Encouragements in the Work of Church Planting
This is a post aimed at encouraging church planters in the work to which Christ has called them. My own experience in this area consists of just over two years of work in Perth, Australia. Thus, the following food for thought does not come from a polished expert but from someone still learning what it means to follow Christ and become a fisher of men.
Often times the apostle Paul boiled down a great deal of truth into a small statement. Paul taught the “whole counsel” of God but he also had certain truths which maintained a higher priority than others and formed the nucleus of his message. We have his well known “trustworthy” sayings, we have his truth of “first importance” and he gives us what he called “my gospel” which included the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection and physical lineage from David. These kernels of truth seem to be what Paul meditated on more frequently and with more spiritual benefit than other lesser truths. On a personal level the apostle always gripped the gospel at certain familiar points. Just like a book tends to open to the same spot or a man always buckles his belt at the same hole in the strap so the first missionary always came back to the same big truths. In the paragraphs below, a couple of verses are mentioned which might be considered as familiar “belt holes” for modern day church planters. Following that, a few books are listed which, when each paragraph is accompanied by prayer, may be useful in remaining spiritually fit.
27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (ESV)
The greatest of Old Testament prophets has several notable lessons to teach all new covenant church planters. First, the “success” of Christ’s under shepherds will be given not earned. Years ago, while driving on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania, I saw an 18 wheeler pass by with all black sides and a picture of a long, gleaming sword above which were printed the words “Earned Never Given”. It was an advertisement for the United States Marines. However, John the Baptist tells us the opposite. The missionary’s ministry is always “Given Never Earned”. Second, Jesus Christ is the bridegroom not us. Because John had the proper perspective on Christ, everything else in life, including his ministry “success” or “failure” could be kept in perspective. Never lose your perspective on Christ. It is essential correctly to answer the question, “Whose son is the Christ?” at all times in one’s ministry. Third, rejoice that he must increase while you decrease. Before creation, God the Father planned to exalt his one and only Son to the position of highest possible honor. To fight against this is not only foolish but sinful. There is a sense in which a man who remembers this truth cannot be beat by Satan. How could Satan attack or tempt such a one? Not with pride. Not with bitterness. Not with despair.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (ESV)
Of course, this text reaches far beyond a few comments but perhaps it would be of comfort to consider the following thoughts. First, a minister serves the gospel message by God’s powerful grace. Every faithful minister has wondered to himself, “What am I doing here?” as he steps into the pulpit on Sunday morning. However, for church planters this is an especially nagging question. The extremely small number of people, the makeshift facility and the quiet and hesitant singing can crush the most carefully prepared sermon before it’s ever preached. But God’s grace trumps it all. Second, the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the world through the church. The world with all its brilliance has ignored their Creator but as the unsearchable riches of Christ are made known those who have been stamped with God’s image can begin to meet their Maker for the first time. As the glories of Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection shine out and strike the minds of the gathered souls God’s eternal plans come to fruition. What better passage to read prior to leading worship?
Church planters often do much of their pastoral work alone. The addition of a fellow elder doesn’t come for many years. So, it is necessary to have one’s fellow elders on the bookshelves. Each man is unique and will have particular books that minister to him in a special way but perhaps a start could be made with the following list. Counsel to Gospel Ministers by John Brown is full of Scripture and gracious but strong exhortations to “preach the word” and to give our congregations the “whole counsel of God”. An All-Round Ministry by Charles Spurgeon comes as fresh air to a weary minister and one feels as if Spurgeon is present in the study. The Biblical Shepherding of God’s Sheep edited by Steve Martin provides a lonely man with an entire elder board worth of counsel on a variety of issues. Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp allows a man to step back and evaluate his ministry in an honest and humbling way. As mentioned above, these books must be accompanied by prayer.
Above all, the church planter must remember the promise of Christ, “I will build my church”. When leaving the study at the end of a long day filled with failure in prayer, failure in bible study, failure in guarding one’s own heart and failure to think about Christ even when He is thinking of him, a man can take refuge in this truth.
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