I’m not really a church planter. Sure, I’m “the guy” that’s leading the church plant. But I know how I used to think about church planting, and I know what mild-success feels like, and the reality is, I’m not a church planter. I tell people I’m just keeping us all on the same page.
As we’ve been planting in Manchester, New Hampshire – where 2% of the population are evangelical Christians, many grow up never meeting a Christian, and are largely indifferent to church – we’ve seen time and time again that the Triune God revealed in Scripture is the lead planter. This is God’s church plant, not mine.
As we’ve been seeing God’s activity in the city, and getting to know other churches in Manchester, it has been deeply encouraging to see what God is already doing here. Strangely enough, God’s been seeking and saving the lost, and using good evangelical churches to do so, with out us. Even more strangely, he’s been using good evangelical churches with whom we’d have strong disagreements with (from women pastors, to having a thing for the Pope) to advance the mission of the Gospel.
In the Gospels, especially John’s Account, God the Father is the first seeker, the first pursuer, the first lover, the first missionary. It is in fact, the Father who sends Jesus on his redemptive mission. In Covenant Theology terms, it is the Father who initiates the Covenant of Redemption, and it is the Father who oversees the actualization and accomplishment of his mission of grace. And as that applies to little’ol Manchester, NH, God’s the one who’s seeking and saving the lost here first.
The freeing reality here is that as a “church planter” I am invited into what God is already doing. I’m not generating the church plant myself. I’m not the one who’s reminding God to seek and save the lost in Manchester. More importantly, God is telling a story of his grace to Manchester, drawing their face to see the Father in the Son – and I’m joining what God’s doing in that work, not initiating it.
For the longest time, my hesitations about being a church planter were simply because I saw large stock piles of bravado trolling around behind men who were planters. To be frank, if that’s what being a church planter was – that swagger of being a “Navy Seal for Jesus” and “getting church right” – then I wanted nothing to do with it.
In retrospect, I was a bit mistaken. Church planters need a serious dose of the gift of faith, which can often be ungraciously interpreted as bravado. Other guys are just extreme extroverts. Some guys, like me, are just punks. There has been a decent amount of masculine bravado swirling around planters. The correction is deeper thinking on the Son’s relationship to church planting.
At the end of the day (and The Day), I’m here to point to Jesus and seek to be a better disciple of his. Jesus gets to determine who sees his face, and gets to determine how many who seek his face gather together at King’s Cross Church. If the Church belongs to Jesus, that means that even our little church is whatever it is by Jesus’ decision. Jesus is the one making disciples. Jesus is the one building his church. Yea, we’ve got our neat missional Batman tool belts on, but this is Jesus deal, not my own.
If Christ crucified in the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation – and the lifeblood of those who are in Christ – then Jesus is the lead pastor, the lead pastor, dare I say it, the lead church planter. He’s the one orchestrating this entire mess, and sees all the ins and outs of it way better than I do, and he’s the one working through it to glorify the name of his Father. I’ll tell you, planting is a chaotic mess, and will do numbers on your sense of security, identity, and virtually all aspects of being a person. It’s kind of like doing a business start up – with all the stress involved there – with the added feature that all the “product” being sought is completely out of your control. Jesus saves – not just as the source of salvation, but also as the author. I do not save anybody. And unless I have a church growth model completely dependent on skimming off people from other churches (which would be…. bad), I’m completely dependent on Jesus to do his thing.
So, it’s the Father who’s initiated the mission, using his faithful disciples across the board to seek and save the lost (including churches I’d disagree with), and it’s the Son who’s the one who oversees the building of his church. What about the Spirit?
As alluded to before, church planting will flay your soul. But that which would destroy us, the Spirit uses to conform us to Christ. The main mission of the church is make more disciples – which happens in the context of the local church. But if the main aim is disciples who make disciples, then we’re being formed into the image of Christ, not necessarily a church plant. That is to say, the call to discipleship is preeminent, and we actualize that through the local church. And in the context of church planting efforts, the put it plainly, we may fail to actually plant a local church. But if we’re successful in building better disciples, then the Spirit’s doing his work and we’ve been successful.
The Spirit’s work is to illuminate the sinner to see Christ, to lead and give boldness to our witness to Christ. I’ve found that as I’ve leaned more on the Spirit for daily guidance and power – as I’ve grown in my own prayer life – that the Spirit loves to surprise us with the joy of God in the mission of church planting. I’ve had not one or two, but several “chance” encounters that have had substantial impact on moving the church plant forward.
One of my favorite stories of the Spirit’s surprising power in our church plant is with our neighbors. The apartment above us had been empty for five months. One day, we met the woman who was moving in. Turns out, she was a missionary in Papa, New Guinea and had just returned to the states to start working at the hospital we live right next to. She starts attending our bible study. Later, she meets a woman in the city “by chance” who had just returned from twelve years of missionary work in Guam. This other woman moves into the other vacant apartment above us. Then, they start to get to know the neighbors we’ve been building relationships with and they invite them over to our Bible study. And at this moment, we’re looking forward to having some of our neighbors over to who find it “really strange” that they’ve been interested in Jesus and “just happen” to have moved in across the street from a Bible study.
That’s the Spirit’s work.
Trinitarian planting is faith building. God is the lead church planter. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – God is the one leading this crazy mission. Yea, I’m the “church planter” but when compared to the Triune God who’s building his Church, I’m just a stage hand. I’m just a ball boy. My job is to keep us all on the same page, focused on the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as God does his thing through lowly people like us. This makes church planting – with all the exhaustion and uncertainty – a privilege to be involved with. It makes it a joy. It makes it about God.