We have radically misunderstood the purpose of the church—and the Gideon principle is the shock it needs.
Pastors, quit getting excited when your church grows in number.
Quit getting depressed when it declines in number.
Quit selling your soul to compel people to join you on Sunday mornings.
Numeric church growth is not the goal—mission completion is—and the people you are wooing just may be your downfall.
CHURCH AS WE KNOW IT
As one who has planted two churches and spent many years in church leadership, both as a staff pastor and senior leader, I have had a front row seat to the American church reality. There’s much that has been absolutely amazing and much that is radically disappointing.
Church as we know it, however, doesn’t take years of leadership experience to analyze. It’s simple: we gather together once or twice a week and worship a little and pray a little (usually very little) and listen to teaching. After saying hi to friends and small talking with others we head out into our world until next week.
Pastors are heroes, in my opinion. Superheroes in fact. However, even mighty men and women of God must step back at times and truly analyze their motives and ministries. I suggest part of that analysis must include reckoning with an unhealthy desire to see the church grow numerically. Pastors tend to get weighted down when the seats are empty, and then, miraculously, they perk up and have an extra jump in their step when the roar of the crowd is louder. It’s human nature. Unfortunately, it’s human nature that is threatening the church and the lives of people it’s called to impact. We need to adopt supernatural wisdom as we move into the next generation of the church.
THE DEEP, THE SHALLOWS AND THE SAND
I shared a prophetic word at a city pastor’s gathering in Detroit several years ago. I don’t believe it was received well as most remained silent after I shared it and then they moved on to other business. I do believe it was the Lord, however. It was a word of warning and a strategic call.
I saw an ocean beach on a sunny day. There were many people on the sand, a good number splashing in the shallows and a handful of people swimming in deeper waters.
Those who were on the sand were mostly happy building sand castles, tanning and enjoying the afternoon sun as the cool mist from the crashing waves blew over them. Some were curious about the water and even took off their sandals and walked where the waves met the sand. Others would slowly venture out and start splashing in the shallows, but most were satisfied just where they were.
The people in the shallows were having a good time. They were together, jumping, splashing and swimming. They were in waist high water and were able to stand on the sandy bottom. They were also satisfied.
I then looked out at the small number of people who were in the deep. They couldn’t stand as the water was well over their heads. They were so hungry to explore the wide-open seas. It made no sense to them why anybody would be satisfied experiencing so little. However, these people had nobody to lead them into the deeper waters. You see, the people on the sand, in the shallows and in the deep all represented a single local church.
What I saw next brought clear, obvious revelation to the situation.
I saw a man, the pastor, in khaki pants, a dress shirt and a tie. His shoes were off and his pant legs were rolled up. He had one foot in the water and the other on the sand. He was not dressed for the deep. In fact, he wasn’t dressed for the shallows or the sand either. He determined to remain anchored between the sand and the shallows where the majority of the people were, yet unable to really reach any of them.
The pastor was under great stress as he would look upon those on the sand, then those in the shallows and he’d then squint as he saw those who were drifting out to sea. His eyes continually darted between the three groups, attempting to maintain some sort of control over the spiritually diverse congregation. However, he couldn’t. Those in the deep became a nuisance. He found it easier to allow them to go and to focus on the sand and the shallows. He
knew those in the low water would not go deeper and those on the sand were safe, and maybe, some day, they would jump in and splash around with the others.
3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. Ezekiel 47:3-6 (ESV)
9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Ezekiel 47:9 (ESV)
26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:26-27 (ESV)
THE CALL TO THE DEEP
I believe the strategy of the church must radically change. The pastor, the leader, must be in the deep ahead of the people. The priests are called to step into the waters and to lead people into miraculous situations.
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Joshua 3:14-16 (ESV)
The evangelists are called to minister to those on the sand. Prophets can call them into the waters. The local church’s apostolic leaders must focus on the deep, calling people to advance into impossible waters as they seek to encounter the wonders of God and to take new ground. They announce the need to live consecrated lives as they prepare for God to move in power.
5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” Joshua 3:5 (ESV)
Seeker churches are well known for focusing on the people on the sand. The beach goers have been affirmed in their position by this regrettable church movement. Further, the poison of seeker ministries has soaked into the soil of the greater American church foundation. Today, most churches may not identify as seeker sensitive, but seeker principles are adopted and adapted to fit their local expression in hopes of attracting the very same sand dwellers and shallow splashers. Those yearning for the deep are minimized and ignored—often because of the pastor’s own lack of depth—and commonly because of the pastor’s devotion to growing a larger church.
THE GIDEON CHURCH GROWTH PRINCIPLE
Churches have too many people, or at least they have the wrong people. Church missions have been compromised.
Please understand, I do believe in numeric church growth. We see in Scripture how thousands were added. I believe we’ll see stadiums filled with Christians interceding and contending for revival. The harvest will come in. There absolutely are and will continue to be anointed, surrendered leaders who have been graced to lead large numbers without compromise. There are “churches of the deep” that are diving into unseen realms and growing mighty disciples. In fact, if given a choice, I’d rather attend a large church like this than a small group of unified zealots—though I do value both.
With that in mind, most churches and pastors will benefit from applying the Gideon principle, though it will be scary, painful and humbling. Death to self, rejection of selfish ambition and mighty faith are required. I believe God is about to invite leaders into divine wrestling matches as they renounce their fabricated and confused identities and adopt their divine callings and discover their identities in Christ instead of success.
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:12-13 (ESV)
God also believes his pastors and leaders are heroes. He addressed Gideon, a leader who had yet to step into that identity, as a mighty man of valor. It would do us well to honor God’s men and women in the same way. While many will reject the call of God to shift, some will hit their spiritual rock bottom and cry out from their caves of desperation. God is raising up warriors like this, and we should celebrate the process.
Whenever we are out of sync with God a common complaint will be, “God, where were you? Why have you forsaken us?”
Today pastors are gazing up into the heavens wondering why God isn’t bringing growth. Where is he? Why is his presence so rare in their local church? What is going on?
This is a good prayer as long as we are ready for God’s reply.
14 And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” Judges 6:14 (ESV)
Go in might. I have sent you. That’s God’s reply.
15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” Judges 6:15-16 (ESV)
If we allow God to truly search our hearts, this is where the divine wrestling match begins. We may honestly feel unworthy, unprepared, weak and the least of all. What a contrast to God’s identifying decree: You are a mighty man of valor, I will be with you and you will be victorious—but the victory depends on radical surrender and wild faith. Pastor, will you allow this Gideon principle to take over your church and your life?
The process included Gideon seeking God, looking for confirmation, hearing his voice, discovering his new identity and emerging as a true leader. It would do us well to cry out for a similar process to initiate in our own lives.
EMERGING JERUBBAAL LEADERS: DESTROYING ALTARS AND ADVANCING IN VICTORY
25 That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here…Judges 6:25-26 (ESV)
The next step is critical. We must destroy altars of old. We must differentiate between God-given mantles and God-opposed altars. God absolutely will grace us with the water from the wells that our fathers and their fathers dug years ago. There are mantles and rich, godly traditions that have eternal value. However, there are unholy altars that have become normal in the church today that must be torn down. Traditions of man, selfish ambition, the pursuit of notoriety, becoming drunk on money and pride must be crushed. Annihilated.
28 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar. Judges 6:28-32 (ESV)
Are you ready to be renamed? Are you an emerging Jerubbaal? When we tear down ungodly altars, we step into a promotion in the spirit. We will be known as one who has stared evil in the eye and is unafraid at the threat of demonic backlash.
When we have proven ourselves to possess the obedience and fearlessness necessary to stand against the prevailing religious culture of the day by tearing down altars that so many hold so dear, we will be ready to advance in the mission—by allowing most people to leave.
THE PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH MAY BE HINDERING YOUR MISSION
Remember, we are called to leave the sand, to leave the shallows and to lead into the deep. Most people will not remain when you allow God to shift your church into a “deeper water” ministry. Your mission requires the right laborers be with you and those who are resistant to be let go. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them. It means we understand those who leave will pale in comparison with those will be set free through our obedience.
2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. Judges 7:2-3 (ESV)
Pastor, when you cast this renewed vision of going into the deep, most in your church will, most likely, be afraid of such a venture. It will not be what they signed up for. They wanted you to occasionally wave at them as they soaked up the sun on their beach blankets. They wanted you to splash with them if they ever decided to test the shallows. This new, awakened leader will be an irritant to them. Most will leave. That’s okay. The mission is for all who are fearless and surrendered to Jesus. The choice is theirs. If Gideon would have refused this filtering process, the entire camp would have been decimated. The enemy is ready to decimate our churches too. We need Jerubbaal to emerge and lead with the mysterious, illogical wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” Judges 7:4 (ESV)
6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7 And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” Judges 7:6-7 (ESV)
God knew who was needed to get the job done. 300 out of 32,000, less than one percent, were called as the church, the Ekklesia, a governmental people with determined unity and a fearless disposition, to rout the enemy.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL CALL
The result of applying the Gideon principle for church growth will most probably result in an extreme decrease in numbers but a supernatural increase in power.
An unconventional man, Gideon, was called.
An unconventional army, only 300 in number, was gathered.
An unconventional method, banging jars and shouting, was used.
The result was glorious victory.
20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. Judges 7:20-22 (ESV)
ACCUSATION WILL COME
I’ll conclude this article with a key point that could easily have been ignored.
1 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. Judges 8:1 (ESV)
When God calls you to destroy religious altars, and to advance mostly alone in your region, you will absolutely be accused by other pastors and leaders. Who are you, after all, to presume you know what should be done in the city? Your answer? You are Jerubbaal.
While I appreciate it when pastors in a city meet together and attempt to unify and support one another, it’s rare for them to truly promote revival in a region. The reason? They presume their efforts to affirm one another and support one another are the goal. It’s satisfying. Somehow, unifying around this low level commitment feels spiritual. It’s nice, but it can be threatening to the greater mission. When God calls you to tear down altars they have built, or that their fathers have built, then what? When God calls you to advance in the city without them (due to their own choice), with a small army of radicals, how will they respond? Many will accuse.
This doesn’t mean, by any means, that we go rogue and function in an independent, rebellious spirit. God will crush that fast. He resists the proud. God will, however, awaken key people to do what few others will, and what most will flatly reject. This Jerubbaal leader will threaten religious structures. Their humble surrender and bold resolve to obey their God at every turn will threaten those who have their religious culture carefully defined.
Who are you? What is your identity? You are a mighty man of valor. God is inviting you as a Jerubbaal. He will rally an army around you to assault the enemy and to advance the Kingdom of God. Those who leave, and those leaders who aren’t consulted, will most certainly accuse you.
That’s okay. Go in this spirit of Jerubbaal and see God move in some of the most remarkable signs, wonders and miracles the world has ever known. You are invited, mighty man of valor, to be an instrument in God’s hands in a dark and desperate world. This hour is yours.