Do you remember the playground game Red Rover? You know, where school kids stand in two lines facing each other and take turns yelling out, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Suzy right over!" Then little Suzy would have to leave her line and run as fast and hard as she could to break through the other line of kids holding hands. If successful, she would take one member from the other team back with her to her line. If unsuccessful, Suzy had to remain in the opposing team's line and then another child would be called to come over.
The game has seemed to lose some steam in the last few years. Maybe it's due to the development of "cooler" games. Perhaps it's due to the number of kids with neck injuries from nearly being strangled trying to break through. Whatever the case, it seems for the most part that Red Rover has gone to the playground cemetery along with King of the Hill. We'll have to hope for a resurrection.
It has occurred to me that we often to adopt a kind of Red Rover Strategy in church planting and pastoring. Like Paul in Acts 16, we hear the call, "Come over and help us!" and we react with a violent attempt to just break through the line. We have a dream in our heart to plant or pastor a church and we become so consumed with this vision that we barrel right into a new town looking for the weakest link in the chain before ever getting an honest and clear picture of the people that live there. We start plowing into a community with strategy, plans, and really great books written by "cool" church planters and pastors without ever considering the group of people into which we're being sent. And before we know it, we find ourselves strangled, trying to break into a community that is not ready or able to receive the church we have planned.
So, let me say this; before planting or pastoring a church, it's vital that we have a vision of the people to whom God has sent us. This was the crucial step that happened in Acts 16.
Paul and his companions are setting out to minister to people and they're running up against barriers along the way. The Bible says, "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia, went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, come over to Macedonia and help us!" The "Come over and help us" ends with a little dative case pronoun: "us." And, it matters.
Here was Paul, sure of where he wanted to go, never stopping for directions, but being stopped at every turn. Until he received God's vision for ministry. And in the vision, he met a person, the man from Macedonia. We can learn a clear lesson from this story. Do not go plant or pastor a church if all you have is a vision for a particular kind of church, or because you think a particular city is "cool." You can only plant or pastor a church when you have a vision for the people. Part of being missional is to recognize that we are to go into a culture, engage the people of that culture, and plant a Biblically faithful church for those people, all the while acknowledging that culture matters in the way we do ministry. In many ways, the how of church ministry is determined by the who, when, and where of culture.
So, when we "come over," it's important to remember that we are going into our own community, not someone else's. It's so easy to hear an incredible speaker at a conference and say, "I'm going to be just like that pastor!" That is not the right goal, nor is it what God is calling you to be. Too often, we get so excited by someone else's church that we get a vision for their church before we get a vision for our people.
My challenge is, don't plant or pastor a church in your head. Plant or pastor a church in your community. When you are there, that's when the Gospel transforms real people who are living real lives. When we are in love with someone else's community, we fall prey to community lust and demographic envy. We begin thinking, "If I could just be in this part of California, or this part of Seattle, or this part of Manhattan... then, my church would be incredible." Know and live in your culture, not someone else's. Don't just bring a model, bring the Gospel. Create a church. Don't create a plan.
Most importantly, we must bring Christ, not just a church, particularly a way of doing church. Sometimes, I think we get too excited about the fact that we're leading a church. That's great, as long as we remember that we're planting the Gospel that creates a church, not a church that's known for being the best church or the most trendy or the most relevant. We're planting the Gospel and so we bring Christ and not just the church. Being missional has to be tied into the mission of Jesus, which is to seek and save the lost.
Unlike the in the game Red Rover, we win when we get to stay with our new "team" and begin leading it in a new direction. Planters and pastors must first take the time to listen to the Spirit, responding appropriately His call to the particular people He assigns to us. Then, we can best respond to the call to "Come over" and win them for the kingdom of God.