Gospel, Church, and City (2): The Gospel Smashes a Church Planter’s Idols

In the first session of the Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp, we talked about the importance of a church planter’s submission to Jesus in all aspects of his life and ministry. I taught from Luke 14:25-33, in which Jesus makes clear that a disciple is one who loves Jesus more than any of life’s other loves-even more than wife and family and friends. Our love for him is to transcend and even position all of life’s other loves. If we love any person or thing more than we love Jesus, that person or thing has become an idol. And we are to bring our idols to the foot of the cross and allow our Lord to break the hold they have over us, so that we can once again love him supremely and love other things in a properly ordered manner.

We discussed approximately fifteen idols that obstruct a church planter from being God’s man in a given city. An idol is anything we love, trust, or obey more than we love, trust and obey Jesus. An idol is anything that becomes a functional savior and lord in our lives. I will list a few of those idols here for further reflection.

Sex: Sometimes we are tempted to love sexual pleasure more than we love Jesus. An inordinate love for sexual pleasure is what causes men to have sex before marriage, cheat on their wife, or go home after a long day of ministry and make love to an image on a computer screen or television. Sexual pleasure is a false savior; it never gives the happiness that it promises. It is a terrible lord; nothing will more quickly flatline the spiritual pulse and degrade the thoughts of a gospel man. This idol has destroyed many a man.

Money: Sometimes we love money more than we love Jesus. This inordinate love for money usually makes a person into a spender or a hoarder. A spender, on the one hand, finds functional salvation in buying “stuff” that will make him or her happy: clothes, shoes, cars, houses, TVs, gadgets, books, etc. This person functionally and practically finds joy in possessions rather than in Jesus. A hoarder, on the other hand, finds functional salvation in being a miser. This person finds his security in money and holdings rather than in God himself. Jesus talked about this idol more than any other. Money is a false savior and a tyrannical lord.

Comfort: Sometimes we love comfort more than we love Jesus. We refuse to write a blank check to the Lord, giving him complete control of our life’s account. We rule out inner city church planting or international missions because, deep down, we love comfortable homes and lives more than we love the Giver of those same gifts. We love suburban neighborhoods, SUVs, surround-sound and flat screens, decorative pillows, gentle foaming soap, and raspberry-kiwi thigh cream more than we love the King of the universe (For the record, I have never personally struggled with pillow, soap, or thigh-cream idolatry).

Success: Those of us who are “Type A” struggle mightily with this one. We are so driven and so beholden to success that we ignore family and friends, and even Jesus Christ himself. This is a sad and pathetic way to live. Do not worship this pseudo-Savior because it will destroy you rather than saving you.

Approval: Many of us are tempted to love and crave the approval of other people more than we crave the approval of God himself. The person who worships the idol of approval falls sick with a disease called “fear of man.” In young girls, this desire for approval might lead them to starve themselves (thinking that if they could just be as skinny as the 95 pound heroin addict who models the Tommy Hilfiger jeans, then some guy would love and adore her) or give their bodies away to men who don’t truly love them. In young men who are aspiring pastors and church planters, this desire for approval can lead them to become theological chameleons, saying and “believing” whatever sounds best to the particular group of people they happen to be engaging with at that particular moment. Or it can lead to a young man downloading his hero’s theological convictions and personality traits.

People: Many of us are tempted to worship people more than we love Jesus. Sometimes, we might worship a specific person. Often, we worship older pastors and church planters who we admire. These older pastors and church planters tend to be stationed out of Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York. We import these men’s theological convictions (without due time in prayer and the Word), clothing preferences, preaching styles, jokes, and even their intonations. Other times, we might worship a peer group or a sub-culture. Either way, this inordinate admiration for a person is a clear statement: Ultimately and practically, we admire this person more than we admire Christ.

Ministry Events: This idol can be closely related to the previous one. Sometimes, we desperately rely upon the latest Christian conference, sermon podcast, or book to get our much-needed “spiritual fix.” When we do this, what we are really saying is, “I am not satisfied with Christ, his Spirit, and his Word. I must have conferences and podcasts.” Ministry events will never sanctify us. Only God can do that.

Church Planting: Sometimes, church planting itself is an idol. You might find yourself jockeying for attention, always keeping an eye on the three Bs (baptisms, budgets, buildings), and eventually find that you have taken your eyes off of the Builder of the church, Christ himself. Even church planting can be a pseudo-Savior and a domineering Lord.

Reputation: We often love our reputation more than we love He who is without blemish. We have the “I’m such a good guy” syndrome. We refuse to admit when we are wrong. We refuse to confess our sins. In fact, you might be reading this blog post and realize that you refuse to confess the idols we’ve previously mentioned because you can’t bear to admit to your sin. You love your reputation more than you love Jesus.

In conclusion, there are many, many things that we can love more than we love Jesus. When we love those things we are saying, in effect, that we love God’s gifts more than we love God himself. We are trusting and loving false saviors; we are obeying puny and inferior lords.

If we do not confess our idols, we will never repent of them; if we do not consistently repent of our idolatries, we will never minister in the fullness of the power of God’s Spirit. And if we never minister in the fullness of the Spirit, one day we will look back at our lives and ministries and realize that we have wasted them.

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 6)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

The Church:

Muslim background believers in Jesus (MBBs) should be encouraged to remain in their community as much as possible.

Muslim background believers should be encouraged to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity as much as they can without compromising their obedience to Scripture.

MBB churches should be encouraged to be indigenous in their expressions of their faith and worship, without compromising Scripture. This is particularly true in matters of style. The church should look, sound and feel local, not foreign.

New believers and churches should be pointed to the Bible, and not to the foreign expert, to answer their questions about Christian belief and Christian living.

New churches should be encouraged to apply Scripture to the issues they face in their cultural setting, and to express their faith in ways that engage their culture directly. Their teaching and their confessions of faith should respond to the specific issues they face in their culture.

New churches can utilize local cultural practices that are consistent with Scripture.

New churches should be led by local believers and not by foreigners, as much as possible.

New churches should be financed locally (in so far as they need financing at all), and not by foreign money.

New churches should take full responsibility for the Great Commission from the start.

A church can meet anywhere. Neither the presence nor the absence of a building belongs to the Biblical essence of church.

At the same time, insofar as it lies with us:

MBB churches must have a clear identity as belonging to Jesus.

MBB churches should not present themselves as being still essentially Muslim.

MBB churches should not teach or believe that Islam, its prophet or its book are of divine origin.

MBB church teaching, and church confessions of faith, should maintain as central that which is central in the teaching of the Bible. It is true that each culture and each generation raises different issues which the people of God must address from the word of God. However, there are also core doctrines in the Bible which are central to the faith in every age and every place.

MBB churches should pursue all of the elements of a Biblical church, as laid out in the Church Definition and Guidelines.

MBB churches need to be careful about the theological and spiritual baggage that local cultural and religious practices may carry. (For example, in our experience it was MBB’s who resisted namaz-like prayer practices the most, because they connoted to them a fearful, distant, works-based relationship with God.)

MBB churches need to recognize their connection with the global Body of Christ.