Nearly four years in to planting Church of the Cross, I’m at an interesting place in ministry. I’m no longer really considered a church planter. After all, we’re nearly four years old and we’re larger than the “mean” church in America but smaller than the “average church. And yet, wer’e still not considered a “fully established” church by the establishment (whatever that means). We’re at that in-between phase where we’re too large to rent some spaces, but can’t afford our own building. Lots of stuff to think through. Plus, I’ve had lots of time to reflect, not only on our successes but our failures and I’ve had ample opportunity to consider things I wish someone had told me in the early stages of church planting.
One of those things I wish someone had told me was not to plant a church in order to prove myself. I’ve come to accept the fact that many church planters are pretty driven people. Lots of ex-jocks, MMA fans and entrepreneuriral types. People I don’t typically connect with. In fact, I was the punk rock skateboarding kid who distanced himself from those types. And yet, I never really realized how much I had in common with them until I entered church planting culture. Though it takes different manifestations, I’ve come to think that it’s some of the same competitive spirit that drives the ex-jocks and the ex-skateboarders.
But what does all of this philosophizing about my past and competitive nature have to do with church planting, you might be asking yourself? Everything. I’ve come to realize that I along with many other church planters, planted at least in part, to prove myself. It wasn’t really that anyone was saying I couldn’t do it. I just wanted people to know I could. I worry that this drive to prove self is a driving force in lots of church planters. Either we’re holding on to past glories, trying to prove others wrong or just prove to ourselves that we can do it. But either way, I worry that far too many of us enter church planting out of some need to prove ourselves, to show that we can do it, to put others in their proper place. We’ll show them! It probably is never expressed this crassly, but the intent is often the same.
If we couple this competitive drive found in many church planters with false measures of success or failure, we’re concocting a veritable bitch’s brew (I just wanted to use a Miles Davis reference in a church planting post). If faster growth looks better from the outside (even if its not healthy on the inside), and if more people equals better, then guess what goals a driven guy is going to pursue? And, once a driven guy gets a challenge and measurable goals, the line between drive and competition can be a blurry one. I remember, a couple of years ago, a church planter moved to our side of town with the pronouncement that “No one was killing it” in this area. Well, maybe none of the church plants in this area exploding in to mega-church seedlings, but that doesn’t mean that no one was seeing success.
The danger goes deeper than just a competitive spirit among churches. If you give a driven guy a clear challenge and clear ways to measure success or failure in meeting that challenge, it is quite likely that that driven guy will, at some point, begin to wrap his identity up in ministry. I know that when I feel particularly driven on a project, my sense of self-worth can often be tied to how well or poorly I feel I’m doing at said project. When it goes well, I feel better about myself. When it stinks, I believe I stink. I’ve seen several church planters and pastors tie their own sense of identity to their ministries.
I wish someone had warned me about the dangers of tying my identity up with ministry. I wish someone had sat me down, looked me in the eyes and challenged me about when the last time I had been moved to tears by the Gospel. Was I planting because I simply overflowed with Gospel gratitude which fueled my obedience? I wish someone had had driven me deep in to the Gospel so that I planted out of an overflow of security and identity rather than a deficit. I wish someone had told me about the balance of humble confidence/meek boldness that comes only through Jesus life pouring through us in spite of us.
I wish that someone had reminded me that the indicative precedes the imperative in God’s order. We don’t obey in order to be accepted by God, we obey because we are accepted. God didn’t come to the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt and tell them that if they obeyed His rules, then He would redeem them. No, He redeemed them, and then reminded them of who He was and what He had done for them and told them that because of these things, they should live according to certain principles. They should be motivated out of gratitude rather than obligation.
Grace is easy to understand but hard to grasp. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s favor. Our obedience, our leadership, our church planting ninja skills do not merit anything before God. God is gracious so that we don’t have to prove ourselves and I wish someone had told me that planting out of an overflow of gratitude is more powerful and long-lasting than a fleeting grasp on past glories and proving people wrong or even proving something to myself.
God is gracious, so I don’t have to prove myself. Especially in ministry.
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (1): Start With Discipleship
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (2): Define Yourself Quickly And Stick To It
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (3): You’ll Probably Never Be A Mega-Church And It’s OK To Grow Slowly
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (4): Don’t Plant Out Of Opposition