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The following is an excerpt from Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send. The book comes out July 28, but if you order it before then, you’ll get a free eBook (Sending Capacity, not Seating Capacity) and 2 video sessions from our recent Gospel Summit.

Many skills make for effective ministry, but there is one without which everything else we do is useless. That one thing: make disciples. Apart from that, all the money we raise, buildings we build, ministries we organize, sermons we preach and songs we write don’t move the mission forward. Without that one thing, we fail.

Everything else we do is ultimately in support of that one thing. Disciple-making was the central component of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), and it ought to be the standard by which we should judge every ministry in the church. In his classic book The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman said,

The great commission is not merely to go to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel, nor to baptize a lot of converts into the Name of the Triune God, nor to teach them the precepts of Christ, but to “make disciples”—to build men like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed Jesus themselves, but led others to follow him, too.

The criteria upon which any church should measure its success is not how many new names are added to the roll nor how much the budget is increased, but rather how many Christians are actively winning souls and training them to win the multitudes.

Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board (the domestic church planting arm of the SBC), said that the greatest obstacle to planting churches today is not a lack of funds, but a lack of qualified planters. Southern Baptists claim 16 million adherents in 42,000 churches, and we have a problem finding 500 qualified planters? Only 1 of every 320,000 Southern Baptists —1 planter out of every 840 churches—needs to become a church planter in order to have more planters than we can support. How are we not producing even that many?

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Every now I catch myself telling my kids some story without fully remembering the end of that story. And I’ll look up at my wife, who is frantically shaking her head “no,” because she remembers that story. And her internal filter is saying, “Not age appropriate!”

There are certain stories in Scripture that seem to scream “not age appropriate.” For very good reasons, they aren’t the ones chosen to be in children’s Bibles…because they’re deeply unsettling. The story of Jephthah is one such story.

Jephthah was one of the judges in Israel, but what makes his story so disturbing and tragic was the way he mixed some of God with some of his own ideas. He saved Israel from their oppressors, but in the process, he sacrificed his own daughterliterally, put her on an altar and burned her alive.

It can be hard to know just what to do with a story as heinous as this. We may be inclined to rush past it. But we had better not, because Jephthah has four timely warnings for all of us.

1. We are far more influenced by our culture than we realize.

Jephthah didn’t realize it, but most of his outlook on God and life was shaped by the culture he was in. He knew enough from God’s Word to lead Israel boldly into battle, but he also didn’t flinch to promise human sacrifice as a way of ensuring military victory.

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Wisdom For Your Weekend: your weekly installment of things we’ve been reading (and watching) around the web.

Book Review of the Week

Praying the Bible, Donald Whitney. Reviewed by Tim Challies. We often say that people shouldn’t just be reading their Bibles. They should be praying through their Bibles. To which people respond, “Just how, exactly?” It’s a fair question, and Donald Whitney has come out with a recent book to answer just that question. This isn’t the only way to pray through Scripture, as Challies points out, but it’s clear, do-able, and likely to inspired a renewed zeal to pray. Not too shabby.

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