I have heard the advice on more than one occasion: “A church planter has to be entrepreneurial and adventurous. If you don’t have those qualities, you might want to consider doing something else.” For a long time, I eliminated the possibility of church planting because this description has never been a good description of me. I started a lawn mowing business once, but I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as “entrepreneurial.” And though my wife and I have embarked on the crazy adventure of trying to raise five children in the Lord, I don’t think that’s really what the experts are talking about. I don’t have tattoos, and I’m not into extreme sports. I don’t fit the stereotypical church planting mold.
But what if the stereotypical church planter description is wrong? And what if our current church planting stereotypes are preventing faithful laborers from taking up the call to go plant gospel-centered churches?
Baptist missionary William Carey’s description of his ministry has always resonated deeply with me. Carey, well known today as “the Father of Modern Missions,” was a tireless and persevering laborer. It took years of passionate convincing before the churches in his local association agreed to send him out to the mission field. He toiled for years under intense cultural and domestic pressures before seeing his first convert to Christ in India. Carey once described his ministry in the following way: “I can plod. I can persevere to any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
I would identify more with the label “plodder” than with the label “adventurous entrepreneur.” And plodding along at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church (Lexington Campus) was what I had been doing for over a decade when the opportunity arose to plant a church out of Ashland in Oldham County, Kentucky. My fellow pastors at Ashland, and eventually the whole congregation, thought that I was the man for the job. One year later, after moving my family across the state and resettling in a brand new community to undertake this call, I’ve learned a few lessons about the call of the church planter that I’d like to share:
1. The qualifications for church planting are the same as the qualifications for pastoring.
The Bible does not list a separate set of qualifications for church planters. The church planter, just like the pastor, is called to faithfully preach the gospel, stay devoted to his family, and live a lifestyle that’s consistent with the gospel before outsiders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). Notice that “entrepreneurial” and “adventurous” are not found in these lists.
I would add one more qualification for church planters: the need to be sent by a local church. Church planting is not easy and it’s not a project that can be undertaken alone. In the book of Acts, we find the church at Antioch sending out church planters and missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). These men were known by the church and proven. A healthy church planting model will fall under the supervision and commissioning of an established, gospel-preaching local church. Church planting is not for renegades with dreams of establishing the right kind of church. Church planting is for faithful men who have proven themselves in the fire of real life ministry in submission to a local church.
2. Church planters don’t need to be entrepreneurs; they need to be risk-taking disciples.
Where does the idea that church planters need to be adventurous and entrepreneurial come from? I believe it comes from a valid concern coupled with a deficient understanding of ministry and discipleship. Those who argue for the entrepreneurial church planter are expressing a concern that the church planter be willing to take bold risks in the name of Jesus. That’s a valid concern. However, the problem with this view is that a distinction is being made that assumes a pastor in an established church does not necessarily need to be such a risk taker.
Here’s the truth: we don’t need entrepreneurs; we need bold gospel warriors. The idea that the established pastor is a safer position that requires less risk is simply not biblical. Every Christian is called to put his or her life on the line for King Jesus. The gospel frees us to take such risks: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18). According to Jesus, we are untouchable.
Whether you’re entrepreneurial or not, following Jesus is not safe. Bearing witness to a crucified and resurrected King is not and will never be a conventional approach to life and ministry.
My fear is that potential ministers of the gospel will view established church pastorates as opportunities to be ministers in a safe environment that doesn’t require risk, while leaving church planting for the adventurers. But if we’re viewing ministry from the perspective of the cross, we will embrace risk wherever God has placed us. Ministry is always dangerous. For that matter, discipleship is always dangerous. Do church planters need to be risk takers? Absolutely! But so do all of us.
3. Plodding is more valuable to church planting than adventure seeking.
Often, when we scour the church for potential missionaries or church planters, we look for certain qualities. We look for the people who are always active, going on short-term mission trips and racking up frequent flyer miles. We tend to associate church planting and missions with loud, out-of-the-ordinary personalities and lifestyles.
But might I suggest that an adventurous lifestyle can actually be a detriment to church planting. What happens when the new church planting opportunity loses its shine? What happens when the new exciting ministry settles into a mundane routine? What does the adventure seeker do when the mission is calling him to plod? Too often, adventure seekers go looking for the next source of excitement. An adventurer may help get something started, but it takes a plodder to see it through to completion.
Church planting is hard. There are days when I show up and think, “Is this it?” There are months that go by without any significant numerical growth. When you’re starting a church, two families out of town on vacation can make your church plant feel like a small group. It’s a grind. Give me a church full of saints who are willing to faithfully labor through those unglamorous, less exciting days. Give me a patient gospel plodder. I didn’t plan to be a church planter, but by God’s grace, that’s what I am.