I get the “vice-regent” reality of the people of God displaying the glorying of God in all the world, but most of the time I feel a lot less like a “Vice-regent” and much more like the “court Jester.” I field a few different types of questions regarding church planting in a variety of different settings. One of those questions is, “What makes the church planter distinct”, or more commonly stated, “How do I know I’m a church planter?”
I find that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and far too often we are so sheltered under the weight of our weaknesses that we are hardly able to recognize and accept our strengths. We are so easily convinced of our Jester-ness that we don’t find much space to embrace our Vice-regent-ness. It isn’t just for the church planter to take an honest look at who they are, all of humanity should do that continually, but for the church planter, they have to be honest and humble in believing who it is God has created them to be. Yes, we are all just clowns, but God in His Glory has chosen clown to be kings. Here are some characteristics I find most important in being a church planter.
Michael cut from his 10th grade basketball team. The Beatles rejected by Decca Recording studios. Steve Jobs fired at 30 from the company he loved and started. Eminem, an addict high school dropout that could not even get suicide right. Walt Disney fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination”. Albert Einstein speechless until he was four years old. Looking for that one leading characteristic in a church planter can find us walking on a tightrope of culture and character, but I believe that Intrinsic Motivation has to be the primary character of the successful church planter. All other characteristics assume that they can rebound to the same intensity after failure. Failure, discouragement, despair, depression, are in constant ebbs and flows in church planting. They are kept in an upward trajectory given the presence of intrinsic motivation regarding the planter and their family. Can the planter hear “no” and ask again? Can the planter misstep and keep stepping? Can the planter crash and pick up the pieces? This characteristic is the engine driving everything. Intrinsic Motivation is the camshaft driving all other pistons of church planter characteristics, without which, all other characteristics disengage. Intrinsic Motivation is the one trait that has a direct link into the level at which the church planter is saturated in Jesus Christ. Christ may or may not have been the fuel for intrinsic motivation with the Beatles, Jordan, or Jobs, but they were not planting churches. Jesus is the fuel for intrinsic motivation that drives the church planter.
Like all characteristics, you can learn and cultivate the characteristic of vision capacity, but it takes more time than most characteristics to cultivate. Vision Capacity is so utterly fundamental to the planter’s ability to begin the process. To be a person that can project into the future beyond the present is not a giftedness that everyone has. For the planter, it is a character trait that hums in the background of all life. You can ask the visionary what they would do in a number of scenarios and they can come up with next and continual steps that feed into the ultimate destination. Vision capacity is a rhythm of knowing where you want to go and how you are going to get there. The tangible and the intangible working in unison. Many are busy but to no common end. Many want to have a common end and have no idea what to busy themselves with. Vision Capacity at its core flows balanced between these two.
Effectively Build Relationships
If you cannot make friends, you cannot plant a church, at least not in a lead planter role. I have been around some really bright young men who desired to be church planters that were so stilted in their talking with a spectrum of humans that you are left wondering if they have some sort of social anxiety disorder. Can they chat it up with some small segments that are just like them, probably, but church planting, especially in metros, is a multigenerational and multicultural reality that a church planter has to be able to function within at some extraordinary capacity. You are going to operate most naturally and functionally in that which most reflects your life situation. That’s normal, but the planter has to be able to move in and out of a variety of generational and cultural segments.
What about my Spouse?
I think it might be surprising that I did not put Spousal Cooperation or Relating to the Unchurched in my top three. Exercising Faith, Creating Ownership in Ministry, Responsive to the Community, and Committed to Church Growth are all so very important, and it is even more important to recognize how thin the line is with each of the characteristics and the order in which they are most important. They are all critical pieces. I have tried to isolate philosophical worldviews of the planter. What is the scaffolding of the church planter’s characteristics? Are there traits that can be expanded to engulf the others? I think so, and I think these three get to the overarching realities and create hooks for other traits to hang. Having your wife be on board can look like a variety of things. One planter’s wife is the admin guru of the church, while another planter’s wife is focused on being the best mother, wife, and friend she can be. Both are successful and both wives are doing what’s best for them and their gifted passions, but we are too often tempted to look at each from a vantage point that expects one specific reality from a planter’s wife. This is exactly why I pause when I hear someone place Spousal Cooperation at the top of their church planting list. The next question that should be asked when hearing Spousal Cooperation top the list is for their definition of Spousal Cooperation. There are a thousand different views of the wife’s role in church planting, oddly enough, few of those include the opinion of the wife in question.
Planting is simple, but takes hard work. The Intrinsically Motivated are the most well equipped to handle the ups and downs of panting. At the end of the day though, this list may be helpful, but I’ve seen God use the most unlikely and the most likely to plant churches. At the end of the day, it’s about God’s movement. Maybe the most critical characteristic may be the ability to see God’s movement and have the courage to plug-in to that while feeling like a complete clown.
BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.