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20 Characteristics of a Church Planter

16. Have my 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 are 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. Am I a hard worker? Am I persevering?

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 its 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 with 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 we call “stallers” and “stoppers” in our assessments. 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)

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Used with permission from Scott Thomas, the director and Chairman of Acts 29 Network, a non-profit church planting organization of missional reformed churches.