8 tasks future church planters need to do today
Unless you plan on planting a church that steals people from other churches, in which case you shouldn’t plant, you need to grow as an evangelist.
Recently a friend in his first year of seminary asked me what kinds of classes he should take and what he should do while in school to prepare for church planting. This question was not on my mind during my time at SBTS in the early 2000’s, but in God’s providence I planted a church six years after graduation. As I reflect on the disciplines, gifts, and knowledge needed to plant a church, this is what I would do if I were a seminarian who hoped to plant a church.
1. Develop a close walk with Jesus
God doesn’t call a man to church planting so he can ignore him while trying to build his church. Take what you are learning in your classes and meditate on them deeply. Learning Greek, Hebrew, and reading theology are not merely academic exercises, but should drive you deeper into God’s truth so you can know more of him, his glory, and his ways.
Let a devotional passion drive all of your studies so you don’t become a theological bobblehead, but a man who has a deeper knowledge of the God who made and redeemed you. Read, study, and pray as a Christian who needs the gospel as much now as you did the day you believed.
2. Be an active member of a healthy church
During my time at SBTS I was often astonished at how many cars stayed in the parking lot on Sunday mornings. You cannot learn how to lead a church effectively if you don’t know how to be part of a church led by someone other than yourself. Become an active member at a healthy church which is either a church plant or a church that plants churches.
Gather with the church each week, serve in ministries, and get to know people. Ask an older man or one of the elders—and not necessarily the pastor—to disciple you so you continue to grow into godliness. Taking part in a healthy church in this way will help you understand what kind of church you need to plant.
3. Cultivate friendships with non-Christians
One of seminary’s greatest dangers is the temptation to spend all your time with Christians who are studying theology for a living. You spend four years around a specific kind of people, who speak a specific kind of lingo, and when you graduate, you may have lost the ability to have normal conversations with people who don’t share your interests. Because of this, you have strong theoretical opinions about evangelism but you don’t have experience actually sharing the gospel.
Unless you plan on planting a church that steals people from other churches, in which case you shouldn’t plant, you need to grow as an evangelist. To do this, you must work and hobby outside of the seminary community so you develop friendships with people who don’t follow Jesus. Don’t treat them as evangelistic projects, but as friends. Hear their stories, know their difficulties, and learn how to speak the gospel to them with clarity and compassion.
4. Cultivate discipling relationships
When you plant, what are you going to do with the new Christians who become part of your church? If you don’t have experience discipling other believers, you will be paralyzed as you think about what to do to help these new babes in the faith. Since teaching others who will be able to teach others will be central in your plant, you should initiate these relationships now.
Start meeting with a couple of other men to work through a book of the Bible or a good Christian book together. Talk together about where you are struggling and seeing evidences of grace. Do this informally as part of your everyday life and later as part of leading a group at your church.
5. Focus on classes in apologetics
Everything you learn in seminary will be important for church planting. You need theology, languages, and church history for your preaching and teaching ministry. Preaching and pastoral ministry classes will help you develop needed for the pastoral aspects of planting.
If you want to be a church planter who actually reaches non-Christians in your community, you need to spend as much time as you can growing in your understanding of apologetics. The veneer of superficial Christianity in America fades every day and more people voice their real objections to the gospel message.
If you have friends who aren’t Christians, know how to talk through their doubts with compassion, and provide clear answers to their questions you will see some of them come to faith. In addition, they will tell their other non-Christian friends that you are the kind of person they can talk to about their questions. This will provide you with even more opportunities to speak the good news of the gospel.
6. Do your supervised ministry experience with a church planter
Taking church planting classes will be helpful. You would be exposed to church planting models and become familiar with the literature in the field. Your instructor for the class will likely be a man who has planted a church who can share experiences and best practices. You would likely walk away with a better understanding of how to plant a church. For this knowledge to become real to you it will be necessary to see how church planting works up close.
Students can be tempted to treat supervised ministry experience as a necessary evil and do as little as possible to fulfill the requirements. Resist this impulse and see it as an opportunity to grow in areas where you have no experience. Find a church planter to work with and complete a project which will help him while also being a learning experience for you.
Use the weekly meetings with him to learn about his weekly schedule, struggles, regrets, and wins. Ask what he would do differently and what he thinks he did right. Put your all into this experience and it will be a benefit to you and the church planter.
7. Find a good residency program after graduation
One of the best developments for future church planters to come about in the last decade has been the establishment of residency programs. Many of these programs take place in healthy church plants who are working at planting other churches as well.
Take a year or 18 months after graduation and learn from one of these churches who know how to plant churches. Learn what the life of a church planter looks like up close. Gain the greatest understanding you can of church administration and the development of healthy church systems as these are likely to be the areas where you have the least experience.
Have the pastors over the program speak into where they believe you are strong and where you need to grow. Have them assess your gifting and seek their input on what your next steps need to be in preparing to plant.
8. Work hard, for the need is great
If everything I just laid out sounds like a lot of work, it is. Church planting demands much time, energy, self-discipline, and organization. You will wake up early, work all day, spend time with your kids, connect with your wife, meet with people, and fall into bed tired at the end of the day.
Seminary helps you prepare for this as you are working on projects for multiple classes and working a job. Put your hand to the plow in everything you do now and you will not have to develop this discipline later.
With the number of unchurched people in the United States on the rise and the billions of people who have not heard the Gospel around the globe, we need new churches everywhere. More opportunities and resources are at our disposal now than we have ever had, but none of these guarantee your plant will be effective. Grow as a Christian, an evangelist, and disciple maker while learning the nuts and bolts of church planting. These disciplines will prepare you to be an effective church planter in the future.