Every person that considers church planting asks the question, Am I a Church Planter? It is the question I asked myself before planting a church. It is the question assessors ask every candidate who submits himself to an assessment process to be a lead planter in a network or denomination.
Churches that have a desire to plant churches need insight into what a church planter looks like.
Church leaders should be able to spot a church planter, equip them, and then send them to plant as soon as they are ready.
Although it seems a little reductionist and arrogant to list the characteristics of a church planter, I offer twenty characteristics based on evidence in multiple networks and a plethora of books and articles associated with church planting. After reading this list, some men may be more discouraged from church planting than drawn to it. But the fact is that church planting is tough for the most qualified people. If a pastor does not have the needed characteristics, frustration will ensue quickly.
There are lots of other ways a person can serve God in an established church or a church plant apart from being the lead planter.
Some very good pastors would probably make bad church plant leaders. That call from God to do church planting might be a call to go join a team led by another pastor to help them plant a church, or it might actually be a call to financially support so others can go. Please pray as you work through this list that God will either confirm a call or reveal if you are to lead a church plant.
I have summarized the 20 characteristics because of the length of the article and discussed them after the summary.
Summarized: 20 Characteristics of a Church Planter
- Am I a Christian (John 3:16)?
- Am I deeply and passionately in love with Jesus and is He the Lord of every area of my life?
- Do I believe His inerrant, infallible, inspired Word and does it affect my life deeply?
- Am I Spirit-filled, Spirit-directed, Spirit-led and Spirit-controlled (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:1-3)?
- Am I qualified as an Elder (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Acts 20:28-32; 1 Peter 5:1-4)?
- Do I love the local church as the expression of a gospel community on mission (Matthew 28:18-20)?
- Am I a missionary to the city? Am I sent for the advancement of the gospel in the city (John 20:21)?
- Do I have a clear and compelling vision for this new work (Nehemiah 1:3, 4; 2:11-18)?
- Am I willing to pour myself out in obedience to the vision (Phil. 2; Romans 6)?
- Am I healthy: Physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally, martially?
- Am I the kind of leader many people will follow? Have I served as a church leader successfully (1 Tim. 5:22; 3:6)?
- Can I communicate the gospel effectively?
- Can I guard the doctrinal door with Biblical clarity and tenacious confidence?
- Can I architect a new work with entrepreneurial skill?
- Am I called to plant a church at this time and in this place (Acts 17:26; 1 Peter 5:2)?
- Have my church leaders commended me for this calling (Acts 11:22-26; 13:1-4; 16:1-2)?
- Have I demonstrated that I am a perseveringly hard worker (2 Thes. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:3-4; 2:5; 2:6)?
- Am I adaptable to new people, places and concepts?
- Can I raise the funds needed for my family’s needs (1 Tim. 5:8)?
- Am I humble enough to learn from others—particularly from those who have gone ahead of me in different areas?
Discussed: 20 Characteristics of a Church Planter
Acts 20:28 says that we must “Pay careful attention to ourselves” before we care for the flock of God. We must be prepared for battle as we lead others into God’s mission.
1. Am I a Christian (Integrity is the number one value of a church planter)?
This seems like an obvious characteristic. However, some men grow up in churches and are led to believe that they placed their faith in Jesus for salvation while they lack a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said that we must be born again or regenerated by the Spirit of God (John 3:16). It is possible that a man could build a church and not be a Christian, but it is not advised.
2. Am I passionately in love with Jesus and is He the Lord of every area of my life?
The gospel must be evidently at work in every area of a church planter’s life: personally, maritally, domestically, sexually, financially, physically, relationally and ministerially. We are sinners who need forgiveness through repentance and confession. We have to practice this daily as examples of the gospel.
3. Do I believe His word and does it affect my life deeply?
It’s not enough to just have good sermon material; it has to flow from your heart. The Word needs to speak to you, and you need to preach out of the abundance of his Word.
4. Am I Spirit-filled, Spirit-directed, Spirit-led and Spirit-controlled (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:1-3)?
We are eager to be witnesses, but we have tendencies to lean on our own ideas and abilities apart from the Spirit of God. The church planter needs to be an empowered man. The Spirit needs to be working in and through him and be consuming him. Jesus accomplished work on this earth through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended upon Jesus and rested or remained on Him (Matt. 3:16). Luke 4 said that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit, and began His ministry in Galilee in the power of the Spirit and preached with the Spirit of the Lord upon Him. He rejoiced in the Spirit (Luke 10:21) and promised the Spirit to those who asked the father (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit longs to empower us to do our work as a missionary-church planter to the ends of the earth.
5. Am I qualified as an Elder (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4)?
Timothy and Titus talk about the qualifications. Study them carefully and assess yourself. Both lists say that to be above reproach is the overarching, summarizing characteristic. You will find a similar (but not identical) list in First Timothy. Being above reproach is the first requirement in both lists and Titus repeats it. The other items on the list explain what above reproach means. There isn’t an exhaustive list of characteristics. They overlap, but the key is to be above reproach. The lists are some “for instances” of how to be above reproach: the husband of one wife with no one else in your hands, your head, your heart, your eyes, or on that screen-none. A church pastor must be totally focused and satisfied in that one woman God has brought to him. Marriage will be a struggle at times. But you cannot stray, even an inch. Practicing the gospel is required for a good marriage. Children should be in submission and pastors need to pastor their wife and kids first. If we peruse the two lists, as well as First Peter, we find 17 qualities of an elder who is above reproach.
6. Do I love the local church as the expression of a gospel community on mission (Matthew 28:18-20)?
Jesus loved the Church – enough to die for her (Eph. 5:25). A planter therefore is a Church lover. He may die for her, but if he doesn’t love her, he is nothing (1 Cor. 13). Josh Harris exhorts the pew sitters to stop dating the church. The pastor may need to stop having a junior high affair with the church and make a lifelong commitment.
7. Am I a missionary to the city? Am I sent for the advancement of the gospel in the city (John 20:21)?
If you are a church planter, you have to be a missionary. Every pastor needs to see himself as a missionary for the glory of God and the good of the city. Don’t be someone who wants to start something because of self-centeredness and pride and my desire to be recognized. It’s not about the church planter or personal success. It’s about exalting the grace of Jesus.
8. Do I have a clear vision for this new work (Nehemiah 1:3, 4; 2:11-18)?
Lacking a vision was the second most obvious void among aspiring church planters submitting to the Acts 29 assessment process. Nehemiah had to have a vision of a complete wall. Not take a survey. The city is in ruins; it’s time to build. You know you have a vision when people around you say, “Let’s do that.” People need to be following your compelling, life-transforming vision.
9. Am I willing to pour myself out in obedience to the vision?
A planter if he is to follow Jesus, must manifest the death of Jesus. He must become less for Christ to become greater. A planter, like Jesus, is one who “aims low” in that sense. Philippians 2 is instructive in general of this pattern. We are to “Have this mind” -the mind of a Christ who emptied Himself out for the gospel. He, being God, humbled himself to the point of death – then he was exalted. Romans Chapter 6 describes the union with Christ in His death that precedes union with Christ in life.
10. Am I healthy (Physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally, martially)?
Most church planters get fatter, fussier, angrier, lonelier, poorer and at odds more with their mate and their Lord during the first two years of a church plant. Don’t think that having a church baby will solve your deficiencies any more than a baby will solve the problems of a troubled marriage.
11. Am I the kind of leader many people will follow? Have I served as a church leader successfully?
Occasionally a man will aspire to be a church planter who has no experience as a church leader or an elder in another local church. Paul warns the church not to be hasty in the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22) or appointing a pastor who is a recent convert who is prone to pride (1 Timothy 3:6). A church planter will be more effective with a few years of experience involved with the local church in a leadership capacity. The best church planters are those men who have led in multiple venues and people followed over a sustained period of time.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that when God wants to get something done He starts by selecting a man to lead that change. Examples include sparing humanity (Noah), founding a nation (Abraham), liberating a nation (Moses), establishing a throne (David), building a Temple (Solomon), preparing hearts (John the Baptizer), and redeeming all of creation (Jesus).
Church planting is no different. Simply, before God can build a church plant He must build a church planter who can lead others to follow the mission of Jesus.
12. Can I communicate the gospel effectively?
You don’t have to hit it out of the ballpark every time. But you do have to hit singles pretty regularly. The pulpit is the rudder that steers the church. We cannot make our preaching an idol. Remember that the Holy Spirit can span the gaps in your preaching, so relax, connect with the Spirit and with your audience and the effectiveness will take care of itself.
13. Can I guard the doctrinal door with Biblical clarity and tenacious confidence?
When you start a church, you’ll have new people with new ideas-some for which they got kicked out of their old church! You have to be able to guard the doctrinal door, refute doctrinal error-not arrogantly, but being sure of what the Word of God says and being able to articulate that in a winsome way with authority.
14. Can I architect a new work with entrepreneurial skill?
What have you started successfully? Some men can’t see the vision of what is to come, and some—even if they clearly see the vision—can’t find the steps toward accomplishing their vision. If you can’t be the architect, then you are in trouble. As an example, some very pastoral people are NOT the best people to start a church, or at least not as the main team leader. Be clear about who you are. If you’re a shepherd, counselor, caregiver, and you could be a success doing those things in an established church or as part of a team, then that is where you should be. Someone who is called to plant a church is frustrated if they don’t do it. Number two leaders rarely make good number one leaders.
15. Am I called to plant a church at this time and in this place?
Acts 17:26 says that God appoints the time and the place of our ministry. Titus was the apostolic leader over the churches in Crete. Before Paul appointed him to do that, he went through a progression of calling:
- 2 Cor. 7:6, Titus was a friend who encouraged Paul
- 2 Cor 7:13, Titus was impressed by the ministry of the Macedonians
- 2 Cor. 8:6, Titus was a faithful worker carrying out the wishes of Paul
- 2 Cor. 8:16-17, Titus developed a heart for the ministry and initiated ministry on his own.
- 2 Cor. 8:23 and 12:17, Titus was a proven minister
- Titus 1:4-5, Titus was the senior overseer to appoint elders throughout the island of Crete. His proven faithfulness and calling allowed him to pioneer works in a hostile environment.
In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts the elders to “Shepherd the flock of God…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” A calling is necessary in a church plant to face the tough times because a hireling leaves when the wolf arrives. But a called shepherd stays with his flock through adversity (John 10:12ff.).
16. Have my local church leaders commended me for this calling?
The Book of Acts lacks any reference to asking for volunteers. In Acts 11:22 the believers sent Barnabas. It was the congregation in Jerusalem that selected and sent one of its own gifted members. In all of the subsequent sending of missionaries in the Book of Acts, the emphasis is never upon an individual volunteering or upon his own subjective sense of call, but always upon the initiative of others.
Saul goes to Antioch because Barnabas takes him there (Acts 11:25-26). It is the whole group of prophets and teachers in Antioch to whom the Holy Spirit says “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:1-4). Barnabas and Paul parted company and we are told that Barnabas took Mark (Acts 15:39) and Paul chose Silas (Acts 15:40). Both “departed being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” Subsequently Paul wanted Timothy to go with him (Acts 16:3). We are reminded that Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:1-2) implying that the congregations were consulted and involved in his going out with Paul.
While western culture promotes and encourages the personal call and entrepreneurial spirit of the planter, the New Testament by contrast stresses the corporate initiatives of congregations in selecting suitable people for Gospel ministry. It cannot be justified from the New Testament and the best one can scrape up from the Old Testament is the call of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8). The call of an Old Testament prophet should be not regarded as normative for a New Testament church missionary. The prophet was sent TO the people of God while the New Testament planter is sent BY the people of God.
When the church in Jerusalem heard of the need in Antioch, together as a congregation they expressed their sense of responsibility and they sent Barnabas (Acts 11:23, 14:22). We should select our best men (Acts 11:24) and send them. Instead of the initiative being left to the individual, churches should deliberately approach their best, most gifted Christian leaders to send them to places of greater need. The individual is still responsible to respond positively to the congregation’s approach.
The individual’s subjective sense of call is confirmed by the objective call of the church body, recognizing his gifts and qualifications. This reinforces the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s call upon a man. Typically a man feels called and informs his church and the lead pastor terminates that man from employment rather than recognizing him as a man called and to be sent by that church.
The missionaries sent out from the New Testament churches were ministering in their local congregations already. We typically want to receive resumes when we should be examining the men in our own congregations. If no one in our congregation is qualified, it is a sad statement upon the leaders of that congregation for not preparing men to be sent into other fields. The chief work of church planting is the birthing, building, and blossoming of congregations. Who will do this better than those who already have considerable local church experience?
As members of the church, we should be going or training others to go at all times. This is an indication of a church with an enthusiastic and fruitful mission that is passionate about following the mission of Jesus.
17. Have I demonstrated that I am a perseveringly hard worker?
Church planting is hard work with no easy solutions or shortcuts. The verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10) is especially true in church planting. A man must be disciplined, organized, courageous, dependable, patient, well-read, hard-working, discerning, a man who gets things done in an effective and timely manner, which also means that he’s passionate and self-motivated.
The Bible calls a pastor an ox (1 Tim. 5:17-18), a soldier (2 Tim. 2:3-4), an athlete (2 Tim. 2:5), and a farmer (2 Tim. 2:6). Those are laborious jobs and the Holy Spirit used them to describe the kind of man who is qualified to pastor a church.
To plant a church that honors God a man must preach and teach the Bible with all of the strength and fortitude of an ox that can pull a multitude of people in his wake (1 Timothy 5:17-18). Satan routinely sends heretics, nut jobs, and false teachers of all kinds into a church plant because its systems are yet fluid, its leadership is yet settled, and it’s relationships are yet cultivated.
To plant a church that honors God, a man must fight like a dependable soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Throughout his letters, Paul continually admonishes Timothy to fight a good fight. With the world, the flesh, and the devil conspiring to thwart the new work a church planter must continually fight. Weak men who are prone to avoid conflict or crumble under pressure will end up quitting prematurely.
To plant a church that honors God, a man must train and compete with the precision of a skilled athlete (2 Timothy 2:5). Lazy men who adore their comfort, food, and hobbies rarely plant an effective church because they end up wasting time, energy, and creativity.
To plant a church that honors God a man must sweat at his labor like a farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). Many young men are attracted to ministry because, as one pastor said, it’s an indoor job that does not require any heavy lifting. When done honorably, ministry in general and church planting, in particular, is extremely difficult work. Like the farmer who depends on the labor of his hands without a boss, a set schedule or a predictable paycheck, the planter must be self-disciplined, get up every morning and work hard gathering people, studying, teaching, raising money, locating facilities, building systems, training men and repeating that routine day after day.
18. Am I adaptable to new people, places, and concepts?
If you don’t like change, you don’t like church planting! If you are the kind of person who goes into the fetal position with new challenges, you’re probably not a church planter.
19. Can I raise the funds needed for my family’s needs?
A church planter who won’t provide for the needs of his family is worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith (1 Tim. 5:8). Church planters often hide behind the cloak of “faith” and “calling” to shield them from taking responsibility for their family regarding finances. A church planter’s own children need a father more than the city needs a new church. Money is not the key to success but a lack of money is a huge detriment. It is unbiblical to place our family on the altar of our idol of success.
20. Am I humble enough to learn from others—particularly from those who have gone ahead of me in different areas?
This is one of the issues assessors call “stallers” and “stoppers.” A church planter needs to be coachable, teachable. If he is not teachable, his church will stay stunted in its growth. He needs to identify areas where he has weaknesses and blind spots and then seek the advisement of those around him that can help him to continually grow and learn.
Mark Dever has said the local church, in all its glory, makes the audible gospel visible (A Display of God’s Glory (9marks: Washington, D.C., 2001). The gospel is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Jesus Christ died and rose again and ascended – people do not see Him. The Church is His Body here on earth. The place where Jesus Christ is made visible is His Body, not just by one individual. When one meets a congregation that is “displaying God’s glory” faithfully, one encounters Jesus in one sense. So planting a church is an exercise in making visible the audible gospel of the Blessed God.
What if I am called? What if I am not sure? What do I do?
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:12-16).