I often feel this great contradiction in church planting. I see the work ahead of me. I feel the weight of responsibility calling God’s sheep into the fold and feeding them good food. Then I look around at all the skilled, gifted, talented people in the world and wonder why God would call me to this task. I am not a church planter. I am not an energetic, extroverted, eloquent entrepreneur. I didn’t have a desire for planting welling up in my heart desperate to find a people to reach. I am just a regular guy with a list of faults whom God has called to love his people.
No doubt I am called to this task of planting Redemption City Church. God has confirmed that in a thousand different ways over the last couple of years. But my call to church planting isn’t because I am somebody uniquely skilled for the task. There are thousands of dynamic young men who could gather a crowd and motivate them for mission far better than me. Some would say that this is confirmation that I am not called (or simply that I am confused about my calling). But I think this is an essential element of a calling.
In Judges 6 God tells us the familiar story of Gideon. I’ve loved the beginning of this story for a long time because it shows that not every hero in the Bible was a hero in the way we expect. After Israel had abandoned God and the neighboring nations were taking over, God called Gideon to be the instrument of redemption. Instead of getting excited about it, Gideon responded,
“Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15)
But God did not hesitate to shut down every excuse, “But I will be with you…” (6:16)
I loved this encouragement because it reminded me that I didn’t need to be a certain person to be called, I needed to be with a certain Person. Jesus echoes this encouragement when he calls all believers to make disciples of the earth:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. –Matthew 28:19–20
Jesus isn’t looking for the guy already equipped, he is equipping everyone he calls. And most of the time he doesn’t even equip us before we are told to obey. He equips us as we are doing it. We are building the plane while we are flying it.
But why does God do it this way? Because he wants to be the hero of the story.
Too often we read Bible stories and see Noah, Moses, Gideon, David, and Esther as the heroes. But each of them were just tools in the hands of the real Hero of the story. I noticed something new this morning as I read the story of Gideon again.
After Gideon tears down his father’s altar and Asherah pole the men of the city and his family threaten to kill Gideon. They are so afraid of their false god, Baal, that they are in a frenzy. Then Gideon’s father, Joahs, speaks up and says something incredible:
“Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him?...If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” –Judges 6:31
This seems like a rather innocuous statement in the storyline, but it is a key turning point because at this point we see God begin to contend for himself as the true God of Israel. Just a few verses later we begin to see how unfit Gideon is for this task (in terms of expected military leadership skills) and God actually makes him worse off. Gideon’s faith is weak as he tests God multiple times. Then God cuts his army down to 300 men. But God emerges as the hero when he saves Israel against impossible odds, defending his own honor as God.
So we see that God calls weak, unskilled people precisely because he wants to be sure the glory will be all his own when the victory comes. He delights in using people who, against every worldly measure, appear to be destined for failure. This way when victory comes everyone will be standing in awe of an amazing God who is powerful to accomplish his purposes and delighted to give us the victory.
This is my hope in church planting. I don’t want the glory of a successful church because I don’t want to contend against Jesus for his work to get glory for the Father in the church. So I am happy to step forward day-by-day with my simple pastoral efforts always pointing people to Jesus so that he will get the credit for any victories in my life and so that they will find hope for victory in their own.
Am I called to plant a church? Without a doubt. But it is not because of who I am but because of the One who is with me. He will contend for himself. And it is his delight to use simple people like me.