I like making sense of things and putting seemingly-conflicting things back together. This morning I was reminded of a priority that I have been neglecting lately: church planting. Sometimes when I meet people I tell them I’m a Pastor, sometimes I tell them I’m a church planter, sometimes a minister, sometimes a Deacon. It depends on the context of who I’m talking to and such. But in talking with my Bishop today, it became apparent that I’ve been ignoring the church planter side of my position. I’ve been focusing on what it means to be a Pastor (how to care for the folks in my church( and forgetting what it means to be a Planter (how to expand the scope of this church). How do you put these two roles together?
It just hit me: I’m a farmer. I’m the kind of farmer that has both crops and animals on his farm. A Pastor is a shepherd – pastor simply is Latin for shepherd. That’s the animal-care side of this farm. But as a church planter, I’m also in the business of growing crops: planting seeds, watering them, tending them, reaping the fruits at the harvest, furthering the cycle of making new Christians, new disciples.
Last weekend I decided to listen to Finding Organic Church on CD. I’d been borrowing it from a friend of a friend who thought I needed to know about “how church ought to be.” As an Anglican, and especially as an Anglo-Catholic, I am inherently suspicious of Frank Viola’s ecclesiology. He seems to have a terribly misinformed sense of Early Church history, and a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the place of legitimate authority within the Church. Nevertheless, I’m sure he had some good things to say, so I took the plunge on a quiet evening to myself. In the end, I couldn’t go past chapter 1 due to the maddening mixture of good insights and blatant falsehoods. It’s a shame, because I bet there were plenty more gems scattered throughout the book if I had the patience to wade through the mud to find them. One such gem that I did find, though, was this reminder that church growth should be viewed organically, as a living being that is birthed, rather than simply a building to construct. The very term “church planter” comes from this biblical mentality.
Taking that reminder that a church is grown, not constructed, really helped me piece together this idea of a farmer. As a farmer, I need to keep the fields tended so they can bear fruit. That means I need to get involved in the community around me and my church. That’s where the potential future of the church is found, after all! Conceptualizing that task in that way integrates well with the better-known biblical image of a Pastor – one who guides, feeds, and protects the flock already gathered.
A few important reminders need to go along with this.
#1 This is not all up to me. Right now I am the chief farmer. I do need to organize and lead both the planting and the pastoring. It’s what I’ve been trained, prepared, and ordained to do. But of course, I need to do it in such a way that develops the gifts and abilities of others to share in the work. As the farm grows, more laborers for the harvest will be necessary, as will pastoral figures. When that day comes, I should be ready to hand over the reigns to others to maximize their potential as well as mine. My specialties are generally in liturgy; God-willing, someday I may get to focus on that and let others do other jobs. But for now the farm is small and the leaders few.
#2 We are not alone in this work. First of all, our Bishop wants this mission station to grow and be a blessing to North Central Mass. He’s gonna support us and advise us, and there are other diocesan ministries available to equip us further. Furthermore, we believe that God wants this new little church to grow and establish a new outpost for His Kingdom in this community. Thus, if we honestly labor to this end, we can be watchful for the work that God is also doing to build His church. We can watch for the stone-throwing Sauls who could be potential Pauls. We can watch for the seemingly-meaningless conversations that kindle the flames of spiritual seeking. We can raise our sails to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit, as the classic metaphor goes.
#3 There is no failure in this business. Well, this statement is kind of a technicality based on a logical conclusion from #2. What I mean is that if God indeed intends to raise up an Anglican church in town here, then it will happen. However, there is the possibility that we’re wrong, and this is not the time or place to engage in this work, or that we’re not the right people to do it. If no fruit comes after a couple years of honest labor in this, then it’s probably time to re-think our calling as a group. Many church plants end up folding. It’s not because God doesn’t want to grow the Church; it’s because people weren’t the right ones at the right place at the right time. It’s not about luck; it’s about obedience to the Lord God.
#4 There is no one way to do this. Everybody is different, has different gifts & abilities, with different interests. I cannot look at other church plants, past or present, and assume that if I copy their methods my results will be the same. As the “organic church” concept reminds us, such artificial adherence to a formula only constructs a system, not grow a living church community. I need to be true to the man that God made me to be, make full use of the gifts and abilities that I have, and not pretend to be somebody else. And the same goes for our church – we can’t pretend to be a church with hundreds of members, or an average age of twenty years below what it is. Who we are right now is both a weakness and a strength. Our shortcomings may be obvious, but our gifts and strengths need to be identified, nurtured, and put to use.