This is the last of a three part series on a few necessary ingredients I’ve seen for 21st century church planters reaching into North America. The first ingredient was Gospel Preaching — that is, we preach Christ. The Gospel Story has as its main Hero, Christ, God the Son. I encouraged you in the need to preach the Story because that is no longer known in our mission field. To tell someone they need to “receive Christ as Savior” has no context. To believe in Jesus for forgiveness without the Story is stranding people. We need to retell the whole Gospel Story because it is the only story that is compelling and cohesive, making sense out of life.
The second necessary ingredient of 21st Century church planters was Gospel Mission -- “We preach Christ to the unconverted” (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:6, 10). Missional Church is the rave now, as if no one planting prior to this decade were truly mission oriented. So we unpacked that briefly. The primary thought being that we are on a mission field in the USA. It is time for our planters to think of themselves as missionary evangelists and orient their lives and new works around that operating principle. “We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
The final part of this exercise is Gospel Renewal — “We preach Christ to ourselves”.
Paul informed his protégé Titus that the gospel teaches us to live lives of ongoing repentance (to put off and say “No” to things that dishonor God and also our inordinate or over desires for what this world offers), ongoing Faith (Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us for himself—as his very own!) and ongoing Following (“Yes” to live self-controlled-literally soberly-, upright and godly lives 2:11,12).
Ongoing Gospel Renewal is not a decrease of your desires and an increase of your will power to do better for God. Nor to be more faithful or more duty bound. It is not a matter of the will but the heart. We are always controlled by our deepest passions. People do what they love to do. And in launching a new church, it can easily become the thing we are most passionate about — at the expense of our kids, our wives, and even God. I know because I’ve been there and have a dozen T-shirts to prove it.
When Jesus is the true passion of your heart, your deepest joy and satisfaction, then all our other desire — (no longer “over desires” which control us) are brought into order.
Did you see how Paul helped Titus bring gospel renewal to his own life? This is what I call the Gospel Dance. Not a two-step of “Trust and Obey” or a One step of “Just believe” but a three step. It’s an ongoing renewal of Repentance, Faith, and Following in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
“The true secret to all ministry is spiritual power. It is not man’s genius, or man’s intellect, or man’s energy; but simply the power of the Spirit of the God of the Gospel. It is well for all ministers to bear this ever in mind. It will sustain the heart and give constant freshness to their ministry. A ministry that flows from abiding dependence upon the Holy Spirit can never become barren.
If a man is drawing on his own resources, he will soon run dry. It matters not what his powers may be, or how extensive his reading, or how vast his stores of information; if the Holy Spirit be not the spring and power of his ministry, it must, sooner or later, lose its freshness and its effectiveness. How important, then, that all who minister in the gospel should lean continually and exclusively on the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows what souls need, and He can supply it. But he must be trusted and used. It will not do to lean partly on self and partly on the Spirit (C H Macintosh, Notes on the Book of Numbers, 1861).”
Gospel Prayer is The Link to Preaching, Mission, and Renewal. “If preaching is mainly or primarily communication, then we should place a high premium on techniques; but if we want to reach the heart (the motivational level), the reality is only God can reach the heart. One of the means God uses to penetrate the heart is prayer. Martin Luther was asked if he had a choice between being a great preacher or a great prayer which would he choose. He said, a great prayer, because Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach” (Tom Wood, Church Planter Field Manual: Exploring).
Steve Brown, the president of Key Life and Seminary professor, once said, “Your commitment to praying in your sermon preparation needs to be greater than your commitment to your mortgage payment!”
In mission, Church Planting Evangelists ask God to save others. They also enlist the prayers of others to assist them in evangelizing others with the Gospel. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).
In renewal, prayer is vital because it deals with the affections of the heart. Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day that even though they were outwardly doing the right things their hearts were far away — hardened and cold. Religious people clean the outside and look right and pure but in the heart, the inside it is “like a dead man’s bones”.
Why is prayer so important to gospel renewal for a planter? I’ve found that prayer can be one of the first things to go in the life of a planter. Oh, they can keep the professional prayer life — the outside and external — ok, with prayer’s in the service or opening prayer in a small group; even the overused, “I’ll pray for you” farewell. But inside the cup, prayer is all but gone. And when we do privately pray, it is usually, “God bless my thing going on here. Bless this new work, make it grow.”
There are two types of renewal prayer: Interventive and Preventative. Interventive is how we pray when there’s a crisis or ongoing need. It’s how we pray when a child is sick or someone in the church is having a marital blow up. It’s our ongoing prayer list for the same things each week.
Preventative prayer is for our daily workout with God. It is the gospel dance in the soul. Ongoing time of repenting of my negative emotions and false beliefs (If I had more people coming then everything would be better or If God would send us some leaders we could really have a greater impact). Preventative ongoing repentance helps strip away my false saviors and idols.
It also informs my faith system with True Truth. Jesus really has done it all. I pray thankfully that He has lived the life I cannot live. His death has paid for my guilt and shame. His life now before the Father is one of intercession and provision. I have His Spirit in me. I have a True Midnight Friend, a Father, who knows what I need and is eager to give good things to me, his son. Even his own Spirit! With that, my new affections are to believe him and follow him. That is gospel renewal at its best.
In our new global, multi-ethnic, post-enlightenment, everything goes world what is a church planter to do? At the very least, Preach Christ, Connect People to Christ, and Renew the heart in Christ. Then Christ, who is head of the Church, will do his thing.
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Remember, you don’t have to plant a church alone. A CMM C.R.O.S.S. Coach will give you the margin you need to think. Our coaches will engage your heart and life. Church Planter coaching is a process of imparting encouragement and skills to the planter in order to succeed in the task of starting a gospel-saturated church, in the context of a gospel friendship. Learn more about CMM C.R.O.S.S. Coaching today.
Are you at the 5-7 year mark? Many young church leaders and pastors feel confused or discouraged about what to do next. The tendency during this season is to believe God must intend someone else to “take it to the next level.” The next level, unfortunately, is almost always down. Don’t walk away from your investment! CMM’s NEXT 5-7 will guide the church through a process of identifying and implementing practical, measurable, gospel-focused ministry practices that sharpen the God given mission and improve the health of the local church. Learn more today!
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!