Scott has made available an article which expands on this talk and includes other lists of characteristics that leaders have cited as being important in a church planter.
Thanks to the kind permission of Acts 29, I am able to share with you a number of videos of their recent DWELL Conference in London. I begin with one that is especially important for those of you who have come back from the conference excited, wondering what God may have in store for you. You can download the mp3 — or thanks to Google video (which has no time limits for its videos) you can watch the entire talk online below. My notes of this engaging and helpful talk by Scott Thomas follow.
You can ask yourself 20 questions that will help you determine whether you are called to lead a church plant. For the record, these questions indeed confirm my previous firm conviction that I am not meant to become a church plant leader. It is so important that we each realize what role God is calling us to. I am as sure as I can be at this time that God wants me to stay long-term at Jubilee Church, London. I hope and pray, however, that I can help many church planters in some small way.
DWELL — “Am I a Church Planter?” by Scott Thomas
Church planting is the new “cool” in Christian circles. The worst thing you could do is to become a church planter if you are not one! Are you called, competent, and do you have the character? Pay careful attention to yourself (Acts 20:28).
The top five issues that come up most commonly when Acts 29 is assessing planters:
Scott sais that they had surveyed UK church-planting organizations prior to coming here. To a network, of the ones who responded, not one gave a clear definition of what a church planter should look like. They were all doing it relationally, so men were being raised up from within. But it is necessary to identify who is the planter. Then prepare and send out. As a potential planter yourself, you need to ask yourself some questions to be sure if you are the right kind of person.
While in Brighton, Scott asked a group of Newfrontiers leaders to describe for him the characteristics of a church planter. Their responses, in this order, were:
- A leader/visionary.
- Missionary heart.
- Preacher, a good proclaimer.
- Generalist, i.e. do more than one thing as opposed to a specialist.
- A family man. Need your wife and kids to believe in Dad’s vision.
On the fourth point, as a new planter, you can’t do what Mark Driscoll does — he studies, reads, writes a lot, one day a week has meetings, preaches, and spends time with his family, and that’s it. There was a time, however, when he set up chairs, etc.
Scott then took us through twenty questions you can ask yourself to help answer the question, “Am I a church plant leader?”
Before we begin, as one of my asides, I want to remind you that there are lots of other ways you can serve God in an established church or a church plant apart from being the senior leader. Some very good pastors would make bad church plant leaders. That call from God you have to do church planting might be a call to go join a team led by another man to help plant a church, or it might actually be a call to stay so others can go. Please pray as you work through this list that God will either confirm your call or show you that you are not meant to lead a church plant after all.
- Am I a Christian? — This is a good place to start! Integrity is critical!
- Am I passionately in love with Jesus, and is he the Lord of my life in every area? Don’t skip these! People plant churches who never open the Bible or pray. Some big churches are led by people who may not even be Christians! Jesus must be the most important thing in your life. Your life must be built on Jesus only such that nothing else is enough, and even if family and possessions are taken away, you will still have the grace of God resting on your life, you will have hope, and you will be able to say “That’s enough.” IF Jesus is in you and you love and follow him, people will be drawn to you.
- 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 talk out of the abundance of his Word.
- Am I Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-directed, and Spirit-controlled? We want to be witnesses, but we have tendencies to lean on our own ideas and abilities. He will give you all you need, and give you the place and the way to go about it. The church planter needs to be an empowered man. The Spirit needs to be working in and through you and be dripping out. That’s the Holy Spirit I want!
- Am I qualified as an elder? Timothy and Titus talk about these things. Study them carefully, assess yourself. They both say that to be above reproach is the over-arching thing — you have to be above reproach. There isn’t an exhaustive list of things, they overlap, but the key is to be above reproach. Here are some “for instances” of how to be above reproach: the husband of one wife, no one else in your head, your heart, your eyes, on that screen—none. Totally focused and satisfied in that one woman God has brought to him. Marriage can be a struggle. But you cannot stray, even an inch. Forgiveness is required for marriage. Children should be in submission. Need to be a pastor-dad.
- Do I love the local church as an expression of a gospel community on a mission? The church brings hope, forgiveness, and community, etc. This is an expression of the gospel. Stop dating the church as Josh Harris said. It’s not an institution, but Christ’s body.
- Am I a missionary to the city? Am I sent for the advancement of the gospel in the city? If you are a church planter, you have to be a missionary. Every pastor needs to see themselves 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 “me” and my desire to be recognized. It’s not about me, or success. It’s about exalting the grace of Jesus.
- Do I have a clear vision for this new work? 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 you.
- Am I wiling to pour myself out in obedience to the vision?
- Am I healthy physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally, maritally, mentally?
- Am I the kind of leader many people will follow? Have I served as some form of church leader successfully?
- Can I preach effectively? You don’t have to hit it out of the ball park every time. But you do have to hit singles pretty regularly. The pulpit is the rudder that steers the church.
- 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
for which they got kicked out of their old church. You have to be able to guard the doctrinal door, squash doctrinal error—not arrogantly, but being sure of what the Word of God says and being able to articulate that in a winsome way.
- 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 see the vision—can’t find the steps towards the 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, care-giver, 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 guys don’t always make good number one guys. As an aside, for my English readers, the example that struck me was this (and blame me for this one, not Scott) — Gordon Brown was perceived widely to be a good chancellor, but when he became Prime Minister he has been widely perceived to be a bad one.
- Am I called to plant a church at this time and in this place? Calling is a top issue. Not called when things are going badly. The call of God usually comes when things are going really well. It needs to be a ministry to God, not to anyone or anything else. 2 Corinthians 7:6-8, 7:13; 2 Corinthians 8:6, 8:16-17. You need to be someone who says because of your own personal calling, I need to do this.
- Have my church leaders commended me for this calling? What do they think of you? Are they recommending you?
- Am I a hard worker? Am I persevering?
- 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, you’re probably not a church planter
- Can I raise the funds required for my family’s needs? Can I still be there for my family? Anyone who won’t provide for his family is worse than the ungodly. You also need to be there for your family. Your children need a father more than the city needs a church.
- 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 we call “stallers” and “stoppers.” You need to be coachable, teachable. If you’re not teachable, your church will stay stunted in its growth. The local church makes the audible gospel visible. It’s a glorious thing.
What if I’m called? What if I’m not sure? What do I do?
1 Timothy 4:12. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Right now, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, begin to build that into your life, begin to look into your own life, and set the believers an example in these areas. Don’t neglect your gift. Practice these things. Devote yourself to them. Make it evident that Jesus Christ is the most important thing in your life. Listen to the calling of God. Examine your life. Examine your family. Then obey, and get ready for the ride of your life!