside only, or even primarily, on a handful of leaders, but that He would reside in every believer.

Churches that get that focus on developing, empowering, and releasing their members, realizing that, by a LONG SHOT, the greatest ministry power happens not in the church through a few pastors, but outside the church in the community through the members. The church should not be an audience gathered around a leader, but a ‘leadership factory.’

Churches that take Jesus’ words in John 14:12 seriously should set themselves up so that their primary focus is equipping and sending. As I’ve often pointed out to our church, of the 40 miracles in Acts, 39 of them happened outside of the church!  Not to press this too far, but only 1/40 of the power of God should be manifesting itself through me in the church.

The weekend is not the point; the week is the point. Real ministry happens throughout the week. While we certainly value the weekend, the New Testament’s focus is  clearly on the week (Eph 4:11-13)

Ironically, I think some churches’ success in building a crowd keeps them blind to how poorly they are leading their people to really become the body of Christ in the world. It’s like I’ve heard Darrin Patrick recently say, “Attractional success can blind you to your lack of incarnational engagement.”

All in all, I think some churches’ success keeps them blind to how little genuine, lasting fruit they are actually producing period. When the glitz and light and sound-show disappear, what really will remain? Jesus told a parable about some seeds that sprang up quickly, only later to be revealed in different conditions as false fruit. When the sun of persecution arises over our members, or the weeds of materialism grow, or the clouds of doubt cover obscure our happiness, what remains? If all we did was dazzle them and inspire them on the weekend, then precious little will remain.

Gathering crowds is important–crucial! But two of the most important characteristics of a New Testament church are discipleship and empowerment. I recently heard that Saddleback has 130% of its weekend attendance in small groups. That is a wonderful goal for us–having even more people in the community leading in ministry than are hearing me on the weekend leading in ministry!

Isn’t this exactly what John 14:12 means?

We’ve got a long way to go on this one, Summit, but this is the value we are chasing after! Raising up leaders, not just gathering an audience to hear a leader.

We’re not primarily an audience; we’re an army.

Pastor J.D.


J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

5 responses to Plumb Line # 3: “The church is not an audience, it’s an army.”

  1. Emily Gidcumb June 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I love our church and we do a lot of great things, and JD you do a great job preaching and teaching us each week. However, I do not think that our church is exempt from these “blind” spots, we too have many issues with building up the every man at our church.

  2. Emily, not sure what you’re meaning here. Are you saying that you don’t agree with this value, or that we’re not doing a great job leading it yet? If the latter, I agree, and look forward to how God can help us improve in the future!

  3. Emily Gidcumb June 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I mean the second point. It just felt like toward the end of your post talking about some churches, made it feel like it was saying “all those other churches out there, and not us”.

  4. Nailed this one homie. I actually got to interview Rick Warren this week at the SBC for Baptist Press and I heard him say that. I love the pushing of small groups and the encouragement of community that is sometimes lost in large churches. It is such an important thing to do life with brothers and sisters during the week and not just seeing church as going and listening to a brother or sister who is talking about what God teaches them, but seeing it as a true body that cannot function without something every part seeking the face of Yahweh. It’s kind of like if you work out one side of your but and forget to work out the other side. You end up lopsided, falling off of chairs, walking awkwardly, and just looking funny. In the words of the great man, Shaun T, “you can’t have one good bun and one bad bun!” So basically JD, all I’m saying is that the church is a butt. I hope you consider this great philosophy and meditate on my words of wisdom :P

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