No other human being will have greater influence in a new church than the church planter. In seeking to determine who should plant, what are some key qualifications? Let us aspire as followers of Jesus, and as church planters (aspiring and existing), to see these traits demonstrated in and through our lives.
First and foremost, a church planter must be yielded to Jesus and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. This would seem so axiomatic that it need not be articulated. Nevertheless, as liberal streams flow into the Church, it is wise to ensure this foundation. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has lamented the increasing numbers of people leading churches who do not believe the Christian faith and have not been born again. The first qualification is that the church planter be Christ-changed.
A planter must have a sense of calling in his heart head and hands. C.H. Spurgeon advised his ministry students that if they could pursue any other occupation besides ministry, they should leave the pursuit of ministry and do so. The issue was not how many other options the prospective planter had at his disposal. It was that the ones who were truly called could not follow any other course for their life regardless of how attractive it might objectively appear to others.
Church planting requires faith: hearing God speak and responding with attitudes of dependence upon, and acts of obedience to, Him (Heb. 11:1-39). Planting is like the trapeze, the first bar represents security. But when God sends a second bar, a call to plant, the first must be let go of in order to grasp the second. The call is generally characterized by confirmation in prayer and Bible study, holy discontent, burden for pre-believers, and affirmation by mature godly counsel. Spiritually mature leaders will recognize God at work in the church planter, what Barnabas described as “The evidence of the grace of God” when he visited the church at Antioch (Acts 11:23).
3. Christ-like character:
It is remarkable to read a passage like 1Timothy 3 regarding the qualifications of elders and deacons and discover that the only qualification dealing with ability relates to the requirement that elders be able to teach. Otherwise, all the qualifications deal with character. Integrity is the key! Whatever the leader is, the followers will become. Jesus declared, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). People rarely rise above their leaders.
The tendency is to review a list of character traits (e.g., 1 Tim. 3) and fail to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your heart. One wrong attitude is to review the list and praise your own sense of character—and that is simply spiritual pride. A second error is reading the list sensing the Holy Spirit begin to reveal an area in your life and ministry where you need to grow, and moving on without adequate reflection. A third error is seeing a list of traits as an insurmountable standard that no one can attain.
Depend on the power of Christ rather than your own ability. Your confidence is either in Christ or yourself. Effective spiritual leaders have discovered the need for dependence on the power of Christ rather than the strength of man’s flesh. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, you will discover and rediscover that apart from Him, you can do nothing that will bring forth spiritual value. Nevertheless, Jesus assures us that if we are connected with Him, that we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). The church planter will be and must be emptied of self-confidence (e.g., Moses in Ex. 2-3; Peter in Matt. 26-33, John 21:1-17) to become Christ-confident.
Church planters generally have some or most of the following gifts: apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, teaching, and pastoring (Eph. 4:11-12). Apostolic leaders tend to embrace large-scale initiatives. Prophetic leaders tend to be a clarion voice urging people to yield to God. Evangelistic gifting is characterized by a burden to see souls saved. Teaching relates to the ability to help people understand and apply God’s truth. Pastors tend to nurture and protect God’s people. In addition, gifts of faith and leadership are often displayed among effective church planters. Assessments, both formal and informal, that reveal strengths and areas to be developed (either by the church planter or the team) help ensure capability.
Church planting is exhausting: The work of initiation, soil preparation, planting, cultivation, and harvest are difficult, but you reap what you sow. The best additive for a healthy garden is the gardener’s shadow—time and your presence. Thus, you commit to Christ, commit to the work, commit to the people, and allow the process of church planting to unfold naturally, supernaturally.
Like Paul, we want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not only me but also to all who loved His appearing” (2 Tim .4:7-8). What did Paul know that would help us to be Christ-committed and finish our race?
First, he understood that it was a fight, albeit a good fight, but nonetheless a fight. Be prepared for a battle; this is not going to be a walk in the park. Second, Paul saw the relation between finishing the race and keeping the faith. If you depart from sound doctrine and thus a healthy relationship with Christ, you are likely to fail to finish your race. Third, Paul understood that although his primary motivation for ministry was love for God, he was confident that there were eternal rewards waiting. Please remember that Christ desires to greet you with the words “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25).
Here is another insightful experience from the life of Paul. When Paul gathered with the elders from the church at Ephesus, they implored him not to go to Jerusalem as great hardship was awaiting him. Paul knew that he was called to go and also knew that he would suffer. But he replied, “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Paul decided, before he went to the city where he would serve, that he would not be moved. He asserted none of these things move me.
In context, these things related to arrest and mistreatment. Ask yourself, what might move you from your commitment to your call? Would you depart from the call if people treat you like the servant you are trying to be? Would you be moved if people did not express appreciation for you? Would you be moved to quit if you did not have influence over as many people as you were hoping to influence? Would you be moved to quit if you had to work long hours each week in ministry and a marketplace job for years?
Let us aspire as followers of Jesus—and as church planters (aspiring and existing)—to see these traits demonstrated in and through our lives.