There are all sorts of people talking these days about planting churches. The difficulty is that many people who are planning to plant churches have in mind what kind of church they want to plant. In general this is a good thing. Any farmer ought to have in mind what kind of crop he hopes to harvest but at the same time a good farmer examines the soil to see what kind of crop it can grow and sustain. This was the downfall of church planting missionaries in past centuries. The crop desired was a model of church which was in the planters mind without respect to the culture of the currently unchurched. The new wave of church planters can make this same mistake. They think that the model they have experienced or conceived is ‘the’ model for church and that the crop of new churches ought to conform to that image.
I believe that we must know, what are the irreducible elements in being a Christian church, and to hold on to these relentlessly. I would suggest that this might be quite a short list but it ought to then be absolutely non-negotiable. All else then ought to be open to cultural expression.
I think that Christian culture (if this is not an oxymoron) unthinkingly assumes that we share the same culture with the vast majority of folks in North America. This is patently not the case! In fact there are currently 6 generations alive on our soil and least 5 different culture expressions which distinguish them. Planting a ‘Boomer’ church will be different from planting a ‘Gen X’ church. Planting in suburbia is different than urban which is different from rural. High Density population in high rises or trailer parks are distinct from single family dwellings. Wealthy, middle class and the poor each have distinctive and we haven’t even begun to describe racial and ethnic differences.
When we speak of incarnational ministry we talk about following the example of Jesus as he came in flesh to a particular culture and time. In that context he gave us the essentials for living out the Gospel in every culture.
I am a firm believer in church planting. I have been involved in leading a church plant for the past 6 years. It has not turned out at all like I had conceived it (thank God) but we have found a way of being the Body of Christ in Uptown Saint John, and in doing so we have discovered the most authentic church in my experience. I hope to take all I have learned about contextualizing the Good News, and plant another church, some day but even as I dream that I know it won’t look like Up Town but it will share the essential DNA which must be present in all faithful churches. Not only is that okay but I believe it is preferable!