Walk in to just about any bookstore these days and one of the largest sections is often the so-called “self-help” section. A good chunk of this section is filled with books on “finding yourself,” or “discovering your true identity.” However you phrase it, it seems that many of us are in the midst of an identity crisis.
This oftentimes carries over into the church as well. We have sermons reminding us that we need to understand and cling to our “identity” in Christ, that we need to understand who we are in Him. While this is true, I wonder how many of us actually grasp what is being said. I say this because, as a pastor, I have often struggled with this sense of identity myself.
I’m not complaining (at least that’s not my intent), but being a pastor is hard. Nearly everyone has their own preconceived ideas of what a pastor should look like, how he should dress or not dress, how he should talk or not talk, you name it and people expect something from you. Some of these expectations are indeed biblical, but a good many of them simply are not. What’s a pastor to do? To complicate matters, Paul seems to say that he’s willing to let his own personal preferences go for the sake of reaching others. Consider 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
What does this mean for pastors, church planters and all Christians? Well, we need to live our lives in such a way that we can cross boundaries that otherwise divide, we need to be willing to truly consider others as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) for the sake of the Gospel. Practically, this can play itself out in such simple ways as taking an interest in sports when I normally wouldn’t for the sake of reaching someone. Though there are certainly many more aspects to consider here, that’s not really my point.
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with church planting. If pastors face pressure to meet other people’s standards and agenda, then church planters face it all the more. Many people see church plants as blank slates upon which to write their own agendas. The planter must possess a clear calling and sense of identity and he must be willing to stand firm as others seek to change directions. Yet he must do so all the while with sensitivity and humility.
John Piper once preached at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and though his specific context was preaching, I have found his words to be tremendously helpful over the years. He was talking about how so many young preachers simply try to emulate their favorite preachers, adopting delivery style, etc. Piper admonished the young would-be preachers, saying that we need to learn to be sanctified versions of ourselves rather than watered-down versions of someone else. We will never be the people we seek to imitate. Most of us won’t ever be as good as the people we try to imitate, so as long as we simply imitate, we are watering things down.
But, when we learn to realize who God has created us to be, and strive to be sanctified versions of ourselves, then our ministries will be more potent. This means, above all that we must learn to examine and know ourselves, our likes, our dislikes, our preferences and we must submit them all to the Gospel. God has created each of us different and we simply do ourselves and Him and injustice when we place our personal preferences upon others.
You might still be wondering what all of this has to do with church planting. The planter must know, with certainty, who God has called Him to be and he must be willing to stand by these convictions. This is intimately tied to the question of what kind of church God has called each planter to plant. Every local church, in some sense, has a “personality,” drawn from its leaders, people and surrounding culture. If the planter is unsure of who he is in light of Christ, he will be unsure of what the church should look like (every church does not and should not look the same), others will decide this vital question instead.
This is a hard line to walk: being firm in conviction on one hand and desiring to reach out to others unlike ourselves on the other hand. There will, by necessity, be sacrifices made. The question becomes what and how much we’re willing to sacrifice. Can we effectively minister in churches where we don’t fit? How do we even know?
What do you think?