Because church planting seems to be “in” at the moment, there seems to be an endless supply of young men (and old) putting themselves forward as “planters”. Interestingly, very few feel “called” to housing schemes/council estates (although a few of us in the UK are seeing a slow but steady turn around in this). Perhaps the most popular question I get from people is: “How did you know that God called you to plant/revitalise churches?” The answer? I didn’t have the first clue.
Scott Thomas from Acts 29 has produced a list of 20 attributes to look for in a church planter. You can read the article here. If I was to list my top 10 attributes for a scheme/estate/favela planter, they would, in no particular order, be:
- A deep and unswerving faith in and love for Christ as shown by a healthy personal, spiritual prayer/devotional life.
- A visionary leader able to think 5 years ahead but also humble enough to let the Spirit lead and change any plan in a moment.
- Able to preach and apply God’s Word simply and clearly.
- A quick thinking, adaptable, entrepreneur.
- Able to draw people to himself.
- A heart for evangelism and mission.
- A deeply committed and loving husband of a biblically supportive and hospitable wife.
- Courageous with a spirit of perseverance and balls of steel.
- Mentally stable (ish) and not easily disappointed and distracted by periods of small and/or no obvious numerical growth.
- Must have a love of doctrine and theology with a particular understanding of the importance of a good ecclesiology in order to grow a healthy, biblically sound local body.
Scott’s article is a must read for those interested in church planting. However, I sometimes question if I had gone through an Acts29 type interview process a decade ago, would I have “passed”? It’s a good and helpful thing to do but we must also remember that God uses some of the most unlikeliest people in history to achieve His purposes. These processes are, I think, necessary guides in an area swarming with so many false starts and poorly thought out projects. Many men have been burned by the thought that they could plant a church and, once started, discovered just how much a war of attrition it can be. My worry is that we can over professionalise this area, particularly in my patch of the church planting world. I couldn’t even get a job stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s 15 years ago. That’s how unemployable I was. Yet, a decade and a half later I am thankful that God found a use for me by using latent gifts I never knew I had for the building up of His kingdom.
When I consider some of the members of my team (pre interns, interns and core team), pretty much all of them were (and are) a “risk”. I don’t imagine more than 2 of them would “make it” past the interview stage for most middle class churches hiring staff. I remember in Brasil when we grew a team of 12 full-time workers for our church and street child ministry out there. They were like the Brasilian dirty dozen – a biggest bunch of misfits and biblical illiterates you could never hope to find. A local church pastor asked me privately: “Mez, why do you employ these people when there are so many better candidates in the church?” My reply was simple: “Look who we’re trying to reach, Pastor. I’m not trying to reach good people. I’m trying to reach those that society has written off. And who better to do that than Christians that the church would not even consider ‘fit for service’. God has sent me the perfect team.” And I was right.
I know that the attributes of a team player is far different from the attributes of a lead planter. Don’t get me wrong – my standards are high and if you work for me then you will be pushed to the limit. My point is in housing schemes we just have to look a little bit deeper and see a little bit farther when we consider who may or may not be suitable. That’s why we have our three-tier structure in place. I am not saying we have it right and it is definitely not fail safe (but no system is) but we are constantly learning and evolving our processes as we succeed and fail.
In the UK, if you are asking this question then I recommend you talk to your pastor and you contact ACTS29WE. They have an intense interview process which, if nothing else, will crystallise your theology and help you discover where your gift set might best used for God’s glory. Use the tools on offer for us today but remember they are a guide and not the final answer for your life. If you think you want to plant or work in housing schemes contact me personally. We offer onsite, first hand ministry experience with ongoing evaluation, which hand in hand with the Acts29WE process (which we would recommend you do) pretty much offers one of the most rigorous procedures in the UK. If you are not in Scotland I can put you in touch with some good guys in pretty much every part of the UK. If you survive all that then you definitely fulfill the criteria of number 8 above!