Every Christian is called to care about church planting because every Christian is called to care about the mission of God. That means, every Christian is called to assist in the work of recognizing and affirming potential church planters.
So how do we recognize a church planter or how do you know if you should be one? If you are looking for a definition of a church planter click here, but if you are looking for help discerning who should be one, keep reading.
Here are three questions to ask:
#1 Do You Aspire?
This may seem overly simplistic, but aspiration is the very first qualification for anyone who serves the church as a pastor.
1 Timothy 3:1 “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
The first requirement in Paul’s list of qualifications is that someone actually desire to fulfill the duty of overseer. God is sovereign over every molecule in the cosmos including the complex factors that shape my desires. At some point in my own life, God worked a miracle in giving me a greater desire for the work of pastoral ministry then my desire to do anything else. If the God-given miracle of aspiration isn’t there, then I do not recommend pursuing vocational ministry. Not everyone can be pastors. Not everyone should be a pastor. Not every pastor should be a church planter. Paul intends to take seriously what our heart aspirations are.
Charle’s Spurgeon famously gives this warning,
“Do not enter the ministry if you can help it… we must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.”Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students
If you have a right understanding of what church planting work will require, and you still have this kind of aspiration for the work, it might be a miracle of God’s spirit.
Aspiration is necessary, but this is where many get off base. Aspiration is necessary, but it is not decisive. It is essential, but not authoritative. Your personal feeling of calling is not the cosmic trump card delivered to you by angels on high. Your desires can be wrong desires. No-one should trust themselves completely in regard to anything in life. No-one should declare their desires to be synonymous with an indisputable call of God. The proverbs warn us against this,
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the Spirit.”Proverbs 16:1-2
All of us are prone to think our ways are pure. We see ourselves in the best light. We are often blinded to our own sinful motives. It is a dangerous thing to say that God has said something only because you feel a certain type of way. 1 Peter 5 warns us that there is a way to pursue pastoral ministry for “shameful gain.” That means you can aspire to a particular kind of ministry like church planting for all the wrong reasons. You cannot be a church planter without aspiration, but you can have the aspiration and still be unfit for church planting.
If you do aspire, however, how do you check the spiritual validity of that aspiration?
#2 Does Your Church Agree?
Every church planter must meet all the qualifications for the pastoral office as articulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-5. Whether you meet such qualifications, however, cannot be measured by a two-day assessment. You cannot properly observe someone’s humility, self-control, sober-mindedness, hospitality, gentleness, or slowness to anger through an interview. These types of things can only be tested in Christian community over a period of time. The community observes someone’s life on the good days and the bad days. It is the interconnected community of the local church that has the objective window into the day to day character and competency of an individual.
The church at Antioch collectively agreed that Paul and Barnabas were qualified, competent, and called. The church symbolized that corporate affirmation through the laying on of hands. Paul would later warn Timothy not to affirm such things in an individual’s life too quickly. He writes, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). The congregation takes time and care before they give the authoritative symbolic affirmation to any potential elder, deacon, missionary, or church planter.
Your church’s affirmation of your qualification and gifting for the work of church planting is absolutely essential. This is the only way to protect yourself from a self-destructive lack of self-awareness.
If you are serving a church that does not recognize their God-given responsibility to test you and train you, it would be better to slow down your timeline, and find a church from which you can be genuinely sent. This would be far healthier for you in the long wrong then to set out on your own as a lone ranger. No missionary in the New Testament sends themselves by themselves.
#3 Will Co-Laborers Join You?
One of the most practical questions you can ask in discerning a potential call to church planting is whether anyone is willing to go with you to plant a church. If God is calling you to such an endeavor, you will likely be the kind of person that others will follow even at great personal cost. No one in the New Testament is sent out for the mission alone. When Barnabas arrives in Antioch to help lead the new church, he immediately sends for Paul’s help. When Antioch sends aid back to the suffering Jerusalem church, they send both Barnabas and Paul. When they send them to do missionary work among the unreached, they send both Barnabas and Paul. By Acts 13:13, Paul has a whole group of companions traveling with him. When Paul and Barnabas go separate ways in Acts 15, Barnabas takes John Mark, and Paul recruits Silas for the missionary journey. Not only does Paul not go alone, he recruits co-laborers along the way. In Acts 16:1-5, he recruits Timothy to join the co-laboring team. For the first missionaries and church planters, co-laborers were a non-negotiable.
I think that for the work of church planting today, co-laborers are similarly a non-negotiable. A man and his family parachuting into a city to plant a church without a group of co-laborers joining them is unwise at best and self-destructive at worst. If you want to plant a church, start by making disciples where you are right now. Become a spiritual father, and pour yourself out for a group of people who will go with you when the opportunity comes to plant a church. If no one will join you, it should at least be a check in your spirit that maybe the Lord would have you wait and be faithful where you are for the time being.
P.S. Book Recommendation For Discerning Aspiration
Bobby Jamieson’s book The Pathway to Being a Pastor is hands down the best book I have ever read on discerning your aspiration to ministry. Bobby has been leading the pastoral internship at Capital Hill Baptist Church for years and in this book he concisely and pointedly drops wisdom bombs in each short chapter. The book is not primarily about church planting, but the same principles apply for discerning any call to ministry. If you are considering a call to vocational ministry, pick this book up and invite someone to read it with you.