This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the refrain of every church planter, from the Apostle Paul to the wide-eyed recent seminary grad with skinny jeans trying to get his core team from 10 people to 20.
If you’re going to plant a church, you need confidence and lots of it or you’ll get devoured by constant failures, unfair criticism, and the revolving door of members. Confidence is a lot like gasoline—too little of it and you’re not going anywhere, too much and it’s an explosion waiting to happen.
How can a church planter be gentle and lowly while boldly preaching an exclusive gospel, countering critics, and advancing against the gates of hell? How do we lead with a holy confidence that blends boldness and meekness? How can we mirror the confidence of Paul, who came with fear and trembling yet was full of power (1 Cor. 2:3–5)?
The pathway to Christlike confidence is rooted in the right trusts. Confidence, at its Latin root, means trust. So your confidence comes from where you place your trust.
It’s tempting to get your confidence from the three C’s: crowd, capital, or competence. But at some point, you’ll be stripped of these. So how do we move from confidence in crowds, capital, and competencies, to assurance in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Here are three trinitarian trusts that give life to a church planter’s confidence.
1. The Son’s Commission
In the Great Commission, Jesus commands his followers not to hide on mountains and build monasteries but to go, engage culture, and plant churches. Jesus wants to infiltrate and invade every corner of this earth with his glory—from comedy clubs to coffee shops and abandoned inner-city church buildings. And his sweeping command to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples is bookended by two foundations—his authority and his presence.Christ’s authority and presence undergird the believer’s confidence in fulfilling the Great Commission. This commission would be totally outrageous if it weren’t for these two bookends. Click To Tweet
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Christ has the right and the authority to do whatever he wants. And he wants his people to plant churches—gospel outposts that make, teach, and baptize disciples. Jesus also promises his presence. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Christ’s authority and presence undergird the believer’s confidence in fulfilling the Great Commission. This commission would be totally outrageous if it weren’t for these two bookends. Jesus is saying to church planters, “You guys aren’t idiots for doing this. I am commissioning you. You are my ambassadors. I am the king.”
At one point in my church-planting journey, I put confidence in our capital (or lack thereof). When our two-year-old church needed a building, I felt intimidated by the realities of urban real estate. How could we raise over one million dollars? A staff member rightly rebuked me and said, “Jesus has sent us to plant this church, right? He has authority and he is with us. Won’t he provide for what he sent us to do?” By God’s grace, I’m writing this article in the building Jesus provided.
2. The Spirit’s Collaboration
I recently sat with a promising, young, future planter who desperately wants to serve Jesus and our church well but felt like he had just failed. He preached a sermon that didn’t land the way he hoped it would. At one point, he even asked me, “Should I even do this (preach) again?” Yet despite his performance, multiple people texted him, sharing that his subpar sermon on evangelism catalyzed many in our church to share the gospel more.
How can a broken, young pastor have confidence even when he feels like a failure? By trusting in the Great Collaborator—the Holy Spirit.
Planting a church with the Holy Spirit is like driving in one of those Driver’s Ed cars with two steering wheels, brakes, and gas pedals. Even when I mess up, the great driving instructor is the one with the true power. His steering wheel, his brake, and his gas pedal have supremacy over my feeble, weak skills. No matter how poorly I perform, he gets me where I need to go.Often, what paralyzes church planters is the fear of failure or mediocrity—especially in a culture where pastors constantly compare themselves to the Michael Jordans of church planting. Click To Tweet
The Holy Spirit takes our weak sermons, inexperienced leadership, or clunky discipleship pipelines and still accomplishes God’s will. Often, what paralyzes church planters is the fear of failure or mediocrity—especially in a culture where pastors constantly compare themselves to the Michael Jordans of church planting. Sure, we’re always working to improve, and by God’s grace, we will. But no matter how bad we are initially, we can still go confidently.
3. The Father’s Covenant
Inevitably, every church planter develops a residual feeling of failure. Frequent “not good enoughs” gradually chip away at our confidence. I often say being a church planter is like being Rocky. It’s all about getting the crap beaten out of you and being able to keep getting back up again.
So how do we keep getting back up again?
Psychologists describe a phenomenon called attunement. Attunement is the internal sense in your heart that someone sees you and cares about you. Attunement is when a little boy playing on the playground with other kids looks back at his dad for assurance and security before he confidently jumps into building sandcastles and swinging from the monkey bars.
But what happens if a child looks back to dad and nobody’s there? What if there is no love and affection to provide him with inner security? He’ll struggle to connect with others and confidently jump into the next activity.
The gospel is the great attunement for church planters. Our mission is met with many obstacles and challenges. The source of our confidence is not any crowd, capital, or competency. It comes from that look back toward our Father, where we see a smiling, warm face that says, “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isa. 54:10).
Fellow pastors, it’s time to get back up again. Let’s stop looking at our obstacles and instead, look to God’s warm embrace. We can be confident church planters because of whom we trust. Let us go boldly as ones commissioned by Christ, collaborated with the Spirit, and covenanted with the Father.