This post is the first in a four part series for aspiring church planters. For the other posts in this series use the buttons at the bottom of the page.
Qualified to Count
Before you plant a church, there’s a good chance you see church planting like a Tesla. You marvel at its beauty, power, and potential. Church planting is the most desirable career out there—the beauty of what you could create, the unique power of the gospel, and the unlimited potential of planting a church. It is exhilarating. But there’s a problem. You don’t really know what’s under the hood. I’d like to pop the hood with you to take a look at what it takes to plant a church. Let’s consider two things: what qualifies you and what do you count?
What Qualifies You?
Your disqualification to lead Christ’s church likely won’t be doctrinal, but moral.
Church planting is combat; it is front lines activity. What happens on the front lines? In a hail of bullets the cause advances, friends fall, and planters fail. Character is tested. Every weakness is magnified; cracks widen into crevices. Your disqualification to lead Christ’s church likely won’t be doctrinal, but moral.
St. Paul’s infallible list of leadership qualifications does not include missional strategy or leadership pipelines. It doesn’t privilege personality types or great preachers. The list doesn’t even major on systematic or biblical theology. First Timothy 3 is ninety percent behavioral and ten percent doctrinal. 90% character; 10% doctrine.
A church planter should be so deeply acquainted with 1 Timothy 3 that it scares him.
If one sin was going to take you out of ministry, which one would it be? Do you know? You should, and so should your wife and fellow leaders. Sin is anti-character serum. Drink it and your character breaks apart. Satan lines up the drinks, all kinds, and says “Bottoms up!”
If one sin was going to take you out of ministry which would it be? Do you know? You should and so should others.
Perhaps the stiffest drink is glory. Rebecca Deyoung describes the root of all sin as vaingloriousness, a trip on glory. Vainglory drinks in Self. It assigns weight and importance to yours truly. Vainglory grasps for attention more than Christ. This attention can come in the form of praise for success or despair over failure, preoccupation with stats or disappointment with attendance.
You will face vainglory in ministry.
The question is how? When I first started blogging on theology, church planting and mission, I checked the stats every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Why? Because I was desperate to see the gospel spread? Motives were mixed, but I wanted to see my glory spread. Though I would never have put it like that, I was curious to see what people thought about me and my thoughts. In the first couple of years of church planting, low conversion numbers pestered me like a rash and modest attendance could put me in a sour mood. Vainglory is blinding. You don’t see it, but it sees you.
What Do You Count?
Young church planters often desire to count or be close to those they perceive to count. We think we count (matter) because we can count (quantify) certain metrics. A megachurch pastor once told me, “Everybody counts. We count conversions but you count missional communities.” Ouch. Counting is how we track glory. In years 1 to 2, I counted converts. In years 3 to 4, I counted churches planted. In years 5 to 6, I counted books sold. But I wouldn’t have told you that at the time!
What do you count?
Blaise Pascal asks, “Are you afraid? Don’t be afraid. If you’re not afraid, be afraid.” God says, don’t just be afraid of 1 Timothy 3; be afraid of me. Put the weight where it belongs, on my glory. Paul put it like this: “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Revolve around the riches of his glory. Get underneath the gospel and plead for awe over its God.
What Really Counts?
Whatever you count, none of it compares to Christ.
Whatever you count, none of it compares to Christ. Numbers will rise and fall but he remains the same—ever glorious. Marvel at Christ in you, not you in you. He is your hope of glory. The Hebrew word for glory means “weight.” The gospel tells us we don’t have to assign weight to ourselves because Christ is our weight. Count on Christ, even above your character, because your character will crack but Christ will not. In fact, Christ was cracked wide open so you and I can be healed up.
First Timothy 3, with all of its rigorous character demands, requires something more. We must “hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” What is the mystery of the faith?
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.
– 1 Timothy 3:16
Adore the beauty, the power, and the potential not of church planting, but of the risen Christ.
Sheer poetry, total glory. Christ, the hope of glory, taken up in glory, returning in glory. Count on Christ and you’ll never be disappointed. In the end, this chapter is 90% character, 10% doctrine, and 100% gospel! All of Christ for all of us, his record for our record, his glory in place of our sin. Now, that’s motivating, not just to plant a church but to follow hard after her Lord! This doxology is meant to define us, to recalibrate what we count, so that we count on Christ. So, the more we marvel at Christ the more we will model his character. Adore the beauty, the power, and the potential not of church planting, but of the risen Christ. And build his church on that.