August 20, 2012

Church Planter: WRX or Tractor?

Five years ago in church planting if I had been a character in Cars the movie I would have been a Subaru WRX – plenty of zip and whine, but not a whole lotta pulling power.  Busy, noisy and flashy was my game, create some impact and get this thing moving like lightning between the traffic lights. Oh, and hey, look at my racing stripes lads, they make me kinda racy. I would have looked a little something like this:

Now? Wiser, a little older, (but fitter and more debonaire surely – admiring sycophantic Ed) I am convinced that “low torque diesel motor” church planting is more my scene.  In fact now if I were a character in Cars I would look something more like this:

Not as eye-turning on the streets perhaps, but it’s certainly going to keep going after the Rex has blown a head gasket.

So what’s changed in the five years since that time?  Why do I think the future is International not Subaru? Why do I feel more content chugging along under the radar than I do with leaving tread every time I screech around the corner, waking the neighbours at 2am?  Here are just two reasons (more to follow later – Ed) :

1.Brokenness:  In church planting you will either be broken by God (a good thing – Ed)  or you will be broken by your struggles (a bad thing – Ed) or even worse, fail to be broken by your struggles and instead be embittered. The critical problem is that if YOU are not broken by God, then you will play the role of God and break others.  That’s where bitterness ends up. Everyone else has to be at fault – except me! This bitterness expresses itself in self-pity, depression and blame-shifting.

The beauty is that when God breaks you a whole bunch of stuff happens, not the least of which is that you stop trying to be in control of everything.  Five years ago I clung to the tarmac like a WRX, coiled, tight suspension, ready to grip onto anything and everything as I went from go to woe  (yes, spelling is correct – Ed). Now my suspension is a bit slushier, I hold to things much more loosely and I find that I don’t need to cling to the steering wheel so grimly. I have also found that I have about 250-000 kms more left in the engine.

The Chinese proverb states “The fish rots from the head.”  Not in the Bible, but true nonetheless.  If you are not broken as a leader then you will raise up a community that either refuses to be broken OR which hides its brokenness behind an increasingly opaque and often contradictory spiritual language because that’s what they think you want them to say.  The gap between language and reality MUST, among God’s people, remain as narrow as possible. Once it widens, it can become a costly exercise to close the gap.

Freedom: The WRX has to stick to the road (and woe-betide it if it hits a speed bump).  The tractor, however, is built for less than ideal conditions.  It can turn off the road if necessary, in fact it is built for off-road use.  In other words the tractor is a far more flexible vehicle than the WRX.

Church planters love flexibility – your flexibility.  Gather a bunch around you and chop and change things with them until they become change-weary.  But what if the shoe/tyre is on the other foot/rim? How flexible am I to give up my mini-dream for what this plant would look like, when the reality of who is attending, or our life circumstances, threatens my ideal?  How flexible am I when others within the decision making process (you DO have others within the decision making process, don’t you – Ed?) say “no”? In life I have about five or six blokes who, down the years, can say “no” to me or pull me up on something – anytime. Church planters need that, if for no other reason than many tend to be “can-do” types who may occasionally need to be told “Can do, but should not”.

Of course our flexibility does not extend to flexibility about the core of the gospel, and neither should it.  But here is the test:  If you have the core of the gospel firm and clear and inflexible then you are free to be flexible about so much else.  This was demonstrated to me many years ago working in a liberal denomination that was extremely flexible about what its members believed, but extremely inflexible about worship form; who could do what and when.  If you are inflexible about the freedom the gospel gives you, then your church plant will never become known simply by terms such as missional/household/MC model etc. An over-commitment to a one-size-fits-all model may indicate that YOU – the planter – are not as clear about the core of the gospel in your own life as you think you are. And if that is true, then there still may be too much of the WRX in you, and not enough of the Tractor.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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