Choosing the church planter is the most important decision in the life of a congregation. In this light, there are five indispensable traits for a church planter.
The founding pastor is so influential because the church takes on the founder’s beliefs and core values. These stay with the church throughout its existence. Humanly speaking, the survival of the fledgling congregation rides primarily on the skill and determination of the planting pastor.
The fundamental requirements for a pastor apply to a church planter. Call committees or launch teams look for candidates who demonstrate strong character, thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and doctrine as well as an aptitude to teach. Church planting is also a specialized ministry. I speak from hard earned experience in saying that starting new churches is very different than serving an established congregation.
Because of this, a good deal of research and practical experience have gone into what talents and skills to look for in leaders of new church starts. While research reveals there are as many as 20 characteristics important in church planters, I start by looking for five indispensable traits:
The potential church planter must have a proven track record envisioning and successfully developing a new project, ministry or organization. This provides evidence that the candidate effectively communicates vision, raises support, recruit leaders and overcome obstacles. Church planting is not just about creating a community of Christ-followers. It requires developing an organization that makes discipleship sustainable for decades if not centuries.
Church planters refer to the process of starting a new church as being “on the island.” Until the new church is well established there is a powerful sense of isolation. If you have a supervisor, the supervisor is often in another city or even another state. (I’m five hours from one of the Ohio District – LCMS church plants). And you certainly have no one to speak words of encouragement to you. It takes self-disciple and internal motivation to daily work hard, push through obstacles and overcome personal doubts.
Identifies, Develops and Deploys Leaders
There is always a risk that a church planter will make himself the center of a new church start. This becomes the limiting factor for the new church and possibly the source of its demise. I look for proof that potential church planters have a track record of raising up leaders who serve integral roles. This shows the planter can create ownership of ministry. With strong shared leadership the new church is much more sustainable, possibly even surviving the loss of the church planter.
Passion for People Outside Congregations
In this day and age, it is not enough for a church planter to gather fellow believers. The planter must demonstrate a passion for people disconnected from Christian community or separated from Christ. There must be a conviction that God wants the disconnected and separated in this new church. In interviews, I’m looking for stories about how the candidates are sharing Christ with neighbors and friends. I’m watching for how candidates connected new people to new relationships in established churches.
Established churches interview pastors and usually do not meet spouses until a call is issued. In church planting, I require that both husband and wife participate in the interview. The pressures “on the island” require the full support of a spouse. This does not mean the spouse has to take a leadership role in the new congregation. It does mean the spouse must be spiritually and emotionally prepared for new and often extreme stresses and strains on the family.
These five traits do not guarantee a successful new church start. However, these traits serve planters well from the moment God calls them to a new endeavor. These traits mean a new church start is more likely to fulfill God’s calling.
What traits do you consider “indispensable” in a church planter? Share your thoughts in the comments or shoot me a message.