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Peyton Jones: The Lost Art of Mission—Part 2

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When church planter, pastor and self-described “punk” Peyton Jones published Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church in 2013, he called the American church to stop building up and start building out through multiplication.

Now, Peyton has written Reaching the Unreached: Raiders of the Lost Art, trading a punk persona for a cinematic adventure fit for Indiana Jones. And he’s calling church leaders and their flocks to radically transform the way they do church by living on mission, to abandon sterile, predictable church services for an adventure as exciting as Acts. That’s the only way, he says, the church will effectively reach the unreached.

In this interview, Peyton talks about how church leaders can take their people on the adventure with them.

Don’t miss Part 1 of the interview »

What role do spiritual gifts play in mission?

I love going back to Acts 2:39, where Peter says, “This gift is for you and all of your children and as many as the Lord our God will call.” That’s perpetual. That wasn’t just the day of Pentecost. It was generational, for all of us. When our gifts come alive, evangelism happens. And that’s one thing I want people to know. The reason Peter connects the gifts to the power of the Holy Spirit is, when you’re operating in your gifts, you’re naturally glorifying Jesus. That’s what they’re for. Evangelism is naturally going to happen when you’re activated in your gifts.

Gift-driven ministry is a big deal for us. We look at the gift mix. We try to leverage what people are passionate about ,rather than come up with a five-year plan. Each time we reach new, unchurched people, the Spirit comes and dwells within them, and there’s a new set of gifts, which means there is new direction, because the Holy Spirit is strategically placed. I call it Jesus with “you skin” on. He’s expressing himself through you to the world.

In the book, you quote A.W. Tozer: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what you do would go on and no one would know the difference.” How can we make sure the Holy Spirit is palpable in our churches?

Almost any suggestion I give is going to break a typical church today, but in a good way. And I have no problem with Jesus when he says, “Look, I can’t put new wine in an old wineskin.” We’ve got our structures and all that, and we want to preserve it. But I think it’s keeping us from some of the good wine.

Look at your service. Does it exist for Christians? If it does, then you’re really only entertaining them. If you really want the best for those Christians, go on mission with them. Do church in a public space or break up and go into the community and do something radical and different. Serve people. If your Sunday service doesn’t incorporate mission in it somehow, then you’re not doing it right. Master the art of doing church in public spaces or develop community in the heart of your service.

When I started doing church for the unchurched and we had people sitting in small groups, it worked. They wanted to talk. Someone might say, “Hey, I don’t like this. I want to go sit in rows and stare at the back of people’s heads,” or, “Hey, get me in and out of here in an hour.” Unchurched people are like, “No one’s ever talked to me about this stuff. Do we have to stop now?”

So change your seats up. Go to Ikea and get some coffee tables. Instead of doing three points in your sermon, do two, and take 20 minutes for discussion. And here’s what happens in those groups: Your church immediately becomes mission.

It’s just ironic to me that we hold an hour-long service for all the stuff we could be doing during that time. Instead, we talk about doing it, and then we tell people to go do it during the week. The shift came for me when I said we were just going to do it during that time. Then it becomes about equipping and discipling people, rather than saying, “Here’s how you do it. Now go do it. Bye.” Instead, it’s doing those things together.

In the church today, there is a common progression of first believing, then behaving, and finally belonging. How is that different than how Jesus taught and modeled community?

It should be belong, believe, behave. That’s because Jesus was apostolic, so he created community and accepted people before they believed or behaved. Jesus created that gospel-culture first, that sense of belonging, based on who he was.

When we deal with people, the church needs to treat them as Christ would: You’re accepted here, you belong here and it’s OK that you’re a mess and don’t believe. That’s the thing that we really try to emphasize to people, that we’re messes and God accepts us, and so when the grace is flowing, that’s very contagious. I think people need to feel grace before they believe grace.

How can we use this principle to more effectively minister to young people?

Young people need to see our edginess if we want to reach them. They need to see Christianity in action. One thing they always relate to is Christianity on mission. When they see it in a village somewhere in Africa or they see it taking care of the widow and orphan—when they see true religion—they connect with it. So if I’m sitting in a café and I hear a bunch of young people talking, guess what they’re talking about? They’re going to be saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m part of this social entrepreneurship in the slums of Delhi, or the outlying villages, and what it does is it provides economically sustainable …” You name it, they’re going to be involved.

This generation is motivated toward social events and social impact, because they saw their parents live for the almighty dollar, they saw 9/11 and the economic crisis pull everything out from under them, and they realized that’s not what life’s about. That’s why you’ve got this evolution of tiny homes, because they’re not as materialistic. They’re looking for impact. Christianity and mission are the answer to that.

They’ve seen the church live the American dream and fail. They’ve seen the church build the bigger barns, exist for itself and become a religious country club where the elite thrive and one guy’s up there as a megastar—and they’re just not into that. They’re saying, “I want to make an impact, and I can’t do that on a Sunday morning by going to your show.” Forgive me. These are fighting words, but I’ve seen this myself.

I started as a youth pastor. I would go overseas with these young people who didn’t give a rip about the gospel of Christianity. I’d take them to New Zealand, or Hungary, or Mexico. It didn’t matter where we’d go, because if we took them somewhere and we got them on mission, where they knew they could affect brokenness and they could be a part of God moving in the world, it lit something in them. And so when I talk about mission as the missing ingredient, it’s the one thing we’re not offering in church.

It’s the same thing with the exiles—the ones who have left the church not because they’re backsliding, but because they want to make an impact. They care less about drawing crowds and more about penetrating them. Less about building bigger barns and having the dream of their own church building. That’s crap to this next generation. They don’t want it. What they want is what the church isn’t offering: mission. If we will lead the way, they will follow. But they’re not following us because we’re not leading.

Are these things—large groups of people in big buildings with more money—inherently bad? Could they also be a sign the church is doing something right?

No, they aren’t [inherently bad]. In fact, the thing I frequently point out is that Pentecost resulted overnight in a megachurch. But then Paul scattered the church. Even before he was saved, he was a church planter. He was spreading the people of God on mission, against his will, really, through persecution. But that’s what God had to use to bust them up. So being big is no problem as long as you’re a sending church.

I hold to the Rick Warren theory that you’ve got elephants, tigers and rabbits, and each one does things the other can’t. That’s good. I don’t want to be misunderstood, but I do want to say that there are churches that exist to make themselves bigger and churches that exist to spread. Having a big church isn’t bad. But if you make more money, it’s so you can give more. If you have more people, it’s so you can send more out.

What has your own experience taught you about how God chooses leaders—and how leaders should raise up other leaders?

This is the thing I’ve learned most recently and is the most exciting to me. As a serial church planter, I used to identify ministry hopefuls as future leaders: the seminary grad, the guy who could preach well on a Sunday. But I got to Long Beach (California) and we sent out our first church-plant team, and then the second team went, and the third went. All my ministry hopefuls and best people had left three times. I thought I was out of people, and I was ready to leave the Long Beach plant. I needed people to hold down the fort.

But I was looking at leadership wrong. I was identifying people ahead of the curve and pouring into them. When we ran out of ministry hopefuls, I looked around and didn’t recognize these people as leaders. I felt the Lord whisper in my heart to pour into them, because I had no one else to pour into. So I did. They were chain-link-fence salesmen. My wife poured into stay-at-home moms. Now they’re the leadership team of that church—and no insult to the core team, but they’re the best leadership team that church has had, and I can’t believe I didn’t see the potential in them before.

My whole philosophy of leadership has changed. What I now believe isn’t that people are created ordained leaders that I, as a pastor, need to identify. I now believe leaders are just people who have been discipled well. That’s a game-changer. It means everybody has something in them that’s powerful, that just needs to be awakened.

These people would have never been developed in my church if we hadn’t run out of ministry hopefuls. I just wonder how many churches out there have this same exact thing, where there are people who are just powerhouses, gospel animals, God’s commandos—but they’ve never been poured in to.

Because mission is naturally messy, you’ve had some failures along the way. What have you learned about failure?

I’ve never been the guy who pretends to have all the answers. That’s one of the cool things about leading serial church plants: You don’t have to be the expert. In fact, in that environment, you allow for failure. Business people say this, too.

The theology of failure needs to be sanctified. The only failure is the guy who never tries. So even in Acts, Paul goes into towns and he preaches the gospel, and then it just says he moved on. You know what happened? Nothing. Paul was like, “I’m not staying here. This isn’t fertile soil.” I would imagine there were tons of places like that where Paul went, but nothing took. He didn’t see it as a failure. He just knew the parable of the sower. He had to eat some of the seeds.

We didn’t allow a fear of failure to stop us. We had fun and we prayed. Prayer is a confession, saying, “I don’t have all the answers.” For me as a leader, the number one message my people get from me is that I’m a knucklehead. If I can do this, they can do this, because it’s the same Holy Spirit. Who’s the guy who God used the most in the book of Acts? Peter, who was the biggest screw-up. He embodied grace. That’s who he was.

It can be scary to approach and build relationships with people who are different from you, or, as you’ve experienced, to go into dangerous neighborhoods to reach them. How have you overcome those fears?

This is what I’m trying to get at in the book. I’m not weird. You know how you meet people who do crazy things, and it’s because they’re kind of off? I’m normal. And I think that about Paul. I don’t think Paul liked people very much before he was saved, and I’m not sure he was crazy about them afterward. But he said the love of Christ compelled him, and he gave Jesus the credit for that love that was driving him. He still wasn’t a people-person. It was Jesus’ love pouring out through him.

I feel this way. I’m an introvert, and I don’t naturally like people. But my gifting has forced me to be an extrovert. And what’s weird is that I feel love for people come on me, because it’s so different. I relate to Paul so much because he was so human. This is hopefully the biggest message of the book. This is what I want to come through more than anything: I’m not different from anyone else. I can tell all these stories and have people think I’m some gospel legend, but I’m just not. I don’t want to give that impression. I don’t think it helps motivate or mobilize others.

I think it’s helpful to read the words of Paul where he says, “Pray for me brothers, that I may be given boldness to speak the gospel boldly as I should.” And he prays that at the end of almost every single epistle. That was Paul’s default. That wasn’t the exception for Paul, like, “Hey, I’ve been going through a rough time and have been out of action.” Paul was saying constantly, “Pray for me.”

It’s the same with Gideon, with David. All these guys needed a supernatural boldness and a faith they didn’t naturally possess. But stepping out in risk is the practice of faith. That’s why Eleanor Roosevelt told people to do one thing today that scares you. As I’m stepping out to do something scary, I’m putting myself in a position where I need faith. And if I’m not doing that, then I don’t need God.

Order Peyton Jones’ new book, Reaching the Unreached, on Amazon.com »

Read an excerpt from Reaching the Unreached »

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.