How do people of faith effectively influence a nation for the benefit of all? When militaries are strong, but politicians seem impotent; when emperors and dictators rule, and change seems impossible; when civil disobedience, moral decay, and corruption dominate newsfeeds—how is it that those with spiritual convictions can make a difference? How is it, in a world frequently described as leaderless, that a religious leader, Pope Francis, can become a major spokesperson for global warming—influencing the attitudes and worldviews of billions, inside and outside of Catholicism?
My call to ministry, through a football injury in high school, surprised everyone who knew me, including me. I followed the prescribed path of my Lutheran denomination—four years of college, followed by four years of seminary. My training was great in Bible knowledge, and almost entirely absent from my greatest passion: how can I share this faith that turned my life around? After seminary, I needed more, so I stayed for graduate school—three intensive years and a PhD in Theology—and I still didn’t get the practical fuel for the fire in my heart.
My first placement in ministry was a large, dying church in the inner city of Detroit. In the ten years before my arrival, the congregation had declined in worship attendance by 67 percent. I thought, “Do they need a pastor or an undertaker?” The congregants were older, and many had fled to the suburbs, making the weekly worship journey to the church in what they called the “old neighborhood.”
My wife and I lived in the home owned by the congregation, right behind the church. We soon discovered the “old neighborhood,” for my all-white congregation was a “new neighborhood” for the young black families who were our neighbors. I was perplexed, “Why can’t my church people share the love of God with those who bought their homes?” This dilemma was the beginning of a thirty-five-year journey to this book.
Anger, discouragement, and frustration overwhelmed me. One day, in what I consider an act of God, a brochure came across my desk. It was material from Fuller Theological Seminary. What caught my interest was the Doctor of Ministry program for busy pastors, which included education, two intensive weeks at a time, preceded by selected reading, and followed by a paper on what the student will do in his church, based on what he learned. I was most captivated by the statement, “Fuller is one of the largest mission schools in the world.” My worldview was reshaped. I thought, “I’ve never been trained to be a missionary, and I’m here, in Detroit, on a mission field.” Three years later, even before I finished at Fuller, the biblical strategies we were using in my church were working. My people were changing. We were effectively reaching our neighbors—our church was growing, and our people experienced spiritual fulfillment at the highest level ever. So did I.
The journey God had in mind led me to start Church Doctor Ministries, a platform for writing, teaching, and consulting churches. It also led me, a few years later, to a very different, but equally devastated, rural church in Indiana, which God also turned around through mission strategies.
Our colleagues and Church Doctor consultants have helped hundreds of churches in North America and have trained church leaders in teaching events on six continents. My passion for breakthrough-level change gave me holy discontent. “We help churches, but not enough,” I felt. This led my colleague Tracee and me to study the movement in England for ten days each year for the last fifteen years. In the spiritual cycle, England is about twenty years ahead of the United States. Each year, we took church leaders with us, to expose them to the revival-level impact in scattered churches throughout England.
During these fifteen years, we began to focus on the causative side of how churches influence their communities in ways that lives are changed. I studied the Scripture, from cover to cover, verse by verse, through the lens of Christian impact on others. I looked at the early church in the context of Rome. Armies could not defeat the Roman Empire, but it disintegrated through moral dry rot from the inside. In this context, the New Testament church movement was launched, and within a relatively short time in history, Emperor Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian.
Meanwhile, Church Doctor Ministries had the opportunity to work with church leaders experiencing flashpoints of revival in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, during the change from Apartheid. We worked with young evangelical churches in the former Soviet Union, during the unraveling of communism—a great movement toward faith. We also worked with Christian faith movements in South America, particularly the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin. Our focus was persistent—what happens among Christians in churches when they “wake up” and influence their area of the world? What barriers are removed that allow God to move in extraordinary ways?
The breakthrough discovery surprised us as much as anyone: so simple, yet so profound; so doable, yet so rarely practiced by Christians. We field-tested and measured the “Fruits of Faith,” results of spiritual growth. We worked with churches across the U.S. for ten years, adjusting, learning, growing in our desire to help churches experience breakthrough.
I wrote this book, with great help from my colleague Tracee, to share what the Church Doctor team has discovered, and to provide a plan for those churches who want to be a greater part of what God does to impact communities and nations. When things are at their worst, Christians are at their best.
I wrote this book because my country is in moral crisis with millions mired in massive hopelessness. I wrote this book because my country is a reflection of mighty Rome in fallen ashes. I wrote this book because with the passing of every day, every newscast, more of my fellow citizens are asking questions at a much deeper level, questions for which the church Jesus founded has profound answers. Resurrecting a nation is an inside job. That is why I wrote this book.
I am committed to contributing to a reversal in the trend of decline of the Christian church, particularly in North America. The church is God’s mechanism for changing the world. The church, the local church, as Bill Hybels says, when it does what God has called it to do, and does it right, is the greatest mechanism for change in the universe. I am committed to helping the local church, one church at a time. However, the end goal is not that church. It is one church after another until a momentum is formed, a momentum that will provide influence on other churches—and then a movement is formed. My call from God is to do this. I am prepared to make the sacrifice, and I am committed to the process. By God’s grace, this will be accomplished, or I will die trying. Either way, I die fulfilled. My nation, on my watch, will not go down the toilet.
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