Needed: Theologically Driven Church Plants

A church planter must have an unshakable confidence in the gospel, really believing it is the power of God unto salvation.

But to have a deep confidence in the gospel, you must have a deep grasp of the gospel. This is why theological development is necessary. It’s possible for church planters to have some attractive characteristics—winsome personality, unusual gifting, ability to gather people—only to have little depth theologically.

To be sure, there’s more to planting a church than being theologically robust. Knowing theology doesn’t make you a good leader. We must take into account the importance of loving people, knowing our context, being hard working and resourceful, and always pursuing godliness and prayer.

In this podcast episode, though, we want to shine a light on the importance of being a theologically driven church planter in this spiritually confused age. The church planter bears a great responsibility to rightly handle the word of truth, both outside and inside the church.

On this episode of Churches Planting Churches, it’s my pleasure to welcome Bryan Laughlin.

You can listen to this podcast episode here.

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Six Prayers for the Half-Hearted

Did you love the Lord your God with all your heart yesterday?

Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). All. Those simple three letters are both haunting and inspiring. They are haunting because the standard is so impossibly high. We haven’t loved anything with all our hearts before, at least not for long. We know our sin so well, remembering the moments we were selfish or impatient or lazy or indifferent. This side of heaven, could any of us ever love God with all our heart?

But all is not only a standard for those who truly love him. All is a promise. If we truly love God, we already have received the decisive heart transplant we need (Ezekiel 36:26) — our dead, loveless heart exchanged for a living heart wholly open to God, a heart in love with God. And any real love that God has begun in us, God himself will bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Soon enough, we will love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength — no wandering desires to deny, no lingering limitations to overcome, no recurring temptations to refuse, no weight of weaknesses to carry anymore. When we see him, we will love him like we’ve never been able to love him before.

And yet we already are able to love him with a wholeness of heart even today. Our love for him is imperfect and incomplete, but it is real. We’re not left here to follow him with half a heart.

Unite My Heart for You

Our love for God, however full and strong, amounts to only a faint shadow of God’s love for us. If he says to his people Israel, “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:41), how much more, then, does he rejoice to love us in Christ. And not just with a generous portion of his heart. No, he loves all he loves with all his heart.

None of us loves God with all our hearts now, no not one. So, we pray. We know our own love enough to feel the impossibility of loving with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. If we think we have or do, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). Sin will surface again and again, fractioning off pieces of our hearts to be confessed, healed, and restored. We know we need to give God more of our hearts.

Whole-hearted love for God on this side of heaven does not mean perfection, but singular and dependent devotion. We experience it now with God’s help and our new hearts, and we wait for the day when our love becomes all once for all. Until then we pray, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalms 86:11). If you have felt half-hearted at times in your pursuit of God, consider praying these six prayers with me.

1. Help me pray with all my heart.

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! (Psalms 119:145)

Many of us feel our half-heartedness in prayer more than anywhere else. When we sit alone with God, our heart comes out of the shadows into fuller light. We see more clearly where we are prone to reach for rest and comfort and happiness. As our thoughts wander, we witness how divided our hearts really are. We are speaking with the one who formed our mouths, and yet we often treat him like an operator — a forgotten someone on our path to someone else.

As God completes our love for him, he focuses our attention on him, especially in prayer. Our joys, sorrows, and anxieties in life are less likely to draw our eyes away from him, and instead drive us to him (Philippians 4:6).

Lord, when we pray, let us not be like the wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. Blow away the distractions, and help us pray with all our hearts.

2. Help me seek you with all my heart.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Without blatantly avoiding, ignoring, or despising God, even our seeking can be half-hearted. We exchange his words of truth for images on our screens. We pray the same rut-prayers. We hold off pursuing him until next Sunday morning.

When we truly love God, however, all of our lives are flavored and increasingly purified by one passion: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalms 27:4). David asks God for a hundred different things in the psalms, but he is able to say he’s only asked for one thing — the thing above all things — to see and enjoy God and his glory.

Lord, our passion for you too often flags, leaving us complacent and lethargic in our walk with you. Light a relentless fire in us for you. Let us pursue you morning, noon, and night with all our hearts.

3. Help me repent with all my heart.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (Joel 2:12)

If we are sheepish when we confess our sins and ask God for forgiveness, we have failed to grasp the love of God held out in the gospel. He doesn’t leave us wondering how he will deal with our sin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Therefore, his word says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayers of repentance are war cries against evil: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light” (Micah 7:8–9). True contrition is not shy or weak. We have seen enough of God’s grace to come confidently, confessing our failures with undivided hearts.

Lord, when we realize we have offended you, let us come boldly before you — not hiding, or making excuses, but throwing ourselves into your light with all our hearts.

4. Help me obey with all my heart.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. (Psalms 119:34)

We can learn to do what is right because we know it’s right, or because we know there will be consequences — relational, financial, even spiritual consequences. King Amaziah, for example, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart” (2 Chronicles 25:2). But reluctant or fearful obedience is half-hearted obedience (at best). God does not want us to obey simply because he says so, or because we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t. He wants us to obey because we want to obey — from the heart.

God delights in men and women whose delight is his law (Psalm 1:1–2). Obedience is often hard, but he wants us to obey, not against our will, but because our will is increasingly conformed to his (2 Corinthians 3:18). We plead for grace “to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all [our heart] and with all [our soul]” (Joshua 22:5).

Lord, there are many good reasons to obey you, but only one that ultimately matters: our passion for your glory. Inflame a burning in us for obedience, so that we follow your word with all our hearts.

5. Help me trust you with all my heart.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

As formidable challenges rise, crippling trials fall, and daunting decisions come, our trust in God often wavers. We may begin to wonder, deep down, whether he is trustworthy — whether he will do what he says. When we stare into our trouble, we can be tempted to turn to ourselves. Tragically, we often trust ourselves more than God precisely in the moments we need him most.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,” — and some trust in themselves — “but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:7). Like King David, we will cling to God, his word, and his will for us. He said, “I hear the whispering of many — terror on every side! — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (Psalms 31:13–15).

Lord, our temptation will be to trust you with only half our hearts. Let us leap with both feet into your hands of mercy. When we don’t know what to do or what might come, help us set our eyes on you with all our hearts.

6. Help me enjoy you with all my heart.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! (Zephaniah 3:14)

When God opened all of our hearts to himself, he opened all of our hearts to real and lasting happiness. He didn’t merely open our hearts to pray, or repent, or obey, but to enjoy him with all our hearts. When we’re experiencing less than fullness of joy, it’s not because God is holding back. It’s because we are.

Jesus did say, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37) — not merely allegiance or obedience, but affection and devotion and joy. Love. If we find that we’re half-hearted in our walk with Jesus, the most likely diagnosis is that we’ve surrendered the joy we once had in him. We’ve allowed some other good to dilute and divide our hearts. At some point, he became one of many loves instead of our “one thing.” If so, he calls again, even today, “Rejoice and exult with all your heart” — in me.

Lord, our love for you will falter whenever we seek our joy elsewhere apart from you. Cause our love to grow stronger and fuller by sending our joy in you soaring ever higher — by helping us enjoy you with all our hearts.

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