Church Planting Lesson #21: Feeling Territorial & Threatened

LESSON #21:  You will want to feel discontent and threatened…so don’t.

I have always liked the passage in John 3.  Up until this point, John the Baptist has been the only good preacher in town.  And though he is fully aware of his role as the “voice in the wilderness”, his disciples have other ideas.  When Jesus eventually shows up and begins his ministry, John’s disciples are a bit confused–even threatened–because the crowds seem to be gravitating toward the new show in town:

John 3.26-30 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was a good man.  He did not feel threatened, because he knew his role.  His entire life was about Jesus and he did exactly what God wanted him to do, even when that meant his ministry shrunk; even when that meant his disciples left; even when that meant he was thrown in prison; even when that meant he was killed.

As a church planter, you will constantly be tempted to feel territorial and threatened.   At the core of this is a frustration that God is not building HIS church the way or speed in which YOU want.  This is discontentment that can lead unbelief, or more specifically, a belief that something outside of what Jesus is giving me will make me happier.  Discontentment can easily lead you away from your call, your unique mission, and even the gospel itself.   You will be tempted to believe that Jesus is not actually enough–that you need to be successful, to be the coolest church in town, to be growing, to do or have any number of things…in addition to having Jesus.  Believing that you have “peed” and marked your territory, any church that crosses your imaginary yellow line will be a threat.   You will find yourself mocking, over-analyzing, and criticizing every new church that moves close, every new church A-board sign you see at a school, every outreach event in your city (not hosted by you). You have forgotten that YOUR church doesn’t have a mission as much as the mission of God has a church.

This is a trial.  This is a temptation.  Most of us, instead of confessing your idolatry (worship of your church) and working to preach the gospel, will begin working to avoid losing things like money, people, or applause.   Because every church is considered the enemy, you will privately (and sometimes publicly) campaign for their failure.  If they “succeed” or “grow”, you will imagine some strange reason like mind control or money–something to explain this unexplainable phenomena.   Believing they can’t possibly be succeeding because God wants them too will only serve to fuel your sinful belief that you’re the only church in town who has it together.   And, giving into your sin, you (the planter) will become a little less biblical and become a lot more cultural in order to “reach”  the world.  The church will become a little less sacred and and a lot more attractive as you strive convince people the experience at your church is “different” and “new”.  And finally, the planter will become a little less spirit-filled and much more pragmatic in their faith.

So what is the solution?  First, you will feel threatened–it is the sin in you–so fight it.  Second, remember to work like the Farmer.  Work hard, till the ground, plant the seed, then wait.  If it rains, grows, or dies, all the result is in God’s hands for his glory, not yours.  Be faithful, be truthful, be courageous, be hopeful, AND be content.


Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

One thought on “Church Planting Lesson #21: Feeling Territorial & Threatened”

  1. Thank you for being transparent with your own struggles, and thank you for the wise words: “Be faithful, be truthful, be courageous, be hopeful, AND be content.”

    May believing the Gospel of Jesus more and more each day lead us to be so.


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