“No thank you!” Which is exactly what a professed atheist told me after I offered to continue our discussion over a book and coffee in the coming weeks. A great guy, but a little annoyed with my unwillingness to answer most of his questions. When speaking with atheists and agnostics, I generally only focus on two things; how they currently think as opposed to how they should. In other words, to say truth doesn’t exist is in fact a truth claim. To say that truth is subjective takes one overarching objective truth to believe. To believe you cannot be certain about anything, is a certain truth. When I speak with atheists and agnostics in this way, they are generally very frustrated with me, and I have never had one accept the truth of Jesus in the first conversation.
In years past I would have been kicking myself over what I should have, could have, or would have said, but not so much anymore. I’ve learned that there are things in life that God expects from me and there are things in life that I expect from God. My expectations of God are based on His definition of himself. As a church planter you need to understand what you are responsible for in life and what God is, confusing these realities will lead to a deep loss of joy in life.
You are not responsible for the salvation of people
In John 6:44-45 we see Jesus making it very clear that ultimately no one comes to the father except the father draws them to himself. We know these verses, but we don’t let them sink in as well as they should. While salvation belongs to the Lord, there are things that we should be ashamed of. Let us be ashamed if we aren’t being the glory God in the circles of life we function in daily. Let us be ashamed if we are not sharing the Gospel, praying for the lost, serving our neighbors, or caring for the needs around us, but in the midst of that, you must allow and trust that God moves and saves as He wills. When he does not, that is not your shame to bare.
You are not responsible for the growth of the church
Now if I had said that you are not responsible for the growth of the Kingdom, most would surely agree, but I intentionally word the phrase in this way as the growth of both the Kingdom of God and the church are largely interchangeable. The tension must be felt. If you’re a church planter who has failed to see fast and continuous growth, if you’ve lost that “must have” family, if you hit road block after road block, let me be the one to tell you that you are not ultimately responsible for the Kingdom’s growth. Jesus said to Peter that He would build His church and that the gates of Hell would not overcome the church (Matt. 16:18). Now, you certainly should be ashamed if you do not pray daily for your church’s growth and reach, if you don’t take time to pray for those you shepherd, if you don’t create an excellent experience for worshipers, if you are not actively trying to bring people into a saving relationship with the God you serve, or if you aren’t investing time and tears in preparing messages to grow your congregation.
I’ve prayed many times for the atheist I mentioned before. He heard the good news that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath. He heard that he was exchanging the truth of God for a lie. He’s seen the kindness of someone who believes starkly different from him. It is and will always be a tension that will consume you if you are not careful. When someone rejects the Gospel it’s not you they’ve rejected, it’s God. Maybe your presentation was unclear, spotty, or flat out terrible. We certainly need to constantly continue to refine our knowledge and presentation of God, but we must allow God to be responsible for what He alone can bare.