We’re not underdogs

Guy Mason » Church Church Leadership Wisdom

What will transform us into courageous leaders who leave a mark on this world for the glory of Christ? Two words: gospel confidence.

From Pastor Mark Driscoll:

Today on the Resurgence blog, we welcome a new author: Guy Mason. I’ve known Pastor Mason since the early days of his church plant in Melbourne, Australia. God has poured out a lot of grace over the years, and the church is still growing fast while reaching largely young, educated, urban singles. I’m glad to have him join us at Resurgence and for you to get to know him.

We have a love-hate relationship with confidence. By that, I mean we love to hate it.

We cringe when sports stars talk up their prospects of success. We expect comedians to be self-deprecating. We want politicians to be less assured—and pastors to play it safe.

I remember when I first expressed my call to plant a church in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

The call to plant started as inner-stirrings and quiet prayer, before evolving into long periods of reading, research, and sleepless nights wrestling with fears while sensing God’s prodding. In time, I finally came out of the reformed church-planter shadows with the words, “I think God may be calling me to plant a church.”

Telling someone about the desire to lead or start something new isn’t easy. Many of my aspirations were met with skepticism and doubt. It wasn’t that people didn’t care; on the contrary, people thought the most loving thing to do was lower my expectations—one bloke said, “It will ruin your ministry career, because it’s likely to fail.”

There are many reasons to justify lack of confidence.

An inconvenient truth

We are bombarded with news reports heralding declining church attendance and the death of God. Like Rocky Balboa fending off the unstoppable Clubber Lang, Christians are portrayed as beaten fighters, swinging from the ropes, with the towel about to hit the mat.

In Australia, this “battler” mindset suffuses everything. The first settlers fought harsh conditions, our soldiers were outnumbered in war, and our athletes are used to being the “little guy” on the international arena. No matter the domain, we feel accustomed to being the underdog.

In a ministry context, pastors tend to emphasize difficulty. We focus on opposition, highlight low resources, and bemoan minimal progress. This message is so widely accepted that any talk of church growth is met with the suspicion that a church has compromised with truth to attract newcomers.

God calls us to embrace his confidence.

This cultural milieu, coupled with our own insecurities, has a devastating impact on confidence. In a country that cuts down “tall poppies” (those who rise above), it is safer to embrace mediocrity than pursue an audacious vision—and so leaders hold back, lowering expectations and fleeing the sacrificial paths that have marked Christianity since its inception.

To be sure, Melbourne is a pagan city with alluring idols. However, belief in God is far from dead: 43% agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and a staggering 74% believe God exists. As pastor and author Tony Payne says, “The population as a whole is not nearly as hostile to Christianity or to churchgoing as we think.”

This is an inconvenient truth for the atheist, but also the pastor looking to validate mediocre ministry. How can we change this? What will transform us into courageous leaders who leave a mark on this world for the glory of Christ?

Two words: gospel confidence.

Gospel confidence in the example of Moses

Gospel confidence is the living and certain trust that Jesus’ gospel is powerful to save. This is sharply distinct from self-confidence, which looks in the mirror and says, “I can do it.” Such an attitude leads to either pride at one’s “achievements,” or despair when difficulty comes. In contrast, gospel confidence finds courage not by looking to culture or to self, but to God.

In Exodus, we read of God’s extraordinary work in the life of an ordinary man named Moses. Orphaned as a child and later an exile with a stutter and a criminal record, he appeared destined for a life of obscurity—until he met God in the burning bush (Exod. 3).

This famous encounter reveals a three-fold pathway to gospel confidence.

1. God’s identity revealed

The Lord greets Moses with this: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6).

To grow in gospel confidence and be used in leadership, Moses had to have more than an awareness of God—he had to be gripped by the vision of God’s greatness. The one summoning him is the great I AM—the eternal, holy, and supreme Creator. Before calling him, God gives Moses a vision of how glorious he is.

2. God’s plan announced

“The Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry. . . . I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (vv. 7–8)

To grow in gospel confidence, Moses’s passions must sync with the heartbeat of the great I AM. God is not indifferent to the sorrow and suffering of Israel—he hears their brokenness and knows their bondage. His love is purposeful and active; he is the one who will “come down” and deliver his people from slavery and bring them to freedom.

And God will use Moses to achieve his plans, telling him: “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (v. 10).

Moses’ mission is birthed from God’s mission. He does not manufacture a calling, but instead follows God’s calling—and we do likewise, for God is the driving force in all gospel confidence. We can be confident of success because God has called us to achieve his purposes.

3. God’s presence assured

Moses, like many of us, is slow to trust. Instead of meditating on how big God is, he is overcome by his own sense of inadequacy: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (v. 11). We might have expected the Lord to respond by building up Moses’ self-esteem, but instead God says simply: “I will be with you” (v. 12).

Moses didn’t need to have a higher vision of self, just a truer vision of the God who would be with him every step of the way.

God calls us to embrace his confidence, perfected in Christ and now imparted to his disciples today.

When God is required

Jesus came to ordinary people to help achieve his most extraordinary will. He did this by revealing himself as the great “I am” (John 8:58), outlining his plan for the world (Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10), and then assuring his followers of his ongoing presence as they accepted his great commission (Matt. 28:16–20).

God is lifting our eyes to him. He is giving each one of us a big vision, which requires complete dependence, for when God is required for all we do, he is guaranteed to get all the glory.

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