by Matthew Delaughter
This is a second blog post in a series called “Sacred Over Skilled.” If you missed Part 1, check it out here. The purpose of this blog is to highlight and prioritize characteristics of church planters that are often neglected. It is not to say that contemporary strategies, leadership podcasts, and coaching hacks are unhelpful or have no place in the conversation.
What He Values
Fasting and Praying
Since I entered the church planting world, I have been asked multiple times, “What should I begin to do if I am considering planting church?” I always respond, “You should be fasting and praying.”
Two years before we even moved to the city of New Orleans, another co-worker and myself set time apart from our lunch break on Wednesdays to pray and fast about planting a church in New Orleans. The brother I used to pray with is now today one of my co-pastors. So why did we fast and pray? Two reasons: 1.) We wanted to discern if the Lord was calling us to this work; 2.) We believed that if the Lord was calling us to church plant, we would labor in vain if the Lord did not labor with us. We fasted and prayed because we wanted to plant a church empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit.
I heard one planter say that in church planting, you are basically moving to a city to start a work that doesn’t exist by preaching a message to people who are either hostile or apathetic to your message, and then you are wanting them to love the message so much that they will spend their time and resources to see that the church prospers. If that doesn’t require the work of God, I don’t know what does.
Fast and pray so that you may see a true long-lasting work of the power of God. Don’t be tempted in manufacturing revival or quick numerical growth. Church planting through cult personalities or branding is often sown on rocky soil or in the weeds and will either be burned up or choked out. Rather, pray and fast that the church you plant will welcome Jesus Christ at his return, even if he tarries another three-hundred years.
Every Sunday gathering you lead, every person you baptize and every leader you raise up will be governed by something. The question is what will govern your people and practices? For a faithful church planter, it will be the word of God.
Faithful church planters will be word-driven instead of culturally-driven because they know that cultural relevance is temporary and that the word of God transcends all time and peoples. Now, for clarity sake, I am not calling people to be culturally ignorant or culturally offensive. Church planters should be culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and contextualize their word-driven ministries. The point I want to make, though, is that planters often look silly when they rely too heavily on cultural accommodations and relevance when they just need to trust in the power of God’s word to build the church.
Lastly, on this point, planters must be word-driven because the culture wants to dictate how we should think about sin and how we should address sin. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard of Christians undermining biblical practices because they reason, “Our city is unique and that doesn’t work here.” Friend your hard-to-reach city is probably not more vile than Corinth, and Paul still addressed sexual immorality in the Corinthian church. Cultural accommodations may spare you controversy today, but they will dig your church’s grave tomorrow.
Fellowship of the Saints
One of the greatest mistakes church planters make is that they emphasize outreach over fellowship. Now it may sound strange to you that I would critique that. You may think to yourself, “How can you plant and grow a church if you do not have a high emphasis on outreach?” It is true to plant a church you must be heavy on outreach, but I believe to value outreach more than the fellowship of the saints can be detrimental to the longevity of the church. I believe this approach will be unhelpful for at least three reasons.
First, prioritizing outreach over fellowship can be detrimental because those who labor in the field will get tired and frustrated. Their hearts will begin to doubt because they are laboring and seeing no fruit, and if there is a lack of fellowship, there will be more opportunity to believe the lies of the enemy rather than being reminded of the promises of God that we ought not grow weary of doing good, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Secondly, church planters should also prioritize fellowship because one of the greatest ways the church bears witness to the truth of the gospel is by their unity, and unity cannot be cultivated without fellowship.
Jesus prayed in John 17:21 “that they (disciples) may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus here believes that the unity of his disciples will have the power to testify to the truth of his incarnation. Also in John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We must prioritize the fellowship of the saints because it creates a centripetal affect as people are drawn towards the very fellowship of God.
Lastly, one of the most counter-culture messages the church should speak to the world is that there is no confidence in you finishing the race if you do not regularly spend time with the church. Hebrews 3:12 warns us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Now, how can we take care and fight this falling away? Verse 13 follows with the answer: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Later in his letter, the author says in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir one up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It is no small thing for the church to regularly be in one another’s lives as our very perseverance in the faith is dependent on that regular fellowship.
For many planters and conventions, the signs of success for a church are decisions and baptisms, and let me say that we should rejoice as heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents. Prizing and celebrating numerous baptisms has become problematic though, as many churches have become content with someone plunging into a baptismal, but not into the life of the church. The question I have is, “Do we not have the same concern for their souls six months, one year, five years after they have been baptized — that is, if they can be found?” Brothers, prioritize the fellowship of the saints, for no one who enters your baptismal will see the Lord outside of the ministry of his saints (Ephesians 4:1-16).
If Paul wrote a letter to Timothy urging him to put the Ephesian church in order, then you need to know that how the household of God is ordered is not a matter of preference. Sure, we will have our debates over ecclesiology, but those arguments must be rooted in the truth of the scriptures, not pragmatism.
Healthy church planters have strong convictions in ecclesiology because they want to do all they can to plant a church that truly is a pillar of truth in a lost and dying world. It is better to be firm and clear on ecclesiology than lack clarity and lay weak foundations that cause the next generation to sin.
If you are soft on baptism, church membership, and church discipline, then there will be nothing that distinguishes the church from the watching world. If you are fuzzy on biblical leadership, then wolves will come in to divide and destroy. If you are lax on the ordering of the church, widows will be neglected, the elderly will be disrespected, women will be abused, false teachers will rob the church, and people will leave the faith.
So who decides if a church planter is fit for the task? We’ll look at that in the final post.