It was recently pointed out to me that a building I was visiting had a telltale crack that had appeared in one of the corners where two of the walls came together. The building was older, perhaps a hundred years in age, and from all appearances on the outside, was quite beautiful and impressive. However, I was told that the crack—visible only from the inside—indicated a more serious problem than was even evident to the naked eye. The foundation was flawed, cracked as well, and that this would eventually bring about the demise of the building itself.
Can I state the obvious? Church planting doesn’t always encourage the construction and building of the planter’s own spiritual life. In fact, ministry in general often fights against the necessity of personal spiritual formation in the life of all Christ-followers. I find this especially true, at least anecdotally, among leaders in church life.
I have no doubt that the Enemy is behind a lot of this. He is “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes it’s an all out, frontal assault, but often times it’s not. He’s usually subtler than that. If he can get church leaders to focus on “the good” rather than “the best,” he can neutralize their development or at least encourage a crack to appear in it.
In church planting this is often compounded by the fact that egos are large and resources are small. Planters sometimes think too much of themselves or they have limited options to assist them in the work of ministry. In either case, they often try to do it all themselves. Since everyone, including the planter, has the same amount of time, then something has to give. Unfortunately, it’s often their own spiritual development that suffers as a result.
This past month, the BCM/D granted me a sabbatical, for which I am thankful. My intended purpose for this experience was to retreat, reflect, renew and re-engage, all in the midst of life and ministry learning with family and friends. During this time I was reminded of several keys that are essential for church planters—and all Christian leaders, in fact—to remember as they seek to build strong, healthy spiritual lives while ministering.
Being before Doing. In God’s eyes, who I am is more important than what I do. If I forget this, I negate the work of grace in my life and attempt to earn God’s favor through my service. In addition, who I am (or may not yet be) will directly impact what I do. If I am to develop as a leader like I should, I must cultivate my spiritual walk with God; it will affect everything else.
Relationship not Religion. Christianity is not a bunch of rules, tasks and obligations. It is a relationship with the living Lord. Our Father desires to develop intimate communion with His children, but religious responses crowd Him out and make the “forms” more important than the “function.” In other words, relationship makes it personal; religion, impersonal.
Love trumps Duty. What motivates you in your Christ-life? While responsibility rightly ought to move us to behavior in our ministry, the ultimate motivator in our lives should be love. Jesus taught us the importance of such love in our walk with God and in our connections with others (Matthew 22:37-39; John 15:12-13). Love is a relational motivator and thus, nurtures our life in Christ. Duty alone, on the other hand, brings burnout and a judgmental heart.
Priority above Activity. To put this another way, quality is more important than quantity in our lives. Even Jesus didn’t try to do “everything.” He instead chose to do what was most important at all times. He reminded busy, hard-working friend, Martha that her sister Mary, who sat at His feet, had “chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Doing the right things is always more important than doing more things.
People over Assignment. With so many needs in ministry, it is easy to forget that our assignment is not just checking off everything on our “to do” list. Tasks are not the objective; they are means to an end. The end in our service is always people, God’s choicest creation. Every job and assignment we have is done for the purpose of helping others and the calling God has placed upon their lives. If we forget the objective, our hearts become pharisaical and will harden.
Community rather than Isolation. You can’t be a solitary follower of Christ and grow your soul. The Godhead experiences community; Jesus exemplified it here on earth. We are created for community and need it desperately to thrive spiritually. While leadership in ministry often wars against close “common unity” with others for a variety of reasons (most are self-imposed), the growing disciple will allow “iron to sharpen iron” and will learn the necessity of interdependence in the Body of Christ.
Oswald Chambers reminds us all, “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him” (My Utmost for His Highest, January 18). In fact, if not careful, we can all too quickly neglect this essential foundation to work on the superstructure. And while superstructures can impress those who view them, the ultimate ability of the building to accomplish its intended purpose depends on what is inside and more specifically, what is unseen.
(This article is an “advance peek” at what I have written for the next edition of the PlantLIFE section of the BaptistLIFE newsjournal, coming out later this month.)