I received a review copy of Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church by Bob Roberts, Jr. and have enjoyed the read. The book is a quick read and seems to be the life journey of a Southern Baptist pastor who has discovered a lot of things from traveling to other places in the world to observe what is going on outside Western Christianity.
Roberts calls us as Western pastors to make some shifts in mentality. It’s a good reminder for me because I struggle with these shifts and realities all the time. I’m not a “megachurch.” I don’t get “noticed.” I don’t have money. I haven’t written a book. Who pays attention anyway?
The book walks readers through Roberts’ observations from how churches outside the U.S. conduct themselves. The biggest takeaway here is this: the pastors aren’t the “heroes.” A church is successful if they are making disciples. People are far more empowered outside the U.S. We tend to go to bigger churches and allow the main speaker to be the one with knowledge and we sit and learn. Overseas, people are empowered and expected to lead. They may go to a church service on Sunday, but they are then empowered to lead small groups during the week.
It’s not about excellent church services on Sunday that draw people in. It’s about taking Sunday to celebrate the wins of what has happened all week long in the lives of disciples. Worship services can be “good,” but they won’t be the show we’ve come to expect in our Sunday American church experience.
A great challenge for me from this book is the expectation of multiplication. When Roberts’ church plants another church, there is an expectation that the new church will immediately begin thinking of planting another church. It doesn’t matter the size! He has had a church of 60 start other churches. There is a sense of mission. There is a sense of release.
The book is a “manual” of how things were being accomplished in Roberts church and ministry, but it is also the story of how a Southern Baptist pastor grew into understanding more about the Church, the power of the Spirit, and how to take the very fundamentals of Books of Acts faith and get it back into his own life. It is a refreshing reminder.
There is a need to equip people and launch them into ministry. It happens with such speed and ease overseas. In the U.S., with all our resources, we are so much slower to release people into ministry. We want them to just like us.
One of the big things we’ve done in the American Church over the past few years has been multisite churches. Several years ago one pastor doing multisite services was very plain as to his reason. HE was the teacher. Others could run the specific local sites as “pastors” during the week, but no one was quite to his caliber in teaching ability. That may sum up best the key flaw in multisite churches.
Multisite churches are “successful.” In our American measurements, they are wildly successful. Yet… they are not releasing gifts. It is saying to others, “You may be called, but can you teach like me? I don’t think so!”
I love teaching and preaching the Word. But even in our small church I’ve released that to other gifted teachers so people hear more than my voice. Plus, as we launch other churches, there are gifted teachers ready to go. It’s a hard thing for me, because I love teaching the Word!
Roberts invites us to a mess. A mess of engaging the culture. A mess of empowering others to teach and lead and sing worship songs even if they aren’t “trained” enough. He gives the invitation because he has watched the church around the world engage even hostile environments and seen the church thrive. It’s time for that to happen in the American church.