There can be a danger in our church-planting planning that our emphasis is, in practice, only ever external. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but imagine what might have happened at a planting conference near you.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went to the stage and stood behind the podium. His planters came to him, and he began to teach them from his PowerPoint presentation.
“Blessed are the visionaries,
for theirs is the path to activism.
Blessed are those who find a venue,
for they will be comfortable (for a time).
Blessed are those with an action plan,
for they will be able to inspire and lead others.
Blessed are those who hustle and thirst for funding,
for they will not have to hold down two jobs.
Blessed are those who can multi-task,
for they will complete their to-do lists.
Blessed are the sermon preparers,
for they will have something to say at the gathering.
Blessed are those who can plant and plant again,
for they will be speaking at the next conference.
And blessed are those for whom it all comes crashing down,
for, in his kindness, the Lord draws near to them.”
Christ’s Kingdom Starts with the Internal
In contrast to the above, as King Jesus presents his manifesto to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–12), it’s all rather low-key and unimpressive. In chapters 1-4, Matthew has painted a picture so far of the powerful, long-awaited Messiah, and yet he opens his mouth and . . . it’s all a little underwhelming.
Rather than big plans of world domination, the strategy of our loving king is grassroots, low-level, and every-day. His focus is on the internal. Rather than practicing their righteousness for the sake of impressing others, he’s much more interested in the hearts of his people.
And yet it strikes me that so much of the church-planting world can be about externals. We’re a people easily impressed by numbers and size and the big picture—all of which may matter at times—and yet can this be to the detriment of, or even at the expense of, the internal?
How can we be a people who, like Jesus, care more about hearts? More about character than competence? More about what’s really going on inside, rather than the images we project on the outside?How can we be a people who, like Jesus, care more about hearts? More about character than competence? More about what’s really going on inside, rather than the images we project on the outside? Click To Tweet
The Real Beatitudes
The Beatitudes might be a brilliant place to start—not the fake ones up above that we easily veer into—but the actual ones from Jesus. Notice his emphasis on the internal; indeed, notice how the kingdom reflects the posture and emphasis of the king.
Jesus describes a people characterized by humble confidence—rooted in a poverty of spirit that is vulnerable, open, and honest about our weakness—that we simply can’t do it on our own. We need him. And with that, a mourning over the brokenness of the world and, indeed, our own lives, which leads to a meekness in how we treat one another. At this point, it’s as if we’re aware of our spiritual bankruptcy in the heart of the valley, and in that place, we hunger and thirst for a righteousness that only Christ can bestow upon us and fill us with. Jesus describes a people characterized by humble confidence—rooted in a poverty of spirit that is vulnerable, open, and honest about our weakness—that we simply can’t do it on our own. We need him. Click To Tweet
And so, faced with our inadequacy and inability and filled by his grace, how could we not be merciful with others? How could we not long for our own purity of heart within? And the fruit of this kind of spirituality? Peace-making as we seek to live a life of grace alongside others, knowing that many won’t thank us for it. Probably our own testimony, but also the testimony as we read in the New Testament, is that the people of God are often not thanked for their difference. Being different often means facing difficulties.
The Importance of Both/And
What does this all mean for us as planters and pastors? It doesn’t mean that we don’t need strategy and vision, activity and externals. It doesn’t mean that we don’t dream big dreams and pray that God would use us to plant churches in places where Jesus is not yet known. The forgotten areas characterized by the least, the last, and the lost. The vision that Jesus paints in the Sermon on the Mount is not something that any of us as followers get to opt out of–particularly those in leadership. Click To Tweet
But perhaps it does mean that we don’t need those things at the expense of the internals. The vision that Jesus paints in the Sermon on the Mount is not something that any of us as followers get to opt out of–particularly those in leadership. It’s just the basic Christian life.
If Jesus’s manifesto to change the world through his kingdom was primarily about transformed lives, let’s not so focus on the big picture vision and strategy that we lose sight of the little. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. It’s humble confidence.