"Am I Called to Plant a Church?"
It's a question that many of us ask at one time or another.
Church planting is one of the very best ways of spreading the Gospel and seeing God's kingdom grow, and so it makes sense that as we are looking at what God might want for us in our lives, we consider church planting.
The question of calling is a funny one. It's a word that means different things to different people (we look in a bit more detail how the Bible uses the word in this post). Suffice to say that we have all been called to the Mission of God, and so the church planting question should be a live one for us all. In this article we will be exploring a few questions that you can ask to help you discover whether planting a church is the right thing for you to do.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - What Has God Said to You?
The reason that I first got involved in church planting is that God spoke to me about it. He gave me two very specific words - 'church planting' and 'Manchester', and these words have shaped the last decade of my life.
God is a speaking God and we should be always eager to hear his leadings. God can speak in many ways, including through a whisper or prompting in your spirit, through a prophecy given by somebody else, through a particular scripture, through a circumstance, or in many other ways. The key is being clear that you have heard the voice of God.
Part of this process of gaining clarity comes from weighing what you believe God has said. The other questions outlined in this article play a part in this, as does seeking the input of others as to whether it is God speaking, and there is a place for asking God to confirm his word by bringing the same thing several times through independent sources or providing other supernatural confirmations. I did all of these things after God had spoken to me about planting in Manchester, and it was only after I received this clarity that I made the move.
Depending on the answer to the 'What Has God Said to You?' question, here are some things that you might want to consider:
If God is telling you to go... The next move isn't necessarily to get cracking straight away. In the Bible there is frequently a time delay between a person receiving a call from God and them actually doing the thing that they have been called to. If you know that God is calling you to plant, then this is a conversation to have with your current church leaders and movement leaders that you are involved with. Seek their input and humbly receive their response. Work through the other questions in this article and come up with a game-plan to prepare yourself for what God has called you to.
If God is telling you not to go... This doesn't mean that you can't still be about church planting. You personally may be called to something else, but you have the ability to further the cause of church planting by praying for those who you know (and those who you don't know) who are planting, by financially giving to church planters, by sending those in your circle of influence to get involved on planting teams and by encouraging planters with friendship and support.
If God hasn't said anything to you specifically... The Great Commission is still the Great Commission and the world needs reaching. As the church spread in the book of Acts, there were moments where it did so because of specific directional words from God, but more frequently it was simply people doing their best to live out the mission that Jesus had given them. If God hasn't specifically spoken to you, this doesn't necessarily mean that church planting isn't for you. Work through some of the other questions below, and if you feel like it is the right thing to do then talk to your church leaders about it.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - Are You Qualified?
In the New Testament it is clear that there are particular character traits that it is essential for church leaders to possess. Best know amongst these are the qualifications for elders that are outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Though the role of a church planter is technically distinct from that of an elder, it is functionally very similar, and the same requirements of godly character apply, so part of assessing whether you are called to plant a church is to look at how your life holds up against these requirements (and this is definitely an exercise to do with a leader who knows you well, and will be able to see and point out any blind spots that you may have!)
Another passage that has been strongly impressed on my heart recently is 2 Corinthians 6:5-6 where Paul outlines the characteristics of his ministry in Corinth (and, presumably, elsewhere). "As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance... by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech and the power of God."
As I consider this list, I am struck by the breadth of qualities that Paul was able to bring to his planting. There are things about his own personal walk with God (purity) and there are things about how he is able to interact with others (patience and kindness). He was strong in his theology (knowledge) and also strong in the supernatural (the Holy Spirit and the power of God). He was able to handle difficulties that arose (endurance) and could approach pastoral situations with both genuine love and truthful speech.
As broad (and potentially overwhelming) as this description of Paul's ministry is, I can't find a single trait on the list that a church planter can do without, and honest reflection on your life in light of these verses can be very helpful in determining whether you should plant a church.
Again, depending on your answer to the question of whether you are qualified, there are some things you should consider.
- If You Are Qualified - This doesn't necessarily mean that you should plant (you may be called to another ministry), but it is a great starting point! If some of the other questions also seem to point towards planting, then you would be well set to give it a go.
- If You Are Not Qualified - Leading a church plant right now is not the right thing to do if you don't meet the Biblical criteria for leadership. This is not to say that you never will be qualified. If you aspire to church planting (or other leadership positions) try to gain insight from those you trust about where you fall short of the qualifications and look to grow in these areas. Depending on your current level of maturity, being part of a church plant led by somebody else may be a good place to grow and help you gain valuable experience for if/when you are ready to plant in the future.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - Are You Gifted?
It is possible to be qualified to plant a church based on character and yet still not have the skills or particular gifting needed to play this role. In 1 Corinthians 12:20, Paul writes, "There are many parts, yet one body." Each of us should look at the gifts that the Spirit has given to us and find the role that we are being asked to play in the body.
It is hard to pin down a precise profile of the gifts required for a church planter, because different people plant in different ways and are able to leverage the gifts that they have to do so. Nevertheless, in the early days of a plant, the need for the gift of hospitality is very high. Most of the progress that you make in the church at this stage will stem from your ability to form meaningful and fun relationships with people and (in the majority of settings) opening your home is the key to making this happen.
Other useful gifts in the early days include faith, prayer and leadership (and some apostleship in the mix is always useful - especially if you are looking to start a movement). As the church grows, there will still be a place for these start-up gifts, but they will need to be bolstered by other gifts like teaching, shepherding and administration.
It is possible that somebody who is stronger in the pastor-teacher style gifts may still be able to plant a church, but to do so they will most likely need to surround themselves with people who have the more entrepreneurial gifts and draw heavily on the gifts of those people in the early days.
On the other hand, somebody who has the more start-up type gifts is likely to do a great job in getting something off the ground, but they may be well-served in looking to hand the leadership of the church on to somebody else when it is established and put their gifts to use in getting the next one going.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - Do You Want To?
I was torn whether I should include this question in the article, because the call to follow Jesus is a call to lay down our own preferences and use our lives for his will.
Nevertheless, if you want to reach a rounded view of whether or not you should plant, it is an important question to think about. Paul seems comfortable to speak of the fact that he wants to plant in Spain (Romans 15:23) and he refers to his 'ambition' to preach the Gospel where Christ has not previously been named (Romans 15:20).
Knowing whether or not you want to do it cannot over-ride something that God is clearly saying, but such self-knowledge can provide you with helpful band-with for your process.
- If you do want to - This is ace and you should prayerfully consider the other questions in this article. Be careful in this process because your own desire to plant may be liable to skew your answers in that direction, so the wisdom of others is more necessary than ever for you. Depending on how ready you are, you may want to consider either planting a new church or going on a church planting team that is being led by somebody else.
- If you don't want to - Do you sense that it may something that God is prompting you to do anyway? If so, then there will be a journey to go on to draw you into what God is speaking to you about (Jon Flavell spends some time talking about what this journey looked like for him in this Broadcast). If planting is something that you wouldn't have chosen for yourself then you should be looking for a much greater clarity that this is from God to keep you going when times get tough.
- If you are happy either way - Perhaps you are just as content to go and to not go. The other questions in this article will be useful for you in determining what to do. If you do end up concluding that church planting is the right thing for you, then you should be looking to get some faith for a particular plant and to see some vision and excitement for what you have been called to.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - Does Your Family Want To?
You are not the only person whose life will be turned upside down if you plant a church.
In doing so, you will be dragging your spouse and children (if you have them) away from the community that they are part of. They will no longer experience the blessings that come from being part of a more established church and they won't see their friends as often. You will probably be entertaining a lot of people at your house, many of whom you will never see again.
It is true that these things will impact you as much as they impact your family, but the big difference is that you are the one making the choice. You are considering your calling. You are embarking on an adventure. You don't want them to feel like they are just coming along for the ride.
As you make a decision to plant a church, it is important that you own the decision as a family. Take time to work through what everybody thinks. What is God saying to your partner and your kids? What excites them about the idea? What worries them?
If they don't want to do it, then I would strongly suggest holding fire. You don't want to be building a new church on fault lines in your family. Have faith that if God is in it, he will speak to your wife/husband and your kids and give them the same faith for it that he has given to you. Be patient, pray and work towards a point where your family can step out as one into what God is calling you to (which may or may not be church planting).
You may find Stu and Livy Gibbs' church planting story helpful as you think about this.
Am I Called to Plant a Church? - Will You Be Sent?
You don't need to have been following Broadcast for long to know that we want to see lots and lots of new churches planted. However, the last thing that we need is lots of lone-wolf church planters going out with no intentionality from a sending church, no support and no accountability.
There is a tendency amongst many to approach decisions about what God is calling us to from an individualistic perspective, where we first reach a conclusion in our own hearts and only then bring it to others for their blessing. However, God doesn't call us to individual pursuits but rather to play our part in the body, and this role is best discerned in the context of the body.
Your current church leaders and movement leaders that you relate to are very significant people in the process of evaluating your calling to plant. Any concerns that they have should be taken very seriously (they are, after all, approaching the question with both the spiritual insight that comes with years of experience and the distance that will give them a more impartial perspective than you bring to the question). If they have suggestions about a process that would help you plant well, submit yourself to this process.
In an ideal scenario, these leaders (if they believe you are ready) will send you, and in doing so they may be willing to give you some people and/or money to get you started, and keep an ongoing relationship open that can be mutually supportive and that can provide an outside voice into your church.
Here are some suggestions for how to proceed depending on the view of your church leaders:
- They say no - You need to understand the reasons that they are giving. Are they seeing things in your life that concern them? Learn from the assessment that they give and try to work on the areas that they bring up. If you reach a position of impasse, where your church leaders are saying no (with seemingly no good reason) and you feel unable to follow them in this, then it still not advisable to go out on your own. In this situation it may be advisable to part ways and find a church with leaders who you are able to support. You will need to take time to settle in to this church and get to know people before bringing up your desire for them to send you to plant, and if you find your new leaders respond in a similar way to the original leaders did then it is likely that they are right, and planting a church is not the thing for you to be doing at the moment.
- They say not now - Perhaps there are particular areas in your character/gifting development that your leaders want you to work on before you go, or perhaps the moment doesn't work for the church to send you out (for instance, they may be currently sending out another church and feel they need a year or two before the church is ready to go again). With this kind of response it is good to understand what is in the minds of your leaders, and to put a process in place of what they would like you to do before they feel the time is right.
- They say yes - If your church leaders want to send you, and you and your family also believe that it is what God wants you to do, then what are you waiting for? Go plant a church!
If you do come to the conclusion that God is calling you to plant, we would love to help you in any way we can. Do drop us a line and let us know what you are planning.