Planting a Passion for God: A Dream for Bethlehem in 2002

A Call to Focused Prayer, Soul-Searching, and a Church-Wide Dream

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

My aim this morning is to blow a trumpet for a church-wide dream called "Planting a Passion for God." What I mean by "Planting a Passion for God" is the focusing of our mission as a church onto a very specific strategy this year that will take tremendous energy and deep faith and church-wide risk, namely, planting a new, strong, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, mission-mobilizing, justice-pursuing church somewhere else in the Twin Cities.

The mission of our church is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Planting a passion means giving birth to another church that has this same mission to spread a passion for God. So instead of merely saying that we aim to plant a church, we say that we aim at "Planting a Passion for God." The aim is not just to plant a church, but to plant a strong, God-centered seedbed for spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. We are more persuaded than ever that if it is good to have a strong home base for such God-centered gospel spreading, it would be good to have other strong home bases for such spreading.

What an extraordinary grace it has been to this church to have a clear reason for our existence. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. That is our mission statement. It brings focus to our labor again and again. It gives unity and coherence to ministry. It helps establish priorities. It makes God central and evangelism urgent. And God uses it to energize us when we are languishing and floundering.

For years now the elders have dreamed about starting other churches as part of this mission. When we conceived of Education for Exultation (the new building, debt free, and all that it stands for in seeing and savoring Jesus Christ in all the generations), a part of that vision was called Growing without Growing. What that meant was: keep on winning people to Christ and gathering people into the fellowship of the church (that's "Growing"), but do it not just by getting bigger and bigger on this site, but by incubating and sending out other churches with the same God-centered passion that drives us (that's "without Growing").

We knew when we took aim at Growing without Growing that it was humanly unlikely because all church-growth wisdom says that giving birth to new churches does not limit the growth of the mother church. A few months ago the elders met to assess this part of our vision. The upshot of that meeting was a shift in our thinking. The shift was to turn our thinking from church-planting-as-crowd-control to church-planting-as-spreading-a-passion-for-God. We ended that meeting saying: We are committed to start new churches not primarily to manage crowding here, but primarily to plant outposts of passion for God. And to do it whether it helps us manage crowding here or not.

What this means is that spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in 2002 becomes focused on Planting a Passion for God. Or another way to put it is that we don't just spread a passion for God, but we create another strong base for spreading a passion for God.

My earnest prayer is that God would waken in all of us a joyful energy for this vision. In other words, that you would hear it and feel a deep "YES!" in your soul. YES, this is right. YES, this smells like kingdom vision, not just human thinking. YES, I am thrilled to be a part of a church where this kind of dreaming is happening. YES, I want to be able to say in years to come, I was part of that – when those strong, God-centered churches came into being. In other words, I didn't just rejoice in the God-centered strength of one church, I poured myself out to bring into being other strong God-centered churches. That's my prayer – that this would look like part of your life calling – along with all the other good things that you do, that this would become for you part of what you dream about and plan for and work for.

I think that kind of commitment and joyful energy comes from seeing the Christ-exalting value of a vision. So let me give you some reasons why Planting a Passion for God is so crucial.

1. The Church-to-Population Ratio

First, let's begin with the least important reason, but perhaps not insignificant. According to the Almanac of the Christian World, "there has been a dramatic decline in the church-to-population ratio in the past century. . . . there were 27 churches per 10,000 people in 1900 compared to just 12 churches per 10,000 people in 1990. However, churches are getting larger. . . . The average church size has tripled in the past century. So even though there aren't as many churches per capita, many people are attending larger, mega-churches."

2. Education for Exultation

Planting a Passion for God would not diminish our commitment to Education for Exultation here. On the contrary, it would give increased reason for it. What makes a building program exciting is that there is a larger vision for its existence than itself. What you will see in the next several reasons is the close relationship between raising up trained Biblical leaders and church planting.

3. Under-Used Leadership Potential

Planting a Passion for God (a new, strong, God-centered church) would capture much of the under-used leadership potential of the saints at Bethlehem. Our church is rich with spiritually mature men and women. Many are under-invested in the ministries of the church. A new church would cry for their engagement. I pray that many of you in this category will feel a fire lit in your bones for this vision.

4. Intentional Leadership Development

Planting a Passion for God (a new, strong, God-centered church) would increase the urgency of intentional leadership development at every level (children, youth, adult, worship, music, outreach, care-giving, etc.). The need for more lay-ministers in every sphere would press us all toward rigorous efforts of nurturing spiritual growth and leadership gifts. The Bible calls the elders to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). New churches press us to make this a priority.

5. Breathing Fire into the Smoldering Embers of Evangelism

Planting a Passion for God (a new, strong, God-centered church) would breathe fire onto the smoldering embers of evangelism because of the fresh feeling of the new church for outreach to its new community and the aggressive efforts to let the community know that it is there and new and welcoming. [As part of this point I want to take an informal survey to see how you came to Christ. Would you fill out the tear-off part of the worship folder and put it in the box at the door when you leave?]

6. Kingdom Effects of Geographical Proximity

Planting a Passion for God (a new, strong, God-centered church) would be closer geographically to some of our people with good kingdom effects. For example, if a church meets nearer to where we live and we don't have to drive so far to get to the gathering, we more naturally invite our neighbors to be involved in the life of the church. My prayer is that the level of excitement and commitment for this vision would be such that some people would even move to be near the new church and give their lives to making it strong.

7. Not Relying on One Man's Ministry

Planting a Passion for God (a new, strong, God-centered church) would reduce the tendency to rely too heavily on one man's preaching ministry. Christ, and no man, is the head of the church. He ordains the ministry of the Word as a means of his grace, and he anoints men for this great work. But he gives all the growth, and does not make his triumphs hang on any man. When the great apostle Paul was in prison, unable to preach, he rejoiced, saying "I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!" (2 Timothy 2:9) When a vision of God and a passion for God flourish in more than one place under more than one leadership, it shows that the vision itself is life-giving and credible and durable. And that is what we long for. Every one of us prays and labors that the Biblical vision of the God we love will long outlast us.

Now right here I want to draw in our text from 1 Corinthians 3:1-11 and linger for a few moments over the word of God. The point I have just made raises the question: how dependent on me is this church? Is it possible that several hundred of you would be so in love with the vision of God and so confident in the mercy and power of God that planting a new church to spread this passion would be more precious and more important to you than hearing me preach every Sunday? If this same God were lifted up for your joy by another preacher in the context of deep, God-centered passionate worship supported by strong ministry to children and youth (that YOU would help make strong) would you be willing to take the risks to be a part of Planting a Passion for God? Oh, how healthy and good for us such ventures of faith are!

Let's put this issue of my role in Biblical perspective. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, one of the main problems in the church was an excessive attachment to human teachers. Jesus had warned about this when he said, "Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers" (Matthew 23:8). Three times we read that this is a problem at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1:12 Paul puts his finger on the problem and says "Each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ.'" Then at the end of chapter 3 in verses 21-23 he says, "So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, (22) whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." And here in our text (3:4) "For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not mere men?"

You see the problem: excessive attachment to and boasting in a leader. Now that is what Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 3:5ff. So let's take one brief look at what he says and let it sink in and free us at Bethlehem to be passionate for Christ, not leaders.

Notice two things about leaders, two things about God, and one thing about Christ.

Don't Be Attached to or Boast in Leaders Who Are Nothing

Verses 6-7: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. (7) So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." In one sense Paul is using a bold overstatement to make a point. So the point must be really important to make: he says that he and Apollos are "nothing." Yes, they are planter and waterer. Yes, they are "servants through whom you believed" (v. 5). But, verse 7 says, "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything." – compared to the role of God. Compared to the importance of God in your life, we are nothing. So don't boast in Nothing. And don't be attached to Nothing. And don't depend on Nothing. That's the first thing he says about leaders.

Be Attached to and Boast in God Who Is Everything

And he says about God: God gives the growth. Verse 7b: God is everything. "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth [is everything]." Let God be everything to you. Let God himself overwhelm you with his power and his decisive role in all things. Be so attached to God and so in love with God that the role of every human preacher becomes as nothing. That's the first thing he says about God.

Church Leaders Are One

The second thing he says about leaders is that the one who plants and the one who waters are one. Verse 8: "Now he who plants and he who waters are one." In other words, neither one without the other can succeed. Planting without watering gives no plant and no fruit. Watering without planting gives no plant and no fruit because there was no seed of life to start with. So Paul stresses: they are one. So don't boast of one over the other since both are essential. That's the second thing he says about leaders.

God Is the Owner of the Church

The second thing he says about God is that he owns the field. We are only workers in the field, he owns it. Verse 9: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building." So be enthralled by the owner of the church, not the farm hand.

Christ Is the Foundation for the Church

And the one thing he says about Christ is that he is the one and only foundation for the church. He is the seed and he is the life. Verse 11: "No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Everything we do is based on him. Every church collapses without Jesus as the foundation. Every church dies without Jesus as the seed of life.

In sum, compared to God, church leaders are nothing; compared to each other, church leaders are one. God gives the growth in all the ministries of the church, not man. And God is the owner of the church. He made us and he bought us. So be attached to God and boast in God, not leaders. Bank on God. Trust God. Hope in God. Not man.

The central question for us as we stand on the brink of Planting a Passion for God is this: is God working to make this happen? Will we be fellow workers with God? Will we trust God to give the growth? May God himself give us as a passion for

Focused Prayer, Soul-searching, and a Church-wide Dream

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org