Great Commandment or Great Commission — Must We Choose?

I’ve reached a distressing conclusion about the church in America—and I really hope you can prove me wrong. My premise is that there are only two kinds of churches  in our country: Great Commandment churches and Great Commission churches.

Which one of these is your  church?

A Great Commandment church points to the teaching of Jesus that LOVE is the greatest commandment. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and we must love each other as He has loved us. Sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it? Churches that emphasize the Great Commandment correctly point out that nothing  should be more important.

A Great Commission  church, in contrast, has a much different focus. Although it may pay lip service to things like “love” and “community,” its passion is to win the lost and reach the unchurched. Instead of focusing on the Lord’s greatest commandment, it emphasizes that “Jesus’ final request should be our highest priority.” Such churches point out that immediately before ascending into heaven, Jesus was urging His disciples to go into all the world to preach, make disciples, and be His witnesses (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).

So which of these two perspectives is right? Should we be a Great Commandment church or a Great Commission church?

Of course, this is a trick question. I remember the guy who asked me years ago whether I would rather have the FRUIT of the Spirit or the GIFTS of the Spirit. I answered that I would prefer to have BOTH—just like the early church did.

In the same way, it doesn’t seem like we should have to choose between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The Christians in the book of Acts clearly were full of love for one another. But they also  had a powerful outreach, and “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved”  (Acts 2:41-47). A pretty impressive combination, wasn’t it?

However, it’s not easy to find this kind of powerful combination in the American churches today. We have Great Commandment churches that inevitably become small and ingrown. Rarely do they win new converts or even attract new members among people who are already Christians. The demographic in most of the Great Commandment churches is getting older and older, with very few young people in the pipeline of leadership or church life.

Meanwhile, some of the Great Commission churches are growing by leaps and bounds. Almost overnight, some new churches have gone from a handful of people to a massive crowd of many thousands. But while these churches claim to have a vision beyond evangelism—producing real disciples and integrating them into a loving Christian community—rarely does this happen on a very deep level. Church attendees typically become spectators in an audience rather than functional members of a body. Can we really say that this is the Biblical model?

Few churches will admit that they’ve chosen between the Great Commandment and Great Commission. Years ago, I was the pastor of a church that had a wonderful mission statement: “Building together to reach out for Jesus.”  We placed a great value on creating an authentic community of Christians who loved each other and lived their lives together. According to our motto, we were developing these strong relationships in order to “reach out for Jesus.”

But as the years went by, our church increasingly focused on the first part of the mission statement and neglected the second. There were few converts, and the size of our church reached a plateau for several years. This troubled me. I wanted to be BOTH a Great Commandment church AND a Great Commission church. So I endeavored to make changes that would steer the church toward more outreach and growth.

So what were the results  of my effort to move our congregation toward being more of a Great Commission church? Frankly, the outcome was horrible, ultimately resulting in a devastating church split. (See if you’ve had a similar experience.) Because of our divisions, we no longer modeled either  the Great Commandment OR the Great Commission. To those hurt during this awful ordeal, I am deeply sorry. I meant well.

What do you think about all of this? Please tell me your thoughts on my premise about Great Commandment churches and Great Commission churches. I sincerely need your help in understanding this.

Do you have a church that truly models both  the Great Commandment and the Great Commission—not just in its mission statement, but in reality? Does your church truly win converts and equip them to be disciples and leaders in a healthy community of believers? If so, please give me your address so I can come and visit! We desperately need more churches like yours.



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3 Lessons From Fair-Weather Fans

After the Carolina Panthers’ 38-0 victory over the New York Giants in the third game of the 2013 season, it was easy for me to acknowledge that I am a fan. It was the Panthers’ biggest blowout victory in team history, after all.

However, things had been much different in the previous few weeks. The Panthers had blown leads in the fourth quarter of their first two games of the season, resulting in a disappointing 0-2 record and lots of angry fans.

Sports radio was full of calls from fans ready to fire coach Ron Rivera, and many even were wondering whether Cam Newton was truly fit to be the team’s franchise quarterback.

I’ll admit, I was one of these disgruntled fans. Just like the past few seasons, the Panthers were off to a terrible start, and their prospects for making the playoffs seemed bleak.

But something amazing happened after the 38-0 victory. Now the fickle fans were talking about the Panthers as a Super Bowl contender! How quickly perspectives can change.

The phenomenon of fair-weather fans offers us some valuable lessons for life and leadership:

      1. Successful leaders recognize that things are seldom as bad, or as good, as they seem.  Although the Panthers managed to lose their first two games, they really weren’t as bad as their 0-2 recorded indicated. And despite their huge 38-0 victory over the Giants, that doesn’t mean they’ve corrected all their problems and are ready for the Super Bowl.

      2. Successful leaders are able to see past the present moment.  In order to effectively lead any team or organization, the leader needs an “inner gyroscope”—an ability to maintain balance and perspective regardless of the immediate circumstances. They can’t afford to swing on a bipolar pendulum of lows and highs, depending on the organization’s defeats or victories. They can see past the failures to a coming day of success, and after every success they look for ways the team can excel still more.

      3. Successful leaders aren’t overly influenced by public opinion.  As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey one Sunday, the crowd enthusiastically greeted Him with shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  For some of us, that might have been the cause for quite an ego trip. But Jesus knew that, only a few days later, some of the same people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”

Yes, even the Son of God had fickle fans. Through it all, however, His inner gyroscope stayed in tack. Perhaps He called to mind the heavenly proclamation He had received from His Father at the Jordan River a few years earlier: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  When the voices on earth turn against us, we desperately need to hear that voice from heaven.

If you are a business leader, you’ve no doubt encountered fair-weather followers among your board or your investors. Even the great Steve Jobs was banished for several years from Apple—the company he created.

And as a former pastor I remember well the highs and lows of people’s approval or rejection. I had to learn the crucial skill of allowing the peace of Christ to rule in my heart as an inner gyroscope—whether people liked me that week, or whether they didn’t.

I wish I could tell you that all your fickle fans would have a permanent change of heart—especially after a 38-0 victory. But no, fans are fickle by nature. Only a few are loyal through thick and thin. There are many Sauls, but few Jonathans.

Yet I encourage you to find those few faithful friends. And in the meantime, cultivate your sensitivity to the inner gyroscope of God’s peace, regardless of what the crowd around you is saying.


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The Strange Case of Copycat Cities

Thanks to National Public Radio, I learned something new recently: China has spent billions of dollars constructing buildings—and even entire cities—to replicate some of the world’s most renowned architecture.

If you live in Beijing or Shanghai, you no longer have to travel to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, for there’s now a copycat version in your own country. If you’ve always wanted to visit Manhattan, you can see a replica nearby, complete with Rockefeller and Lincoln centers and even a Hudson River. And for those looking for something more serene, the gorgeous Austrian town of Hallstatt has been replicated in all its picturesque beauty.

In most Western cultures, people look down on you for being a copycat. Not so in China. They take pride  in their replicas, whether the replicas are of watches, electronics, missiles, or cities. Psychologically, it probably feels as if they have conquered  the objects they’ve recreated.

Personally, I would much rather visit the real  Eiffel Tower than see a cheap imitation. And I’ve never been very attracted to Rolex watch knockoffs, because I know there really is a difference between the real and the counterfeit.

If everyone followed the Chinese copycat philosophy, we would soon reach a point where nothing  was real. Creativity and innovation would be a thing of the past, because all we’d ever do would be to copy from one another. In such a world, Steve Jobs could never have created Apple, because there was nothing yet to copy. It’s as if he saw something unseen to model his products after.

But my biggest criticism of China’s copycat cities is this: The Chinese are seeking to copy the wrong things.  Sure, Paris and Manhattan are iconic places in the human scheme of things. Yet why not shoot for a higher  model these earthly places?

Here’s what I mean…

I think the Chinese ought to take some time to read Augustine of Hippo’s famous fifth-century book about the contrast between the City of God and the City of Man. While the well-intentioned Chinese builders are spending lots of time and money to duplicate the best architecture the world offers in the City of Man, a much better quest would be to reflect the heavenly city whose designer and builder is God”  (Hebrews 11:10 TLB).

Why try to copy each other and replicate earthly models, when our objective should be to model the kingdom of heaven? Yes, it’s certainly easier to reproduce Paris or Manhattan. But in the end, it’s much more rewarding to reflect God’s architecture instead of man’s.

However, before we’re too hard on the Chinese, we should all ask ourselves some hard questions: What are we  building? What model are we patterning our  lives around? Are we living for earthly things or for God’s eternal kingdom?

These questions are at the very heart of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Our prayers and our lives should reflect a glorious quest for His kingdom to come and His will to be done—modeling on earth what is already happening in heaven. In the end, that’s the only city worth replicating.

So go ahead and be a copycat. People shouldn’t have to go to heaven to see what it’s like. They should be able to look at your life and mine.


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The Problem With Zigzag Leadership

For years I believed a common myth about alligators. According to this popular misconception, alligators are so fast that they can outrun humans. So the only hope for someone chased by an alligator is to outsmart it by running in a zigzag.

       Although this all turns out to be hooey when it comes to alligators, I still love the premise: It’s hard to follow something that is zigzagging.

What a terrific leadership principle! The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Our word to you was not Yes and No”  (2 Corinthians 1:18). In contrast, many of our politicians and church leaders today struggle to give a straight answer on anything. They start with one line of reasoning, only to contradict it a few minutes or few days later. Just as an alligator has difficulty following a zigzagging human, it’s really hard to follow that kind of leadership.

Paul warned, “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”  (1 Corinthians 14:8) Vacillating leaders constantly waver in their message, never sticking to the same story. Their strategies and vision are always changing. Their moral values “evolve.” And none of this is any wonder, since their viewpoints are swayed by fads and opinion polls instead of being grounded in timeless truth.

Good leaders, in contrast, know what they believe and where they are going. Rather than being blown about by every cultural whim, they’re anchored to core values that they consistently apply, year after year.

Instead of being a zigzagger, Paul described himself as running a race, not hesitantly or aimlessly, but moving forward with clear direction toward the prize of God’s high calling (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 3:12-14).

One of the traits that made Paul an outstanding leader was his clear and unequivocal message. You never had to speculate about what he truly believed. Nor did his message change from day to day according to the latest Gallup poll.

People today are tired of wishy-washy, double-minded leaders. We live in perilous times (2 Timothy 3:1), and it’s more important than ever to be like the sons of Issachar—able to understand the times and communicate a clear vision of what people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).


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Barack Obama, World Parent

6 Parenting Principles We Can Learn from the Syria Dilemma

By all accounts, President Obama is an excellent dad to Malia and Sasha. That makes it puzzling that he has violated so many principles of good parenting in his recent efforts to deal with the Syrian civil war.

In all fairness, being a parent isn’t an easy job. Although you can learn the basic principles from countless books written on the subject, the hard part is execution. Most of us who are parents have violated our own parenting principles from time to time, partly because effective parenting is usually more about our character  than our competence or education.

Nevertheless, it’s important to review the principles of effective parenting from time to time, and they are displayed vividly in our President’s unfortunate miscues on Syria:

      1. You can’t be a parent to everyone.  The authority of parents is limited to dealing with their own children. It seldom works out well when you try to make someone else’s  child behave. After years of frustration in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people are wary about trying to now be the disciplinarian in Syria. We’re wondering whether the Syrians are truly our responsibility, either constitutionally or morally. Just as we can’t be the world’s Policeman, neither should we try to be the world’s Parent.

      2. Beware of ultimatums and “red lines” unless you’re committed to follow through.  President Obama painted himself into a corner on Syria when he warned of a “red line” that would be crossed if the regime used chemical weapons. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably given similar ultimatums to your children. “If you do _________, there will be consequences!” you warned. But as you’ve probably already discovered, your credibility is shot if you don’t follow through on your edict. Kids quickly learn to detect when their parents are merely bluffing. So be careful about drawing lines in the sand if you don’t intend to enforce them.

      3. Be sure of the facts. When kids get into a fight, it’s often difficult to be sure who started it. Perhaps you entered the room at the exact moment when one child threw a punch in self-defense, not realizing that the other  child actually started the fight and deserved greater punishment. Intervening in another country’s civil war is a lot like this. The facts get murky when each side blames the other for atrocities.

      4. Consequences must be swift. If your kids disobey on Monday, they should face consequences that begin on Monday. If they cleverly get you to delay for days or weeks, it’s a sure bet that nothing will ever be done. The Syrians, with the help of their ally Russia, have masterfully found a way to delay any consequences. This greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll never  face accountability for their actions.

      5. Beware of the “divide and conquer” ploy. Children throughout the centuries have realized they can get away with just about anything if they can get their parents to disagree. So they play one parent against the other. As a result of this trick, the parents end up fighting each other  instead of disciplining the child. In the same way, American foreign policy seldom goes well when we “go it alone.” There is strength in unity, and Syria could be dealt with much more effectively if the international community was united in the desired outcome. Likewise, a deeply divided Congress cannot hope to bring effective discipline into a complicated situation like Syria.

      6. Recognize that today’s rebellion is usually the harvest of seeds sown much earlier. Momentary disobedience by a child, if swiftly and firmly handled, is relatively easy to deal with. But discipline is much more difficult, if not impossible, when parents have allowed the rebellious attitudes and behavior to go unaddressed for many years. Syria, Iran, and other troubling international dilemmas did not become so messy overnight. By waiting until things reached the boiling point, we may have waited too long.

Let’s pray for President Obama to have wisdom in handling the difficult situations in Syria and around the world. And if you are still bringing up young children, I pray you  will have wisdom too.

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The Leader of the Free World

 But Who Is Really Following? 

    Ever since the end of World War II, the President of the United States has been acknowledged as “the leader of the Free World.” Although the Presidency has had many ups and downs during that period, no one could challenge the fact that America’s President was the primary spokesperson for all freedom-loving countries around the world.

But with the debate over Syria the past few weeks, an awkward truth has emerged: Hardly anyone is following the leader of the Free World anymore.

Despite lecturing both Congress and foreign leaders, President Obama has been unable to get support for a military strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. England, our staunchest ally, has refused to participate. Nor will NATO or the United Nations. Russia and China have been especially vehement in their opposition to the plan.

While President Obama has claimed he doesn’t need Congressional approval for his planned mission, it has been embarrassing to see how little support he has there, even among his own party. One Democratic Congresswoman admitted that the planned military venture into Syria is a terrible idea, but she said she would support it just to save the President from future humiliation.

In an effort to sell the Syria offensive to the American people, President Obama’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, have used arguments diametrically opposed to the positions they once held as Senators. Like the President, they have undermined their credibility by contradicting their passionate antiwar statements in the Senate.

In fairness to the President, his current lack of credibility is not entirely his fault. In addition to his own failure to explain the rationale for bombing Syria, he is reaping worldwide skepticism caused by America’s shortsighted ventures into Afghanistan and Iraq. This is reminiscent of how Gerald Ford struggled to restore respect to the Presidency after his predecessors brought us Vietnam and Watergate.

But it’s alarming when the leader of the Free World no longer can find anyone to follow him into battle. Critical leadership lessons are on display here, involving such principles as moral authority, credibility, and influence. And these lessons aren’t just about the Presidency—they apply to leaders on all levels and every sphere of life.

You may have an impressive title like President, governor, general, CEO, pope, pastor, bishop, financial advisor, or police officer. Yet, as someone once observed, “He who thinks he’s leading, when no one is following, is just taking a walk.” A corollary to this might be, “He who is ‘leading from behind’ will soon not lead anyone at all.”

So pray for President Obama. And ask yourself these questions about your own  leadership quotient: Who are YOU leading? Are they truly following?

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