Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from The Faithful Church Planter: Eleven Essential Competencies for the Work (10ofthose Publishing), used with permission.
Church planters should never operate as lone rangers. While it is good and right to have an inward drawing to plant a church, this should be accompanied by the external confirmation of others. What should they be able to observe? I’ll mention four characteristics.
The apostle warns about giving spiritual leadership to “a recent convert” (1 Tim. 3:6) and to not “be hasty in the laying on of hands” (5:22). Maturity is mandatory for ministry leadership (2 Tim. 2:22–26; 3:10–11). Mature leaders in the congregation have a responsibility to identify and affirm new mature leaders (Titus 1:5–9).
In Acts 16, we read of Paul taking Timothy with him. Luke tells us that Timothy was “well spoken of by the brothers” (Acts 16:2). Timothy obviously displayed a sense of maturity, and the saints in Lystra and Iconium would have approved of the young man accompanying Paul. We also see this kind of confirmation when Paul speaks of the elders laying their hands on Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14). There was spiritual affirmation and approval.
Godly people should also see in a potential planter a real desire for kingdom work. They should observe a hunger for Scripture. They should detect humility and an enjoyment of ministry. They should see a passion and a willingness to sacrifice for the mission. Close friends and one’s spouse (if married) should be able to attest to these things as well. If married, it’s critical that the planter’s wife also shares a passion for gospel ministry and church planting. This kind of passion—for gospel ministry in general and church planting in particular—should be something other mature Christians see in aspiring planters. Click To Tweet
Speaking about entering the ministry in general, Charles Spurgeon said:
“’Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,’ was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment. If any student in this room could be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way.”
Indeed, the call to ministry involves great passion. Paul says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1, my emphasis). When Paul spoke about preaching, he also displayed this passion: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). This kind of passion—for gospel ministry in general and church planting in particular—should be something other mature Christians see in aspiring planters.
Church planters also need to display certain gifts. They should be able to minister the Word faithfully and effectively (1 Tim. 3:2). They should be good at engaging unbelievers. They should be able to gather a team and lead others spiritually. They should show the ability to make the most of gospel opportunities with the gifts God has given them. Tim Keller comments on the importance of one’s skills and abilities, and the value of experienced leaders speaking into the potential planter’s life:
“The success in starting a new church is largely determined by who is selected as the church planter. To establish a new church requires of the church planter distinct gifts, skills and experiences in ministry often not found in a normal pastor. Though there are many similarities in these two roles, the church planter must thrive in outreach ministry and in developing and empowering new leaders. Although self-evaluation is important in understanding one’s gifts and call, much can be learned by inviting the objective evaluation of experienced church planters.”
Going through a church-planting assessment is one way we take this external confirmation seriously. At our church, the pastors assess our planters, and we ask several people about their maturity and gifts. In Acts 29, we also use a thorough assessment process for potential church planters who want to belong to our network. While this assessment can be a bit painful because it opens one up to critique, it’s actually a wonderful blessing. It serves to bring awareness to one’s blind spots, it highlights areas for needed growth, and it can prevent many problems in the future (like burnout, marital issues, theological errors, or financial problems). The assessment process is like a high-level discipleship process. Walking through such a process will bring a heightened sense of confidence for the work ahead once the process is completed. We should always be looking for faithful, budding leaders who display maturity, passion, gifting, and fruitfulness. Click To Tweet
Mature leaders should see that others have been blessed by the potential planter’s ministry in some particular way. That is, when he has had the opportunity to teach or preach, his ministry had a gospel impact. They see that he’s been able to disciple others into maturity. They see that he has engaged lost people well. Perhaps they have observed his ability to lead a small group faithfully. If a potential planter has not made any disciples or displayed any ministry fruitfulness, then it begs the question about his ability to plant a church and lead a group of people on mission.
One of the tasks of planters/pastors is to always be on the lookout for future leaders and planters. In addition to having a “to-do list,” one pastor said we should also have a “to-be list.” We should always be looking for faithful, budding leaders who display maturity, passion, gifting, and fruitfulness. Identifying them, investing in them, and sending them out on mission is a vitally important aspect of pastoral leadership.