How Do I See Myself?
One of the foundational questions that church planters ought to ask themselves is simply, “How do I see myself?” Do people see themselves as church planters or missionaries? The way that question is answered will often times be telling of the focus of their activities. Church planters most often would see the locus of their endeavors as starting a worship gathering. They are called church planters. Their initial funding and end goal would be for them to start some type of gathering for worship and instruction. That becomes the central focus of their energies and involvement in their community. Start a church and grow it. Leaders in this category see themselves as bible teachers, preachers, pastors/shepherds, organizers, administrators, and the like. Again, these are broad and wide sweeping categories and generalizations.
Community development may or may not happen. It may not even be on the pastor/planters radar who pours much time and energy into the gathering. To be honest, this is the litmus test of how most church planters are measured and how often times they are stacked up against one another. In church planting circles, most often those who garner the most attention via the stage at conferences are those who’ve been successful in this pursuit. They’ve been able to successfully gather a lot of people together in one place. Those who are being funded to start churches, regardless of what they believe comes first, are ultimately measured by this rubric.
As culture in North America becomes further unchurched, dechurched, or never-been-churched, then all of the sudden the rules change. Funding models, labels, and categories that have been in place for decades may now not be applicable. The pervasive church planter mentality might be more conducive to areas in which the majority are disposed to or grew up with some kind of a Judeo-Christian worldview, regardless of how churched or unchurched the people are. Therefore, when “God” is referenced at least most people have a shared root memory of some sort of monotheistic deity. However, as our cities continue to swell with international immigrants from countries without a Judeo-Christian worldview the starting point is several steps back. Much of church planting lore is about making church still relevant for the disenfranchised and unengaged. But what does a church planter do when people aren’t even disenfranchised to begin with? What if the whole idea of God, Jesus, or church is not even on their radar? While many assume that is not the case in most places in North America, that is simply not true.
What is the biggest difference for a leader who sees themselves as a missionary engaging the culture first as opposed to being a church planter? Is there a marked distinction between starting with community development first versus planting a church? Again, while it may be akin to splitting hairs, there is an enormous difference between a church planter and a missionary who starts churches. The reality is that much of our church planting activities, particularly in North America, we would not do elsewhere. No one questions that or even resists. Why? Because we understand there is a difference ... but is there really a difference? Many surmise that church planters can do one thing here and something completely different in another country. To some degree that is true. It is part of being contextual. The point I am trying to make is that North America is indeed a bone fide mission field, which means we need to reorient our posture that many others of late have written about. It is easy to propose these ideas now and then talk about them over coffee with other church planters, but in reality, it is hard to make the switch especially when funding is attached to numerical expectations.