The work of church planting must begin with the calling of a man of God. Church planting isn’t merely something you wake up one day and choose as a new career move. At least this is not God’s desire for church planters. The call to church planting is the call to apostolic missionary work. With that said, we will begin by considering what the call of God will look like in the life of a man truly called to the work of church planting in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.
A Few Good Men
Turning to the first chapter of the book of Acts, we see that one of the first things emphasized is that Jesus hand-picked the men He wanted to use as the first church planters. Luke, the human author of Acts and church planting missionary assistant to Paul, wrote that Jesus, “was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles He had chosen…”
OUR CALL MUST BE OBJECTIVE
The first thing that should be noted on the subject of calling is that the call of God on a man has an objective side to it. Paul speaks of some qualities of a called man that can objectively be evaluated in two of the Pastoral Epistles.8 Let’s consider the ob¬jective qualifications of a man called to lead in Jesus’ church from First Timothy 3:1-7:
“(1) This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the posi¬tion of a bishop, he desires a good work. (2) A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, tem¬perate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (3) not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; (4) one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (5) For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); (6) not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the Devil. (7) Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the Devil.”
Paul tells us that the call to lead in Jesus’ church begins with desire in verse one. There must be a driving inward conviction and desire to serve as an overseer of Christ’s people. And yet, a strong desire is not enough. Paul goes on to give his readers a list which provides objective standards by which we can assess ourselves and other men when determining if we are the kind of man Jesus calls to plant or lead His churches. This means that though a desire to plant is necessary to consider yourself called to plant churches, this desire by itself is insufficient to determine whether you have truly been called by Jesus for that mission. You must meet the other qualifications of a called man given in the text.
Mark Driscoll summarized the other qualifications this way:
“Relation to God
1. A man: a masculine leader, a dudely dude
2. Above reproach: without any character defect
3. Able to teach: effective Bible communicator
4. Not a new convert: mature Christian
Relation to Family
5. Husband of one wife: one-woman man, sexually pure (this does not require a man to be married as Paul, Timothy, Jesus, and widowed men could qualify)
6. Submissive children: Successful father
7. Manages family well: provides for, leads, organizes, loves
Relation to Self
8. Sober-minded: mentally and emotionally stable
9. Self-controlled: disciplined life of sound decision-making
10. Not a drunkard: without addictions
11. Not a lover of money: financially content and upright
Relation to Others
12. Respectable: worth following and imitating
13. Hospitable: welcomes strangers, especially non-14 The Spirit-Led Mission Christians, for evangelism
14. Not violent: even-tempered
15. Gentle: kind, gracious, loving
16. Not Quarrelsome: peaceful, not divisive or contentious
17. Well thought of by outsiders: respected by non-Christians”
The General Reality of Your Life
Now, if you’re anything like me you read that list and think, “Who do you think I am? Jesus?” We all know that it would be impos¬sible to completely live up to every qualification Paul lays out for us in this passage, at every moment of every day. The point is that these things must be the general reality in the life of a man who is genuinely called by Jesus to lead in His church. We will stumble and fall as all men do.10 However, the general portrait and continual pursuit of our lives will reflect the qualities listed above if we are called to lead in the church of Christ.
One Necessary Gift
One particular qualification should be singled out for a minute before we move on. The qualification of being, “able to teach,” is what separates overseers in Christ’s church from deacons, whose qualifications Paul goes on to list in this same chapter in First Timothy. The other qualifications primarily have to do with per¬sonal character and the treatment of others. The ability to teach has to do with spiritual gifting. It is the spiritual gift of teaching that a man must have to be any kind of elder/overseer in Christ’s church. That would include functioning as a church planter. It is implied that one who would serve as a pastor or church plant¬ing pastor needs to go through a season of being observed and assessed as they take opportunities in which they can test and demonstrate their ability to teach the word of God effectively. This is the only way to confirm whether or not a man is gifted to teach; they must be given chances to teach, and the fruit must be evaluated.
If the gift of teaching isn’t confirmed in him, than in spite of a man’s desire to plant or pastor, and regardless of his integrity, he cannot possibly be called to church planting. This doesn’t mean he is worthless; it simply means he must have a different role to play in the body of Christ.
This also doesn’t mean that he has to be the best Bible teach¬er in the world. Sometimes we act as though men should be discouraged from pursuing the obvious call of God on their life just because they aren’t as good of a Bible teacher as Greg Laurie, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, or Chuck Smith. This is stupid, to put it bluntly! Every Bible teacher has weaknesses whether we recognize it or not. The important thing is that the prospective planter is capable of communicating the word accurately, growing in their gift, and that the people of God are maturing spiritually under their ministry.11 Drawing on an analogy from baseball, I once heard Mark Driscoll say in regard to evaluating a man’s gift of teaching that a guy doesn’t need to hit it out of the park every time, but they do need to hit singles and doubles pretty regularly. I think that’s a good idea of what it means to be able to teach.
OUR CALL MUST BE SUBJECTIVE
In addition to the objective call of God on a would-be church planter, I believe there must also be a timely and accompanying subjective call given by the Holy Spirit. Prior to listing the charac¬ter traits and gifting a man must have before being a leader in the church, Paul said, “If any man desires the office of an overseer it is a good work he desires to do.”12 Paul moves from desire to qualifications, not the other way around. Again, this is because a man may have the character and even gifting needed to be a leader in the church, and yet not be called. His character and gifting must accompany an intense desire for the work! Called by God 17
Men Without Heart
Huge amounts of damage has been done to Christ’s people be¬cause men who had good character and gifting took leadership roles in the body of Christ for which they had no heart desire to fulfill. The ministry to the called is a necessity, not merely an option. A called man will have a passion for the work the Holy Spirit is leading him into. If you don’t have a Holy Spirit given passion for church planting you will never be able to obey the command given through Peter to Christ’s leading men: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”13
Two important applications can be made from Peter’s instruc¬tion. First, if you are a strong Christian man who is aware that you generally have good character and also the gift of teaching which is required for elders, you need to make sure you still don’t take on the task of functioning as an elder or lead church planter UNLESS YOU ALSO HAVE THE DESIRE! You will only end up hurting yourself, your family, and the church if you don’t have a Holy Spirit implanted intense desire for the work. The ministry isn’t to be something you do by compulsion. You will hinder what Jesus is doing in the church, not help it. So please don’t feel the need to pull your bootstraps up and proverbially take one for the team by merely being a warm body in a needed area of ser¬vice. You will only deal a deadly blow to the team!
Secondly, those in leadership who want to be instrumental in training elders and church planters need to continually fight the temptation to empower good and gifted men who lack personal desire for the work. Gifted men with good character and no desire for ministry will be unproductive, unmotivated sources of huge frustration for you. You will hurt them, Christ’s people, and the mission by putting them into a place of leadership for which God hasn’t given them a burden. Keep waiting on the Lord and He will raise up the right leaders with the right character, gifting, and desires in His own time.14 Jesus will equip, mold, and inspire the men He calls from the inside out.15
OUR CALL AND THE AFFIRMATION
OF SPIRIT-LED LEADERSHIP
When Jesus is calling a man into the war of church planting, an¬other way He will confirm His call is by speaking His will clearly through the Holy Spirit to the leaders in the prospective planter’s life. Ample biblical texts demonstrate this principle. Saul (Paul) and Barnabas’ call to church planting was confirmed when the Holy Spirit spoke prophetically through another leader as they were gathered together in a time of worship and prayer before God.16
Paul wrote reminding Timothy of a time when a prophecy given by the Holy Spirit regarding his call to pastoral and church planting ministry was spoken over him by the elders in his life.17 Jogging Timothy’s memory about that charismatic moment was intended by Paul to reignite confidence in his heart in regard to his calling, enabling him to continue on when the mission had become almost unbearably difficult for him. The memory of Timothy’s Spirit-led leaders confirming his call would serve to en¬courage the young pastor and church planter to persevere being confident of the Lord’s will for him based on that moment.
Later on in his ministry Paul would command both Timothy and Titus to take on the role of being the lone men who would evaluate multiple potential church leaders for placement in lead¬Called by God 19
ership roles over the new church plants they’d established.18 They were to make the decision about whether or not to utilize these prospective leaders on their own with just the leading of God and the foundation of what they’d learned already serving with Paul as the basis for their decisions. Clearly Paul believed that as men already proven to be God-called missionaries, the Lord would use them to confirm the same call in other men’s lives. Paul specifi¬cally instructed Timothy on two separate occasions to view the role of identifying, training, teaching, and mobilizing other men for leadership in the church as something he was to take very seri¬ously as a pastor.19
Again, this all serves to demonstrate that God delights to make His call on future elders and church planters clear through giving confirming insight through those already successfully serving as elders and church planters. A man’s call to church leadership and church planting will be confirmed by the Lord through the encouragement of Spirit-led men already serving in those roles.
OUR CALL AND THE
AFFIRMATION OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
If a man is called, not only will Spirit-led leaders be able to iden¬tify and confirm the call, but so will the wider body of Christ with which the man is locally associated. This is why Paul told Timothy to give himself to fulfilling his function as pastor/teacher in such a way that his progress would, “be evident to all.”20 When a man is Spirit-gifted for what he is doing, it will be obvious not only to those he is assisting, but also to those he is leading. Paul knew that, and he also knew it would encourage Timothy to see people affirming his growth in what Jesus had obviously designed him to do. That is why Paul told him to persevere and grow in his gifts. He knew that as people saw Timothy’s growth and received from God through him that they would be able to affirm his calling.
In the book of Acts, we see the apostles looking to the af¬firmation of the local church to confirm the call of God on the lives of certain men to help take care of local churches. This is the case in Acts six, where we find the appointment of seven men by the apostles to take care of some physical needs in the church in Jerusalem.21 This is also clear in Acts sixteen where Paul pays attention to Timothy’s reputation with the body of disciples in his hometown before officially bringing him onto his church planting team. He knew that Timothy’s leadership potential would either be validated or brought into question based on the observations of the local believers that knew him best.22
An Important Issue
The affirmation of our calling through leaders who have gone before us and other believers with whom we are in consistent community is more important than we sometimes admit. I have personally seen people ignore the warnings received from their leaders and other Christians in this area to their own detriment. Perhaps pride hinders them from humbly receiving exhortation. What I do know is that we need to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through the wider body of Christ about our desire to pastor and plant churches. There is wisdom in a mul¬titude of counselors.23 Specifically regarding the call to church planting, God’s people will see it if we have it. Men Jesus has already used in that role will see it. If they don’t see it, you’re probably not called, at least, not yet.
If you’re not called to church planting, than know that Jesus has something better for you that will glorify Him and bring sat¬isfaction and purpose to your life if you let Him have His way! Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up at the proper time. In the meantime, rest in His will for your life today!