This article is about church planting, and specifically about the person of the church planter.

Source: Christian Renewal, 2005. 4 pages.

On Being a Church Planter

What is it like to be a church planter? How does one prepare for the task? As we begin to discuss this topic, recognize that there are relatively few resources on church planting, and even less on the nature and character of a church planter, from a confessionally Reformed point of view.

Instead, we are left to sift through the haystacks of church growth propaganda for the needle of applicable truth. My goal here is to give those who seek to minister among our confessionally Reformed churches as church planters, or as ministers of churches that will support church planting, some material from which to develop a passion for spreading the Reformed faith in our generation.

The focus will not be on the "how" of church planting. It will instead be geared towards the person, personality, and character of the confessionally Reformed church planter. In attempting to do so, my goals are to prepare some for the arduous task of church planting while at the same time warning others against going out as church planters. Church planting is difficult and trying work physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The motto of the Marines ought to be that of the fraterni­ty of church planters: "The few, the proud..." Few will heed the call and be able to meet the challenge, while others will be needed in the important task of supporting church planting.

What I am presenting comes out of my own reading of Scripture, the con­fessions, and church history, as well as my own experience and the experience of other church planting colleagues. Understanding that everyone comes from a particular point of view which has been shaped by particular experi­ences, will help you to see this for what it is: one man's reflections on the min­istry of church planting, which, Lord willing, may apply to a broader audi­ence.

Foundational Principles🔗

The principles found in Acts 2:42 lay the groundwork for everything else a church planter does. This passage is such an important programmatic text for the life of the church. Here we see that the church is firmly based upon three principles: the church is a theo­logical, liturgical and communal insti­tution and organism. Luke's words are not only an historical description of what the earliest New Covenant com­munity was like, but they also apply to so many areas of what we are doing as pastors and church planters. For exam­ple, our corporate worship is based on these principles as it is to be doctrinal, liturgical, and communal. As well, our Christian life is found in these princi­ples as we "devote" ourselves to theolo­gy, liturgy, and community as Christians. Finally, in membership classes what we are doing is to initiate new believers and new members in these three principles. As those who are going to be sent out as church planters in areas with no confessionally Reformed churches, we must keep these three principles always before us as the first things, the foundations of our life and ministry.

1. Devoted to Theology🔗

Church planters must be devoted to the apostles' doctrine, that is, their teach­ing, their theology. As such we confess all that is taught to us in the Word of God, but we do not confess it according to our interpretations. The Spirit of God has led His Church into all truth (John 14:26, 15:26). You are starting something new, but what you are start­ing is not new. This is why a church planter needs a deep-rooted apprecia­tion for the catholicity of the Faith as found in the ecumenical creeds. This is why church planters must be absolutely convinced and confident in the Reformed confessions and catechisms because they agree with the Word of God.

One of the things a young church planter will learn and experience is that everything is theological and that theol­ogy gives stability to everything. An example of this was a recent evening in which I received several phone calls in the span of five minutes that four of my parishioners had all gone to the hospi­tal. Although overwhelming, what gave me confidence - and sanity - was the doctrine of God's fatherly providence. God reminded me that we live coram Deo not only in theory, but also in practice.

Another aspect of being a theological church planter is how this commitment is applied in preaching. A church planter must view himself as God views him as a minister. The metaphor of the prophetic herald is so prevalent for the pastor in Scripture. We need to recap­ture that consciousness as we go out to minister in a post-Christian world. We are prophets who proclaim a message of Law and Gospel to the world around us - a Law which no one cares about and a Gospel which no one can believe (Psalm 2:1-3; Romans 8:5-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Church planters should have a sense of urgency in our preaching for many rea­sons, including the fact that no one may show up next week! A church planter is, as Paul called Timothy, an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), one who spreads the evangel, the Gospel. You will be an evangelist, announcing the news of the King and His kingdom. You will be a missionary, going some­place near or far with the mission and purpose of speaking that Word. You will be a pioneer, trailblazing a path for the coming of Christ's kingdom of grace among the kingdom of Satan, "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). You are not starting a social club, you are not trying to draw a crowd; instead, what you are doing is theological as you confront "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).

2. Devoted to Liturgy🔗

A church planter must be devoted to "prayers and the breaking of the bread." A devotion to the public wor­ship of the Triune God and a passion for it that is passed on to others. From the outset of a church plant, make it a non-negotiable principle to emphasize the Lord's Day. This is who we are as Christians and this is what we do - to be called to ascend the heavenly moun­tain of God (Psalm 24; Hebrews 12:18-25) so that we can fall before the throne of God in confession and be welcomed around the Table of the Lord in thanks­giving as we receive His grace. Once this is established, then maybe, just maybe, you can add a midweek Bible study or activity for your members and their children.

Be confident in Reformed worship. Not only is Reformed theology differ­ent to most people who will come to our churches, but our worship is strikingly different. The reason it is different is because our theology is different. Our worship is a result of our theology, not in spite of our theology. The content of our theology drives both the content and form of worship, and these cannot be divorced. We worship the way we worship because we believe the way we believe, and vice versa.

As a church planter, my favorite topic of study is the history of Christian worship and the forms of historic wor­ship. I would encourage you to devote yourself to the writings of Hughes Oliphant Old but also to the writings of the Reformation on worship. In my study I've found that we as a Reformed people have always been a liturgical people, even more so than we are today. All the churches of the Reformation had common worship, meaning they had set liturgies, forms, and prayers. What has been amazing to me is that in translating these historic forms of worship to my setting we have drawn the exact same people that the new "Emerging Church" movement is seeking to draw. Those young twenty-something who yearn for community, transcendence, and stability are drawn - not repelled - by liturgical worship. As an illustration of the power of his­toric and transcendent forms of wor­ship upon our post-modern culture, think about the fastest growing religion in North America - Islam. Among American males who convert, most say that they have left unbelief or transient "Christianity" because of the transcen­dence of worship, structure of the prayers, and the rigorous life of morali­ty.

3. Devoted to Community🔗

The third principle to which a church planter must be devoted is the commu­nity, your parish. The early church was "devoted," they were steadfast in their love of "the fellowship." Church planters must be tireless in visiting their parishioners, getting to know them, counseling and catechizing them from the world's ways to the Word's ways, and living among them in their highs and lows. As shepherds we must know our sheep by name intimately, just as our Chief Shepherd does (John 10:3).

Another way we see the community of the saints illustrated in the New Testament is through hospitality. Church planters need to set the exam­ple of hospitality by being hospitable to our parish. By doing so, we will live transparent lives in community with our parishioners, will build communi­ty, build trust, and build a godly atmos­phere in which to labor and pray.

All of this is to say that the church planter must be the most convicted and principled man among our churches. He is not a man that will represent His King if he caves in to pressure and the persecution of those with whom he speaks such serious words.

Aptitude Principles (1 Timothy 3:2)🔗

Those are the foundational principles for church planters. As well, the church planter must have certain aptitudes, that is, certain skills, gifts, and person­ality. In thinking of this, recall that Paul exhorts Timothy to lay before the con­gregation those men who not only desired to be overseers, but also were "able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2). Elders must have the desire but also the ability to apply that desire in their work. So too it is with church planting.

1. Passion for Church Planting🔗

Church planting is not for every seminary grad­uate. One must have a passion for non-Reformed people who wallow in works-right­eousness evangelicalism as well as for unbeliev­ers. You need to see yourself as a prophet, bringing a foreign, yet needed, message. If you desire to be a pastor in a large church, or to be an associate pastor who does a lot of counsel­ing, for example, do not take a call to a church plant. It is not just a job, but a calling and passion. We see this in the example of Paul, whose "heart's desire and prayer to God" was for unbelieving Israel to be saved (Romans 10:1). His passion for establishing new churches is seen when he says,

I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named...Romans 15:20

His final goal was to pass through Rome and go to Spain, the outmost edge of the Roman Empire and the known western world (Romans 15:24).

2. Ability to Handle Disappointment🔗

Disappointment comes with the church planting territory. As my con­gregation was getting off the ground and beginning to grow, I twice came back from vacation to the news of seri­ous sin within the church that came to the surface while I was gone. There will be visitors to your church who will never return, who will call you "Catholic," who will hate what you say from the pulpit. To this I was given one of the most important pieces of wisdom I have learned. It comes from my colleague and friend Dr. R. Scott Clark, who related to me that when he was church planting he had to learn that he wasn't the Holy Spirit. I needed to learn that also. This is part of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters in anything, but only God who gives the growth.(ESV)

Church planting is God's work. You are His servant, sowing and watering seed. As such, your mindset must be for the long term. Week-by-week peo­ple will come and go, but if you have your eyes on the goal of planting, watering, and establishing a solid, con­fessionally Reformed church you will be able to handle the ups and downs of the work. It's not about you anyway, it's about Christ: "For what we pro­claim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Another way to cope with struggle and sadness is to develop close relationships with your classmates and future colleagues. Rely on them for counsel. Use them as sounding boards when you are down and desperate.

3. Ability to be a Self-Motivator🔗

As a church planter you are a pioneer, beginning a work that no one else has done, so that others may follow. One aspect of having a pioneering spirit is to be self-motivating. It boils down to this: if you are not a hard worker in your day-to-day life as an employee, husband, father, etc., then do not think you are called to be a church planter - let alone a pastor!

Each week there are two sermons to prepare, Bible studies to teach, phone calls, visitors to follow-up with, coun­seling, fellowship to facilitate, meet­ings to chair, as well as the normal things of life. In many respects you are on an island. There is no pastoral "staff" to rely on, and no time for an office mentality, where you can take breaks and chat with people. It's just you in your study or on the road doing what needs to be done.

4. Ability to Delegate🔗

In line with being a self-motivator is the ability to lead your parish by dele­gation. Learn to give up things that hinder your work. If it is possible organize a steering committee under the oversight of your local consistory to be an advisory council and to take many mundane tasks off of your hands. As well, recruit parishioners to deal with everyday tasks.

So you are a "one man show" in many respects, but you cannot get comfortable in being the one man. We are not micro-managers or tyrants, but pastors. Things like the font of the bul­letin, organizing snacks, nursery work­ers, church banking, etc. are not your responsibility. Although you may have to do many of these things initially, make a commitment to turn things over little by little as God brings peo­ple to your congregation.

5. Ability to Handle Stress🔗

Finally, the ability to handle stress is important for a pastor, but this is especially the case for a church planter. Even-keeled, patient, and a calm-head are crucial. Develop a hobby. Learn to "get away" from time to time.

Church planting requires certain abil­ities, a particular personality and tem­perament. May we all examine our­selves, our gifts, our abilities, our per­sonalities, so that God may raise up a generation of zealous, confessionally Reformed church planters and estab­lished pastors and churches so that His Kingdom may spread "from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more!"

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.