People Are the End, Not the Means

Church planters need to have vision. They need to be able to see a future that doesn’t exist yet and call people into it.
But too often the vision becomes a “thing” that we use people to accomplish (rather than calling people to inhabit the vision). One of the greatest temptations you’ll face as a church planter is to use people to accomplish your vision.
People may go along with it for awhile, but eventually they’ll burn out, because they’ll intuitively realize that they’re being used. In a very subtle way, seeing people as tools to accomplish a good vision is at its core exploitative and dehumanizing.
[Tweet “One of the greatest temptations you’ll face as a church planter is to use people to accomplish your vision.”]

What Was Jesus’ Vision?

So what’s vision for? And how do we move toward it with people, instead of using them to build something? Part of the key is to realize that people are the vision.
This is something Jesus shows us in Matthew 9:35-38:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus had a vision (the kingdom of God is at hand), and his ministry was essentially:

  1. Proclaiming the good news of the availability of God’s kingdom,
  2. Demonstrating and embodying the kingdom of God through healing and exorcism, and
  3. Empowering people to live in the kingdom of God through his teaching.

Jesus’ Motivation: Compassion

But why did he do all this? “He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
His big vision was to bring these people into the kingdom of God right here and now. He wasn’t using people to accomplish his “kingdom agenda,” he realized that people were his kingdom agenda.
His compassion is what motivated him to proclaim, heal, and teach. So for Jesus, people are the vision.
Church planters, may it be the same with us! It’s so easy to forget this. It’s so easy to use people as cogs in a machine we’re building to… reach people (are you catching irony yet?)
[Tweet “His compassion is what motivated him to proclaim, heal, and teach. So for Jesus, people are the vision.”] Institutions, programs, events… by themselves, these things don’t reach people. They may be organizational and structural elements that are necessary, but at the end of the day, the only thing that reaches people is people.
People come to faith and grow in their faith through interpersonal interaction with other people. There’s no other way to do it. It’s not people vs your agenda. People are your agenda.

Jesus’ Method: Discipleship

Now, sometimes leaders do have this attitude toward “the crowds” but not toward the people who are already here. For example, it’s common to hear that “it’s about the people who aren’t here yet.”
But what about the people who are here now? Once someone crosses the line of faith, do we immediately assume our job is to use them to get more people to cross the line of faith?
I think we see how Jesus treats these kinds of people in the way he trains his disciples. He doesn’t use them to accomplish his vision. He doesn’t treat them like cogs in his machine.
Instead, he empowers them to do the exact same things he is doing. We see this immediately after the passage quoted above, in Matthew 10:1:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Notice Jesus is empowering his disciples to minister alongside him, he’s not using them to build a monument to himself. They weren’t just ushers and parking attendants for his preaching rallies. His entire ministry is one long emptying of himself on behalf of his friends.
Why? Because people are the vision, including the disciples.

People Are the Vision

So, from top to bottom, Jesus doesn’t use people to accomplish his vision. Instead, he empowers people because they are the vision.
Same for us church planters! Whatever stage you’re at in your church plant, your vision is to bring people into life in the kingdom of God. And that’s not just the “demographic” you feel called to reach. It includes your core team, your kids, your spouse.
No matter where you’re at and who you’re called to, you’re always empowering and developing people, because people are the vision.
[Tweet “You’re always empowering and developing people, because people are the vision.”]

An Exercise for Reflection:

The next time you feel frustrated at someone on your team for anything, it’s likely you’re trying to use them for something. So instead of just blaming them for your frustration, take a few moments to answer these questions:

  1. What exactly did you want them to do that they’re not doing?
  2. What’s at stake for you in whether they do this or not?
  3. How can you turn your attention instead to their needs? Are they harassed and helpless in some way? How can you cultivate compassion for them and move toward them with empowerment?


About the Author
Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke is an Anglican priest, church planter at The Table, leadership coach/consultant with Gravity Leadership, and also helps churches and nonprofits hone their messaging and cultivate their online presence with Lifesize Digital. He lives in the Indianapolis area with his wife Deb, their four kids, and a little dog named Edith.

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