Church Planter and Approval Idolatry

Is it just me, or does the church planter look like the grim reaper?

I am very slowly limping my way through Church Planter,  by Darrin Patrick. I was excited to read this title because church planting is something my husband and I are interested in pursuing someday.

Turns out the book irritates me more often than not, but I am compelled to see it through to the end for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that I won it from a book giveaway on Tim Challies’ blog a few months ago. I never enter (and consequently, never win) drawings—it would feel like a criminal waste of good fortune to neglect reading something acquired in that way.

The second reason is that my very brilliant and talented husband disciplines himself to read books he can’t stand—to the bitter end. He believes that gems of insight and nuggets of truth may be buried in even the most horrifically boring or blatantly biased book. Watching hubby tenaciously plow through so many unpleasant books over the years has made me feel that I’m somehow cheating or quitting if I give up on a stupid book.

I’m not saying that Church Planter is a stupid book. In all fairness, I was never the intended audience. The author states in the first paragraph of his preface that the “book is written from a man to men.” In fact, if I could get over the unapologetic and overarching assumption that the Biblical ideal for a church planter is a man who adheres to reformed theology and is called to ministry according to some very specific and extra-biblical criteria—I would probably even say it’s a good book. But…since that assumption pops up in every chapter, I haven’t managed to get over it yet.

Be that as it may, I’ve gone on quite long enough about my self-inflicted frustrations. I’m happy to report that Church Planter has several redeeming qualities. It has a strong focus on the centrality of the gospel in the mission and message of the church. It outlines a biblically rooted vision of what the church could and should be. And Darin Patrick offers practical insights from his own years of experience in the ministry.

Due to my unhealthy and illogical fascination with personality profiles, I especially enjoyed the section on Idol-shattering. This section discusses what Patrick calls ‘source idols’ (as opposed to ‘surface idols’) and lists the defining characteristics of those who are prone to each kind of idol worship. I most consistently fit into the approval idolatry category. (Although, control idolatry was a close second.)

Approval Idolatry

“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if I am loved and respected by______________________”

What we seek: Approval (affirmation, love, relationship)

Greatest nightmare: Rejection

“…We were all created with a desire to be loved. This desire is healthy and natural. The problem for persons with an approval idol, however, is that they are not ultimately satisfied with God’s love for them, and seek love and affirmation from those they deem important…”

This portion of the book originally caught my attention only because  (for reasons unknown even to me) I’m always curious to  find out which neat, little category some random author or psychologist thinks I fit into. However, this concept of approval worship came back to me later as I was trying to discover the source of some anxious feelings I was having.

Our new church has been absolutely wonderful to us. They appreciate the gifts and abilities that my husband brings to the ministry team, but they also value him as a person. They have welcomed our whole family warmly and shown care and interest in each of us as individuals. But occasionally I am seized with a mild panic that we’ll be there for five years and I will still only have a cordial, surface, give-you-an-awkward-hug-on-Sunday-mornings relationship with everyone there.

I’m always picking up or dropping off my boys between services. I am a stay-at-home-mom (a luxury for which I am very thankful), but it greatly limits the amount of events and activities I can attend. As I thought about those factors in combination with my introverted tendencies, I became sure that I would never have any meaningful relationships in my new church family. I was doomed to be the weird, quiet cousin that nobody really knows and everyone is a little intimidated to talk to.

Then I remembered approval worship and realized that the motives behind my fears were all wrong. Was I grieving lost opportunities? Was I worried I wouldn’t be able to love and minister to others due to lack of relationship?

Nah!

I was afraid that my good qualities would never have a chance to shine, that I would never be seen as a valuable addition to the body, that I would be a disappointment. I was afraid no one would ever have the chance to learn to love and adore me. Yuck!

Then a simple thought occurred to me…It’s much harder to maintain shallow relationships when I practice caring about people—regardless of what they think about me. Genuine interest and intentional listening are very handy tools for adding depth to a relationship, even when time is limited.

So what do I need to do? Well, stop fretting about how connected I’m not, take a look around and see some people! Use the little time I have to play investigator—find things out about people. Make note of what is interesting, endearing, praiseworthy, or extraordinary about them. Target individuals in prayer.

When I serve—connections happen. I think it really is that simple.

It would be lovely if I never had reason to write about this topic again. Why do I have to repent of this one so often?

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8 thoughts on “Church Planter and Approval Idolatry”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Crystal. I relate to the whole “desire for approval” issue. Loosing closeness in my most valued relationship has forced me to begin to learn how to rely even more on my relationship with my God, and less on what I get from others. It’s good, but man, it’s a hard one! I think it’ll be a life-long project!

    1. Cara – I see you walk through it…and still I can hardly imagine. I know you probably don’t feel like you are always on top of the game, but you have been an incredible testimony of what it looks like to rely on God and look to Him. I could probably learn a lot from you in this area. Love you. Hugs!

  2. Of course, being a woman, you don’t have to worry about these things because (according to Patrick) it seems that you’re not supposed to be hankering after involvement and activity.
    Of course the woman at the well, who brought her whole village to Jesus; Lydia, who founded Europe’s first church in her own home–not sure what to do about these awkward anomalies.
    I find myself saying, what a sad little man, however good the gems may be. Ah well. I also have weaknesses and blind spots.
    🙂

    1. I’m sensing you are not a Darrin Patrick fan…or a complimentarian. 🙂
      I’m actually fairly sympathetic to complimentarians. Many of them are simply doing the best they know to uphold the word of God–which they have a very high view of. I would say (at least in the US) that very few of them have some kind of agenda to belittle and suppress women, or even have a low view of women. Honestly, a fairly compelling Biblical case can be made for their position. For the most part, they encourage women to be involved and even lead, just not be THE lead.
      I do think complimentarians are in error, but really–in the world I live in–men don’t have women under their thumb. The men are basically scared to death of the women because they never know when they will be perceived as being sexist. I realize that there are situations (work, home, church) where women are hurt, dismissed, or held back by men…and I don’t mean to invalidate their pain, but it is certainly not the all pervading problem it is made out to be. The pendulum has swung already!
      As for Patrick, well I disagree with him theologically on more than one count (including his position on women in ministry), but I think I basically understand where he is coming from. Frustrating? Certainly–I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else from him. But I do see plenty good coming from the overflow of his heart.

      As for me, I’m sure complimentarians wouldn’t have me, but I don’t think egalitarians would claim me either. I just can’t buy that gender distinctions have no bearing on life whatsoever.

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