An Honest Evaluation of a Church Planter’s HeartBy Jamie Hart
April 17, 2020
In 2011 I left the church where I had served as Senior Pastor for 7 years to plant a new church. I loved the people dearly which made leaving very hard, but I had reasons for the decision. If you were to ask me then what those reasons were, I would have answered well: “I’m leaving to plant a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, city-impacting church for the furtherance of the gospel” or “Most churches across America are plateaued or declining and we need more, fired up, new churches in every city!” Those certainly were the primary reasons I was taking on this life-changing endeavor. However, my heart is not that simple. Hidden in the layers of my heart’s idolatry were other, not so wonderful reasons. If a church planter is not very careful and completely honest with his deceitful heart, that WRONG reason might actually be THE driving force. The WHY of church planting just might be more important to God than the WHAT. I am going to share what an honest evaluation has revealed to me about my own heart and let it serve as a caution for would-be planters.
If I close my eyes, I can still see my dream church service. It’s a large, modern auditorium, packed, of course. The worship team has just finished leading the congregation in one of our original songs from our soon-to-be released album. There are tears in eyes as the worship was just REAL! The people are reaching for their Bibles, eager for another amazing sermon. We have a team of trained and excited small group leaders ready to help me take this message into the lives of our people. The high-quality sermon bumper video starts, and I begin walking up to the stage dressed in something trendy and looking amazing and trim. I’m going to bring a fired-up message to the masses. God will use it. People will tweet my quotes, and my heart will be satisfied.
It’s painful to be that honest, but it’s important to see the mixture of the good and the ugly. Twisted into the stuff that glorifies God is a good deal of garbage that is more about ME than it is about HIM. When I dive deep into the layers of my heart, I see a nasty motivation festering beside Christ-exaltation: my own significance.
Let’s get real. We LONG for significance and we believe that being a “successful” pastor will bring it to us. We see another man’s ministry in our social media feeds and we are jealous of what they have. We begin to play the “If only” game. “If only I baptized that many people” or “If only my church auditorium looked that full” or “If only my tech team would share some ‘pull quotes’ from my messages.” Finish the statement. Then…what? Our hearts would be satisfied? We would finally have the adoration of others and we could feel better about ourselves? It’s hard to admit this dark desire, but in complete transparency, this is too often my heart. The cold reality needs to be seen and believed. The admiration of others is an idol that will never, ever satisfy.
This is a lesson God is drilling into my rock-hard heart. Nothing but Christ satisfies and any other desire is an idol. Yes, even planting a “God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, city-impacting church for the furtherance of the gospel” can be an idol if it’s built on the dark desire of self-exaltation. God has been good to reveal my self-worship in painful ways. My church has not exploded. I don’t preach in a large, modern auditorium on Sundays. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that my gifts are moderate at best, but through all the “failure,” Jesus has been there to love me anyway. His gospel has filled the gap of my failures, perceived and real, and His grace has allowed me to shepherd a people. He’s been good enough to show me how much of a wretch I really am in order to show me how great His grace really is. In truth, I don’t deserve to preach to 10 people, let alone 10,000, but His goodness has let me lead a small congregation to see how magnificent He is and to allow His message and His beauty to have the life-changing impact He promised (2 Cor. 3:18). Success, true success, is when I am living satisfied in HIM and leading others to do the same. On Sunday our worship team will lead our congregation in songs from other people’s albums. I will mount the pulpit and turn to see my small church. Some people will be smiling with Bibles open, others yawning already, and many will be distracted trying to settle their kids. I’ll be wearing loafers my wife bought on sale at JC Penny, Old Navy jeans, a shirt from the GAP outlet (bought on sale as well), and a black corduroy jacket that’s attempting to hide my less than fit belly. If I exceed my average, I’ll deliver a moderate sermon that no one will tweet about. However, if I do this with a passionate desire to make Jesus known and His gospel real because I’m living in the JOY that only He can bring, then I have been truly successful. I can leave, trusting God will use it. I will need nothing else to satisfy me because I have Jesus and He really is enough.