So much has changed in the past year. These days, masking in public and avoiding other people have become normal. Large indoor gatherings come under scrutiny or are forbidden by law. How does a church planter navigate a post-COVID culture? The answer may not be as complex as the question. If we remember that God is sovereign and His Word remains a sure guide for us, we can take courage that church planting will succeed.
In fact, the strength of a well-built house is not proved on the sunny days in perfect weather but through the darkened clouds of the fiercest storms. Because God is the architect and builder of the church, He is not backpedaling and scrambling for a solution to the post-COVID problems confronting church planters. He is, as Scripture reminds us, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Below are four aspects of theology to comfort and encourage church planters in troubling times. These four truths can help your church plant stay focused and be strengthened in the coming months.
When we think of the nature of humankind (anthropology), we often go immediately to the doctrine of sin. Human beings are sinful creatures. No one understands the dysfunction of people better than pastors and church planters. What sin have you not witnessed among people, right?
But the biblical truth about humankind is more robust. We would do well to remember that human beings are capable of receiving revelation and spiritual renewal from God. God has spoken to us in His Son. This means we can know more about God and ourselves. Sure, knowing God reveals our sinful nature, but knowledge of God reveals what we can become, too. We are destined to be rulers, to become blameless and beautiful in the sight of the Father through the work of the Son. Therefore, the church is a pearl of great price, a treasure in the eyes of God. People matter to God. Whatever trouble we currently have is no match for the reality that God loves people and is providing redemption for them TODAY! This is no time to give up on people. As the writer of Hebrews says, today is the day to not harden your hearts. Stay soft to the redeeming work of God toward people.
Our understanding of the doctrine of the church—our ecclesiology—reminds us that this taxing work is really not our work. It belongs to the one who said, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Take courage, church planter! Jesus plants churches. Our ecclesiology reminds us in the times that our knees are weak and our courage failing that Jesus is the head over all things to the church. And, like the Father, Jesus is always working.
Jesus is working in and through the lives of real people. Jesus is not just working; He is building. Church planting can be so exhausting because it puts a mountain of burden upon one person. If you feel you are that one person… you’re wrong. You’ve overstepped your boundaries. Jesus is the one on whom the church depends. Go to Him! And watch Him work.
Along these lines, there is another helpful bit of ecclesiology. Because Jesus is working in these ordinary people, He is equipping them for ministry. Find a way to remind every believer of their priesthood. In other words, Jesus is assembling the people surrounding you so they can minister to one another and thereby be a light to the world around you. Set your people free to minister in the name of Jesus. Empower your people to do the work of ministry. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15–16 (ESV):
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
A third theological help for church planters is our Christology. We have “doctrines” about Christ precisely because we know Him. We should be mindful that knowledge of Christ is not merely mental or “doctrinal.” It is these things, but our real hope is anchored in the fact that our God is relational. We know Him through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. We are primarily people related to the living God. We are bought with a price and brought into His family by His grace, which is why Christ is not ashamed to call us “brothers” (Heb 2:11).
We should remember for ourselves and our people that we are the people of God—adopted as sons and daughters. As a result, we have unique promises and privileges. One such promise is that Christ lives to make intercession for us—not for all: for us. The writer of Hebrews details the process by which Christ blazed a trail from Earth, through death, and back to the holiest of all places surrounded by fire to enter the presence of God, who is Himself called a consuming fire! People related to Christ have an anchor for their souls in the presence of God. Christ is anchored there, making intercession for us so we can arrive safely to His presence, which leads to our last theological point.
Our knowledge of eschatology—or the end times—frequently gets us off track and into intramural doctrinal debates. But eschatology doesn’t have to end with divisions about the Rapture or the prophetic nature of world events. In fact, eschatology is not designed to lead there. Instead, our eschatology should lead us to the end of Revelation, where the cry rings out, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Our eschatology reminds us of two unflinching truths. (1) This world is not our home. Discomfort, discouragement, and even injustice can be expected. (2) Our future is more certain than the sun, moon and stars. We are the only people on Earth who have certain knowledge of the future. We don’t have complete knowledge; our knowledge is frustratingly incomplete, in fact. But we know this life is temporary. We have a future city whose architect and builder is God. We look to Him and to His future for us when the present seems so dim.
These four aspects of theology are capable of keeping us mindful that our church-planting labor is never in vain. The one who began the good work in us (His church) will be faithful to complete it until the day Christ returns. Here, in our robust theological commitments, we find perseverance to the glory of God.
Published December 16, 2020