I met a guy recently and we were talking about our ministry roles. I told him that I was beginning to transition from my position as youth director into the position of leading a team to start a “daughter church.” He responded, “Oh… so you’re a church planter.” It wasn’t really a question, but more of a statement – a statement that left me wondering if that was a good thing or a bad thing in his mind. Then I began to wonder if it was a good thing or a bad thing in my mind.
“Church Planter.” The label was like trying on some new clothes. My initial thought was, “wow, this is new and stylish!” But then I realized that it felt a little uncomfortable. The reality is that we are living through a time when we are tying to be careful and intentional about our language when it comes to the “church.” I’m not so sure that when people hear about church planting they think in terms of what we are trying to do with the Mountain View “daughter church” (I’m not sure I like that term either – I’m too picky!).
For starters, if I am a “church planter” then everyone else that I am working with is too. Our discernment team members are “church planters,” our session elders at Mountain View are “church planters,” our Presbytery leaders are “church planters,” and on it goes. Secondly, I’m concerned that when people think of a “church planter” they think of someone going in, getting a building, putting out advertising, and creating the next slick Sunday morning experience. In some ways, it is not unlike starting a new small business. But in this sense a “church planter” becomes a sort of “church supplanter” because they are simply pulling in people from the existing churches. Or, as I heard a speaker say recently, “circulating the saints.”
I’m also aware that I’m reacting a bit to the idea that when I hear of “church planter” I think of someone going to a place where the Church (I use that capital “C” on purpose) does not yet exist in an organized form. Take, for example, some parts of Senegal where our church and other are trying to reach “unreached people groups”. The truth is, God has been at work ahead of us, and the “Church” already exists and is active in Stanwood and on Camano Island. However, there does seem to be the need for some new expressions of the Body of Christ in those communities. There definitely seems to be the need for “more workers.” (Luke 10:2).
In some ways, what we are doing is like planting something new in a garden and nurturing it to see what kind of “fruit” it produces. I’m ok with being a type of “gardener” – watering, feeding, tending and working to allow new growth. All the while knowing that we are working with the mystery that the life created is the work of God alone. So how about you? What comes to your mind when you hear “church planter?”