Grow In Grace, Obviously

I just observed the 5th anniversary of my ordination. Five years ago, I was 28, and was reading Andrew Bonar’s short biography of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. M’Cheyne was a Scottish pastor who died at the age of 29, but who in his short ministry had grown so much in grace that he bore much fruit. 

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Thinking about M’Cheyne’s early death made me feel like I was a goober, a phony. And I certainly was (and am). “Impostor Syndrome” (as Seth Godin has called it) is real because, in fact, we are all impostors in some profound sense.

When you set aside the actual fruit that M’Cheyne bore in his young ministry, you’re still left with the fella himself. And what did that fella say, to make you feel even more like an impostor?

“The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

I remember when one of our church plant’s early contributors quoted this to me. I had asked her where she stood with respect to her decision to “go on mission with our new church”. I had laid out a new model for community, for mission, for discipleship. I had cast a vision for something innovative. I had proposed the perfect blend of ancient-future worship. I had been bold in exuding “leadership”. She said, “ok, that’s nice. But the thing I need more than anything is to know that my pastor has an authentic, growing relationship with Jesus, so I can follow him as he follows Jesus.”

She hadn’t read M’Cheyne’s biography. She didn’t know who M’Cheyne was. She had just heard this one line somewhere from ‘some pastor in church history’.

Speaking of feeling awful. Speaking of Impostor Syndrome.

And yet, there it is. And who can disagree? There will be lots of people who do lots of great things, merely in the power of the flesh. There will be church planters with exquisite preaching skills, perfectly calibrated models, innovative team-building methodologies, and uncanny charisma to compel crowds to action.

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But these are not the first and most important things that disciples of Jesus need. These are not the first things that would-be lay-misisonaries need. The first and most important thing they need is your personal holiness

Paul isn’t bashful about calling Timothy to an obvious growth, discernible to anyone with their eyes open:

“Godliness is valuable in every way. … Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. … Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – I Timothy 4

“So that all may see your progress.” As a pastor, you are looking for visible growth in God’s grace among your people. But they are also looking for it in you. We started Hill City Church two years ago this month. In those two years, is it obvious to all that I am walking more closely, more authentically, more confidently, more joyfully, more dependently, with Jesus?

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Your personal holiness: this is not just the sine qua non of a truly thriving church plant. This—the planter’s walk with Jesus, irrespective of his call to plant and pastor—is the fountainhead of all true, abiding flourishing in and through a church plant. Out of it flows all the humility and authority you must have to speak words of grace and truth, and to do acts of love and mercy, without which you may have an impressive bit of show business. But without which you will not have planted a church.

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