The Grace in ‘Not Yet’By Bradley Bell
August 23, 2021
So, I live in a seminary town—people like to debate theology, and everybody wants to drop the mic. One day, as egg-headed banter was sailing across a classroom, an unimpressed professor took the metaphorical mic from mid-air, and what he said, I will never forget: “I don’t trust any of you. You’re too young to have a balanced opinion.”
Hear that thud? That was the mic.
A few months back I wrote an article titled, The Good in Goodbyes. While acknowledging the pain of goodbyes in church planting, my aim was to find the good that makes them worthy sacrifices. You might say it was “an argument for going when others say ‘no.’” In an effort to prove my ability to have a balanced opinion, today I want to consider the grace in “not yet”—that is, an argument for staying when others say so. For as many who should press on to plant despite tearful appeals to stay, there are perhaps just as many who should heed the counsel to wait. Here are some of the reasons why.
Desiring to be a church planter doesn’t automatically make a person a Christ follower.
Yes, I just said that, and I’m not trying to be a Puritan. I have had a lot of conversations with people who want to be church planters and missionaries. When I ask why, an alarming number respond with their sense of calling to ministry—not their calling to Christ. At first, I simply assumed their trusting and abiding in Christ. Yet, therein lies the danger.
Although the desire to be a church planter is indeed a noble and commendable thing (1 Tim. 3:1), it does not prove the state of a person’s heart. In fact, it actually should lead us to further inquiry before affirmation. Jesus’ dicey words to the zealous of his day show why:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)
So, when a person expresses the desire to be a church planter, it’s a gracious thing to tenderly find out what is behind such zeal.
Desiring to be a church planter doesn’t automatically guarantee a godly motive.
I have served among people in global non-profits, NGOs, and human rights organizations. Their sense of sacrificial mission is contagious. It is also sometimes quite godless. Such good-willed passion is easily motivated by a subconscious need to fulfill oneself by appeasing God. After all, we were created for good works, and there is a measure of satisfaction that comes with performing them, whether through Christ or not.
Yet, Paul reminds us of the futility of our good works: “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). He goes on to describe not only their futility, but their merciless cycle: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Gal. 3:10). Those who are uselessly trying to keep the law are only churned into harder work because “the law does not restrain sin but stimulates and provokes it” (Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfilment, 73).
The only rest from this corpse chute is Christ, who kept the law perfectly and thus “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). In Him alone is God appeased. Therefore, it is good and right to plumb the motives of church planting candidates. Are they driven more by pleasing or appeasing God? There is a big difference.
Desiring to be a church planting church doesn’t automatically produce a church planter.
For many churches it is rare to have a person come forward and say, “I want to be a church planter.” Thus, when someone does, he stands a good chance of being celebrated. In these contexts, scarcity can lead to quick affirmation.