Advance Magazine
Summer 2024

Priorities of Servant-Sending Churches: A two-part article by Dr. Patrick Odle

One of the greatest joys of local church ministry is seeing God call church members to serve Him in Great Commission ministry—people who have sensed a call of God that has been recognized by their local church. Sadly, this joy is less common in our churches as fewer people are following God’s call to ministry.

If you ask mission agency leaders in our circles, you would find that most agencies are seeing fewer and fewer join their ranks for missionary service. The same can be said about pastoral ministry. A Bible college president told me that his college had far more requests for pastoral graduates than they are graduating. These trends are alarming! We might assume the problem lies with the Bible colleges, seminaries, and mission agencies, but the responsibility is rooted elsewhere: in the churches.

Agencies don’t disciple or send missionaries. Agencies assist local churches. Spiritually vibrant and biblically purposeful churches will disciple, recognize, and send out called servants of the Lord. God wants local churches to train and equip His servants. If your church wants to be used by God to send out people to fulfill the Great Commission, what must be of utmost importance to you? Consider seven priorities.

Priority #1
Balancing Biblical Evangelism

Acts 1:8 states, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That is balanced, biblical evangelism, and it is balanced in at least two ways.

First, reaching people with the gospel is a local priority, not just a global one. It is much easier to send money and people across the globe than for a church to go across the street and reach their own community. But a church that doesn’t take the gospel across the street won’t produce people who will take the gospel around the world.

Second, a truly balanced church sees evangelism as a personal responsibility, not just the pastor’s responsibility. In reality, evangelism is every believer sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as they live out their lives in their workplaces or neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, the Bible says that we owe it to people to share the gospel—Romans 1:14. David Platt put it this way, “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every unsaved person this side of hell.”

A few years ago, Lifeway Research published a study that stated only twenty percent of American churches are growing. And of these churches, only one percent are growing because they are reaching lost people. You know what that means? Most church growth is simply shuffling Christians around. Biblical conversion growth is when unbelievers are coming to faith in Christ and following the Lord in believer’s baptism.

Recently, I spoke with a ministry leader who provides direction and counsel to a state fellowship of churches. As he visits and helps these local churches, he regularly asks a very penetrating and important question: “When was the last time you saw an adult trust Christ as Savior, get baptized, and join your church?” Guess what the two most common answers have been: “We can’t remember the last time that happened,” or “It has been a long time!” We must take seriously the responsibility of reaching souls if we ever expect that burden to be caught by others who will be passionate about taking the gospel across the street and around the world. Biblically balanced evangelism must be priority one!

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Priority #2
Training Rather than Entertaining

Notice what Ephesians 4:11 says: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” For what? “For the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

The pastor’s job is to work himself out of a job as he equips the saints to do ministry. Someone put it this way, “I left the ministry when I became a pastor.” Pastors are not the sole ministers—every person in the church is a minister. Through the pastors’ preaching and teaching of God’s Word, a servant-sending church is all about equipping: training rather than entertaining. This is especially important when working with youth. Youth ministry models that are entertainment-oriented may produce numbers that make them look successful. In the long run, they will not be if they lack a biblical philosophy of ministry that teaches and trains teens to serve the Lord with the rest of their lives.

As a former youth pastor, I have seen the latter training model bear amazing fruit. The teen mission teams we led were great proving grounds for ministry training. Interestingly, almost every teen that went on those trips is still serving the Lord 20-25 years later! Some are pastors, others are deacons, and almost all are actively serving in their local churches. That starkly contrasts with the statistics that about two-thirds of teens today abandon the faith. A servant-sending church will train all its members to serve the Lord, especially the next generation.

Priority #3
Praying For Harvest Laborers

In Matthew 9:36-38, we are told to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus didn’t simply tell them to go? Maybe it was because when we pray about something long and hard enough, we sometimes become the answer to our own prayers. Warren Wiersbe put it this way, “When we pray as He commanded we will see what He saw, feel what He felt, and do what He did.” All of us pray for what is important to us. Is praying for harvest laborers near the top of your list?

What if we prayed persistently and passionately for a missionary to get into a region of the world where the gospel is not proclaimed? What if we prayed as diligently and persistently for such a missionary as we pray for someone to get out of the hospital or to get out of some other illness or struggle? I wonder if we don’t pray the Lord of the hospital more than we pray the Lord of the harvest! That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pray for sick people, but God is pretty specific when He tells us, “Pray the Lord of the harvest.” Churches that are servant-sending churches are churches that are consistently, passionately, and intentionally praying for more harvest laborers. Is that an important prayer in your life?

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Priority #4
Surrendering to the Will of God

When I was a teenager, it seemed like every other youth rally featured a sermon from Romans 12:1-2. I cut my spiritual teeth on “surrender messages.” Unfortunately, as a youth pastor I decided I wasn’t going to preach from Romans 12:1-2, thinking that every teen had already heard too many messages on surrender. Eventually, God began to convict me about my wrong thinking. I started to read about the shortage of people being sent into ministry, and I realized that I was a part of the problem!

The heart of the text is the command to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Living sacrifices have no will of their own. Surrender is saying to God, “I will do whatever You want me to do with my life.” I can’t help but wonder if that’s not part of the problem today. So few people are willing to say that to God. It is amazing to me—our world is teeming with eight billion souls, yet the gospel appears to be losing ground in many places.

Is the problem that God is calling fewer people or that fewer people are surrendering to the call? Churches that are used by God to send servants are churches where surrender is preached from the pulpit and practiced in the pew. Is that true of your church? More importantly, are you truly surrendered?

Dr. Odle has more to share—read Part 2 in the Fall 2024 issue of Advance magazine.

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