Why Every Church Planter Needs Heart First – Then Intellect

It’s so much easier to study about Jesus than to love him. But Jesus is not a system, he is a person. That’s why every church planter needs heart first.

heart first

It’s so much easier to study about Jesus than to love Jesus. We face the constant temptation to fill our heads with the details of his life and ministry. Pastors and college professors emphasize the need to memorize Bible verses or learn Greek and Hebrew. Publishers produce massive volumes of systematic theology. Popular Christian books suggest Biblical keys to success for our finances, healing, or any other human need. But Jesus is not a system, he is a person. That’s why every church planter needs heart first, then intellect.

We should be concerned with heart first because an omniscient God is not impressed with the size of our intellect, but he is impressed with the size of our heart. How can a finite human mind grasp an infinite God? St. Augustine, one of the greatest intellectuals in history, lamented that the “mansion of his heart” was too small and asked God to graciously enlarge his heart, not his mind. Even for Augustine, it was heart first. The Holy Spirit, who breathed out every word of the scripture, is not impressed with how many verses we have committed to memory, but he is impressed with how many verses have found their way into our everyday lives.

Even though the Scripture encourages us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” we are constantly tempted to pursue human understanding regarding the words of Jesus when we should pursue his living presence. Trust is about relationship, understanding is about intellect. In Jesus, God chose to become a man. The infinite stooped down and clothed himself in humanity. In his earthly ministry Jesus did not reveal all the secrets of knowledge and learning in human history. He chose instead to reveal how it was possible to enter into relationship with the creator. Jesus chose to reveal the Kingdom of God. By his actions, Jesus taught relationship is more important than understanding. We know this intuitively. We tend to forget it when it comes to our faith.

Loving Jesus and putting our heart first does not require us to throw our brains into the trash. It does, however, require us to order our lives around what is most important, and relationship comes first. Jesus opened the way back to relationship with the creator. The good news of the gospel is that the Father has gone after the very children who have rejected him. He refuses to leave us alone. He will pay any price–even the life of son–in order to win us back again. That’s a committed relationship in action. God puts his heart first, too.

Some of us have busied ourselves with developing human descriptions of God’s action. We discuss words like justification or sanctification. We try to present the legal reasons Christians can expect to go to heaven when they die. When Jesus paid the price for reconciliation, he wasn’t thinking about theology: he demonstrated God’s irrepressible love. Jesus described eternal life in terms of relationship with God: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

There is much to learn — in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3) We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, mind, and strength, so we can confidently apply our intellect in the love of God. We should also remember that the countless of number of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will worship him in heaven will certainly include the unlearned and the illiterate–and they may have a thing or two to teach us about a loving relationship with Jesus.

The challenge for us as church planters, then, is to know him heart first, and not settle for knowing about him.


This article about heart first originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

Ray Hollenbach
Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His devotional book "Deeper Grace" is available at Amazon.com He currently lives in central Kentucky. He's also the author of of "The Impossible Mentor", a deep dive into the foundations of discipleship.