“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” So wrote the elder Paul to younger Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12 NLT)
Paul’s words are the introduction to the Bible’s three volume textbook on pastoral ministry (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). And in that introduction, Paul issues a fairly stern warning to Timothy to watch out for three of the biggest false sources of security and confidence for those who lead in ministry. They were, and are, and have been for me in seasons when I’m not on guard…
1. Our preparation.
That is, we begin to rely on what we know, and we begin to assume that what we know is enough for us to coast. Here’s the thing. When God called me to ministry, I knew pretty much nothing. I was still cutting my teeth on trying to read through the New Testament for the first time. In my early years of ministry, I was a sponge. I learned enough before Bible college that I tested out of the required Old and New Testament survey classes and jumped right into some sophomore-level stuff!
Right now, I feeltired. I also feelthat I’m spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere, and that I’m failing to meet the expectations of others. I feel bogged down in things that need doing, and I feel inadequate to the tasks that loom largest in my life – be a great husband, a great Dad, and a great Pastor.
Right now, I know that God’s approval matters more than the approval of others. I know that He equips those whom He calls and that I am adequate and can do all things through Him who gives me strength, even when I’m tired. I know I am redeemed, forgiven, and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. So I know that moving forward in faith is the right, best, and wisest thing to do.
Living by what I feel is a deadly choice. Living by what I know, based on the unchanging truth of Scripture, is a life-giving choice.
I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of His return.
The work of planting a new church will probably kill you.
On my first day in Greek Grammar class in Bible college, Dr. Jesse Thomas walked in and stood at the podium to offer a brief welcome, “Welcome to boot camp.” Serious students survived, some even thrived, but some fell by the wayside because of their unwillingness to do the hard work of memorization that studying an ancient language requires.
I’ve often thought back to that day as a church planter. Planting a church is hard. In fact, it will destroy your family, your ministry, and strip you of your vitality and enthusiasm, IF you can’t lean on your sense of calling from God.
In other words, if your heart is false, if your motives are selfish, or if your calling to the ministry of planting the gospel is uncertain, then your soul will suffer in the thick of the battle. When tough times come, when money runs short, when criticism abounds, when the launch team leaves you, when your spouse is feeling burned out, and when the emotion of the big launch subsides, you’re a sitting duck for the enemy.
Before you plant a church, clarify your calling. Angie and I have been about the work of planting Grace Hills Church for close to a year now (I can hardly believe it’s been that long), and we’ve already made plenty of mistakes along the way. We’ve done some things too early. We’ve done other things too late. We’ve missed some opportunities and struggle to prioritize correctly sometimes. But at the end of the day, there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that we are doing exactly what God wants us to do, in His world, for His kingdom, at this present moment in history. So we press on.
When I first moved back to northwest Arkansas to begin the work of church planting, there was a question I was faced with quite regularly, “why another church?” It’s a good, honest question. It isn’t always asked with the best motives, but the result of facing it is the introspection necessary for the deepening of our own confidence. In fact, it is in the face of such tough questions that our calling really comes to be tested.
If you’re considering planting a church, ask yourself the tough questions before others have the chance. Clarify your calling.
Why Am I Doing This?
Some may assume you’re interested in church planting because it’s easier to start from scratch with your own ideas than to fight the brick wall of established tradition. Others will quietly murmur about how much of a trend or fad “this church planting thing” is. A few may even go so far as to question your character, assuming you’re planting for your ego’s sake. How dare they?!
I would urge you to think of it another way – how dare you begin gathering people into close relationships with each other and asking them to invest their very lives for something eternal only to abandon them mid-stream because you ultimately found your own motives to be the wrong ones and never dealt with the tough questions? Why do you want to plant a church?
What Will This Cost Me?
When my daughter was born, life changed dramatically. Before we had kids, I set my own schedule, slept as much at night as I wanted to, and never had to wipe any unidentifiable substances off of any kids’ faces or… you get the picture. Having a child changed all of that. But she is soooo worth it!
Before planting Grace Hills, I was serving on staff at one of America’s largest churches. I was a specialist with a well-defined job description. I worked alongside a staff of hundreds, had encouragement, help, and break times by the water cooler, so to speak. It had its own challenges, but was for all intents and purposes, a dream spot for me. Moving to northwest Arkansas cost me that. I now watch from a distance as Saddleback’s staff continues to thrive and have all kinds of fun without me. Meanwhile my wife and I are generalists, multi-taskers who beg God to raise up more volunteers and send more financial support. And, while that’s tough to some degree, it’s soooo worth it!
Can I Keep My Life In Rhythm?
If you plant a church, your marriage will be tested. That’s a guarantee. If you want to know how church planting is going, just ask the planter’s spouse. I recently interviewed Shawn Lovejoy about his new book, The Measure of Our Success. Shawn testifies that a year into planting Mountain Lake Church, he asked his wife, Tricia, how she thought it was going. Her response cut deeply but initiated a powerful healing in their marriage. Shawn spent so much time, energy, and passion on church planting that his marriage was suffering. His rhythm had been lost.
God has worked powerfully in Shawn and Tricia’s life since then and God is using their story to teach others in ministry the value of keeping our priorities right, but their story highlights how easy it is to do some great things to the neglect of the best things. And what could be greater than planting a church? If your answer is “nothing,” don’t take another step.
Clarify your calling. This is good advice no matter what you do, but especially if you’re going to venture out as a spiritual entrepreneur into the world of planting a new church. I’m praying daily for God to call more leaders into this field, but wisdom demands that we search our hearts, seek God’s face, and move forward only if we can do so with absolute, steadfast confidence that God is both behind us and before us!
If God has called you to ministry, church planting or otherwise, I would love to hear your story in the comments below!
There is a universal battle in the lives of believers between the flesh and the Spirit. We waver between doing what our fleshly instincts tell us to do and doing what God is telling us to do. This is a timeless battle.
As we look through the life of David, we’ve come to a spot in his life where I believe he was struggling greatly in this battle. Out of six chapters of 1 Samuel, we learn at least four lessons about what our flesh is prone to do. I want us to consider these as well as what God wants us to do as the winning alternative…
Gideon is one of my favorite Bible heroes. In my wife’s Bible class curriculum, he’s known as “G. I. Deon!” I especially love the way he’s introduced…
The way Gideon sees himself:
Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
His further questioning of God’s choice of him shows us a heart of humility and self-abasement. There was a lack of courage throughout all the land, and Gideon demonstrated this widespread fear. Everybody lived the part of the oppressed. But look at the way God sees Gideon (and announces accordingly):
And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!
~ Judges 6:12
I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to this verse, “God calls ’em like HE sees ’em!” We see God doing this throughout Scripture – God assigning names and titles to people who really don’t seem to fit the part because He sees what they can and will become. While the rest of the world labels us according to external factors, God labels us according to the heart.
God calls Gideon to be the leader of the people of Israel in a revolt against the oppression of the Midianites. Gideon’s initial reaction could be summarized like this…
Who, YOU? (Judges 6:13)
Are you sure? (Judges 6:17-24)
Are you really, really sure? (Judges 6:36-40)
In other words, Gideon seemed to have little or no confidence whatsoever. Sound familiar? Modern Christianity has been hit with a plague of self-pity and pseudo-humility, which is really pride masquerading as humility. I know that confidence is sometimes a struggle for me. But the source of Gideon’s confidence is the source of my confidence as well… God’s calling!
There are plenty of times when I haven’t felt up to the tasks of preaching and leading a church as Pastor, but I believe I’m in my position because of God’s calling, so when I need to speak on His behalf, or when I need to make some tough and possibly controversial decision, or even when I’m at the side of a family in deep pain with few words to offer, I can stand strong in the confidence of God’s calling!
What do some of history’s greatest leaders have in common? People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, and Jesus Himself? To each one God had said “I’m with you, now go!”
Now, there are five calls in the life of every Christian (two which pertain to every member of the human race)…
We are called to salvation.
For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
~ 2 Corinthians 6:2 NKJV
This is everybody. The witness of God in nature and via His Word offer a universal call to salvation to anyone who will respond.
We are called to holiness.
For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
~1 Thessalonians 4:7 NKJV
Believers are called to live a holy life in Christ.
We are called to service.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
~ Romans 11:29 NKJV
We are not saved to sit, but to serve. God has something in mind for every believer to be doing for His purpose and glory.
We are called to mission.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
~Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV
We are called to judgment.
And as it is appointed for man once to die, and after this the judgment.
~Hebrews 9:27 NKJV
The call to judgment is universal, but takes place in one of two forms. We’ll either be judged as believers at the judgment seat of Christ, or as unbelievers at the great white throne of God, but we will all be judged.
You may not feel like much, but God is all-powerful. You may not feel worthy, but God calls you worthy. You may not feel ready, but God will equip you. Go! And go in the confidence that God has called, assigned, equipped, and enabled You and in the confidence that He will remain with You as you go!
Moses grew up in Egypt as the adopted son of the daughter of Pharaoh himself. He was royal by adoption, privileged in his childhood, educated, cultured, and trained for political leadership in the home of the most powerful man in the world at the time. But he was raised by his birth mother by a divine act of grace, so he knew all along he was really a Jew.
When Moses hit age 40, he made a defining decision to repudiate his Egyptian privileges to “suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Heb. 11) He decided to respond to the inner burden of his heart for his own nation of oppressed people. Good decision. Bad timing and miscalculations followed.
The title of this post is attention-getting for an obvious reason – most people fear the thought of standing before a group of people and speaking… out loud. I was too, and still am to some degree. When I was a kid, I was painfully and awkwardly shy. In the fifth grade, I had to give an oral report on the life of Will Rogers. I handled it by self-interviewing. I sat in the teacher’s chair and rolled left and right, pretending to be Will Rogers on one side, and something of a Johnny Carson on the other. Did it work? Well I turned red, teared up a bit, and sweated profusely, but I got an “A.” I didn’t have to speak before another audience for about seven years.
Now, I’m a Pastor. I preach three times per week, teach classes, lead Bible studies and small groups, and occasionally speak in a revival or conference. Because of my role, I’ll speak before an audience between 150 and 180 times this year. My church is not large by modern standards, but our Sunday morning crowd often runs about 230 to 250, so there are plenty of potentially intimidating faces to be concerned with.