I met with a pastor of a large and influential church with the hopes of engaging him in a church planting movement for our city. Over lunch, his observation about church planters surprised me, "I find that most church planters are characterized by two things: arrogance and impatience."
He quickly added, "And I guess I should not be surprised at that. Who else believes that he can gather disinterested people, lead them to a new life in Christ and help them embrace a mission to change the world with little or no physical resources?"
I think the second comment was his way of trying to diffuse some of the tension in the room. After all, I am a church planter—you know, arrogant and impatient. But he was right about church planters, and that is deadly.
The future of church planting requires a commitment to weed out arrogance and impatience in the men who plant churches. A church might get started with an arrogant and impatient leader, but it will not grow healthy with such a leader.
In the church planting movement, we must address arrogance and impatience with thorough assessment, training, and coaching. It's a slower process, but it's better.
Finding the Right Candidates
When considering potential church planters, we have to take time to connect and relate with them, beyond a couple of phone calls and check-in meetings. Assessing pastors must invest enough in potential church planters to see strengths and flaws. After all, they are the gatekeepers.
Even moderately discerning people can feel it instantly, but it's one thing to detect arrogance and another thing to call it out. It's a bit like telling someone they have bad breath and then presuming to know the cure. That's why church-planting movements must prepare to identify and communicate uncomfortable truths to men being assessed as potential church planters. Assessors have to say hard things like, "You seem to struggle with arrogance."
But what if the potential church planter is only slightly arrogant, his breath not that bad until you get close? Assessors look out for warning signs: candidates who tend to make unilateral decisions, have poor learning practices, or take undo risks based on a hunch. This kind of arrogance can leave upstart churches with weak, compliant lemmings instead of healthy leaders.
Assessors must be just as ruthless in detecting impatience, too. It's a character flaw that most often surfaces in anger, insecurity, or a critical spirit. They'll ask about how a man expresses his anger and if he tends to be hypercritical in evaluating others. If he is married, his wife might speak of his angst about the lost and his passion for God's glory, but assessors will push to see if this is a hint that the man is immature and impatient.
Sometimes potential church planters feel like the assessors are picking at scabs, but their thoroughness serves the couple, the possible church plant, and God's Kingdom. They help preserve the vital movement of new churches being planted and becoming healthy enough to multiply. Overall, stronger assessments take more time, but they create stronger church planters and healthier churches.
Training and Coaching the Right Way
Training for church planters forces eager pastors to develop patience because it's so time-intensive. It also calls for men to humble themselves to learn from others. In the Acts 29 region I serve, church planters must undergo a year-long residency program. As a part of a collaborative group of church planting residencies in Houston, our church trained nine church planters in our first two years.