5 years ago we planted something beautiful. It was a church. A church that my kids could be proud to attend. A place where grace was more important than how I felt about anything. A place where Jesus was talked about as the person he is, not the myths we created. Now that I have passed her off and stepped away, I am able to reflect on a few items related to that amazing church’s beginning days. This reflection will seem like an unpolished rant or airing of grievances, but it is not! I have always been blessed and taken care of by God, I have no complaints. This is a rant of direction and motivation from outside voices more than anything else.
One of my tensions through the planting phase had to do with timelines. Timelines and results drive business, commerce and now the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I love systems and protocols, they make life work! But during the pre and early planting days, the world seemed to be full of experts. Every time I turned around or opened my email I met another pro-church planter, with studies and stats to back up his methods of madness. These experts spoke and wrote with certainty and opinions about everything from discipleship formats to coffee (most of which had never planted a church). It was things like, you must be financially self sustaining in 2.5 years, now its maybe 3… but a new study is out, thats cray cray, it’s now 5. But there was that guy that did it in 1 year, what a hero …so he should be the new model we follow.
These time lines will mess a guy up! Constant comparisons to American planters or some guy in a completely different world became our measuring stick. Buzz words like ‘live missional’, ‘gospel centred’, ‘seeker sensitive’ or ‘spirit sensitive’ were on repeat. I hung out with people who spoke in Christian cliches, the guys who are ‘too blessed to be stressed’ or ‘lived under the spout where the glory came out’ or even the guy who ‘lived on purpose for a purpose’. All of these terms and other plant examples were to be incorporated (or stay away from) into what was supposed to be my vision from God. It will mentally and spiritually wear you out. If you buy into the game it will also make it difficult to be who you are.
To compound the expectations we were facing from a few different sources there was the dichotomy of purpose. On one hand we were free to reach people that needed a hand to hold in life, but on the other hand we were supposed to put bums in seats (bums with wallets).
To me true church planting is really slow and organic. It takes time! It is building friendships and gaining trust. You can start a church tomorrow with the right equation (band+lights+rock star preacher+car giveaway = full church)… but you didn’t actually plant the gospel, you started a new Christian club. Time and time again these end up being collection points for disgruntled church folk who are willing to give you a chance, for the time being. Your chance might be short though, someone better is coming along next year with a cooler logo and better coffee.
So why all the dumping of emotional thought? Because I believe the guy church planting should start being seen as a missionary more so than as a pastor. Follow me on this.
A missionary, moves somewhere new, starts slow building relationships. The missionary finds a way to get involved in the community and have a platform in the culture of the city or neighbourhood. They begin sowing the gospel with word and deed, they care deeply about those they are ministering to and are investing their lives to this Jesus work. They take risks, leaving behind everything that was common and safe. Sounds exactly like a church planter to me. The only difference is, they are usually not in a place where the poverty is sexy enough for a tv crew. However, they lead churches that might break 100 in 10 years… and it might not ever reach that. They might never be self governing or self sustaining financially, which means the pastor will never see a pay cheque. They will be expected to meet all the spiritual needs of a church of 500… but for free. If they chose somewhere more desolate and poverty stricken they would be on a fundraising tour, not to get their work going, but to keep it going for years to come.
It is ok if your church plant doesn’t break 100, 60 or even 30. That doesn’t mean you are doing a bad job or that you are not doing it right. It might mean that you are doing it more right!
So here is why I write this. If my son or daughter, says “I want to plant a church”. I (as a constant planter of the gospel) want to know that the culture of expectation has changed. I want to know that they will not be expected to be or do something that they are not called to be or do. The reasons they choose a path should not be just because that is what the cool church de jour said to do on Instagram. I want them to plant the gospel in a world that is ready for them to push that seed deep into the ground and be supported by denominations/ networks/ groups and individuals that jump in with the water it needs to grow. I want to see a church world that is just as concerned with planting here on Canadian soul as they are in the far reaches of the world. A lot of our oversees planting and missions pushes came from a strange eschatology that tells us that the second we have preached on every continent then, Jesus returns. That is not a true theology or even a good motivation to love people. (we can talk about that later though)
So today, pray for a church planter, write him a cheque, ask if you can help clean his building or buy him a coffee. If you go to a church, ask how they can help! What in their missions budget can get freed up to tell people here at home about Jesus. Let’s lift up these home town missionaries as the heroes that they are. If you want to know who they are… I can give you a long list! Let’s remember Church planters = Local Missionaries.
Disclaimer A – I know Global workers who are doing an amazing job and give to them monthly. They are ripping it up in Europe and Asia. I love them, learn from them and want to be them when I grow up. Global missions needs to exist!
Disclaimer B – Let’s also be clear that I know church planters who planted really big churches and are reaching people who need Jesus. They might have thousands in the crowd, but they have the same complaints that most church planters do… not enough money, not enough volunteers.