Four C’s of a Church Planter (Part 4: Chemistry)
As this series continues, a very important aspect in church planting is chemistry. Now, we aren’t talking physical science, but rather chemistry in terms of fit between pastor and congregation. This is very important. The reality is, you can have a called pastor with great character who simply is a bad chemistry fit with a congregation or community. What do I mean? It is helpful to break this down a bit more. Chemistry is the overarching category. Under this category, we speak about the chemistry of convictions, culture, and model. Some of this assessing is a bit softer and perhaps harder for us to get our heard around, yet is critical when a congregation and planter ask the questions, “Am I/Is he the right fit for this congregation?”
Chemistry of Conviction
Conviction is a firmly held belief. We all have them. All pastors have them. All congregations have them. The issues that come up in this area are: 1). Are pastors and congregations aware of their convictions? 2) Do their convictions align with what they have promised to believe (pastors), or what they have subscribed to believe (Church constitution)? 3). Is there chemistry between pastor and congregation regarding these convictions? 4) Do these convictions match the confessional identity of the AFLC? There will be great hardship if a non-Free Lutheran pastor is pastoring a faithful Free Lutheran congregation. Likewise, there will be great tension if a faithful Free Lutheran pastor is serving a non-Free Lutheran congregation. This isn’t rocket science. Chemistry of conviction is so important.
How does this show up in a plant context? It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for the AFLC to have a plant pastor who isn’t Free, Living, and Lutheran plant a congregation that won’t be Free, Living, or Lutheran. This relates to the chemistry of conviction with our broader Association. Yes, it is kingdom growth which we are thankful for, but there are integrity, accountability, and wisdom issues related to this. Our mandate from the AFLC is for Home Missions to help plant a certain kind of congregation. We believe that Free, Living, and Lutheran congregations beautifully make and form disciples of Christ and best capture what the Word of God proclaims. If we believe that, why would we intentionally be loose in our convictions? This is one of the reasons we are working so hard in proclaiming our precious identity through our DNA markers.
Chemistry of Culture
God builds everyone differently. We celebrate this. It’s a very obvious aspect of the human experience. We also know that there are various cultures in our country. Culture is defined by the beliefs, values, and practices of a specific community. Because of this, certain people fit certain cultures better than others. This is a rather obvious fact of life. There are a lot of factors that play into this. While this isn’t the most significant aspect for pastors, it is important to be aware of. Putting a city slicker into rural America might not be the wisest. Putting a rural cowboy into a large metro also might create issues. I admit this broad brush and there are definitely outliers in this. Yet, wisdom suggests that general practice is not based on the outliers. The primary reason for this issue is that the goal of the pastor is to reach and shepherd people. If they are a poor cultural fit, this will be very difficult. This principle is also part of the reason why the global mission field has generally shifted to training national people to do the ministry instead of relying on foreigners. It’s simply a better strategy.
The reality is, some planters are built for a more rural or simple culture. Others are built for the speed, multiculturalism, and sophistication of the city. Both are needed. Neither are more important or valuable. It’s simply important to be aware of this.
Another aspect of culture is that every congregation has its one culture. Some congregations have a very simple, low church culture. Others have a higher church culture. A chemistry fit for the pastor and congregation related to their culture and practice is also important.
Chemistry of Model
The goal in planting isn’t just simply gathering a group of believers that flame out in a couple of years. The goal is to plant a congregation that becomes healthy and mature for long term cultural impact. As we consider planting this kind of congregation, there are a variety of models that are used. So much of this depends on how the congregation starts. Are there people there already gathering? Is a congregation sending people? Is it a new field with nobody but the planter? Every church plant is unique and contextual. Some church plants are far riskier and challenging which require more giftings in their leadership than less risky plants. The general rule is the more solid people you start with, the less risky it is. All plant pastors need certain competencies (next week’s blog). However, not all require the same amount. This factor greatly depends upon what model they are a part of.
Why is this important? Unfortunately, the Church has a history of sending faithful and good pastors into very poor chemistry fits which has created burnout, tension, and church closings. Pastoring an established congregation is simply different than pastoring a plant. The giftings required are different. Placing a good pastor in the wrong contextual fit isn’t fair to them or that congregation.
The Calling and Character of a pastor are crucial. Yet, the Chemistry (Conviction, Culture, Model) between a pastor and the congregation must not be marginalized or ignored.
Next week, we will look at the giftings or Competencies related to church plant pastors.
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