Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly outline a three-step process culminating in the wholesale transformation of believers. It begins with knowledge (about the Lord), followed by revelations (from the Lord), and ends in surrender (to the Lord). Our favorite Bible stories and studies depict that process in the lives of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Paul, Peter, Thomas, and John. Nearly all pastors envision fostering that kind of transformation in their congregations and communities, but most eventually resign themselves to lower expectations.
Seminaries, consultants, influencers, and publications today prescribe a different process starting in the same place – with Knowledge, but replacing Revelation with Assimilation, and Transformation with Indoctrination. The departure from the biblical process is the result of decades of emphasis on church growth and revitalization. The Church Growth Movement requires Assimilation and Indoctrination because it centralizes “church” around a place and treats members like “customers” in our consumeristic culture. However, a church is its members and they should be treated as Kingdom “employees” who require Revelation and Transformation to fulfill GC3 (the Great Commandment, Great Commission, and Great Calling).
It is the Lord who reveals Himself and the Holy Spirit who transforms lives but churches strengthen foundations and provide opportunities to receive and recognize what the Father shows and shares with us. No church should be content with intellectual Knowledge or unacknowledged Revelations that stop short of complete Transformation, even if those are sufficient to convince churchgoers to attend regularly and serve faithfully.
Discipleship growth should supersede church growth ambitions, with the latter a natural byproduct of the former. Church leaders should be intentional about equipping members to live out their missional purpose, ensuring biblical understanding doesn’t sit idle or spring into action without depth in Christ. What we need today are more inspiring transformation stories like those we read throughout Scripture. We don’t need more glowing reports in Christian circles of a megachurch’s exponential growth or a celebrity pastor’s notoriety – only to read weeks later in secular media a critical expose̒ on that same church or pastor.
With the caveat that I’m not a world changer worthy of the heroes of faith in the Bible, my testimony may be helpful to those wondering what the progression from Knowledge to Revelation to Transformation looks like in the 21st century. In particular, for those convinced that revelations ceased once (the Book of) Revelations was written, my story may reassure you that our Father still reveals His love in remarkable ways to His children.
A childhood beset with too many parental challenges to mention left me asking tougher, deeper questions than a young boy should have to contemplate. “If all this is happening, how can there really be a God?” “If mom chose the bottle over me and my siblings, how valuable can I really be?” “How could God love me if my dad doesn’t?”
The reactions of my brothers and sisters to our upbringing varied, but mine was to seek out a Parent who wouldn’t let me down. Divorces and desertions eventually landed us in Atlanta, in a school district known for subpar public education and exorbitantly expensive private academies. The only viable alternative for a large, blended household was a small, low-cost Christian school – an odd (but affordable) choice for parents who didn’t openly profess belief in Christ. It was there at now-defunct Mount Vernon Christian Academy that I found the Father I was searching for and answers to all the questions circling in my head for years. Saved, excited, and eager to learn, I absorbed as much biblical knowledge as I could in Bible classes and retreats while at Mount Vernon.
An accomplished high school student, I entered a top university with a solid intellectual understanding of my faith, but not much yet in the way of revelation. As an incoming Freshman I started a Bible study and resisted the typical temptations – for a while. Knowing Jesus as Savior but still in the early stages of sanctification, knowledge alone wasn’t enough to sustain my resolve. I spent the bulk of college and my 20s worshipping idols of success, popularity, parties, wealth, and women – and not my Father. I ran headlong down the career fast-track – investment banking on Wall Street, congressional aid on Capitol Hill, the nation’s top business school, and “Big-5” management consulting.
Jesus’ ministry years, from the age of 30 to 33, became my years of repentance and prayer, which grew increasingly intense as my disillusionment mounted. I enjoyed my work, made some efforts to treat the workplace as ministry, but realized I wasn’t doing much to serve the Lord or other people. I could picture my road ahead in the lives of those already at my next step – Partners who were sold out to a company and lifestyle, but not to Jesus. I found myself on my knees in hotel rooms most nights asking God’s forgiveness for my life of luxury and licentiousness. My circle of friends were nearly all wealthy Ivy League graduates destined to lead corporations, enroll children in the finest institutions, and purchase vacation homes on remote islands. As a Christian and one who empathized with those facing the hardships I had endured as a child, I knew those aspirations weren’t what the Lord intended for me. Yet I felt trapped by others’ expectations. The only way I could envision getting off the speeding train was a recurring nightmare of falling off a cliff onto a ledge and becoming crippled. By God’s grace, He provided a less painful, yet equally life altering, escape hatch – He changed my heart.
That’s when they started – the revelations – and they haven’t stopped since. Each step of faith led to the next display of the Father’s love and encouragement. I approached my church, one of the fastest growing in the country, about how to leverage my abilities and interests to bless at-risk children in Atlanta – rather than just spending my weekends playing golf and partying with friends. They suggested serving in the church’s children or youth ministry, apparently unaware of specific needs of ministries and families in the city (much less how to mobilize all the resources represented in the congregation to meet them). Understanding Scripture and church history, I knew compassion was Jesus’ calling card and that His Church had always occupied the front lines of poverty alleviation. Yet I soon realized that not just my church, but nearly all churches had abdicated that lead role in serving the (materially) poor.
Then lightning struck on my Road to Damascus (or in this case, Atlanta) in 1999. As an eBusiness consultant, I spent the drive strategizing about how to use the Internet for good. Suddenly, a thought occurred to me – “If you could shop online for what you wanted to buy, why couldn’t you ‘shop’ for a family who needed your skills or items you could give away?” I pulled off on the next exit and spent the next four hours writing the business plan for Meet The Need. That step of obedience became another step, and another, as I began to apply my consulting background to explore the idea for a non-profit ministry to return the church to its rightful place on the front lines and show churchgoers opportunities to utilize their time and talents. Looking back now, more than two decades later, that initial revelation in the car in 1999 led to Meet The Need’s development of the world’s first collaborative volunteer management, event management, and case management systems – each of which eventually became thriving industries.
It was no coincidence that the work I’d been doing to unite and connect business partners was exactly what was needed by a highly fragmented, internally-focused body of Christ. Nor was it an accident that my specialty in consulting (Customer Relationship Management) was the key to church reform in an era where the Church Growth Movement had redefined “church” and its biblical “customer”. And Meet The Need wouldn’t exist if the Lord hadn’t led me to the eCommerce consulting firm with (an avowed) Christian CEO. By the time we discovered the CEO had stolen hundreds of thousands from those of us on his management team (for his golden parachute when the Dot-com bubble burst), the seeds for Meet The Need had already been planted. Advancing God’s Kingdom, not our prosperity, is His objective so all things are for our good if they work out for His good. God wasted nothing in a career path that from my perspective had been about getting ahead and chasing the American Dream. I would not have been ready to receive or act on that first revelation without the education and experiences God had ordained to be used for His glory, not my own.
At the initial launch of Meet The Need in 2002, the Lord intervened miraculously again. I had been traveling five days every week for consulting, increasingly bothered by leaving my newlywed wife behind and not having the bandwidth to work on the ministry revealed to me three years earlier during my Road to Damascus (Atlanta) experience. Through an inexplicable set of circumstances, and without having to ask, my firm offered me a chance to stay at home for six months with the flexibility to finally test out the ministry concept.
Over the next 20+ years, each time Meet The Need faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles or I needed a deeper sense of the Father’s love for me, He revealed Himself. The revelations became so frequent and undeniable, I began keeping a “God throwing me a bone” journal, which now stands at 28 pages with over 100 “God-incidents” (i.e. stories that couldn’t possibly be “coincidence”). Each time the ministry’s future hinged on a particular outcome that needed to happen that day or week, it did. In my family, the Lord spoke clearly on numerous occasions each year through perfectly timed confirmations about decisions and direction. The revelations continually reminded me, our staff, my wife, and my son that God was smiling on the work we were doing. They also convinced me I was accountable for the mission and family He’d entrusted to me, which meant persevering through any difficult days. My job was to obey, follow, be alert, thankful, and give God all the credit for any progress and accomplishments at work or home.
Prior to the first several revelations that made clear Meet The Need was God’s will, I lacked the faith to surrender all to the Lord and trust Him with my future. However, like He gradually prepared Elijah to stand before the prophets of Baal fully convinced the Lord would rain down fire, eventually the evidence of God’s faithfulness became overwhelming. When the next version of Meet The Need’s software applications was ready to be released in 2008, the time had unquestionably come to go full time. But that meant quitting a stable quarter million dollar job when the ministry had no funding – and in the middle of the Great Recession with a newborn baby and personal investments going south. Many questioned my sanity, but despite enjoying consulting, resigning was one of the easiest, most joy-filled decisions I’d ever made. On top of that, frankly I didn’t feel I had much choice in the matter. The Lord’s will was so clear that saying “no” to God was far riskier than foregoing financial security.
Because of all the revelations, I was absolutely confident that if we defied conventional wisdom for the sake of the Kingdom, God would take care of our family and ministry. In fact, my decision in 2008 to leave consulting for Meet The Need ironically may have saved my family from financial ruin. We didn’t know at the time (but the Lord did) that one of our investments would soon be sabotaged by an unscrupulous business partner – and having no income would enable us to evade the trap they had set for us. Only a couple years later, in 2010, I was able to start receiving a small salary from the ministry when a group of generous Christ-followers at the National Christian Foundation approached Meet The Need about purchasing a significant interest in our software.
All that being said, authentic transformation is about our hearts. Our actions and decisions are barometers, not determinants of our relationship with Jesus. Expectations of “blessings” or “favor” for faithfulness and kindness are impure, selfish motives. My family serves as “pastors” of our neighborhood, takes in foster kids, defends children of alcoholics, and makes disciples to pay forward Jesus’ love, not to earn it. We step out in faith because we’re fully persuaded of the Father’s love and His promise that we will spend eternity in His presence. Admittedly, given my childhood there are times when I still struggle to grasp how a Father could love me. I learned intellectually about God’s love in high school, but it was Lord’s continual, personal revelations of His care and character that left no doubt that He is the consummate Parent I was seeking all those years. This Father will never forsake me, not because I’m deserving but through the grace and mercy of His Son Jesus Christ who reserved a permanent place for my family in His family.
It’s Your Turn…
If our mission on this earth is to navigate all three steps in the process outlined throughout Scripture, how can churches push more Christians past merely acquiring biblical knowledge and put them in better position to receive revelations that lead to transformation?