25 June, 2015 Andy Mason
We shouldn’t be naive in church planting: we face a scheming devil who has strategies for the destruction of our ministries. Ephesians 6:11-12 tells us that our opponents in church planting are massive, intimidating and cunning. It is nothing less than the devil and authorities, rulers, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. These opponents aren’t just huge and frightening, but they’re planning to get you in ways that you’d never expect or anticipate. Satan is not just against the church in some general, unspecific way. Rather, he is against you personally and against your church planting ministry in particular. You’re already in a desperate fight for your life with very clever, mighty spiritual powers that want to destroy you. That is the reason you feel under pressure and why you struggle as you do.
Thomas Brooks (d. 1680), one of the Puritans, wrote a manual on this very issue, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. He has a whole raft of examples of how the devil seeks to outwit and destroy us, but here are just a few:
1. He shows us the bait and hides the hook
2. He makes sin look like virtue
3. He makes sin look like a small thing
4. He shows us the sins of our mentors/heroes and so we think, ‘Well, he did it too’
5. He gets us to over-emphasise the grace of God
6. He encourages us to feel invulnerable to temptation
7. He encourages us be bitter over suffering
8. He discourages us by causing us to look more at our sin than our Saviour
9. He gets us to obsess about past sins.
The point in all of this is that the devil uses clever, thought-out strategies to entangle us and destroy us. This is what we’re up against in church planting. The point here is that we’re meeting something that’s way out of our league. This is clearly a brutal and disturbing picture of what ministry is like. This battle is very personal, very close and intense.
What’s the solution? I remember talking to one man who lives in my local area. He had a long-term drug habit, together with a number of spells spent in prison. He had come out of prison and felt the problem of acute temptation, together with the familiar cycles of abuse, guilt and attempts at abstinence. In conversation, we talked about how his drug habit was like a 7ft 2in bouncer who wanted to beat him up. Even if the man managed to lay a few punches on the bouncer, the man would still go down every time. There was no point in trying harder or being quicker, because his opponent was just too big. In that situation I suggested that what the man needed was a big brother who was 8ft, and a black belt champion, to take down the bouncer! The point was that Jesus was the older brother he needed. The bouncer is scary until a bigger brother turns up who’s on your side.
The great news for church planters is that we’ve been united to our older brother, Jesus Christ. And this makes all the difference in the world! When we get a sense of the spiritual war, then this reality of being united with Christ is no longer just a nice idea or a bit of theology, but a powerful and wonderful necessity. This union with Christ liberates us, gives us confidence, encourages us and brings us joy. We’re facing vast and mighty spiritual powers in the heavenly realms – but, as we do that, remember that everything in the heavenly realms has been put under Christ (Ephesians 1:10) and that we’re now seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). In and of ourselves we’re overwhelmed, weak and puny – but those opposing powers don’t intimidate Christ and He rules over them with supreme power.