As a church planter, my greatest joy in ministry and mission is seeing God save and change people by His grace and for His glory. I love watching Jesus rescue people, who were once really far away from God in their sin, but now by grace, through faith in Christ, are close to Him in real faith, love and obedience. As a leader, I want to give my life away and use every resource God has given me to glorify the name of Jesus and extend the fame of Jesus in Denver and beyond, by making disciple-making disciples and by planting church-planting churches. I believe that this should be the grace-given, Spirit-driven desire of every genuine follower of Christ and every genuine Christian church. This is the very heart of our mission and this should be the very mission of our hearts.
And yet, I recognize that as I seek to faithfully lead our church to carry out and complete this disciple-making and church-planting mission, I am often tempted to compromise my deeply-held, biblically-shaped convictions about the gospel, conversion, discipleship, mission and ministry, in order to more quickly and abundantly multiply the visible fruit and numeric worship attendance of our gatherings. For instance, some days I feel the pressure to be more entertaining and dynamic in my preaching, even if it means short-changing faithful exposition of the text and application of the gospel. Other days, I feel the pull to dump our shepherding philosophy of ministry and our life-on-life approach to discipleship, in favor of implementing someone else’s cool, new strategy that seems to be bearing fruit in another context. Still other days, I am tempted to avoid necessary confrontation and hard conversations with people, out of fear that they may become angry with me and decide to leave our church.
I am quite sure that I am not alone in these feelings and that many of you who are reading this article may well be experiencing some of these same temptations today. So, how can we as pastors and ministry leaders complete the mission to make disciples and plant churches, without compromising our convictions? Let me suggest two helpful questions to help us maintain purity in our ministry, as we are passionately seeking to complete our mission:
1. What does God say in His Word and am I obeying Him in my ministry?
This is the fundamental question we must ask. This is the first question we should ask when we begin a new a new ministry or a new church. This is the question we must continue to ask, over and over again, as our ministries and churches grow and multiply. The person of Jesus, not my personality, should be the foundation of the church I help to lead. God’s Word, not my wishes or whims, should frame everything I do as a missionary and minister.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes: “like a skilled-master builder, I laid a foundation…no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ…each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (1 Cor. 3:10,11,13)
If anyone other than Jesus is the foundation of our ministry, then the flames of God’s holiness will one day reveal our compromised convictions. If anything other than God’s Word is framing our mission, then the light of God’s glory will one day expose our impure motives. With God’s help, we must seek to be thoroughly Biblical in designing, defining, and directing our ministries and churches. And with God’s help, when we recognize that we have veered or strayed from God’s design, we must be courageously willing to take honest responsibility for our compromises and then humbly turn back to the Lord in repentance and faith. What does God say in His Word and I am I obeying Him in my ministry?
2. Who can I humbly ask to help me honestly recognize my compromises and stay true to my convictions?
Let’s face it – none of us are very good at being very honest with ourselves. We are so prone to minimize, justify, blame-shift, and overlook our own compromises. Over time, the aggregate effect of these compromises is a kind of heart-blindness to our own heart-sickness. The Latin phrase, nemo sine iudex, “no one is a judge of himself,” speaks to this reality. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The truth is, not a one of us is capable, on our own, of consistently recognizing our compromises, taking responsibility for them, and returning faithfully to the Lord and to our convictions. We need other leaders in our lives that are deep enough in the Scriptures and strong enough in the Spirit to have courageous conversations with us when they see us considering a compromise or actually giving in to the temptation to compromise. If you do not currently have another leader, or group of leaders, with this kind of heart-access in your life, then whether you realize it or not, you are heading off alone towards the dangerous land of self-deception. Who can you humbly ask to help you honestly recognize your compromises and stay true to your convictions?
In the end, the greatest news for prone-to-wander, tempted-to-compromise leaders like you and me is that the grace of Jesus is sufficient to help us maintain our convictions and sufficient to forgive us when we compromise. With God’s help, let’s give all we have to making disciples and planting churches, With God’s help, let’s humbly and hopefully build our ministries on Jesus and frame our ministries according to God’s Word. With God’s help, let’s trust Him to build His Kingdom according to His grace. And with God’s help, let’s be honest about our compromises and seek the Spirit’s power to turn back to Jesus in repentance and faith. Amen.
Dan Freng serves as the Lead Pastor of Calvary Church in Littleton, Colorado. He earned his M.Div from Denver Seminary. He loves Jesus, his wife, his five kids, and is a really big fan of Little Debbie snack cakes.