Saturday, July 2, 2011

Your World Is Smaller Than You Think

The Oikos Principle

The Oikos Principle is of such critical importance to the fulfilling of our Lord's command to make disciples of all peoples that I have wrote and published from others articles and insights about the Oikos principle. 

In this post my friend Pastor Tom Mercer writes about his life's passion of seeing the oikos principle lived out in his world and the worlds represented by every believer in his and every church.

Pastor Tom Mercer
Senior Pastor
High Desert Church

Pastor Tom pastors one of the finest churches in America, the High Desert Church a plus 14,000 person congregation in the High Desert Community of California. Not only is this church very large but I know of no other church anywhere in my experience that is as large in that small of a community. They are literally transforming their community with the Gospel.

Pastor Tom has not only written a great book on the subject but his church has released him to travel to help individual churches and regional bodies both in America and overseas understand and apply this principle. We were privileged to have Pastor Tom come to our seminary and teach this principle to the students. One pastor who came to the sessions is seeking to transform the largest African American Church in Pomona to function under this principle. 

If you would like to have Pastor Tom speak into the life of your leaders I encourage you to follow the links in this post which will connect you to the many resources developed by Pastor Tom for churches everywhere who want to become intentional practitioners of this wonderful principle.

Tom Mercer
Senior Pastor, High Desert Church of Victorville, California

Author of Oikos, Your World Delivered

In his Mission Frontiers Journal, Rick Wood notes how it took 1,800 years to grow to 2.5 percent of the global population, the Evangelical church picked up the pace by moving from 2.5 percent to 5 percent in a mere seventy years and, then, from 5 percent to 10 percent in just over twenty-two years. Jesus is a Man of His Word—in spite of everything Hades has thrown against Him, He has methodically been building His church. Yet so few local churches have jumped into the fray! Hiding behind the security of good intentions, the greatest initiative of history, for many believers, remains simply the greatest idea in ministry. 

I was blessed to be raised in a God-honoring ministry family, grew up in great churches led by gifted leaders and was privileged to attend Bible college and Seminary. Through it all, I learned the same theological principles and participated in the same ministry programs that you probably did, but there was still something missing. The people around me were committed to church like I was—but none of us were having much impact in the communities we lived in. It wasn’t until I was introduced to a simple principle that Jesus both taught and modeled that I discovered the key to changing the world. The idea didn’t change those things I had grown to appreciate about my faith—it ignited them.

  • oikos n, extended household (Gr.), a group of eight to fifteen people with whom you share life most closely, your sphere of greatest influence 
  • oikocentric adj, having evaluated purpose through the lens of oikos

That principle is already active in your ministry—just ask any and every group within your church for the hands of those who received Christ primarily because of the influence of one or more oikos relationships—a parent, friend, co-worker, etc. You’ll quickly and powerfully define for those in attendance what primary strategy God has always used to build His Kingdom! As doors have opened for me to share this principle with hundreds of audiences around the world, the response is always the same! Different hemispheres, different cultures, different languages, different traditions, different generations—but always the same response!

Everyone pastor should lead a church that creates impact in the community. The problem is, not every pastor actually wants to! For some, the price for impact is too high—the requirements too controversial. But for those who are willing to challenge the status quo, the results can be startling! So how can a local church move from just maintaining a congregation to actually transforming a community?

Change the Church
The general takeaway from every church leadership conference is pretty much the same—“Here are strategies that can dynamically change your church—apply these principles and you’re on your way!”  The problem is that most of those conferences are hosted by leaders whose spiritual gifting is off the charts, a fact that is consistently understated. Frankly, some leaders are so highly gifted they would probably be leading an impactful ministry by utilizing most any strategy! But, the truth is, none of us are gifted enough to change a church—that role is unique to the Holy Spirit. A church changes when and only when He decides to change it. The primary role of leadership is to mold the kind of church culture that facilitates that type of divine transformation.

Change the Culture
Jim Collins writes extensively about creating a culture of discipline. “A culture of discipline is not just about action. It is about getting disciplined people...who engage in disciplined thought and...who then take disciplined action.”

Tom Mercer Teaching
Korean Churches the
Oikos Principle
Most churches do more than they are capable of doing well. A culture of discipline avoids structures and strategies that are less productive in preparing people for world-change. Dave Browning uses the term minimality, encouraging a reduction in the scope of our efforts.  It’s not that we should try to reach fewer people, but try to reach more people by doing fewer things. By doing fewer things better.

A few years ago, our leadership team wondered what would be a realistic expectation for people in the church to participate in our ministry systems. Through a variety of interviews and surveys we determined that the average parishioner—even those most committed to following Christ—could not regularly participate in church events for more than five hours a week. (That was our threshold, not necessarily the number that any other church should use.) By the way, those five hours did not include daily personal disciplines or time spent with their oikos, but only time spent within the context of our ministry process. Knowing that we would only have access to them for five hours, the next question was, “What are we going to do with them?” That is, what ministry strategies should fill those five hours? What strategies would best prepare them to engage their unique mission within their oikos?

That exercise didn’t just create new windows for ministry, it showed us how many other windows we had to close! We began to recognize how many programmatic options we had provided our church family—options that siphoned their time and energy into less productive environments. None of those options had been evil, in fact, they were all good! But, for us, as Collins said, good truly had become the enemy of great.

When we were nearing the completion of a new ministry facility, our paint contractor caught up with me as I was walking from the worksite back to my office. He handed me a color chart and said, “Pastor Tom, in a few months we are going to need to order the exterior finish for the building, so I’ll need to know what color the church wants the building to be!” I looked at the chart and said, “I think we’ll go with this one.” “Fine,” he responded, “when you make the decision, just let me know.” I thought he hadn’t heard me. “This is the color we want to go with.” He looked at me with a startled look and said, “Are you telling me you have the authority to choose the color for the building?” I smiled and nodded. “Pastor Tom,” he continued, “Do you realize what would be involved in that decision at my church (he attended a large church in another community)? The Color Committee would have to meet and then make a recommendation to the Building Committee, who would then have to meet to make a recommendation to the Trustees, who would then have to meet to make a recommendation to the Elders.” He was impressed, to say the least. I told him, “Kit, why would I want to waste any of our members’ time for an exercise as mundane as choosing a color?” Which, being interpreted, means they all have better things to do with their five hours.

As a shepherd of God’s people, a pastor has the primary responsibility of protecting the flock—from heresy, yes, but more often from distractions. Generally, churches reflect the people who attend—we try to do too many things. We’re not trying to do too much—just too many things.

Pastor Tom Mercer
I’ve often reminded pastors that they will never truly introduce the oikos concept to a church family, because up to ninety percent of every church family already came to Christ that way, through an oikos relationship. But, by elevating the oikos concept within a congregation, we can accelerate it through intentionality. More often than not, though, pastors and parishioners alike view the oikos challenge through a “programmatic” set of lenses, getting all “geeked up” about the idea, enjoying the “campaign” as it runs it’s course and then eventually allowing the idea to be discarded on the pile of other well-intended programs that continue to litter our lives. Accelerating to breakneck speed during the last generation, church programs have replaced the church’s purpose. Which is why, without a change in church culture, it is virtually impossible for people to see the oikos principle as anything but a program. 
Church leaders can change that. Only God can change a church. But we can change a culture within a church. But, first, something else must change.

Change The Conversation.
At an oikos training seminar, I commonly say, “Only God can change your church, I can help you change the conversation, but only you (pastors) can change the culture!” But when we show them our training materials, they immediately perceive a program. And, as we have already established, oikos is not a program, an evangelism emphasis or a ministry department—it’s a set of lenses that clarify the mission of the church; lenses through which we will forever view Christian life and ministry; lenses that will even change the way we read the Scriptures. It’s not a process that quickly transforms a church in a couple of weeks, but a paradigm that guides strategic ministry decisions over the long haul. 

Here are some ideas for generating that conversation:

  • Beat the drum in every message. Provide at least a short "how this applies to our oikos mission" component to every sermon. Certainly, it should not be the main point of very many sermons, but always the directional arrow that sends people out the door. And when you do, don’t just use the word, but provide a very short explanation for the sake of any visitors. For example, typically follow up the “O” word by saying something like, “…your oikos, those eight to fifteen people whom God has strategically placed in your life.”
  • At least twice a year, make the oikos principle the only point of a sermon. Over time, people are impressed with the value of any idea that we are willing to relentlessly pursue.
  • Use the word “oikos” in your in publications. I smile every time a pastor says, “Loved the book—I’m using the ideas from it, but I’m just not using the word, “oikos.” I take no offense at those comments because I understand the veiled concern—that a congregation would be confused by such an “out of the box” word. But there aren’t many missional terms that your congregation aren’t already familiar with. I would argue that it is precisely the non-familiarity of the word that gives us the edge in communicating the concept. For example, when we use terms like, “relational evangelism,” people bring along contextual baggage into the conversation. They already have a unique perspective on what the words “relationship” and “evangelism” mean—and their particular context may not necessarily be the one you’re trying to create. Introducing a word like “oikos” provides us an opportunity to actually create context, which is always easier than recreating it!
  • Make sure oikos prayer cards (listing those eight to fifteen people) are always referenced and available. It will seem like most people will actually fill-out and discard eight to fifteen of them before they recognize the oikos principle’s power!


  • Give a detailed explanation of oikos to every newcomer or new member through a gift brochure or book, or by simply committing a section of your new members class process to the principle—but always bring newcomers up to speed.
  • Bring a team to an Oikos Workshop at HDC. Intentionality at every level accelerates momentum. Unilaterally developing strategies to create oikocentric children’s ministries, student ministries, small group ministries, men’s ministries is possible, but brainstorming with other church leaders will be both catalytic and enjoyable. (

My belligerence about emphasizing the oikos principle has frustrated some, but I continue to insist that, if the Kingdom is to function on all cylinders, there must be synergy between Christ, the Church and the Christian—because…

  • IF Christ died to save lost people;
  • AND IF Christians have been surrounded by lost people;
  • THEN Churches exist to facilitate strategic partnerships with a local group of Christians, enhancing their success in delivering that message of the cross and displaying the glory of God to the people with whom they do life!

For information about
Oikos Workshops go to
Leith Anderson recently observed: “I actually have more confidence in the people that do evangelism (making disciples) than I do the people who primarily emphasize discipleship (making evangelists). That’s partially because the people that are most effective in evangelism are usually the most recent converts who often have the broadest network of unbelievers. But discipleship often drives people more deeply into the church culture, which means their network of friends and acquaintances are believers. They are therefore less able and less effective at evangelism. This is the current mood in my take. What I think I need to do, and what I would like to see others do, is to make disciples. That is the mandate of the Great Commission. But maybe we should emphasize evangelism in a way counter to the Christian culture: evangelism must always be our priority.” 

Any sincere commitment to effective evangelism actually requires a renewed commitment to discipleship. Every prayer I pray for someone who is unchurched is also a prayer for personal growth—that I would become the kind of person through whom God would effectively reflect His glory. My take is that the biblical model for the church is neither a discipleship paradigm nor an evangelistic paradigm—but a partnership paradigm, elevating this primary strategy for changing the world and then partnering with God’s people to help them become really good at it!


Rick Wood, Frontiers Bulletin
Jim Collins, Built to Last
Dave Browning, Deliberate Simplicity
Leith Anderson, The State of Evangelism in 2010, Published in The Cutting Edge, Reaching the Unreached

No comments:

Post a Comment