Editors’ note: This article begins an occasional series called “Ask a Professor” in which a member of the SBTS faculty will answer practical or theological questions related to preparing for ministry in the local church. If you have a question you’d like to see answered in this series, e-mail our blog editor at jrobinson@sbts.edu.

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Question: “Am I a church planter or church revitalizer? How do I know which I should pursue?” 

That question is one that many young men wrestle with as they consider God’s calling on their lives and ministries. As one who has been both a church planter and a church revitalizer, let me offer a few thoughts.

First, since studies show that 80–85% of churches are plateaued or declining, the sheer numbers dictate that most young pastors will be involved in church revitalization versus church planting.  Even if you desire to be a church planter, you may spend some or much of your ministry in revitalization.

Second, both options are noble callings. Both are kingdom enterprises. Both require many of the same spiritual qualifications and leadership skills. But a few distinguishing characteristics seem to rise to the surface in both “successful” church planters and revitalizers.

Called to plant

Church planters must be men of vision, with a high level of intrinsic motivation. They need to be men of faith who are not afraid to take risks. They must have a “holy tenacity” for the task.

Church planters have a specific vision for the church plant and invite those who share this vision to join in. A church planter functions like a college basketball coach who can recruit players to his specific vision.

Called to revitalize

Church revitalizers must be visionary shepherds. Revitalizers must have a pastor’s heart to love and shepherd the existing members in that church. A revitalizer inherits many visions and has to shepherd those in his trust towards a unified vision. A church revitalizer operates like a high school basketball coach, who works with the players he already has.

Revitalizers also must have strategic patience. They need to take a longer-term approach, at times patiently implementing “tiny baby steps” towards change. They need to be good listeners, to “hear” the story of the church. They need to understand the church’s past victories and also what has helped bring about the need for revitalization. They must be able to work with persons across all age spans. They need a commitment to minister to broken, hurting people.

Either way, it’s about the gospel

Whether planting or revitalizing, pastors must know, share, and live out the gospel. They must passionately seek to know Christ, even as they are making him known. Many of the qualifications for church planting and church revitalization mirror one another, but in a few areas some characteristics seem more conducive towards one calling than the other.

The best assessment for an aspiring pastor will come from those in his own home church, from those who know him and who have seen him do ministry. What do they see as his strengths/weaknesses?  How has God “wired him up?” As in all decisions of this type, seek the counsel of others but ultimately trust in the leading of God.

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Tim Beougher serves as associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at SBTS. He has written and edited numerous works related to evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual awakening, including Overcoming Walls to Witnessing, Training Leaders to Make Disciples, Evangelism for a Changing World, Accounts of a Campus Revival: Wheaton College 1995, and Richard Baxter and Conversion. He currently serves as senior pastor of West Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville and has ministry experience as an evangelist, church planter, and interim pastor.