The Church Planter – What Does This Elusive Animal Look Like?
My experience is that we talk a lot about church planting and most of the time we tend to focus on such areas as the needs, strategies, style, demographics, personnel etc. A concern that I have long held is that of how we identify potential lead church planters so that we can guide, support, equip and mentor them.
From my experience church planters have come from all walks of life and a variety of experiences. So much so, that I am reluctant to try to define their characteristics for fear of stereotyping, which is not helpful or realistic and in some senses could open me up to being accused of denying the action of the Holy Spirit in the whole enterprise. However, be that as it may, I have taken the liberty of listing a few characteristics that I have noticed as being common in, for want of a better word, “successful” church planters. These are meant as discussion starters and not to be definitive. I fully recognise that there may be other characteristics that may be present in a lead church planter but the following are some to consider.
Prayer: Over the years I have noticed that there is a high correlation between the personal prayer commitment of the lead church planter, the way they lead the church plant in this area and the success of the church plant.
Call: We would all recognise that church planting brings with it unique challenges that are both encouragements and discouragements. A distinct call from God is what sustains the lead church planter in their darkest moments.
Theological Discernment: New churches attract people from many different church and worldviews. Paul instructed both Timothy and Titus to be protect their church against false doctrine and philosophies. This is a special need in a new church where there is often little structure, leadership or developed doctrine for the lead church planter to refer to.
Entrepreneurial: I have noticed that often lead church planters have an entrepreneurial flair whereby they think and attempt things outside of the normal. One caution is that they need to have advisers. As one entrepreneur has said “entrepreneurs never have a dangerous thought”.
Evangelistic: The ability and strong commitment that, without Christ people are lost to God and therefore to at least do the work of an evangelist. My firm belief is that the main purpose of church planting, no matter what form it may take, is to reach irreligious and religious people with the gospel of Christ and lead them into becoming a life-long follower of him.
Missional: Lead church planters need not only able to think missionally, but to able to lead their team to put those missional thoughts into practice in the new church and the community that God has called them to reach.
Visionary: Most successful church plants that I have seen have a strong sense of vision that, while it may have been honed by the team, is lead by the lead church planter who is able to articulate, motivate and inspire people to move and work towards achieving the vision.
Strategic: there are many ideas and thoughts that will be possibilities for the new church. They will come from the team members, seminars, books etc ., that will challenge the lead church planter. However if the church plant is to succeed the lead church planter will need to be strategic in applying what is relevant to the new church plant.
Communicator: Able communicate both one on one, in groups, to the whole church and the community in ways that are relevant to each group that they meet. Included in this is their preaching and teaching.
Reproducer: Good lead church planters reproduce a church planting DNA in the life of the new church and are looking for the next possibility.
Persistent: Lead church planters must have the persistence to finish the task against many obstacles. They are like marathon runners who may need to change tactics to reach the goal, but are able to run through many challengers and set-backs.
Extrovert: Most successful lead church planters need to love people and be able to express that love to them. It often means the ability to accept everyone, even if we don’t approve of what they are doing.
Team Player: Church planting is best done in teams and the lead church planter needs to be able to lead the team, ensuring that they are inclusive of the whole team in decision making and moving forward together.
I am very much aware that this is not the most scholarly paper. It comes from my experience and observations and is not meant to be conclusive, but rather to promote an opportunity for discussion and hopefully provide some pointers for us when seeking a church planter. I am also aware that some of the characteristics highlighted, are those that people are born with, others are God given, still others are attained through either formal learning or the school of hard knocks, but all take time to develop.
Philip Bryant is a Church Health Consultant with the Baptist Churches of Western Australia. He has extensive experience superintending the planting of new churches, coaching and development of church planters and church consultancy across a wide scope of issues – both in Victoria and Western Australia. This paper was written for the Crossover National Church Planting Consultation in Collaroy, March 2011.