How do you know if you’re qualified to be a church planter? (1)

By Andrew Munneke

So you are interested in church planting, or maybe even feel the call to plant a church? You marvel at the beauty of the Gospel and are filled with excitement for the potential of what your church may become. There is just one problem: you don’t know what qualifies you to plant a church.

Character and Weakness

A month ago we took our 3-year-old son to a boat show. He loves getting behind the steering wheel, running up and down the aisle, and imagining we are out on the lake having a good time. My imagination ran with him, and for a moment I actually thought about what it would be like to take my son out on Beaver Lake with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs.

And then I remembered…I know nothing about boats. I don’t know how to take care of them, how to winterize them, or even how the engines work.

Many aspiring planters see church planting like that boat show. It seems fun, exciting and adventurous, but they know very little about how they are wired. Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. What will take you out of ministry is not your vision statement, personality type, or your leadership pipeline—it’s your character.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul penned his qualifications for a leader in the church. Go ahead and get your Bible and open it (I’ll wait because I want you to make note of this). How many of those qualifications that Paul mentions are skilled oriented? Just one—the ability to teach. All the others are character-driven. It’s 10 percent what you know and 90 percent of who you are. So according to Paul, what qualifies you for leadership in the body of Christ is not your logo or your new cutting edge way of doing church; it’s are you someone who loves Jesus more than anything else? 

{ Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. }

Now take a look at that list again. Do you know where you a weak? Are you self-aware to know what you run to for significance, identity, purpose and hope instead of Christ? Do you know the sin that can take you out of the ministry because Satan knows it, and he is coming after you? In church planting, every weakness is magnified and every character flaw is tested. It exposes the idols of your heart. 

The Heart and Glory

So let’s just pause and ask yourself this question: What is my heart really after? One overarching issue I see with church planters specifically is a kind of glory-hunger. It’s more of an inward focus vs. an upward focus. More than a focus of, “I want God to do a good work in my city,” I’m more concerned about what God has done or will do through me.

In other words, if something was done through someone else, would I still be grateful for that? Or would I give glory to God regardless of if He used me? If we’re honest—both pastors and planters—something we have a hard time giving up is this hope of God wanting to do things through us.

Yes, we want to see God glorified and made known. That is a part of a church planter’s heart, and metrics and numbers tie-in to that. We want to see growth and impact—more missional communities, baptisms, social media engagement—constantly measuring and evaluating our own success by metrics.

In the first few years of planting The Hill, my mood would be swayed based on attendance or the feedback I was getting. It would destroy me if I ran into someone who visited our church wearing a T-shirt from another church in town. Church planting spread my insecurities like a rash that never would seem to go away, and the more it was scratched the wider it spread.looking-down-the-aisle

But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. If your identity is not in Christ but in this church plant, then it’s going to unravel you.

I think a desire of humanity is to be a part of marvelous things and see great, magnificent things happen. We love going to Razorback games, and we like it when our friends like our social media posts. We are drawn to this kind of glory. This is engrained in us because God designed us to be with Him, but because of the Fall we’ve lost intimacy and now seek the created world for that glory.

Adam and Eve wanted to seek the glory of themselves, and we can fall into the same sin of glory-hunger. But the beauty of the Gospel is that this desire to be around glory—to be known, approved, accepted, that you matter—can only be and is fulfilled in Christ.

When Jesus gives the analogy, “Come to me you who are weak and weary…” especially for people in ministry, the reason the yoke is easy for us is that Jesus is pulling the weight. We can go into ministry, bring Him honor, and lift Him up without trying to prove ourselves in ministry. It frees us of the weight. The one who fulfills the ministry is not you. You’re just being faithful to what He’s called you to do.

{ But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. }

As church planters we get so excited about the potential of what our church can be, or we are in awe of how the church is reaching people. We might have the noble motivations of reaching people for Christ, but are we really in awe of the beauty and power of Christ? Are people being reached, not because of a logo and slick campaign, but because God is honoring our faithfulness to do what He’s called us to do?

There is just as much honor and glory for the church that brings one person to Jesus as there is a church that’s brought 1,000 people to Him. It’s all a miracle, and this should make us all move in awe. Maybe God did give someone a higher domain or blessing than another, but knowing He is working frees you to be the pastor and church planter that God has called and needs you to be.

In church planting we get caught up in, “This is going to be amazing! Sexy! We’re going to solve and we’re going to fix all these issues!” It’s beautiful, but it’s also difficult and hard. Like marriage, it’s not that every day is perfect. It’s that a lot of days aren’t perfect, but going to bed and saying, “I’m fighting for you and pursuing you.” That’s what makes it beautiful—because it isn’t easy.

Identity in Christ

That’s why I want to bring you back to 1 Timothy 3. Instead of looking at what we think qualifies us, even though gifts matter and personalities matter, our character is the first thing that matters. Even for people with the best intentions to spread the Gospel, there still needs to be a season of pausing and using Paul’s character test to go deeper. To ask, “What are my moral weaknesses? What is my heart really after?” instead of asking, “Am I capable of doing this?”

I can truly say there are days in my ministry and The Hill Church that I have marveled at what God has done and what I have done. One needs to be fought for. One needs to be fought against. My feeling goes to the thought of not being successful, or things not going according to plan, vs. doing what God’s called me to do.

So maybe for you, where you are right now, the first step is actually to know that your identity is in Christ and not who you are or what you do—a husband, a baker, etc. The problem with this is 1. it’s sin and 2. it actually takes away your identity. With one change, all of a sudden my identity could be shattered. If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart?

{ If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart? }

If my identity is in Christ—where it should be, the one thing that does not change—then my identity is never in crisis. My church could be 100 or 1,000 people, or my core group could leave, and I’m still secure!

We all have times when we know the Gospel but don’t believe the Gospel. I can know God loves me and is in control, but anxiety shows because I don’t believe it. I need to remind myself and trust in what I know is true. Anxiety feels lonely, abandoned, but when identity is found in Christ, it’s something we believe but don’t forget.

I’m not sitting here four years into church planting perfected; I still have weaknesses. I know my weaknesses will continue to be my weaknesses, but I need to continue to put my trust in Christ.

Ready for the next step? Start reading the second blog of this series.

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