So far we have talked about the relational, transformational, and accountability principles found in effective disciple-making churches. In this article, I will discuss the Self-Sacrificing principle. A disciple-making church places more emphasis on reaching the lost than on ministering to the saved. They know that if both are equally emphasized, human nature will, over time, lead us to place greater time, energy, and resources on ministering to those who are already gathered.
Two old clichés come to mind at this point: “Out of sight, out of mind,” and “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Disciple-making churches are willing to sacrifice self-needs (and desires) for the purpose of ministering to the lost. They are constantly asking, who is not at the table? Another way to talk about these churches is that they have a burden and a passion to see the broken world around them impacted positively by the Gospel of Jesus Christ—they are unapologetically evangelistic in the right kind of way. They do not primarily use “hit and run” or “catch and release” evangelism, but rather they focus on relational evangelism models.
Paul understood the self-sacrificing nature of effective ministry. He was transformed by an encounter with our living Lord on his way to Damascus. His trip there was to be another attempt to purify and purge Judaism from the heretical teaching of a sect called the Way. But instead of forcing others to sacrifice their belief that the Messiah had come, Paul accepted a life full of sacrifices in order to tell the world that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. He records some of them in II Corinthians 11:22-29 where he is defending his apostleship.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Paul’s model for self-sacrifice was the Messiah, and he wrote about it in Philippians 2:5-8. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”
But Jesus modeled self-sacrifice long before He climbed up Mt. Calvary. In John 4:4-6, we are told that Jesus “needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” It was mid-day and Jesus was physically tired as He was hurrying to get back to Galilee after His preaching, teaching, and ministering trip to Jerusalem. Every pastor can tell you how physically exhausting it can be as you complete one preaching assignment and hurry to the next. Jesus was resting near the well and no one would have been surprised if He had taken a pass on engaging a stranger in conversation. But that’s exactly what Jesus did: “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”
And there was no one more startled than the Samaritan woman when Jesus spoke to her. His simple request for a drink of water instantly turned into a cultural and religious debate. Just what a tired preacher is looking for—NOT! Because He was willing to sacrifice His personal time of rest, a mini-revival broke out. You know how the story ends: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’” (4:39-42)
Several years ago I was the member of a church in Sioux City, IA. After a conversation with Larry Lewis who was then President of the Home Mission Board and in town for the state convention meeting the church hosted, the pastor began to research the church’s history. Dr. Lewis told him that while he was a college student, the Missouri mission team he was on spent the night in Sioux City while en route to Canada. What stood out to Dr. Lewis was that they didn’t stay in a church building, as was their custom, because there wasn’t an SBC church in the area. After he returned home he told several people that an SBC church needed to be planted in Sioux City.
As the Sioux City pastor read about the early days of the church, he discovered how the Missouri Baptist Convention helped them get a loan to build their building. He learned that the formal sponsoring church purchased new office furniture and equipment and new pews for their building. When the new church plant struggled after the Air Force base closed in Sioux City, the sponsor church paid the mortgage until they could get back on their feet. When the pastor had an opportunity to stop by the sponsoring church to say “Thank You,” he was humbled by the sacrificial way in which a church in a small Missouri town of Centralia (less than 4,500) had supported not only the Sioux City church (metro area of 120,000), but several other churches as well. Their office furniture, equipment, and pews were not nearly as nice and new as the ones they purchased for the new church. Only God knows the eternal impact that FBC Centralia, MO has made in the last fifty years.
Just like “The Son of Man [came] to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), so we too are called to make disciples wherever God directs our lives by living and sharing the Gospel with them, baptizing those who humbly receive His free gift, and teaching them to obey all things that God has commanded of us. In a nation consumed with seeking things and finding personal pleasures, we are called to be in our world, but not be of our world. Standing up for God and standing apart from secular culture is requiring greater sacrifice with each passing year.
Being a comfortable Christian is not part of our calling. What sacrifices have you made in the last month so that someone else would have the opportunity to know Christ or to grow in their knowledge and obedience to Him?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.