Few things are more fun and satisfying to me than demolition work. I recently tore out a wall to begin remodeling our kitchen. I didn’t start this project by just grabbing a hammer and going at it, though. My wife and I carefully planned and envisioned what would best serve our family. We needed to have the end result in mind before we began.
Similarly, eschatology matters in church planting. To be sure, 2020 has brought a level of uncertainty and chaos that has people looking for the mark of the beast and signs of the end times. But that’s not what I mean. Biblical eschatology anticipates the birth pains of a broken world that give way to the restoration of all things (Rom. 8:18–25; Rev. 21).
This is why, amid suffering and opposition, we press on, knowing every church planted is an outpost of Christ’s coming kingdom—bringing light, peace, hope, and justice to bear here and now. NT Wright said, “What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.”
Brothers, we need to be leery of the temptation to truncate the gospel by missing the end of the story. Let’s consider five benefits of church planting with the end in mind.
1. Provides Patience in Urgency
The New Testament was written with the imminent hope of Christ’s return in view—a sense that time was short and work was plentiful. Yet the church’s expansion was Spirit-led as qualified men were identified and sent out (Acts 13), and as doors opened and closed while plans changed for where the gospel might go next (Acts 16:6–10).
Urgency is needed, but never apart from the confidence that Jesus is king, and the advance of his kingdom, over which the gates of hell cannot prevail, isn’t contingent on our planting efforts.
Modern church planting often edges toward market data and manmade strategies that create a manic immediacy. Planting with the end in mind supplies patience in our urgency. Urgency is needed, but never apart from the confidence that Jesus is king, and the advance of his kingdom, over which the gates of hell cannot prevail, isn’t contingent on our planting efforts.
2. Motivates Our Present Engagement
Planting with the end in mind compels us to engage in our community’s welfare. If our eschatology is escapist, there’s no reason to consider issues of justice, oppression, poverty, or any immediate suffering. We can just hunker down and try not to mess up before the end comes.
But that’s not who we are. We’re fully engaged sojourners and exiles (Jer. 29; 1 Pet. 2), called to labor for the good of our neighbors as ambassadors of the coming kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20–21). God has positioned and commissioned us to tell others about his saving grace. He’s coming back for us, and this motivates us to plant churches that proclaim good news for enslaved people.
3. Creates Broader Partnerships
Planting with the end in mind generates broader gospel partnerships. It protects us from planting reactionary churches that primarily stand against our own negative experiences in churches, or other churches around us.
Our cities need all kinds of Christ-centered churches to reach all kinds of people, and this is the beauty of the body of Christ being made up of many parts. We’re more likely to celebrate Christ’s church manifested in other local churches when we have Christ’s kingdom, and not our own, in view.
4. Equips Us to Suffer Well
Pastoral ministry enlists us in a spiritual war (2 Tim. 2:3–4), and church planters serve on the front lines. Understanding this helps us avoid triumphalist narratives and expectations as we plant churches, and endure when trials come. Planting with the end in mind equips us to suffer well.
We need to remember, as Frederick Buechner said, “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
5. Helps Our Endurance
Ten years ago, I moved with my family to Washington, D.C. to plant a church. Church planting was a major movement and Acts 29 was growing fast. The confluence of rich theology and entrepreneurial ministry that reached into cities around the world was exciting! It felt like the stuff of revival.
We’re more likely to celebrate Christ’s church manifested in other local churches when we have Christ’s kingdom, and not our own, in view.
Looking back, it’s devastating to see how many pastors and planters we’ve lost. The only way we can finish the race strong is to keep our eyes on the prize, and to have our vision set on Christ and the glory of his kingdom (1 Cor. 9:24–27; Col. 3:1–4; Heb. 12:1–4).
Whatever the trials, the glory of the gospel is that we’re never without hope. Jesus knows what we’re facing, and he alone can sustain us to the end. Remember his promise in 1 Peter 5:10-11, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”