Pat Hood is the pastor of LifePoint Church just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. He recently published the book The Sending Church. He took some time to answer a few questions about his book and the experiences that caused him to write it. I think that all of us can learn from the journey that God has had Pat on and the leadership that he has developed in his life.
Philip: The title of your book is The Sending Church. Why did you pick that title?
Pat: Stats reveal that most churches are in a state of plateau or decline. Less than 20% of churches are growing and only 1% are growing from reaching lost people. The rest are growing by gaining people who are jumping from sinking churches.
I believe this reality exists because most people, both inside and outside the church, really have no clue why the church exists. Many on the outside have the impression that the church is outdated and irrelevant. Many on the inside look at the church in the same way they view a country club, a place to go and be served and have my needs met.
Yet, Jesus was very clear about the purpose of the church. Luke recorded Jesus’ last words to His disciples before He jetted back to heaven…
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8 ESV)
Matthew records Jesus commission to the church in Matthew 28:19-20.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:19-20 aren’t just for spiritual superstars; they give a picture of what should be normative for every believer and every church.
Every believer has been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and empowered to go be His witnesses in in every domain of life. So, every believer must GO and every church must SEND. So, I want to challenge churches to be just as passionate about sending people out as they are about getting people in.
You transitioned from a more traditional program-driven church to something different. Can you give us the quick history of that journey?
Not that long ago, the world seemed constant. People worked for the same company for 40 years and retired with their gold watch. Communication methods changes were so minimal that they were barely recognizable. People read the newspaper every morning and watched the evening news to get all the info they needed. Technology was used for 50 years. Now, technology becomes archaic in 2-5 years
So, an organization must change to simply survive, but who want to just survive? I think churches should thrive and that requires radical changes. I believe the number of churches that are in decline is accelerating rapidly because they aren’t willing to make the necessary changed to engage the world.
We made many changes along the way in order to pursue the mission of God. Our dress changed from suit and tie to jeans & flip flops. Our music changed from a piano and organ to a rock band.
I wish I could say that everybody embraced these changes as necessary to reach our cultural context, but many didn’t. As a result, we lost many people who were more concerned with what kind of shirt is on someone’s back than in what kind of sin is in their heart. We lost people that were more concerned about the style of our music than the passion of our worship.
As hard as these changes were, they were really surface changes. The hard changes aren’t in how we dress but in how we think, how we see and engage the world. That’s what happened in 2004 and that’s when things really got interesting.
I felt God leading me to call our church to fast for three days and meet together at night for a time or worship and prayer. I was concerned about how many people would show up because it was such a high level commitment. So, I was blown away when the church was packed every night with people who had been fasting and seeking God’s heart during the day and joining together to corporately seek Him through worship and prayer.
We entered this time of Sacred Gathering not knowing why or what God wanted to reveal to us but it became clear on the second night. All of the sudden, adults and families with good jobs and nice houses felt God directing them to give up everything and go to another culture and make God famous. All of the sudden, LifePoint was set ablaze with a passion for the glory of God among the nations.
One passage that God impressed upon our brains during this time is Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 ESV).
Many know the first part of the verse; “Be still and know that I am God…” We love it because it’s about us knowing God and we want to KNOW God. But, few, if any, even realize that it has a second part. There is a global implication to knowing God and it’s not about us. The global implication is, “…that I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted on earth.”
It was at this time that God really penetrated out hearts and minds with the realization that we didn’t just know God for our benefit, but for His benefit. He didn’t just save us so we could avoid hell; He saved us so we could go and tell. We came face to face with the reality that it wasn’t about us; it was about God. That changed everything.
Our passion was not longer to just reach a lot of people, but to send a lot of people. So, we had to change from being attractional to being missional. This means we were just as concerned about sending people out as we were bringing them in. We changed from being local to be glocal. This means we changed our name from a local identity tied a local community to a glocal identity. We changed from one church in one location to one church in many locations. Did everybody go with us? No! But, those who did are experiencing the joy of living for the heart and mission of God.
Today, what is the main ministry or focus of the church
Today, our main focus is making disciples and equipping the saints. That doesn’t sound earth shattering. It sounds like what you’d expect from any church. It’s actually what we said years ago. The difference is, we mean it.
For years, we wanted to be obedient to Jesus great commission to make disciples. But, the reality is, we were more concerned with making converts. Our focus was on getting more people in the church and getting them baptized.
We’re changing our culture now by changing our language from evangelism and discipleship to discipling toward Christ and discipling in Christ. Discipleship doesn’t begin with someone crosses the line of faith; it begins pre-conversion. Our goal isn’t to just get someone baptized; our goal is for them to become Christ-like and disciple other people as they live sent lives in every domain of life.
Many leaders know their church needs to change. What is do you think is the first step in getting the process going?
Obviously, the first step is focusing on prayer and the Word because you have to stay in alignment heart and will of God and prayer is key to this alignment.
I also think courage is huge. Dr. Ken Hubbard was a great example. He was the pastor before me and co-pastor with me for two years before he retired. He could have rode out the last four to five years of ministry in cruise control. But, he knew the heart of God and was more passionate about God’s fame the people’s desires. This gave him the courage to create an environment of change.
So, if you’re going to lead your church to change, you have to dedicate yourself to playing for an audience of one. When I stand before Jesus one day, I don’t think He’s going to praise me on how many people attended LifePoint. Numbers really don’t impress Him. He’s not going to reward me because I had a knack for keeping people happy. Sometimes, that the worst thing we can do. Jesus is going to reward me based on how faithful and obedient I was to His heart and mission. If you make Jesus happy, you will make people mad, but you’ll please the only one that really matters.
I also think pastors need to focus on preaching the gospel. I think most Christians think of the gospel in terms of salvation, and rightly so. But, it’s the gospel that also sustains us and motivates us. The gospel isn’t just for salvation; it’s also for sanctification.
Several years ago, I preached a lot of “How To” series; how to have a good marriage, how to be a good parent, how to manage your money, how to love your job, etc. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with preaching “How To” messages, but if this is the steady diet we give our people, I think they begin to see the gospel as making their life better, helping them achieve the American Dream.
So, I truly believe a commitment to preaching the Word & helping people understand the heart of God and the gospel on every page, filling every story, would help reclaim and embrace our mission as a sent people.
Has your view of recruiting the right staff changed over the years?
Great question! Absolutely! Previously, I looked for staff with high octane personality and ministry that had a proven track record of building and growing. I still look for staff with great vision, work ethic and a desire to advance God’s kingdom, but any new staff at LifePoint must also have a unquenchable passion for the global glory of God. He/she must be passionate about making disciples, not just converts.
Mission isn’t just a department at LifePoint; it’s the essence of who we are. So, any staff person in any ministry must be willing to lead people to be global Christians.
How do you maintain a focus on doing ministry and missions locally while focusing on the rest of the world?
Finding this balance is difficult, but necessary. Obviously, focusing on the international aspect of sending requires a lot of logistical organization and communication. We also organize local mission in the community, but we also want it to be organic. We want people to see the flow of life in the their affinity groups and domains as their mission field. So, we challenge our people to live sent lives every day in the world God has placed them in.
What do you hope people will learn from reading your book The Sending Church?
My biggest desire is that churches will Send and Christians will Live Sent. I want to challenge us to remember why the church exists. Jesus didn’t establish the church to be weak and defeated. He designed and empowered the church to be unstoppable.
We are not an anxious band of wounded warriors trying to hold our ground against an evil enemy. We are created to advance the mission of God. The churches that really get this cause the demons in Hell to literally shake in their boots.