It’s funny how God works. Sometimes it’s even funnier when we consider how God speaks. He is the creator of all languages, both verbal and non-verbal.With me, He frequently communicates through visual images on a screen or a billboard or in a book or magazine. He sometimes brings back to mind the voices of other people, with the replay of their statements running around inside me like records with the needle stuck in the groove. All the while those kinds of communications are being “transmitted”, God is trying to communicate an underlying truth .. the real purpose of His triggering the latest game of revelatory “hide and seek”. This article is a bit like that.
At the outset, let me tell you that what you are about to read is going to feel like together you and I are jumping from one moment in time to the next paying no attention to lineal chronology. However, what you will discover is an attempt to unfold what God has been saying. So, close your eyes, start counting backwards from 10 to 1, then come looking for what God is hiding ………………
Recently I was a part of a Storm Harvest Business Gathering in Canberra.
These are times where we gather business people related to Storm Harvest in some way for the purpose of encouragement and the cultivation of relationships for Kingdom purposes. One of the most enjoyable parts of these events is that many of those in attendance are also asked to share during some of the sessions as a way of cross-pollinating the gathering with what each of us has to offer.One of those who shared was Jonathan Brake, the managing director of Momentum TMC, a dynamic and fast growing marketing company based in Australia’s Capital. Jonathan is a man who is never lost for words and he shared many exciting things that encouraged all of us greatly. However, in the course of what he shared, he made a very simple statement about the way marketing professionals think. As he made the statement, both Robert Holmes and I heard the Lord impress the same things on our hearts. Jonathan said that the most marked difference between the way the church thinks and the way that marketing professionals think is that ministries go after “impact”
while marketing people are in search of “penetration”.
SSSSSSHHPP! Like a well aimed arrow driven into my heart and Rob’s, was
the realisation that an elusive answer we have been searching for for what seems like ages, had been found!
In marketing terms, here’s what that means:
When you think about hamburgers, what springs to mind? When you think about toothpaste, which company springs to mind? When you think about soft-drink, soda or pop, again, what springs to mind? If you answered McDonald’s, Colgate and Coca-Cola, then you have proven that those companies have achieved their aim with you. Their product has not just impacted you; their brand has penetrated you. Their marketing has effected your decision making process. It has changed the way you think and act .. potentially for the rest of your life.
Both Robert and I have given much of the last decade or more of our lives to serving the church in one form or another around the world speaking at conference events, seminars and schools. We’ve helped with resources, team development, the encouragement of leadership at all levels, and varying degrees of relationship and friendship. However, the main thing we have wrestled with is why it is that we can relate to a church, ministry or individual for so long only to see little, or sometimes, no lasting life-change and fruit from them when we know what we carry is life-giving.
Privately we have anguished over this issue. We have discussed it often because our desire is that our input and service should always be fruitful, worthwhile, and more importantly, should leave lasting changes for the sake of the Kingdom. However, often it does not. So, we have rightly asked ourselves and each other, “why?”
For many years Robert has used the term “our language betrays us”. In other words, because what we speak comes out of the abundance of our hearts, the language we use betrays our true motives and intentions whether we say we were “only joking” or not. (Matt 12:24) With that in mind, it was about a month before the Business Gathering in Canberra that I was again assessing my effectiveness in life and ministry.
You see, I have recently resigned my position as the prophet to a growing network of Australian denominational churches recognising that my season there was at an end. Television’s Dr Phil recommends that at the end of every relationship we should do an “autopsy” on the one that’s ended before we move into the next. I began to meditate on why it was that in the final year or so of my time in that network, my prophetic ministry and leadership input had become very evidently ineffective. Into that context, I began to once again “hear” Rob’s voice saying “our language betrays us”. With Rob’s voice repeating in my mind like a needle stuck in the groove of a record, I began to ask the Lord how do you know whether you’ve been able to bring lasting change to people’s lives .. and here is what He said:
“The first way to be sure that you have brought lasting change to a person’s life is when they adopt your language” .. to which I said .. “Pardon me? Do you mean that they’re able to parrot back to me what I’ve been saying?”
The Lord replied, “Not at all. Because it is ‘out of the abundance of the heart that a mouth speaks’, the only way to be sure that a heart-change has been made is when that person reaches for the language you used to bring that change to their lives. In the early stages of change, your language is the only way they have to articulate the change that’s taken place in their hearts.”
Into the assessment of my recent departure from the denominational network, this was a major revelation for me! As I looked back over the five years of my involvement with this group of people, I was left with the realisation that all but one of them, had failed to adopt any of the language I had used over all the years of preaching, teaching and relational encouragement.
Nothing of “the dark night of the soul”, “the fellowship of His sufferings”, “journey v’s destination”, “process and price”, “the true sword of the Spirit”, “fellowship over function”, and so much more, had ever been assimilated into their own way of expressing themselves. For me, this was devastating! Because for all that work, I had failed to bring any kind of change to their lives that could be directly linked to my efforts. It made me not only question the effectiveness of my ministry, but also the overall validity of my ministry!
Fast-forward from there back to our starting point .. the Storm Harvest Business Gathering in Canberra where Jonathan Brake is speaking:
“… the most marked difference between the way the church thinks and the way that marketing professionals think is that ministries go after “impact” while marketing people are in search of “penetration”.
At this point I am entering a simultaneous eureka / meltdown moment …..
Aha! / Oh no! … That’s the problem!! I’ve been so focussed on making an impact that I have never stopped to consider whether I am achieving penetration with those on the receiving-end of my ministry. Could it be that all the while I’ve thought I’ve been correctly wielding the Sword of the Spirit, I have not? For example, we all leave the conference venue knowing that an impact has been made, but has penetration been achieved?
The question itself is penetrating. So much so that it’s almost too hard to ask ourselves. But it is a question that MUST be asked.
When I consider my relationship with Robert Holmes, I realise that after walking closely together in ministry and friendship with him for about six years, and speaking to each other on the phone at least a couple of times a week, Rob has adopted a lot of my language and I’ve adopted a ton of his.
Does that mean that just because we’re buddies we go around parroting each other because we’ve formed our own little clique which has its own non-inclusive language? Not at all. What it means is that Rob’s wisdom and experience, his “life in God”, has become of such value to me that, as I have assimilated many of his practices and insights into my life, I’ve been changed .. penetrated, if you will .. by the presence of God in my friend’s life. If someone is then to ask me what’s changed or how I’ve changed, the only way I can articulate that change is to reach for the language that first brought the life-change to me. In other words, the adoption of another’s language is indicative of penetration at a heart level, because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”.
A very humbling experience has been to read through, edit and critique the second draft of Rob’s forthcoming book on the prophetic only to notice how many times he has referenced me throughout the book. I was aware that some of what I had learned from the Lord over the years had been of benefit to Rob and that it had changed him and his language. I just had no idea of how deep the penetration was until working my way through his manuscript. Very humbling indeed.
One of the most telling examples of this whole unfolding understanding of “impact v’s penetration” came a few weeks ago when I had a conversation with the leader of the denominational network from which I had recently resigned.
As I shared my distress with him and my sense of failure over not being able to effectively assist our team in embracing all that God had been calling us to for over two years, he replied by saying that I must not forget the power a group’s “want”. I asked him what he meant. He replied that if a group’s “want” for a particular thing is strong enough, anything that appears to contradict that “want”, even if it’s a word from Heaven, is heard like someone speaking another language. What he meant was, if the “want” is strong enough, it will even override a person or group’s desire to be bothered to want to learn the ‘language’ you’re speaking. Hence, at the time of delivery, an impact may be made but no penetration is achieved. As a result, there’s no heart and/or language change that follows.
What to do?
Jesus was highly skilled at knowing which peoples’ lives and which environments were fruitful soil in the making. He had no trouble knowing when to “shake the dust” from His feet in order to move on to where penetration for the Kingdom could be achieved. (Matt 10:14, Mark 6:11) Think about it. Every time he went into the temple, He surely made in impact .. but did He achieve penetration, bringing lasting heart-change among the Pharisees? Did they ever adopt His language? Nicodemus did. Saul did. But two out of hundreds is a pretty low “market penetration” ratio indeed. Jesus made an impact on Judas’ life, but did He manage to penetrate it? We know that Judas got ‘hung up’ on a couple of Kingdom issues, particularly regarding money, so you be the judge. Even in his ‘home town’, Jesus couldn’t achieve penetration, so He moved on implying He wouldn’t waste His time with a return visit. (Mark 6:1-6)
A few years ago on this list, Robert Holmes released a word regarding how the “day of the fishermen had passed and the day of the hunter has come”.
When a traditional fisherman fishes, he does so with a huge net. That’s a decent sized impact! However, a hunter is only looking for one thing .. to apprehend his prey by penetration. We must be the same. One of the successes of the ministry of Storm Harvest has been Robert’s determination to “target” those men and women that he knew, by discernment, would indeed be fruitful soil for the Kingdom of God.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the wasted weekends “doing ministry” somewhere in the world in locations where only an impact is ever made. Robert and I have seen this the world over. Locations we have been to again and again, but nothing ever seems to change as a result. But still others where the people in that location willingly allow their lives to be penetrated with the things we carry to them from God resulting in long-term life change at both an individual and corporate level. However, one of the richest and most joyous experiences you will ever have is when one of your sons or daughters in the Lord starts sharing with you about what they’re up to this month, only to hear your language speaking back to you. Have they learned to parrot you? Not at all. What they’re manifesting is the penetration God has made in their lives with the truth you carried to them at one time or another.
I believe that, like Jesus, we must each become much more intentional about where we minister, how we minister, to whom we minister and even how long we attempt to minister the Kingdom into a given person or setting. If fruitfulness and change is not being achieved, manifest initially by an adoption of the language that brought the change, then it’s time to move on.
I believe we must move away from our “shotgun” event-based, impact-focussed ministry and begin to think like the hunter; targeting those that we discern will firstly allow penetration and secondly that we can work with to bring lifelong change to through demonstrating our discipleship to Christ.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said we were to go into all the world and “make” disciples. Disciples are not converts. Disciples are people who have allowed their lives to be penetrated by Kingdom truth and whose lives and language have permanently changed over time as a result. Am I talking about evangelism? Perhaps. But really, my primary focus is on us being intentional .. missional .. incarnational.
Impact or Penetration. Which will you choose? Remember, even the gates of hell are meant to be penetrated by the church, not just dazzled by the feel-good impact of our events and programs.