There's a very specific guy whose image I conjure when I hear the term "church-planter." The guy is real - I met him at a conference last year - and I do not like him. He's pretty slick, dresses like a 1990s throw-back, disdains institution ("As soon as I read about a denomination in the Bible, I'll join one!"), is visibly surprised that a woman would dare be a pastor ("Oh, so you're not the senior pastor, though, right? That would be weird."), and refers (on first meeting) to our shared town (where he moved intentionally to plant a church and, ostensibly, love some people) as "Manass-hole."
I suspect that a lot of people have a similar "church-planter" stereotype - that is, if they know what "church planting" is to begin with. The term has some associations attached to it. So I was a little ambivalent about this morning's NuDunker hangout on Church Planting - so much so that I opted out of joining the live video chat and watched the live feed instead.
I'm so glad I watched.
(Here's the archived video. You should watch it, too.)
Because it turns out that my stereotype is, while perhaps grounded in some anecdotal evidence, just plain wrong. These are people I know, like, and trust. Listening to their stories of being called into church planting was fascinating. No two stories were alike. No two calls were the same. And none of them are slick, shady, rude guys dive-bombing into a random city, insulting the place and one's colleagues, and airlifting out just as quickly:
Andy felt called from traditional ministry with all the trappings of "compensation packages" and corporate language into planting something more organic.
Brian felt a call back home, to set down roots in rural Iowa - and do community development and church planting in the process.
Ryan's community grew out of an established congregation, something new and different springing from something traditional and well-rooted.
Audrey saw a sustained longing for online community, knew she had gifts that matched what was needed, and stepped up into a new kind of congregation.
And Samuel's congregation grew from its work in peacemaking and reconciliation, efforts to unite a divided city that ended up coalescing into a worshipping body.
What struck me in listening to all of their stories was how naturally the call toward planting unfolded, how contextual the churches themselves are, and how slowly this new thing is unfolding among us.
We never really got to the "Brethren" part of "Brethren church planting," but I think that's it: all of these "planters" are working out of assumptions that God calls the church to be present in service and relationship to those around us. A new church isn't just something we feel compelled to start because we think we'd be good at being a pastor, or because there aren't enough Christians in this particular city; no, a new church is a response - both to God's nudging and to a community's need. Church-planting with integrity.
I guess, in that sense, church planting for the Brethren is really a natural outgrowth of our inclination toward service. What is the need, here? What can we do to fill that space? Is this what God is calling us to do?
I'm grateful for each of these brothers and sister, for being willing to live out on the edges of the church, for persevering even when bureaucratic structures and policies work against them, for keeping us alive by reminding us that God is already doing beautiful new things. Sometimes that's a hard truth to keep in mind - especially here in middle church, in traditional suburbia. But it is also the very hope that we need.
Here are the pre-hangout blogs - I know a couple more are coming: