When Church Planting Feels Impossible

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Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Remember the story of Sisyphus?

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was that ancient king of Corinth, condemned by the gods to an eternity of pointlessness. Each day, he would push an enormous boulder to the top of one of hell’s hills. As he’d near the summit, the weight of the boulder would roll back on him, sending them both tumbling down the mountain—at which point he would begin his impossible task again.

Unending futility, unceasing struggle, an unachievable mission. Remove God’s sovereignty from ministry, and we’re all Sisyphus.

Any attempt to plant churches, preach the gospel, and advance the Great Commission that bypasses a right understanding of God’s sovereignty is an exercise in futility. We’ll grow overwhelmed with the size of the mountain before us and eventually crushed by a weight our creaturely frames were never designed to bear.

When our days turn dark, where do we turn for assurance that our labor isn’t in vain? Where do we find the fearless obedience that marked the early church? Where can church-planting pastors look for such readiness to embrace risk for the sake of Christ’s name?

Remove God’s sovereignty from ministry, and we’re all Sisyphus.

We look to the same place the rest of heaven has fixed their eyes: Christ on the throne. As the apostle John writes,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number . . . crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10)

The great redeemed multitude at the end of days know, with absolute certainty, that this was God’s mission all along. Every one of his promises was fulfilled. Every one of his purposes was accomplished. And every loss suffered, prayer uttered, and risk taken by his people was not in vain.

There are at least two reasons we must see and savor God’s sovereignty as we plant churches.

1. It Deepens Our Assurance

Just before Jesus commissioned the disciples to take the gospel to the world, he wanted them to know that absolute authority belongs to him (Matt. 28:18).

Why is this so important?

Jesus wanted to make it clear that even though he’s graciously included us in God’s mission, he hasn’t abdicated ultimate responsibility for this mission. It’s here, in realizing the true extent of his authority, that we find the courage to endure.

The more certain we are of Christ’s sovereignty over all things, the more willing we will be to follow him into anything. Rightly understood, God’s sovereignty over human salvation does not diminish missionary zeal; it amplifies it. God’s sovereignty does not impede bold praying; it fuels it.

Even though Christ has graciously included us in God’s mission, he hasn’t abdicated ultimate responsibility for the mission.

No one can vote Jesus off his throne. He is the Lord of lords; no committee can fire him. He is the King of kings; no human power or satanic army can overthrow him. A. W. Tozer helps us see the sheer magnitude of the gap between creature and Creator:

We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. . . . Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.

Do you see that? Sovereignty does not merely mean best; it means unbeatable.

That’s what Tozer is getting at. That’s what Jesus wants us to know. And this knowledge is church-planting rocket fuel.

Here’s the question, then, facing every church planter: Am I drawing assurance from my ingenuity or from his sovereignty?

Because this is God’s mission, not ours, he is infinitely more committed to its success than we are. When we labor from a right grasp of Christ’s sovereignty over his mission, we’ll become increasingly glad to embrace risk in his mission.

2. It Encourages Us to Take Risks

Planting a church means being willing to risk loss—loss of comfort, reputation, society’s approval, friends, wealth, and, in many cases around the world, loss of life itself.

When we labor from a right grasp of Christ’s sovereignty over his mission, we become increasingly glad to embrace risk in his mission.

In Acts 4, the early church was threatened with all of the above. How did they respond? They didn’t pray for protection, or safety, or vengeance upon their persecutors. Instead, they prayed:

Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29–30)

So yes, we may be hated. Yes, there will be discouraging seasons. Yes, our church may not go the way we planned. And yes, sometimes we will feel like Sisyphus, saddled with insurmountable mountains and unbearable boulders.

But that’s only when we forget who has promised to do the heavy-lifting (Matt. 11:28–30). The good news is that Jesus doesn’t need our strength; he wants to give us his.

Risk Is Right

Are you overwhelmed by the enormity of the church-planting task? Remember your King. What match is Everest when it hears the voice of him who spoke it into existence? What match is the boulder of any sin-hardened heart when it comes face-to-face with the Rock of Ages?

So press on, church planter. Continue on the path of risk. Your risen Lord is sovereign over all things. You can follow him into anything.

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