We enter into a church plant or pastoral ministry with a dream in mind. A prayerful set of God-honoring goals for what the church will give itself to and gradually become. But do we have an equally clear set of goals for who we are to become as we stare down the barrel of a new gospel work?
In Philippians 3:10, Paul articulates a threefold prayer that ought to shape the heart of every pastor and church planter: “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” Since planting our church, this verse has been an inner compass—constantly realigning my heart to what truly matters. I’ve used it to identify three goals:
- Know Christ.
- Walk daily in resurrection power.
- Gladly embrace gospel pain.
But, as is the case with all noble goals and worthy quests, we shouldn’t expect smooth sailing. On the road to each of these Spirit-powered pursuits lies a formidable, fleshly enemy. A demonic distraction. A believable lie. Here are three such enemies:
- Ministry busyness.
- Worldly comfort.
The common denominator of all three enemies is subtlety. On the surface they seem harmless enough, perhaps even virtuous. But like the sirens to Odysseus, they are nothing more than monsters posing as beauties, under whom lie countless ministry shipwrecks who thought they were sailing toward success.
Whether we’re preparing to plant or preparing to send, whether we’re just beginning the race or have the finish line in sight, may being aware of these three enemies focus our eyes—and appropriating these three goals power our stride—as we press on toward the goal.
In his book True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer described the Christian life as being “cast up into moment-by-moment communion, personal communion, with God himself.” This sense of longing marked the life of David:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you. (Ps. 63:1)
That is what Paul is getting at when he says, “My goal is to know him” (Phil. 3:10). And yet it is disastrously possible to be busy doing things for Jesus, in close proximity to Jesus, and yet never really know Jesus (Matt. 7:23). Such was the tragedy of Judas Iscariot.
It is disastrously possible to be busy doing things for Jesus, in close proximity to Jesus, and yet never really know Jesus.
So as you plant your church, be wary of a spiritual busyness that works and sweats and serves but does not abide. Luke 10:40, in which Jesus tenderly rebukes Martha for “being distracted with much serving,” should be blazoned on the eyeballs of all of us who have a knack for “getting things done for Jesus.”
This is particularly important for us who regularly preach and teach God’s Word. One of the most common (albeit concealed) tragedies of our time is the countless number of pastors who labor in the kitchen of God’s Word, preparing spiritual meals for others, while slowly starving their own souls.
As a fellow church planter recently said to me, “I want to preach as a man who has not merely been to seminary, but who has sat still in the presence of Jesus.“
Walk Daily in Resurrection Power
Paul constantly prayed for power. The New Testament is clear that normal, non-weird, non-optional Christianity is marked not by mere talk, but by power (1 Cor. 4:20). Paul needed power
- to share the gospel (Acts 4:33),
- for ministry (Col. 1:28),
- to abound in hope (Rom. 15:13),
- for spiritual growth (2 Cor. 3:18),
- to press on in endurance (Col. 1:11),
- to share in suffering for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8),
- to deal with demonic spirits (Luke 10:17),
- to face any circumstance in life (Phil. 4:11–13),
- to comprehend the atomic reality of union with Christ (Eph. 3:16–17).
Given the scope of our need, self-reliance—that great virtue of Western individualism—makes no sense at all. It is a deadly and subtle form of pride that flows from either delusions about our talent or impatience with God’s timing.
For many Christian leaders, the greatest indicator of pride in our hearts is not the presence of boasting, but the absence of prayer. When we rely on our giftedness, we may as well be trying to circle the globe in a glider. It might fly for a while. But it will crash and burn.
For many Christian leaders, the greatest indicator of pride in our hearts is not the presence of boasting, but the absence of prayer.
As we planted our church, I learned how prone I was to drifting into ministry rhythms shaped by my own gifting, rather than a posture of spiritual poverty into which Jesus loves to pour his strength (2 Cor. 12:9). How easy it is to plan and execute a ministry strategy that assumes God’s blessing, instead of ministering from a place of prayerful reliance. So I constantly ask myself: Does the way I’m approaching this week reveal a prayerful awareness of, and dependence on, the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit?
Prayer is God’s sovereignly appointed means of connecting our never-ending neediness to his never-ending power. Corrie ten Boom put it well: “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”
Gladly Embrace Gospel Pain
One of the most admirable things about Paul is that he never seemed surprised by suffering. Likewise, every church planter must know that pain is as normal to ministry as gravity is to our earthly reality; it keeps our feet on the ground.
When comfort and success abound, we’re prone to forget the cost of discipleship (Mark 8:34–36). It only takes a little success to be seduced by it. To stop taking risks and to start looking inward. To become satisfied with a regular pay check and to settle for playing it safe.
One of the most admirable things about Paul is that he never seems to be surprised by suffering.
By the Spirit’s power, let’s say no to a decision-making framework driven by our surrounding culture’s idolatry of comfort instead of the cross. What if we weren’t shocked by discomfort in ministry? What if we embraced our low position of being “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:13)—because we were totally secure in our eternal position (Eph. 2:6)?
If the gospel is true; if Christ is on the throne; if the same Spirit that raised him from the grave is really with you and in you and empowering you; then your resources for ministry supremely outnumber your problems. In Christ, you are loaded. You have more spiritual power available to you than you have spiritual problems coming at you, no matter how dark the day.