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This post coincides with a book I’m releasing in August, called Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send. Gaining by Losing is all about how to empower your church or Christian organization to follow the Spirit where He leads–into mission. If you are interested, check-out or pre-order here!


There was a time, believe it or not, when churches didn’t call themselves “missional.” Missions was, for most Christians, what other people did. It was for the elite, the varsity level, the Navy Seals of the Christian world. The rest of us praised our missionaries and considered them heroes…but we never really considered that we, too, were supposed to be missionaries.

That attitude is beginning to change, but the American church has a long way to go. It is immensely encouraging to hear of churches around the country catching the vision that mission is part of the very essence of the church. God doesn’t call us into his kingdom, and only at some later time call a few more of us into his mission. His call to join him in mission is tied up in his call to salvation. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of men.”

As Charles Spurgeon so prophetically put it, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” That doesn’t mean that every believer must pack up their bags and move to Afghanistan (though many more should!). It means that the call to follow Christ is a call to follow him where he goes, as he seeks to make his name known throughout the world. It means that whether you’re a hairdresser or a pastor, a stay-at-home mom or an overseas missionary, God’s got a mission for you. He gave you the Spirit, and he did that for a reason.

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“Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” It is tragically easy for those of us in ministry to forget this, to get so wrapped up in nuances of theology and specific strategies that we no longer personally seek the lost. I came across this modern parable recently (from Pastor John Drescher) that poignantly drives that point home:

Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be a primary task of fishermen.

Continually, they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing. They created witty slogans and displayed them on big beautiful banners.

These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings called “Fishing Headquarters.” The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. One thing they didn’t do, however: They did not fish.

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When we think of a traveling preacher addressing a crowd, most of us conjure up an image like UNC’s (in)famous Pit Preacher. He stands up in the middle of a public space and loudly proclaims that everyone is going to hell because of their short skirts, rock music, and liberal politics. I imagine he thinks he’s “engaging the public square” with the gospel, much like Paul did in Acts 17.

I can’t speak to the Pit Preacher’s motives, but he’s certainly not the rightful heir to Paul in Acts 17. A quick look shows us that engaging the public square means something completely different. I see 5 insights for engaging people outside the Christian faith:

1. Grieve over idolatry (and do something about it).

When encountering idolatry in a culture, we tend to respond in one of two equally unbiblical extremes: either we share our culture’s idolatry, or we are so offended by it that we run away. But when Paul saw the idolatry of Athens for what it was, it broke his heart. And instead of running away from it in fear, he ran toward it in love.

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