One of the problems of finding qualified church planters, (and that phrase needs explanation) is that one needs certain basic things before one can, or should, plant a church. A “qualified church planter” is something that his sending agency determines. That agency asks the question, “can this person, in our estimation, have a reasonable chance at success in planting a new church?” They ask this question because to some level they are going to invest resources into this church planter and into the effort. Will those resources produce a product, i.e., a new church? Or, will these resources be wasted when they could have been used for someone else they expect will actually succeed?
We believe that God (if he chooses) can use just about anybody to plant a church, so obviously any agency, or church, or church organization, can be wrong in estimating potential for success. This does not make them wrong in giving prayerful consideration as to whether or not they should or should not invest in a person.
Men can be resentful when told “no” by a church planting organization. A man can feel called but if others don’t recognize that calling he is left with a few choices; accept the decision of the agency and do something else, work on changing the conditions that caused others not to invest in him, decide to go it alone and prove the agency wrong, or, not accept the decision and simply be angry. There are spiritual factors at work in men that God calls to plant churches, and there are practical factors as well, and it takes a lot of wisdom to know when or when not to endorse, commission, or invest in a man to plant a church.
It is also true that church planting agencies have cultural and organizational prejudices. If they only have experience in certain economic, cultural and social demographics they may find it difficult to believe that successful churches could be planted outside of their known experiential parameters. Even if cross-cultural mission demands that they extend themselves outside of their historical patterns they may be very reluctant to do so. Missions always take faith, and business investment strategies are not always compatible with mission efforts.
This doesn’t mean leaders should be foolish risk takers to try and make others believe they have faith. The combination of stewardship, faith, risk, and wisdom are always challenging for leaders. Yet, at the same time it is far too easy to simply always follow previous patterns and then be frustrated that things don’t change. As someone who seeks to see many more churches planted among the poor, and churches that are cross-cultural, I know that many agencies need to examine other models from other traditions that work, even if they have not been part of their own experience.
Yet, when examining a man to go out and plant a church there are some basic things we would hope that a man can do. We certainly want the man to be a Christian, we certainly want him to know the Bible, we want him to have some record of living the Christian life, some knowledge of what the church (at least in general) is supposed to look like, to do, and to be. If he is called to church planting he ought to be able, he will have to be able, to gather people together and to hold them together in worship and community.
We want the church planter to have the spiritual fortitude to work against the odds and opposition, to be a man of faith and prayer, and to endure the hardships of disappointment and frustration when gathering, recruiting, developing, and winnowing leaders. We need him to trust God when the finances are not sufficient, to trust God when people suddenly leave or turn against him, and to stay humble when things are a smashing success. We also want him to be a great husband and father while he literally works overtime to get everything done.
I remember being mobilized as a Reservist to go to war. My unit was sent to an Army post and while there each soldier was assessed as to whether they could physically endure an extended time of active duty. One of those tests was a trip to the dentist, and if you had bad teeth you would not be allowed to go to war. If they could pull those teeth, or fix the problem, you could go. Some were turned away. I thought it ironic that you had to have good teeth to go and possibly get killed. Yet, if you spent all your time in pain, or asking to go see a dentist while in a combat zone, it just wasn’t going to work for the Army.
It is amazing how many National Guard units are full of soldiers with bad teeth and sometimes those units cannot be mobilized. It is amazing how many young Americans are not suitable for military service because they are obese. Many can’t run a mile or do any of the physical things that we used to assume any healthy young person should be able to do. One can’t even get started in certain areas of life without some pre-conditions being met. One pre-condition for a church planter is evangelism.
A question usually asked potential church planters is, “have you ever led anyone to Christ? Have you presented the Gospel to them, seen them believe it, and prayed with them to be saved?” Far too many of the men graduating from our seminaries are not able to say “yes” to this question.
There are lots of ways to do evangelism. Some are not very biblical, some are really scary, some are complicated, some seem offensive and intrusive, and some don’t seem to give great results. Yet, at a very basic level evangelism has to be done if unbelievers are going to become believers. Evangelism can be inconvenient, and certainly can make us feel foolish and open to rejection. Yet, to be obedient to Christ in fulfilling the Great Commission it seems to be necessary.
Wouldn’t we all assume if the Bible tells pastors, “do the work of an evangelist!” (2 Timothy 4.5) that every pastor would know how to do it? Wouldn’t we all assume that pastors could teach the rest of us how to do it? The reality is that many of them don’t know how, and they can’t teach us what they don’t know themselves. It is far too easy to preach the Gospel without every sharing it personally with individuals. It is far too easy to give a generalized public call from the pulpit and not make it personalized, pointed, and call for a decision.
The question isn’t whether God can or does save people in a worship service, yes he does, praise him! The questions are; are we really faithful in sharing the good news, or, are we cowards, lazy, and constantly avoiding confrontation in some desire to protect ourselves? Are we failing to reap the harvest because we never go out in the fields to reap the fruit? Are we failing to see conversions and adult baptisms because we simply aren’t calling people to faith in Christ? Or, do we simply not believe Jesus can save people by faith? Have we stopped believing in the power of the Gospel for those who believe?
Who is at fault in this, why do potential church planters have no experience in winning people to Jesus? Here are some reasons, and I say these things as generalizations and realize that there are exceptions: First, local church pastors are not modeling this behavior, not mentoring in evangelism, not going out and doing evangelism and taking young believers with them. Second, local churches are not extending themselves outside of their own buildings to reach the lost –and this is a failure of pastoral and Elder leadership to not only call for it and demand it, but to lead in doing so. Third, youth groups are not training teens to share their faith to specific individuals and calling on them to believe. Fourth, seminaries give little attention to this training and fail to work with local churches in evangelistic efforts. Fifth, mission agencies do more kinds of service ministry then they do evangelistic ministry, or failing to use their service ministry as opportunities to have gospel conversations. Sixth, individuals who want to plant churches stop listening to Jesus and follow institutional church models, hoping for transfer growth instead of conversion growth, and replace raising Christian children rather than the evangelism of unchurched children.
So, I want to give just a word of exhortation and encouragement. If you think God might be calling you to be a church planter, go and witness to a non-believer about the love of God and the cross of Christ. Pointedly ask them if they want to become a follower of Christ and to be saved by him. Pray with them. Keep doing it until you hear someone say, “yes, I want Christ.” Do it some more, and keep doing it, and bring someone with you when you do it. You might actually be planting a church while getting ready to do so.