How do we do this?
Teach Jesus. Jesus is the missing piece. Teach Jesus as our ultimate example, as our model, as who we were meant to be like.
John Howard Yoder demonstrates in The Politics of Jesus that every single reference to Jesus as an example is to his sacrifice, submission, suffering, or service. When Paul speaks of the benefits of being single in 1 Corinthians 7, he doesn’t mention that Jesus was single. When Paul speaks of “praying without ceasing,” again, Jesus would seem to be the obvious example, but Paul says no such thing.
Rather, read what the Scriptures say about what it means to truly follow Jesus —
(2Co 4:8-10 ESV) 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(Phi 3:8-11 ESV) the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(John 13:14-15 ESV) 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
(1Pe 2:21 ESV) 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
(1Jo 3:16 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
(John 13:34-35 ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(Rom 6:6-18 ESV) 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves [language of sacrifice!] to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
(2Co 13:4-6 ESV) 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.
(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Never, ever reinforce selfish behavior. Selfish requests cannot be honored. Therefore, they cannot be compromised or negotiated. They must be rebuked. (But carefully distinguish selfishness from genuine issues of conscience. Romans 14 hasn’t been repealed.)
Create an atmosphere in which selflessness is expected and encouraged.
Praise selflessness when you see it. Commend those who make Christ-like decisions. Hold up Jesus as the standard at every opportunity.
Make the mission foremost — far above preference, taste, and comfort. When there’s a disagreement, it’s resolved in terms of mission, not politics.
Set the example. The elders’ taste in music, architecture, and preacher are irrelevant. The elders have real authority but not for their own benefit. They must empty themselves first. Elders with a selfish agenda (or who represent a selfish segment of the church) must repent or resign.
Surrender power and insist that the members do the same.
(2Co 12:9-10 ESV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(1Co 2:5 ESV) 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Insist that your ministers and deacons and family group leaders do the same.
Elevate being Christlike far, far above Five Acts and the routine of church life.
Teach your congregation to take pride in submission — not as being better than other churches but make being submissive, sacrificial servants a conscious goal. Change your identity from the church that has its doctrine right to the church that imitates Jesus. Only then will you get your doctrine even close to right.
Rather than building your mission statement on Saddleback, build it on Jesus. It’s not the five things churches do. Drill deeper than “worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.” Make it more challenging: “die to self, live for Christ”; “sacrificially serving while submitting to God.” Something like that. (I admit I’m terrible at writing slogans.) Make it challenging. Make your mission transformative. “We love as Jesus loves”; “We’re generous because God is generous.”
Stop marketing to self-interest. You see, you become your advertising. If you market your church as a great place to get to heaven for cheap and easy, you’ll have members looking for the cheap and easy way to heaven.
If you market the benefits of membership — the great teen program, the dynamic worship — your church will be filled with consumers who act like, well, consumers. They’ll demand great service for a low, low price. And if they don’t get it at your Church-Mart, they’ll go to the church down the road to get a better bargain.
Why not try marketing the real Jesus — salvation that demands commitment?
(Mat 13:45-46 ESV) 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
We preach a gospel that will cost you everything — and it’s worth it. Imagine what your membership would be like if they’d been attracted to your congregation by that sales pitch! You might have fewer members, but what members you would have!