A lake with no outlet quickly becomes stagnant and unhealthy. Churches are no different. One benchmark a church can use to gauge health is its willingness and ability to multiply by sending out more churches. Yet as important as multiplication is, sending out an unhealthy church plant is a step backward, not forward.
When our church plant began maturing toward becoming a sending church, our leadership team considered four key questions to help us make the transition:
- How are we creating a sending culture?
- When is the right time?
- Who is the right church planter?
- What is the best way?
In Part 1, we explored the first two questions. This article will explore the third—and arguably most important—question: Who is the right church planter?
I believe the number one obstacle to planting healthy churches is the task of carefully identifying and developing healthy church planters. Each of our three Liberti Church lead pastors underwent a rigorous assessment process internally (from our existing elder team/advisory board) and externally (from Acts 29).
When exploring a potential church-planting candidate, three non-negotiables must be present before sending them out. A church planter must possess biblical qualifications, gifting for pioneering ministry, and Spirit-powered resilience.
A church planter is more than a biblically-qualified elder, but he is certainly not less. Paul had clear qualifications in mind regarding the character and gifting of any man who would sense God calling him to the role of pastor/elder (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–8; 1 Pet. 5:1–4). Apart from the ability to faithfully and accurately teach God’s Word, he must demonstrate a godliness of life worthy of imitation for the whole congregation.
In light of the countless scandals and deconversion stories within the church, has there ever been a more vital time to ensure the integrity of potential future church leaders?
The late Howard Hendricks wrote, “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership, and the greatest crisis in leadership is a crisis of character.” In light of the countless scandals and deconversion stories within the church, has there ever been a more vital time to ensure the integrity of potential future church leaders? A gifted leader who is not a godly leader (and therefore a qualified leader) is like a hang glider. They might fly for a while, but eventually, they’ll crash. This is why inviting objective feedback into a possible planter’s sense of subjective calling is critical.
Is it any wonder Paul reminded the younger Timothy to watch not only his doctrine but his life (1 Tim. 4:16)? We ought to be known for humility, honesty, and an increasingly godly example. We’re not talking about perfection, but maturity. And if this isn’t true of us (or true of us yet), it’s better we be an honest Christian than a gifted pretender.
Gifting for Pioneering Ministry
While an absence of character will hurt the church, an absence of gifting will frustrate the church. Healthy church planters need to be assessed for both. Church planters must be everything a faithful shepherd is, along with an evangelist, team-builder, ministry mobilizer, and generalist who is willing to do anything and everything—particularly in the early days of planting.
One of the most important elements of Acts 29 is our assessment process. It’s more than a diagnostic that invites impartial feedback from experienced men and women into important areas of a potential planter’s life. It’s also deeply formative, giving categories for a church planter to think through for their development. Acts 29 has identified eleven essential categories for healthy church planting that we put every potential church planter through:
- Spiritual Vitality
- Theological Clarity
- Conviction & Commendation
- Missional Lifestyle
- Disciple Making
- Ability to Teach
- Entrepreneurial Aptitude
If you’re considering sending out a church planter, ask them to explore these competencies on our website and have some honest conversations together before they begin the assessment process.
Every believer has an important role to play in the gospel’s advance in this world. For men and women part of church-planting families, that role is perhaps most like the special forces of God’s army. Their boots hit the ground first. They’re considered by many to be slightly crazy. Their mission is to establish kingdom outposts in enemy-occupied territory under heavy spiritual fire with little outside support.
While an absence of character will hurt the church, an absence of gifting will frustrate the church. Healthy church planters need to be assessed for both.
This shouldn’t puff church planters up with pride; it should make us honest about the pain, conflict, and spiritual warfare coming our way. Whether it’s the pain of our sense of inadequacy, unreliable core group members, unachievable expectations, or unrelenting spiritual attack—every church planter needs to make peace with the fact that to plant a church is to take a beating. Neither self-reliance nor self-pity should have any place within a potential church planter’s disposition. We must be ready to embrace the church-planting process as one of the tools through which God sanctifies us.
As you examine a candidate to send out of your church, ask the following questions:
- Are they able to take a hit and continue pressing forward by the Holy Spirit’s power?
- Can they minister to others with few resources at their disposal?
- Can they receive criticism?
- Do they demonstrate prayerfulness when ministry gets hard?
- Do they know how to preach the gospel to their hearts?
- Are they convinced their greatest need for planting a fruitful church is to walk closely with Jesus themselves?
Once you’ve identified, developed, and assessed a potential church planter who is biblically qualified, gifted for pioneering work, and daily walking in step with the Holy Spirit, the final question is: What is the best way to send them out? We’ll explore the various models and methodologies of being a sending church in my next post.