Life Ministry

From Shepherding to Spreading


For Carly and me, our call to ministry came long ago. Before marrying, we both sensed that the best hours of our days and weeks would be devoted to introducing people to Jesus and equipping them in their faith. We’ve been doing that in various ways for all of our seven years of marriage.

For the most part, ours has been a shepherding kind of ministry. We’ve led small groups, taught classes, led in youth ministry, and for the past three and a half years, I’ve been a pastor.

Yet we sensed Jesus moving us to shift focus. Last spring, when Carly and I contemplated a change from my current role as a pastor, our greatest desire was to be more engaged with people who were either unreached or unengaged with the gospel. That was perhaps the single greatest reason we became missionaries with Cru. I’ve tried to communicate it this way: we are moving from shepherding work to spreading work.

Now, what does one do when they sense a call from the Lord to a new role in ministry? Google it, of course. I followed suit and searched for “transition from pastor to missionary.” Do you know what I found?

Not a whole lot.

I’m not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps a little encouragement or guidance as to how to navigate these transition waters. But evidently, this is uncommon in our context. Growing up in North America and even while a pastor in a North American context, I was convinced that pastoring was the most distinguished, important part of Christian work. A quick scan of the current Evangelical landscape proves this. How many celebrity pastors can you name? How about celebrity missionaries? Even more, how often are pastors expected to do the work of shepherd and teacher and missionary (and eventually burn out)? Far too often, unfortunately.

Yet when I look at the Scriptures, what I see is that there are leaders in the church who shepherd the flock and there are others who spread the gospel among those outside the flock, in hope that they become a part of the flock. It takes a diversity of gifts and calling, multiple kinds of leaders.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is one passage that speaks to this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Not only shepherds and teachers (i.e. pastors), but apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In order for the gospel to go out people need to go out from local congregations to broadly spread the seed of the gospel and bring in a harvest of people whom God is drawing to himself. Then, churches get planted, more shepherds are raised up, and more missionaries are sent out. This is how God has designed his church to function. This is how it must function if we want to reach every tribe, nation, people, and language.

As Carly and I leaned into this clear biblical truth, God calling us to spreading-type work became clear. What a joy it was and has been for us to discover! Personally, it’s been so freeing discover I don’t need to be suck in a “pastor or bust” mentality when it comes to full-time Christian service. Spreading is not better or worse than shepherding. Both are essential. Spreading is simply what we are called to do. I think I speak for both Carly and me when I say that I can’t think of doing anything else with our life together.


Ministry Theology

God’s Glory-Sharing

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon called “Jesus’ Missionary Prayer” from John 17. Here’s a snippet:

So because God is complete in his Trinitarian love and glory-sharing, the reason we exist cannot be because God needs us to love and glorify him. The reason for mission cannot be that he needs us to find more people to love him, as if he lacked love. He already has that in himself. The only possibility is that God wants to share his glory with men and women so that we might be filled and complete as we behold his glory. Carly and I did not want to have children to fill a void in our marriage. We wanted to have children to share the love we have for each other. We didn’t need more love, we wanted to spread love so that our kids might know something of it. Listen to Jesus in vv. 22-24:

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

So, again, let me reiterate that the great goal of mission is that people will behold and experience the glory of God.

But there’s a problem. We have exchanged the glory of God for lesser glories. Money, relationships, power, control, recognition, achievement, or a thousand other things. We want glory in places where glory is menial and temporal.

So we have no right to this glorious divine community—unless, of course, one of the members of the community is cast out to make room for us. And that’s what happened to Jesus on the cross. The cross was his mission—that’s the whole context of this prayer. In v. 1 when he says that his “hour has come,” it’s a term Jesus uses repeatedly throughout John to refer to his appointment with death. The crucifixion has arrived, and Jesus is going to put his glory aside and, in a sense, revolve around us. He is going to willingly step out of sweet fellowship with the Father so that we might be welcomed in and share in God’s glory. But not because God needs us, but because we will never be complete without God.

Listen to the whole sermon.


Are you on mission for Jesus?

During the last week, I have felt a greater sense of being on mission for God’s kingdom. I won’t give all the details (it’s not like my whole life has been upended) but God has been so gracious to change some attitudes and perspectives — and that does make a world of difference.

So whether you are a businessman, a pastor, a retired grandfather, a stay at home mom, or a thousand other things, how are striving to be on mission for Jesus?  What are some practical things you have done or can do to influence people with the gospel?