As a pastor of a church that plants churches, I have found the Pastoral Epistles of Paul to be an invaluable deposit of wisdom for developing leaders and launching new congregations. These 3 books, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, were penned by an apostle who served the church through preaching, developing leaders, and leading the mission. Paul left a treasury of wisdom and knowledge for any leader today who aspires to the same call and task.
A cursory reading of these texts reveals 3 essential traits for any leader who desires to lead a church planting church. These traits ensure a quality and depth of leadership that enable the movement to be carried forward. Those traits are character, clarity, and confidence.
It is hard to come away from a reading of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus with an unclear definition of character. Paul uses a lot of ink to inform Timothy and Titus that character in church leadership is essential for her survival and progress. The mission of planting churches is sunk if the leadership of the church is not modeling godly character and committed to integrity at the highest level.
The mission of planting churches is sunk if the leadership of the church is not modeling godly character and committed to integrity at the highest level.
The character traits listed for elders and deacons are specific and varied. Attributes such as hospitable, self-controlled, and gentle reveal that leaders in Christ’s church have a particular disposition; they’re to be self-aware and conscious of how they treat those under their care. If leaders fail to live out the traits listed in these passages, they will soon find themselves crumbling under the weight of their own lack of character.
The two common questions I see plaguing leaders and causing them confusion are “Who am I?” and “What am I supposed to do?” For a church to become a church planting church, leaders must have clarity on their identity and their calling.
For a church to become a church planting church, leaders must have clarity on their identity and their calling.
Paul offers both in the Pastoral Epistles.
Right out of the gate, Paul reminds Titus who he is. Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ… (Titus 1:1). And he informs Timothy “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11) The sagely Apostle knew who God had made him to be through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s activity always sprung from his robust understanding of his identity.
If leaders are going to lead their churches into the tumultuous waters of church planting, they are going to need absolute clarity on their identity. Navigating the challenges of the mission requires a measured certainty about who we are in Jesus. We are sons of the Father, servants of the King, adopted into the kingdom of glory. We work from our identity, not for our identity.
There are also some specific aspects of our identity that are received as gifts. Paul is a servant, an apostle, and a preacher. Leading a church to be a church planting church requires this sort of clarity. Leaders must know and understand what gift they steward for their church, and what gifts others possess.
No single leader is sufficient for a church planting movement, because churches, not independent leaders, plant churches.
No single leader is sufficient for a church planting movement, because churches, not independent leaders, plant churches. Having clarity on your giftedness helps a leader know what they bring and what they need to facilitate church planting.
Similarly, leaders need clarity on their calling to plant church planting churches. Paul is abundantly clear with Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”. I know what you are thinking, “If only the Apostle Paul would speak under the authority and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to my personal calling!” I have thought the same thing.
The Lord has not left us in the dark to discern our calling, though. We have been given his word. The Holy Spirit indwells us. We are placed in the community of faith, the Body of Christ. All of these gifts of grace are there to offer us clarity in the call that the Lord has for each of us.
Tim Keller has said that discerning your calling is possible when we consider three factors: affinity, ability, and opportunity. To discern affinity, consider the needs of others in your community or city. What moves you? What stirs your affections for others? What needs compel you to action? Paul says to Titus that he is a servant and apostle “for the sake of the faith of the elect and their knowledge of the truth”. He felt a particular unction to serve the church of God because of his particular calling.
To discern your ability, consider the ways that your talents intersect with the needs in a particular community. Again, Keller is helpful:
“It might be thought that if you have a priestly gift, you should be a deacon, but if everyone on the diaconate had only priestly gifts, it would be a disaster! You need vision casters and leaders and so on in every ministry. That is why we don’t say, ‘All prophets should go into teaching ministries, all priests to mercy and justice ministries, and all kings to administrative duties.’”
Having considered your affinity and ability, discern your opportunities to get clarity on your calling. Ask, “What is the greatest need within my church/organization and how can I meet that need?” Many leaders have gained clarity on their calling simply by being available to serve in a way they had not previously considered. Let the voice of the community around you affirm or redirect your sense of calling as you respond to the opportunities the Lord has placed directly in front of you.
We need to put to death the idea of an alpha-male leader who leads the charge with robust confidence in his own perceived talents and abilities.
We need to put to death the idea of an alpha-male leader who leads the charge w/ robust confidence in his own perceived talents & abilities.
Instead, to lead a church to become a church planting church, we need leaders who will stand confidently on the sufficiency of God’s word and the hope of the gospel.
Paul tells Timothy “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” There is complete confidence in God’s word to carry out the task of building up the church to become all God has called her to be. That is why he pleads with Timothy to “Preach to word, be ready in season and out of season”.
Leaders who want to lead church planting churches must exercise this sort of confidence in the word of God. We must rest on the sufficiency of Scripture, to trust God to accomplish through his word what no one could otherwise accomplish through their own gifting, intelligence, or scheming.
I believe this sort of sustainable trust in the sufficiency of God’s word is only possible when we have absolute confidence in the hope of the gospel. Paul instructs Titus:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
That is confidence in the gospel! Paul says that the gospel trains the people of God to live godly lives. The gospel brings the sort of confidence that enables leaders to declare the truth of hope, to exhort and rebuke, and to not be disregarded.
The gospel brings the sort of confidence that enables leaders to declare the truth of hope, to exhort and rebuke, and to not be disregarded.
I believe that churches will become church planting churches when leaders embody these qualities. Character helps to make our message plausible. Clarity on identity and calling leads to action. Confidence in the sufficiency of scripture and the hope of the gospel leads to God’s word going forward, and that is why we seek to plant church planting churches.
Gib serves as the Mid-South regional director for the Acts 29 US Southeast Network. For the past 10 years, he has also served as the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Living Hope Church in Memphis, Tennessee. You can follow him on Twitter here @GibGibson.