For Church planting to begin there is the need for a suitable Church planter who will sow the Word of God in people’s hearts as they take the gospel of Christ to them. In this chapter we consider the kind of person that is needed.
a. A burdened worker.
You need to have someone who has a desire to plant a church by preaching the gospel in a given area. In Thessalonica Paul was the sower along with Silas. The Church planter needs to have a conviction from the Lord that this is the work he wants him to do. When people come to know Christ through the preaching of his Word, the Church planter will need to lead them to covenant together to form a church. There is the need for a leader, someone with a burden and a desire for this matter of church
b. A godly worker.
Having a burden for the work is the first step because more is required. This leads us to consider the kind of person the Church planter should be. Sometimes it is suggested that as the Church planter is not necessarily going to be the pastor of the Church that is planted, they do not need to meet the same qualifications as a pastor, like those that are set out in Titus 1, and in 1 Timothy 3. However, so often a church planter does serve in a pastoral role for at least a period of time, and so he needs to be a man who is full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, and a man whose character lends credibility to the church planting effort. A man of godly character is required. And it has always been so in the Lord’s work. Church planting is not so much a matter of the chronological age of the worker but it definitely is a matter of spiritual maturity. We know from the New Testament record that Paul and Silas were certainly godly men. Also a measure of practical ability to be involved in the unique work of church planting is very useful for pioneering work.
Paul was a mature believer, well versed in the Scriptures when he came to Thessalonica. As he and Silas went into the synagogue, which was Paul’s pattern at this time in his ministry, we read that he reasoned with the people out of the Scriptures and that he was speaking to them concerning Jesus as the Messiah. He had to have a level of understanding of the Scriptures in order to do that. To reason with someone means that you understand even the nuances of a truth or of a passage of Scripture, and so it is very important for a church planter to be someone who has an understanding of the Scriptures that is growing and reflects that they have been with the Lord and that they have spent much time in his Word. Paul urged Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
c. A distinction.
Having said that the Church planter must have a pastoral heart, there is none-the-less a distinction between the Church planter and a pastor. For instance Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
Paul seems to have been very much a pioneer. He was what we would call today a missionary. He was a church planter whereas the role of giving further instruction from the Scriptures and further guidance and direction in growth and discipleship is something that is typically done by a pastor who is committed to be with a group of people over a longer period of time. The role of a church planter is described in another way in the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. There he actually addressed this letter to the members of the church in this way in Philippians 1:1,
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
The leaders of the church were the overseers (pastors) and deacons, but about himself Paul wrote,
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus..”
So as church planters, Paul and Timothy were serving the Lord by going into a local area such as Philippi, by seeking to raise up a local membership with local leadership who would pastor the church on a longer term basis. So it seems that the church planter should definitely have a pastoral heart just in the same way that a pastor should have a pioneering spirit, but there is a distinction to be drawn between these two roles.
d. Team work.
An important thing to remember is that even when we work alone we should not work independently. Sometimes in church planting work we do work alone, but working alone and working independently are two different things. Even when we work alone, we should be under the authority of our local church that has overseers and deacons who are responsible for us in the Lord and ones that we are responsible and accountable to as well. To have their fellowship, prayers, guidance and support is so important. This is brought out for us when Paul, along with Barnabas, was sent out on his first Church planting or missionary journey. At that time Paul was called Saul, and this is what we read in Acts 13:1-3,
“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
So we see that the Church in Antioch were the ones who, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent Paul and Barnabas out to do this Church planting work. You can read the details of that journey in Acts 13 and 14. What is significant is what happened when they finished this task in Acts 14:26-27,
“From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
Undoubtedly having the prayers and support of the Antioch Church while on this journey would have been a real source of encouragement to these Church planters because their Church stood with them in the work. Likewise for the Church, when they heard of all that the Lord had done, their hearts must have been filled with praise to the Lord. Church planting work is team work between the Church planter and their sending Church. Paul and Barnabas were accountable to their sending Church which was most refreshing.
A church planter can certainly benefit from general theological training which might be gained through his home church or by correspondence course or attending Bible college, but he also needs some specific training and direction in the area of church planting and this is best achieved by working with a more experienced church planter. Paul had thirty different people in the New Testament who were his fellow workers and all of these were people who began by going with Paul. Encouragingly by end of their ministry many of them were going for Paul because they had been trained and mentored by him. There is huge value in ‘on the job’ training under a more experienced church planter.
There are a number of areas of support needed by those involved in Church planting. Perhaps the first and most obvious is that they ought to be supported by prayer. This is something which their sending Church can encourage on a regular basis. The Church planter also needs to be supported financially. This is an issue that needs to be addressed straightforwardly and needs to be addressed Scripturally. There are several ways that we could go about it. One is that the church planter could be self supported by the labour of his own hands. Paul at different times in his ministry plied his trade of tent making (see Acts 18:3). Indeed, over the centuries many of the Lord’s servants have done similarly. It is important to say that while Paul returned to his tent making trade to raise his own finance at times, he was always glad when he could exclusively devote his time to the ministry of God’s Word. And this leads on to the responsibility of the Church planter’s sending Church who really should take the bulk of the responsibility to financially support not only their pastor but also their missionary or Church planter. In John’s third letter he wrote about those who had gone out for the sake of the Name. John said his readers ought to support men like these. We need to say to our churches that if they are going to be involved in church planting they have to support it financially. There are instances in the New Testament where one church was not able to support a church planter fully so other churches in partnership shared this responsibility. It seems that the churches in the Lycas Valley at Colossae and Laodicea and Hieropolis tended to work this way. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia admonished them to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). In Galatians 6:6 he specifically writes about the support of those in gospel ministry:
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.”
Paul deals with this in an extended way to the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 9.
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the ploughman ploughs and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
Financial support is often limited. Churches are often reluctant for whatever reason to become involved financially. Indeed, when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he said in the fourth chapter that they were the only church that partnered with him in the matter of giving and receiving. Paul had planted many churches and some of those churches had grown and were of sufficient size numerically and financially that they could have really helped, but it was the poor Macedonians who gave out of their poverty. Significantly so often it is small churches who have given sacrificially to support their pastor or their church planter. While this is to their credit, how sad that Churches who both could and should have helped financially did not do so. The Church planter needs the support of their home Church in as wide a way as possible.
Posted in: Principles of Church Planting