The hard reality is that almost every church planter will, in some season, doubt his decision to plant and pastor a new church. As long as men have been set apart by the Spirit for this task, they have experienced doubts, second-guesses, alternate realities and thoughts about walking away (see the Pastoral Epistles).
For some it will be personal, battling with doubt about their gifting to do the work or character to be qualified for the work. For some it will be circumstantial, battling with doubt in provisions needed to do the work. And for some it will be relational, battling with doubt in people who are leaders and members.
So, when (not if) you doubt, where will you turn for renewed confidence?
As a fellow church planter who also is standing on the shoulders of giants, I propose that what you believe ultimately will steel your resolve and fuel your endurance. Conviction (theology) leads to commitment (philosophy), which must then produce conduct (methodology).
Here are three doubt-defeating convictions.
1. God made an unexpected promise
The promise I believe to be confidence-infusing underneath of church planting goes all the way back to Genesis 22. I’m talking about the unexpected promise God made to Abraham as Abraham waited for a son. In Genesis 22:17-18 (God has already set this up in chapter 12 and spoken to Abraham again in chapter 15) Moses records God’s unexpected promise: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (ESV) That promise from God to Abraham has a direct and significant impact on whether or not you should be planting a church. Notice what God says to us about that promise through the apostle Paul’s pen in Galatians 3:7-9. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham, and the scriptures foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (ESV)
Here’s the reality that we’re living in, brothers. This is the New Covenant time. We are in the culmination of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 22. In Genesis 22:17 and forward, God promised that Christ, the offspring [singular] would take the gates and would multiply and bless the nations, so that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation would be gathered, so the heavenly picture in Revelation of myriad upon myriad upon myriad from all peoples would be brought into the family of God (cf. Matt. 16:18).
Wherever the kingdom of God is advancing, disciples are being made from every tribe, tongue and nation because of the promise made to Abraham and therefore—listen!—the outcome is that new local expressions of the body of Christ are being established. The first conviction is that God promised He would multiply His people and would multiply His people from all the nations. If He’s good to His word (which He always is), then we must be about advancing that mission according to that promise, even when doubts assail us.
2. God made an unmistakable plan
The local church is Plan A. The apostle Paul makes it obvious that God’s intention to bless Abraham would be fulfilled in the local church. In Ephesians 3:7-10, he lays out for us that, in the church, “the manifold [the layered] wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (ESV) God wanted an unmistakable display, and His plan was the Church displaying the awesomeness of His promise being fulfilled to Abraham.
God’s unmistakable, unmissable plan for His promise to be fulfilled is through the relationship of a multi-ethnic people who were not a people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10) to be gathered in local expressions of His church. So, doubting church planter, be freshly convinced that God is not done yet with the plan! The reason Jesus hasn’t returned is not because He forgot to return, not because He’s been lazy or negligent. No, 1 Peter 3:9 tells us He hasn’t returned yet because He’s patient, still accomplishing His promise, through His plan of the local church.
We do not plant churches because it’s trendy, convenient, strategic or pragmatic. Brothers, we plant churches because we are convinced by God’s Word that God has promised and planned for church planting to bring Him glory among the nations!
3. God made an unlikely provision
How is God going to start new local churches? How’s God going to continue to expand the kingdom to every tribe, tongue and nation? How will the beautiful mosaic of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic local churches continue to show off the wisdom of God in His eternal plans and purposes through the promise He made to Abraham? Here’s the unlikely provision: It’s you, me and our church planting teams.
When doubts clamor for us to quit, we’re going to have to be convinced that we’re the ones God provided for His work to be done. Matthew 28:18-20 is ours. Acts 1:8 is literal: Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth are receiving the gospel through Spirit-led witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our task is to go to the ends of the earth, to every pocket, every corner, every nook and cranny with the good news of the gospel, so that in disciple making there might be church planting for the glory of God—the fulfillment of the promise and the accomplishment of His plan to show off His wisdom.
Brothers, convictions will win the day of doubts. We’ve got to plant churches. We’ve got to be involved in this work together, because of what we believe from God’s word. My little list isn’t conclusive, but it should pour a few moorings and set an initial footer for our confidence.
Prayer for the doubting church planter
Father, you are the Promise Maker, Plan Builder and Provision Giver. You are the all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful Sovereign of Heaven and Earth. Thank you, Father, for the gift of fellowship and network. It is a privilege to be Your sons and, therefore, to be brothers, co-heirs and co-laborers in this gospel family and for this church planting work. Thank you for the outposts You have entrusted to us in Your kingdom advance. Spirit of God, would you help us now? Where there is confusion, would you bring clarity? Where we are hardened, would you soften us? Where we need to be corrected, would you do that convicting work? Where we drift toward doubt, would you bolster our confidence in You, Your Word, Your grace and Your Spirit’s power? Lord Jesus, we want to see Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May You be all and in all for the praise of Your grace. Give us more grace now, we pray, and we pray for it in Your name. Amen.
Published February 8, 2023