Last week I posted the article "How Do I See Myself" to begin the conversation of how a church planter or missionary sees themselves. Today I'm continuing to push this conversation forward and exploring our identity.

This is where the divergence really begins. What is the identity of a church planter? Who or what is a church planter? The way that those questions are answered reveals much. Not only that, but it ends up determining much of the habits and lifestyle of the church planter. The answer to these questions is foundational.

I’ve grown to differentiate between what we would label as a church planter versus a missionary. Before each and every church planter is that question ... do you see yourself in essence as a pastor planting a church or do you see yourself as a missionary? What then happens when these questions are answered either way? What is different? Everything.

Imagine you’re sitting around a table with a group of ministry leaders in whom you’ve never met before. One by one each person at the table introduces themselves and then shares what they do. After each person answers then the groups ask questions and is eager to learn more about one another. When it is your turn you answer, “My name is ________ and I am planting a church in _________.” Let’s now imagine what the focus would be when people begin asking more questions about what you’re doing and where. We can even be assertive and forward enough to know in general where this conversation is going ... right?

Usually the questions that people would ask would be:

  • What part of the city are you planting in?
  • How is your core group developing?
  • Have you launched yet?
  • When do you plan on launching?
  • What will your services be like?
  • Have you done any preview services?
  • Are you utilizing public interest meetings?
  • What are you doing for marketing? Direct mailers? Social media?
  • Will you preach exegetically or topically?

As much as these questions may or may not chaff, they are fair game for questions that are asked to church planters. Sure there are a few interspersed that I did not list here, but you get the idea. By self-identifying as a “church planter” means that there are a lot of assumptions of what that means.

Now let’s alter that same scenario. You’re still a “church planter” (whatever that now means) but you answer like this ... “My name is ________ and I am a missionary in _________.” Now the entire narrative changes. Rather than the others at the table peppering you with questions about worship services, core groups, and preaching the questions look more like:

  • What does it mean to be a missionary in your city?
  • How are you engaging with people in your neighborhood?
  • Have you become an insider yet?
  • What platform are you utilizing to make deeper connections in your city and to establish a presence?
  • What does it look like to the share the gospel there? How open or resistant are people to Jesus?
  • What aspect of culture in your city can you tap into to bring up spiritual conversations and ultimately point them to Jesus?

Obviously I’m using those specific question to make a point. They’re not exclusive to either side of the argument, but what this little scenario reveals is that how church planters self-identify will reveal much about the how of church planting. Too often church planters want to simply hurry up to the launch of their public worship services so they can spend ten to fifteen hours a week in sermon prep, plan the services, and preach.

Nate Morches in an article entitled “The Apostle Paul was Not a Pastor, and You Might Not Really Be One Either” explores this dichotomy. He differentiates between how we think of a pastor (which he notes as “elders”) versus apostolic church planters (Pauline leaders). He writes, “But the main difference between elders and Pauline leaders was this: Elders stayed in one location to manage their single church, while Pauline leaders moved in between the churches to act as a strengthening force and a connection between all the churches.”

 This is at the crux of identity for a church planting pastor (elder) or church planting missionary (apostle).