Maybe it’s just me, but holidays like Christmas and Easter are always weird and complicated in ministry. I become preoccupied with who’s there, who’s not, and what everyone is thinking. Will the music be to their liking? Will I preach in a way that is accessible yet bold? Will these people come back? and so on . . .
Unfortunately, this past Easter was no different. Despite our service being well attended and going surprisingly well, I still wrestled with a lack of contentment the following week. After God convicted me and I repented, I was reminded of a simple—yet all too easy to forget—truth: I’m called to pastor those whom God has put in front of me.
It’s easy for church planters to dream of the kind of church they’d like to plant and lead. After all, we need to envision what the church we plan to start will look like, and part of that involves thinking about the people we need to make those plans happen. In many ways, this process is normal in seeing a healthy church planted and established.
And yet there are inherent dangers in this process. In our sin, it’s easy to operate from a worldly idealism, which inevitably leads to growing frustrated with what God has given us now. Whether it’s the slow rate of growth, a lack of leaders, a financial shortfall, or something else, discontentment can subtly seep into a church planter’s heart. And when we’re discontent with the church God has given us, we won’t be able to obey Peter’s command to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5:2).
I’m called to pastor those whom God has put in front of me.
So church planter, how often do you look to seemingly greener pastoral pastures? Do you peer over the fence and envy another’s flock? I’ve been guilty of this myself. Here are three particular dangers to this kind of discontentment.
When we’re not satisfied with the church God has given us to shepherd, pragmatism is a possible pitfall. Just add water and stir, and you’ll get these amazing results, pragmatism whispers. I’ve seen it many times; well-meaning church planters resort to the latest gimmicks, fads, and methods—often doing a kind of copy and paste from another “successful” ministry. There’s nothing wrong with learning from others, but this must never replace faithfulness to the task at hand.
One subtle danger of pragmatism is that you may gather people, but you may not disciple or shepherd them.
Overly pragmatic planters exchange the shepherd’s rod and staff for “what’s new” or the latest formula for success. And when such methods, rather than the Bible, become our functional authority, we’re in more trouble than meets the eye. Further, one subtle danger of pragmatism in church planting is that you may gather people, but you may not disciple or shepherd them.
It’s difficult to love your people well if you’re constantly focusing on who’s not there. Of course, we should be evangelistic—I’m not suggesting we abandon a fervent desire to reach the lost. But we mustn’t overlook our flock in our zeal to reach more people.
Our people need us focused on discipleship, leading the church well by the Spirit’s power. They need us to labor as we prepare to preach God’s Word; they need us to be fervent in prayer; and they need us to lead them to the Good Shepherd, time and again. We do all of this with the flock God has given us, not the “church of our dreams.”
Church planters won’t be in tune with their peoples’ needs if they’re constantly looking past them to the horizon of what lies ahead.
3. Miss God’s Grace
Further, if you’re always living in the future, not only will you miss what God has graciously done in the past, you’re likely to look past the work he’s currently doing.
During Israel’s transition from slaves in Egypt to possessors of the promised land, the Lord repeatedly commanded that they remember and recall his deliverance and mighty deeds (Deut. 6; 8). But they consistently rebelled by turning to idols. And we’re no different. When we fail to see God’s grace, given to us daily, we wander, having our hearts are drawn to other things.
Shepherd from Among the Flock
One reason I love my wife significantly more than the waitress who routinely takes my order at the neighborhood Coney Island (my favorite greasy-spoon restaurant here in Detroit) is proximity. While my favorite waitress knows my order and is kind, my wife knows me intimately and we share deep love. More than that, I’ve made a covenant with my wife (something I haven’t done with the Coney Island waitress).
As planters, it is of chief importance that we love the people God has put under our spiritual care. We have covenanted with them, and they are the sheep with whom we have closest relations. We cannot merely pastor people from the pulpit (as important as that is). We must also minister to them in their living rooms and on their front porches.
The more I’m with the sheep, the more I love them.
I can personally attest to how proximity with the flock God has given me has softened my heart toward them. The more I’m with the sheep, the more I love them, and the more vibrant my prayer life is concerning them. At the same time, proximity reveals my sin. This can be painful, but by God’s grace it has driven me to deeper dependence on the Lord Jesus. Walking closely with the flock also clarifies pastoral needs in the midst of both the mundane and mania of church planting. Yes, reaching more people is important, but so is caring for the flock God has given you.
To love people well, we must be proactive in prayer and persistent in our pursuit of wandering sheep. Robust and implemented church membership, encouraged accountability among the church family, much prayer, and intentional shepherding have allowed us to see many wanderers return home.
Church planter, your primary task is to shepherd the sheep God has given you. Do this by taking them to the Good Shepherd, over and over.