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Home » All Resources » Articles on Evangelism Urgency » David Platt, The Radical Experiment: One Year to a Church Turned Upside Down

The Radical Experiment: One Year to a Church Turned Upside Down

David Platt more from this author »

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream

Date Published: 10/18/2010
David Platt dares pastors and their congregations to take a leap of faith and test the claims contained in the gospel.

Ex per i ment n.: a course of action taken under controlled conditions in order to test a claim.

 

You can explore a variety of bold claims about our purpose in life that are contained in the gospel yet contradicted by the American dream. Claims such as these: Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism; joy is found in generosity, not materialism; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism. Ultimately, Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy.

But claims such as these remain theories until they are tested. This is the reason for the experiment. As you test a claim, you discover either its futility or its reality. And once you discover a claim’s reality, then you’re more likely to adjust your perspective, rearrange your thoughts, and alter your life around that truth. It will turn your life upside down—or really, right side up.

So I challenge you and your congregation to an experiment. I dare you to test the claims contained in the gospel, maybe in a way you have never done before. I invite you to see if radical obedience to the commands of Christ is more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more gratifying than the American dream. And I guarantee that if you complete this experiment, you and your church will possess an insatiable desire to spend the rest of your life in radical abandonment to Christ for his glory in all the world.

We’ll call it the Radical Experiment.

One Year

The experiment is for one year. Now, I realize that such a timeline does not coincide with conventional wisdom. Contemporary church-growth philosophers tell me in magazines, articles, fliers, and gimmicks that to be effective, we must organize everything we do in no more than six- or eight-week segments. Churchgoers today want short-term commitments with long-term benefits.

I am thankful Christian history has not always operated on this philosophy. David Brainerd (1718–47) spent years suffering through loneliness, depression, and pain before he saw God bring revival among Native Americans in the Northeast. William Carey (1761–1834) stayed committed to preaching the gospel for seven years before he saw one person saved in India. John Hyde (1865–1912) wore his body down through long nights of prayer and fasting in order to see people come to Christ in one of the hardest mission fields in the world, the Punjab. The examples of Brainerd, Carey, and Hyde should inspire us to ask, “What if long-term benefits are actually reserved for long-term commitments?”

So my challenge to you is to use one year of your congregation’s life to radically alter the remainder of their individual lives. I believe it is important, though, to keep the focus on one year, because there are some things one could do for a year that may not be sustainable for multiple years. And there are some things you can postpone for one year that you may not be able to postpone for longer. So the challenge here is not forever.

The challenge involves five components. I believe—no, I know—that if you stick to these challenges for a whole year, you will find yourself coming alive like never before. You will know the incomparable thrill of being a part of what God is up to where you live and around the world. You will be ready to shed forever the unworthy parts of the American dream and hold on to the beautiful and lasting dream that God has designed for you.

Let’s get to those five components that will take you there.

1. Pray for the Entire World

I realize that at first this may sound general, vague, ambiguous, even a bit out of reach. You may be thinking Can I as an individual really pray specifically and effectively for the entire world? Let me show you what I mean and why it’s so important.

In a world where more than 4.5 billion people are without Christ and more than a billion are on the edge of starvation, we have to begin somewhere. So where? Jesus answers that question for us. In Matthew 9 we see him surrounded by the multitudes and moved with compassion because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So he turned to his disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Do these words surprise you? They do me…for two reasons. First, in light of all the sick, poor, and needy around Jesus, I would have expected him to immediately start giving marching orders to his disciples. “Peter, you go to that person. John, you care for that guy. Andrew, you help over there.” But that’s not what he said. Before he told them to do anything else, Jesus told them to pray.

What is even more surprising, though, is what Jesus told them to pray for. I would have expected Jesus to say, “You guys see the need. The harvest is plentiful. So pray for these people who are harassed and helpless. Pray for them.” But that isn’t what he said. Jesus didn’t say to pray for those who were lost. Instead he told the disciples to pray for the church.

Why do you think Jesus would look at the crowds around him, with all their deep needs, and then turn to his disciples and tell them to pray for themselves? The answer is humbling. When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father. Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost.

Now think about it. What happens when you and I take these words from Jesus and put them in a world where more than a billion people have still not heard the gospel? A fundamental reality snaps into focus: we are not praying. This is the only possible explanation for how there can be such great need yet so few workers. The multitudes are waiting to hear, and our most urgent need is to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out Christians into the harvest field.

You can explore a variety of bold claims about our purpose in life that are contained in the gospel yet contradicted by the American dream. Claims such as these: Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism; joy is found in generosity, not materialism; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism. Ultimately, Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy.

This is the step that you and I are most likely to overlook and yet the one that is most dangerous for us to ignore. In the gospel we have seen the depth of our inadequacy and the extent of our inability to accomplish anything of eternal value apart from the power of God. We are planning, strategizing, implementing people, yet radical obedience to Christ requires that we be a praying people.

But back to my question: can we really pray specifically for the whole world? The answer is yes.

Years ago I was introduced to Operation World, an invaluable book that has revolutionized my prayer life more than any other book outside of the Bible. This book contains detailed information on every nation in the world, including statistics on the religious makeup of every country, updates on gospel work in every country, and prayer requests for every country. It also includes a prayer guide that you can follow, and over a course of a year, you will pray specifically and intentionally for every nation in the world. The book has a corresponding children’s verse for use in families.

Let me introduce you to Ben and Jennifer, two of the many parents in our church who use this resource to lead their families to pray boldly for the purposes of God to be accomplished in the world. They gather every evening with their two children, ages four and two, to pray specifically for different countries. Night after night, their lives are being exposed to the present work of God in the world, and their hearts are being formed by the passionate desire of God for the nations. In Jennifer’s words, “God is opening our eyes to the specific needs of peoples around the world. It is changing our family every day and preparing us for our part in his mission.”

Prayer can lead to effects far beyond what we can imagine. What can your congregation’s prayer do, as it is empowered by God? Just imagine.

2. Read Through the Entire Word

There are many options for how this might look. A quick search on the Internet shows that Bible-reading plans abound. A plan that appeals to others might not appeal to you or your church. The point is simply to read the entire Bible in one year. However you choose to do it—get your congregation to read it.

I want to put a particularly strong emphasis on this step of the Radical Experiment. The Christian marketplace is filled with books today—some of them healthy, and some of them not so healthy. To be honest, I have been very hesitant to write a book, because I look at our bookstores and think, Do we really need another one? I suppose only time will tell if it was worth it, but time has already spoken on one Book.

I believe it is more important for you and me to read Leviticus than it is for us to read the best Christian book every published, because Leviticus has a quality and produces an effect that no book in the Christian marketplace can compete with. If we want to know the glory of God, if we want to experience the beauty of God, and if we want to be used by the hand of God, then we must live in the Word of God.

I realize that these first two steps in the Radical Experiment may sound anticlimactic, even disappointing. But in our quest for the extraordinary, we often overlook the importance of the ordinary, and I’m proposing that a radical lifestyle and a radical church actually begin with an extraordinary commitment to ordinary practices that have marked Christians who have affected the world throughout history.

3. Sacrifice Money for a Specific Purpose

What if the members of your church took the next year and set a cap on their lifestyles? What if they sought for the next year to minimize luxuries in their lives? This might involve selling present luxuries or withholding the purchase of future luxuries or intentionally sacrificing resources they already have.

I emphasize that this would be a one-year commitment. There are some expenses one could postpone for a year that one might not be able to postpone for ten years. There are some things a person could do without for one year that maybe he/she could not feasibly do without for ten years. But what would it look like for the families in your church to make intentional sacrifices over the next year for the glory of Christ in light of specific, urgent needs in the world?

The key word here is sacrifice. The challenge is not just to give away excess stuff that isn’t really needed anyway. That’s not sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving away what it hurts to give. Sacrifice is not giving according to your ability; it’s giving beyond your ability.

When one begins sacrificing, the question then becomes where one is going to spend what he/she has sacrificed. I certainly don’t want to recommend exactly where the money should be spent, but I will offer a few factors I believe are important when deciding where and how to give.

First, spend it on something that is gospel-centered. There are many organizations aimed at serving specific needs in the world, but people’s greatest need in the world is Christ. Second and related to this, give in a way that is church-focused. It is not wise to bypass God’s primary agent for bringing redemption to the world in an effort to meet the needs of the world. His primary agent is the church.

Third, give to a specific, tangible need. For example, if one tries to sacrifice money generally “to give to the poor,” then the need lacks a face that reminds you why you must sacrifice to give. Related to this, give to someone or something you can personally serve alongside. The more a person is involved with touching need personally, the more that person will demonstrate the gospel to people authentically. So it’s best to connect giving to going.

Finally, give to someone or something trustworthy. We are all aware of the abuses of charitable giving in our culture, and as stewards of God’s resources, we are responsible for giving to those who will handle our donation with integrity. Along those lines, I also encourage people to give in sustainable ways. It is wise to spend on that which can promote long-term sustenance amid need instead of short-term satisfaction of need.

4. Spend Time in Another Context

As important as it is for us to be radical in our giving, it is even more important to be radical in our going. Here’s where it gets personal. Here’s where hearts will be touched, possibly in a way that they never have before.

I remember when I was first preparing to go to Sudan, a nation impoverished by years of civil war. The trip was going to cost me around three thousand dollars. It wasn’t easy to travel into Sudan since they were still at war, and we would have to charter a plane and spend a few extra days to make that happen. I remember one dear lady in the church coming up to me and asking, “Why don’t you just send the three thousand dollars to the people in Sudan? Wouldn’t that be a better use of money than your spending a week and a half with them? Think of how far that money could go.”

I wrestled with that question. Was I wasting these funds in order to go when I could simply give the money instead? Should I even be going? I continued to wrestle with that question until I got to Sudan. There I had a conversation with Andrew that shed some light on the question.

Andrew was sharing with them about his life in Sudan over the last twenty years. He had known war since he was born, and he described facets of the suffering and persecution his people had been through. He told me about the various groups, most of them secular or government organizations, who had brought supplies to them during that time, and he expressed thanks for the generosity of so many people.

But then he looked at me and asked, “Even in light of all these things that people have given us, do you want to know how you can tell who a true brother is?”

I leaned forward and asked, “How?”

He responded, “A true brother comes to be with you in your time of need.” Then he looked me in the eye and said, “David, you are a true brother. Thank you for coming to be with us.”

I was immediately reminded that when God chose to bring salvation to you and me, he did not send gold or silver, cash or check. He sent himself—the Son. I was convicted for even considering that I should give money instead of actually coming to Sudan. If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God, it will not be primarily through giving our money, as important as that is. It will happen primarily through giving ourselves. This is what the gospel represents, and it’s what the gospel requires.

So how will we go? For each one of us, this clearly begins at home. Wherever you and I live, we are commanded to go and make disciples there. In light of Jesus’ example, our primary impact on the nations will occur in the disciple-making we do right around us. Remember that Jesus didn’t travel to every place in the world while he was on earth, and he didn’t go to all the multitudes. He poured his life into a few men for the sake of the multitudes in places he would never go. Therefore, our homes, communities, and cities are the primary places and contain the primary people with whom we will impact nations for the glory of Christ.

I suggest your church members plan on dedicating at least two percent of their time to this fourth challenge. That two percent works out to be about one week in the next year that they will travel and take the gospel to another context in the world, either domestically or internationally.

Consider what happens when all of us begin to look at our professions and areas of expertise not merely as means to an income or to career paths in our own context but as platforms for proclaiming the gospel in contexts around the world. Consider what happens when the church is not only sending traditional missionaries around the world but also businessmen and businesswomen, teachers and students, doctors and politicians, engineers and technicians who are living out the gospel in contexts where a traditional missionary could never go.

If we are not careful, this two percent commitment may even lead us one day to give 98 percent of our time in another context so that we come back to our American context for a two percent visit each year. The point is not where we go, how we get there, or even how long we stay. The point is simply that we go.

5. Commit Your Life to a Multiplying Community

It is a glorious privilege to be a part of the universal body of Christ, united with brothers and sisters across the world and across history in a heavenly community. But it is also the New Testament pattern for us to be a part of a local body of Christ, a gathering of brothers and sisters in a particular location where our Christianity comes to life in commitment to one another. By the design of God, the local church affects every facet of our Christian lives.

We pray for the entire world, but we do not pray alone. We pray, “Our Father in heaven…” Our praying is integrally connected to the wider community of faith of which we are a part. We read through the entire Word, but we need one another to understand it, to learn it, and to apply it. We sacrifice our money for a specific purpose, and we spend our time in another context, but we are not lone rangers trying to accomplish the purpose of God. Our giving and our going must be tied to the multiplication of the gospel through the church.

If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it. We will need to show one another how to give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously. When we sacrifice our resources for the poor and then face unexpected and unforeseen needs in our own lives, we will need brothers and sisters to help us stand. In the process we will learn to depend on one another according to God’s design. The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals. We are a global people whose family spans the nations. So first and foremost, encourage your church to be done with church hopping and shopping in a me-centered cultural milieu and instead commit their lives to a people who need them and whom they need.

Conclusion

I praise God for what happens when the church comes together to display a radical gospel. Indeed, the church is God’s plan for multiplying the gospel to all nations, and where Christians lock arms with one another in communities of faith pursuing a radical Savior, the very gates of hell cannot stop the spread of God’s glory.

Your church members have an average of about seventy or eighty years on this earth. During these years, they are bombarded with the temporary. Make money. Get stuff. Be comfortable. Live well. Have fun. In the middle of it all, they get blinded to the eternal. But it’s there. We stand on the porch of eternity. We will all stand before God to give an account for our stewardship of the time, resources, gifts, and the gospel he has entrusted to us. I am convinced that, when that day comes, we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American dream. Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.

Let’s not waver any longer.


David Platt

Dr. David Platt, 31, serves as pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has traveled extensively to teach the Bible and church leaders throughout the United States and around the world. A lifelong learner, David has earned two undergraduate and three advanced degrees including a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has previously served at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as Dean of Chapel and Assistant Professor of Expository Preaching and Apologetics, and as Staff Evangelist at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. Read more about David’s passion for disciple-making in his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Murphy Matheny
November 12, 2010
Awesome article - Extremely practical and challenging! [delete comment]
With very few exceptions most of us and our worldly accomplishments will be unknown in a few short years. Only things of eternal value will last. Only things done for God's glory and not our own. You have done an excellent job of telling us to stop focusing on self. Thank You [delete comment]

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