This post is the third in a four part series for aspiring church planters. For the other posts in this series use the buttons at the bottom of the page. The final post will be available next week.
One of the most difficult periods of my life was when I was trying to discern whether I was fit to plant a church. I’m grateful for that difficult, but fruitful, season of life. In fact, the entire process produced some challenging questions and valuable personal reflection.
One of the most important questions I had to address was to determine whether people would actually follow me. There were three key-areas of questioning that were helpful for me.
1. Would I follow me?
Before we ask people to follow us, we must first engage in some candid self-examination. After all, we are asking for something valuable – people’s trust. We should treat this precious commodity with great care.
Before we ask people to follow us, we must first engage in some candid self-examination.
We can start by taking stock of our own leadership track record. For instance, have I already demonstrated spiritual leadership in a local church setting? Even more telling, have I successfully been an influencer without the benefits of title or position?
Along those same lines, have I demonstrated faithfulness in following other leaders? When we have faithfully submitted to those over us, we are better prepared – and more likely – to lead as men submitted to the Chief Shepherd. The best leaders are almost always the best followers as well.
One other way we can scrutinize ourselves is by assessing whether our vision is compelling and clear or not. The key to clarity of vision is being able to articulate our motives and objectives as they relate to the needs in our community.
In my setting, the challenge was convincing people of the need for a new church in an area replete with existing churches. Early on, I would speak in terms of “my calling” and how I was simply obeying what I thought God wanted me to do.
I eventually realized that I was not answering the question that people were asking. While it is good for us to be convinced of our work, the idea of a calling is incredibly subjective and even vague or confusing to many people.
Potential core group members wanted to know that I had compelling hopes and dreams that addressed the spiritual poverty specific to our community.
2. Does my household follow me?
If those that know us best won’t follow us, why should others do so? Before we ask others to follow us, it is critical that we consider whether our household follows us.
If married, are my wife’s heart and affections committed to planting a church? A planting pastor should strive to stay consistent with the scriptural picture of marriage. He should desire for his wife to be right next to him – in the fight. “She will follow my lead” is not adequate!
Far too many husbands and wives believe that a wife’s duty and best role is to be her husband’s cheerleader. But cheerleaders can’t help from the sidelines. A church planter’s wife needs to be with her husband where she can be his helper.
If those that know us best won’t follow us, why should others do so?
This is a great thing, even if it can be difficult at times – because when your wife is in the fight, she will likely have concerns, constructive criticism and even differing opinions about the church plant. These doubts are not a foil. In most cases, our wives’ hesitations serve to sharpen us for the task ahead.
My wife was a skeptic when I first mentioned the idea of starting a new church. However, she also encouraged me to continue pursuing the possibility, despite her doubts. I could have interpreted her hesitancy as a challenge to my authority and to “God’s will.” I could have powered up, asserted myself, and she would have likely followed – begrudgingly.
Instead, I saw her reservations and questions as both helpful and legitimate. She was in the fight! The months ahead would include an Acts 29 boot camp, a church planter assessment, many more conversations and lots of prayer.
My wife was cautiously engaged with it all. One day as we were driving, she dramatically turned to me and exclaimed, “we need to do this…we need to plant this church!”
In that moment, it felt like my wife was more convinced and enthusiastic about starting a new church than I had ever been to that point. Her zeal emboldened me in a way I had yet to experience. She was being my helper – and she had fueled my intensity for the steps ahead!
3. Will key people follow me?
Prior to planting a church, I had determined that I would need at least three groups of key people willing to follow me. While each planter’s list of “key-people” might look different, two of the three are likely common to most church planters. I call the first group “supporters.”
Supporters include financial donors, core group members and a sending church. While we never know our exact support prior to planting, we can at least estimate support by gathering commitments appropriate to each kind of support.
The second key-people group were those lost and far from God. It is difficult for me to imagine a church planter having any great-commission success without having some kind of favor with those without Christ. But what does “favor” look like?
At minimum, we should already have some identifiable non-Christian friends. Additionally, our household’s rhythms should reflect the space and time needed to intersect with non-Christians so that we can show gospel hospitality and earn a favorable reputation.
Finally, I was determined to demonstrate my ability to lead and influence men – especially high capacity and strong-minded men. In fact, I determined that I would not try to start a church until I had shown an ability to call this key group to great sacrifice.
Due to my commitment to elder plurality and my preference for teams, I asked two men to consider leaving their church jobs, get marketplace work and help me plant a church. To my surprise, they both said yes and we were off and running.
Will I follow my convictions?
As we have seen, following and leadership go together. The point of this blog is to stimulate reflection and help us to arrive at healthy convictions about our next step. It is meant to provide focus. But leaders move beyond focus; they follow through. They are able to set goals and standards for themselves and persevere in seeing them through. Leading starts by leading myself, with gospel intentionality and ambition, so as to lead others in the same direction.
Pray for the Lord to kill impure motives and inflame godly motives.
Depending on how we processed these three questions, here are some possible next-steps that can either 1. better prepare you as you move forward with plans to start a church, or 2. help you to take a step backwards before moving forward at a later date.
Would I follow me?
- As an exercise, spend time journaling honestly about what you really want in starting a church. If you have bad motives, just be honest and write them out. Pray for the Lord to kill impure motives and inflame godly motives. Some examples:
- “I want a place where I can preach weekly”
- “I want to be in charge – the point leader”
- “I want to do church ‘better’ or ‘the right way’”
- “I want to build a new Gospel beachhead in my city”
- “I want to start a multiplying church”
- If you’ve never taken a typology or behavioral inventory, consider doing so. Using the results, consider gaps or challenges to your leadership in a new church. Find 2-3 trusted friends and ask them to help you think through your strengths and weaknesses and how they might impact you starting a new church.
Does my household follow me?
- Consider reading Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family
- Develop a family playbook that keeps the Gospel central.
Will key people follow me?
- Read Acts 16:6-10. Did Paul include others in the decision to go to Macedonia, or did he act alone, based on his vision experience? How should this inform how we lead?
- Cultivating influence with men of all ages:
- Read 1 Timothy 5:1.
- The above passage is truly counter-cultural. In our culture, young men typically strive to be recognized as “equals” or brothers to older men, rather than seeing them as fathers. Similarly, older men tend to treat younger men as sons, or simply ‘younger men,’ rather than as brothers.
- In what ways would your influence expand by putting aside cultural tendencies and following Paul’s instructions to Timothy?