by Matthew Delaughter
What comes to mind when you think of a church planter? What are their characteristics? Maybe someone who is driven and unconventional in their approach to ministry. I began considering church planting back when I was in community college, and from that time, words I often heard to describe church planters went something like this: entrepreneurial-spirit, driven, innovative, creative, and so on.
Now, let me say up front that I think all those skills and personalities can be very helpful in church planting, and churches that are being planted will be served well by a leader who is very innovative. But the distinction I want to make in these posts is that, though entrepreneurial skills may be helpful in planting a church, they should not be prioritized over what follows.
There is a lot of content to consider when distinguishing a church planter, so I hope to break this up into three posts: Who He Is, What He Values, and Who Decides?
Who He Is
When you think of a church planter do you think of holiness? I personally believe that no man should plant a church who is not qualified as a pastor. This means that he will be above reproach in character in accordance with 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Holiness must be a priority because the goal in church planting should be to plant churches that reflect the glory of Christ to the world. 1 Timothy 3:15 says that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” In her message and being, the church is to say to the world, “This is what God is like!”
Don’t be mistaken; the church always speaks a powerful word to the watching world. The church will either blaspheme Christ or display His glory, and whether she does this or not depends heavily on the godliness of the pastors who leads her. So this means we cannot compromise holiness for good ideas and creativity. We cannot rename pride and self-absorption as a “strong personality.” We cannot repackage brash and rude as relevant and prophetic.
And if you are someone who aspires to be a planter, don’t become too consumed with platforming yourself through social media or trying to play your cards just right in different institutions. Rather, trust in the fact that if you lead a holy life, Christ will use you. At the same time, be sobered that dishonorable vessels are not useful for the Master. He who is holy is useful to the Master and ready for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).
One may be able to deceive a congregation and a church planting organization about their godliness, but they will not deceive the Master. They may fabricate a ministry and an image of godliness for a season, but know that there are conspicuous sins and they will be found out. Trust in the conspicuous good works, for they cannot be hidden either (1 Timothy 5:24-25).
Humility obviously is a characteristic of a godly life, but I want to distinguish humility here to emphasize and express the great need for humble leadership in the church.
Why do we need humble leadership? Because Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and he is a humble leader. Jesus did not consider his own interests or rights but laid them down to die to save sinners. Jesus did not lord it over others and has not called us to lead by lording over others, but through serving humbly (Mark 10:45). Let us consider as well that God opposes the prideful but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6). If you want the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to be against your ministry, then lead like a tyrant.
Specifically, church planters must be humble because they will have to constantly do tasks that they are not good at and even feel uncomfortable doing. If you are too good to copy worship sheets for Sundays, to set up chairs for Sunday worship, to organize incoming mission teams, or to pass out flyers by yourself for an event, then you are too prideful to plant.
Now maybe you are a church leader and you are considering partnering with a church planter in a nearby city, and you are wondering, “How can we know if this guy we are considering for partnership is humble?” Call his former church and ask the pastor if he was faithful to serve in the small ways. If you call and the prospective planter often relieved his pastor by watching their kids so that they could have a date night, then you very well may have a guy worth partnering with. On the other hand, if he insisted on his teaching skills, was slow to serve in the nursery, and rarely commended others around him, then I would move on to partner with someone else.
Now, if you are an aspiring pastor or a pastor already, how can you cultivate humility in your life? Pray often for other pastors and churches in your area. If you love Christ’s glory and not your own, then you will want to see it expand wherever the gospel is preached. The next thing I would say is develop and share leadership within your congregation. By this, I mean entrusting leadership to others rather than dumping things on others that you don’t want to do. Do not be afraid of other good leaders as competition; rather, pray and seek people out who can lead better than you. Once you have done that, either raise them up to lead in your congregation or send them out to lead in some other capacity.
Husband and Father First
Church planters should be men who will see the church plant fail before neglecting their wife and children. There is nothing admirable about a “hard-working pastor” who is absent in the lives of his spouse and children.
What will this look like? In general, he will be able to articulate in some way their current joys and struggles. He knows their propensities, what excites them and what causes them to be fainthearted. Shepherds know people and want to care for them. Don’t be distracted by an encyclopedic knowledge of a city from a guy who doesn’t even know or care for his family. If homes are not happy, they are often reflective of the man’s absence or irritation, so soberly consider this.
Pastor, don’t believe the lie that, just because you love the church and love to preach, you cannot do anything other than pastor. This type of mindset has put many families on the altar of “Daddy’s calling.” Your identity is not pastor. Don’t flatter yourself, Christ is on the throne and is far more zealous to spread His glory than you are. Your calling to pastor is questionable. Your calling to love your wife as Christ loves the Church or discipline and instruct your kids is not.
This characteristic can be confusing because some bullies are considered to be bold. Just because someone tells it like it is doesn’t mean that they possess Christ-like boldness. If someone is a truth-teller and they are not winsome in their truth-telling, then they are not the type of bold leader you want. Paul was a bold church planter and was able to describe his ministry to the Thessalonians as a gentle nursing mother.
By boldness, I mean you want to have someone who is ready to speak the truth. You want someone who is ready to share the gospel; who will call people to repent; who will practice church discipline even if the church is still young and small. You want somebody who will—out of love—have hard conversations with other Christians because he knows he has been entrusted with a ministry to exhort, rebuke, and reprove.
Where does this type of boldness come from? This boldness will come from the planter’s values, which is what I will cover in the next post.