There are no shortages of lists outlining just what should be looked for in a potential church planter, so I’m simply adding to a great deal of really good work that has already been done to answer this question. As much as I’ve studied these and similar lists and as good as these lists are, I always tended to ask myself if Joe, the high-capacity unbeliever, could replicate the characteristics often listed. By pouring this question over all the lists I’ve reviewed, my own experience in assessing and working with church planters, I’ve narrowed it down to three simple characteristics that you’re looking for.
It’s also going to be helpful to focus on the “One Thing” as Gary Keller says in his book baring the same title, “One Thing”. While I’ve list three, there is one that canopies them all, and that is biblical saturation.
Here are some of the great lists that are out there: Acts 29, Stadia, Ed Stetzer, Churchleaders.com and Multiply Vineyard (There are MANY more. These were just a few to get you thinking.)
1- Biblical Saturation (The One Thing)
I could go on forever with this one, but first it may be helpful to give some sort of definition to underpin what I mean by “Biblical Saturation.” Biblical saturation is a person that is soaked in accurate life motivating truths of scripture. It’s not just knowing a lot of bible. There are a number of goofy Theologians that know a lot of bible.
For starters, the guy who’s biblically saturated isn’t even going to be in front of you if he’s not pretty sure church planting might be his calling because he’s attentively abiding in the love and reality of Jesus. The guy who’s biblically saturated already understands a great deal of church, including the authority of the local church in the lives of God’s people. Their belief in a Sending church confirming and sending planters isn’t simply driven by what they know of statistical success, it’s driven by the reality of scripture. You see where I’m going, and this could go on forever.
Now, this didn’t used to be on my list at all. In fact, it isn’t overtly on many lists at all. This caused me reason for pause. In list after list, you rarely find it more than a running assumption at best. What generally tops the lists are the planters vision and leadership capacity. I’ve heard it said more than once, “Is this guy a high-impact leader.” Now, I’m sure that the folks who have spent a lot of time developing these lists would look at this and scoffingly say of course biblical saturation is the “One Thing”. To which I would retort, then why isn’t it? Biblical saturation cannot simply be a running assumption in either the discover of church planters or church leaders at large. Biblical saturation stops Joe Non-Christian and Billy Unchristian from being able to replicate anything the church planter is attempting for the Kingdom.
When you have a person who is biblically saturated, you have a person that has a greater capacity for leadership, teachability, humility, wisdom, and pliability. You have a person that meets the requirements for leading the church, and no matter how much can be faked in assessments, you cannot fake biblical saturation. Don’t be fooled by the counterfeit saturation either. You get the guy who’s spouting off scripture after scripture to support every 2nd and 3rd level issue he’s moved to a 1st level issue, then you’ve got a problem and the wrong guy. Fake saturation is a guy who has all the right theological answers and very little patience for anyone who isn’t going to get there right now. There is the “right”, that he knows all too well, and there is the “right now”, which he is very uncomfortable with. People live in the “right now.” We have to know the “right” and have the patience to pastor them to the “right now.” Even if it takes a lifetime.
2- “Ex” and “In” trinsic motivation
This motivation flows from biblical saturation. This is a motivations from extrinsic and intrinsic realities. This person’s abiding in Christ has revealed their life’s design is culminating in the call to start a new church. I used to simply say this was Intrinsically Motivated, and I think I assumed the extrinsic portions as if it went without saying. It doesn’t. It must be said, and a distinction must be made because extrinsic motivation is motivation from outside of you, like the design and calling on your life to plant that includes molding and scenarios that you couldn’t or wouldn’t have created. Intrinsic motivation is the eternal fire stoked by your abiding in Christ while persevering through life’s challenges. They work in tandem to create biblical motivation.
3- Faithful Patience
I want it all, and I want it now. Those aren’t just Queen lyrics from there 1989 track with a similar title. This is the very opposite of what you’re looking for in a church planter. The problem is that we’re allowing the world to tell us what the bible was meant to tell us regarding church leaders and church planters. We think we’re looking for the guy that’s gonna go whether anyone says it’s a good idea or not. I recall being assessed as a church planter with this type of “I want it all, and I want it now” attitude, and it was revered as a good thing. It wasn’t, and it still shouldn’t be. Too often guys are charging into church planting with no or very little sending church buy-in, support, and commissioning. Faithful patience affirms biblical authority as we see given to the church. It’s not easy, but you want to invest in a church planter who has displayed faithful patience.
These aren’t sexy. They even border on the verge of boring, but the church planting world needs a dose of simple and “boring”. Think about the entire scenario like an umbrella. The canopy is biblical saturation. The shaft is motivation, and the handle is faithful patience. The one thing you’re looking for is a biblical saturation that leads to a biblical motivation that displays itself in faithful patience. We need to stop looking for the next Steve Jobs and begin looking for the next Apollos.
BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.