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.

Richard Gamble on the American Patriot’s Bible

Richard Gamble has written a blistering review of The American Patriot’s Bible. Gamble is dead-on in his thoughts about evangelicals, civil religion, and the abuse of both the Bible and American history among so many politically conservative evangelicals, including not a few Southern Baptists. Almost every semester I have a student or two in my Baptist history classes who argue that America is a Christian nation, the notion of a free church in a free state is a pagan concept, etc. One day a student complained in another professor’s class that I was teaching that church and state should be separate. He asked my colleague what he thought. The professor said that he agreed with me because “our people” tend to get drowned in “Christian nations.” Amen!

For what it’s worth, the wife of a good friend of mine was horrified to receive a free copy of this book at an event during the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville. She saw it as a key commentary on why Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence–because too many of us have become distracted by a desire to return America to her “Christian roots” (among other distractions) rather than laboring for the sake of the gospel so that more Americans (and people from every tribe, tongue, and nation) will become Christians. I agree 100%.

(I would also recommend you read Gamble’s fantastic book The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Conservatives are not the only one who use Christian jargon and spurious history to advance a political agenda.)

HT: Robbie Sagers, pinch-hitting @ Between Two Worldsmobil rpg game