There are many places of service in the church. One category of ministry is pastoring. Then there are sub-categories, like children's pastor, teaching pastor, etc. Not lesser ministries, just more targeted areas of service. One sub-category is church planter. Pastors who plant churches have a very specific calling with accompanying gifts. It is not a better calling, just different.
And it is important to understand that it is different, because nothing spells disaster like an NFL kicker lining up as a center (even I know that, and I don't watch football). You can be a wonderful pastor, and not have the gifts of a church planter. I have asked people for whom who I have great respect and are gifted in ministry, "Do you plan to be a church planter?" And they have told me, "No, that's not how I'm wired." They are making a difference in the Kingdom, but they realize that they don't have what it takes to plant a church.
It takes a wise and sensitive person to realize what God does not want them to do.
So how do you know if you are a church planter? I want to consider six things that are indicators you may be called to plant churches.
1. Pattern of Ministry Initiation
If the first thing you want to start is a church, that's not a good idea. That's not a good way to test if you are, indeed, a "starter."
Rather, there should be a pattern of ministry initiation, which may include starting Bible studies, compassion-based ministries, etc. Is there a consistent flow of "launch" in your ministry life? Starting other ministries can help you figure out if God wants you to plant a church.
Launching things is difficult but a great learning process. There is a Biblical principle that says those who are faithful with a little will be given more to steward. If you have never started a ministry, it is highly unlikely that God would ask you to plant a church.
2. Pattern of Ministry Multiplication
Are you able to train others in an area of ministry and then let them go to lead that area? Or are you more likely to just do it yourself—so it can be done "right"? If how something is done is always more important to you than who is doing it, church planting will be a very difficult ministry path for you.
If you have a pattern of connecting people to ministry roles and then releasing them to grow into those roles, then you have a key characteristic that is essential in church planting.
3. Personal Wiring
Ask yourself, "Am I wired to be a church planter?" There are characteristics church planters possess that are unique– even all pastors don't have these traits. God has built church planters a little differently.
Now, this wiring can drive some people crazy, even in your church, because there is ingrained in you this constant desire or drive to start new things. Not only do you seem ADD, but you are also simultaneously calm with it. It is the beauty and the beast.
If God wants you to plant churches, He has wired you to function in accordance with your focus.
4. Holy Dissatisfaction
I really want to be careful with this one. A person in ministry can feel dissatisfied for various reasons. Perhaps it is Monday morning, and no one is shaking your hand telling you how much they enjoyed the message. That can leave you flat and dissatisfied. It could be that you are just a dissatisfied person in general.
The fact that you're angst ridden and don't like the church you're in is not necessarily a sign that God has called you to plant a church.
And so I want to be very careful to say that we are looking for a holy dissatisfaction, not a generic dissatisfaction.
I've had plenty of people sit across the desk and tell me they felt called to church planting because they were dissatisfied with where they were. Some were dissatisfied because the church wouldn't give them an opportunity to preach. Well, it may be they didn't give them the opportunity to preach because they had no gifts and skills in that area. But for them, that was a "sign."
There is a big difference between circumstances letting you down, and God sending you out. And while negative experiences can be part of God's stirring the waters in your ministry life, it is good to have a mentor in your life who can offer discernment. "Yep, God is finished with you here, and you need to do something new to accomplish His mission," or, "Dude, quit your whining, and get back in there for another round."
5. Family Commitment
God will not lead you to start a church if it means you have to leave your spouse and kids.
There needs to be a family commitment if you want to be engaging in your church planting. If you want to plant a church, but your wife says, "I'm not getting this from God," sit down and talk with your family. Let them know your intentions.
It should be a cause of concern, however, if there is no affirmation of the gifting or calling within your household. My wife has some veto power in this area. If she senses that it isn't the direction God is leading, I receive that. If God has not led us both in a direction, then neither of us will go in that direction. Church planters can get "drunk with vision" as they are filled with passion and enthusiasm.
If you are married to a godly spouse, God can and will use that person who knows you better than anyone else to red light or green light you.
6. Church Affirmation
If your church is remarkably hesitant about your church planting gifting and call, then you should be hesitant about your gifting and your call.
It can be a tricky situation if you're going to plant a church out of the church. They may not be against you planting a church, they just aren't cool with you starting a church one block over and siphoning off people. But part of the process is to see if you are in a church that recognizes you meet the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
It is also important for church planters to be able to build partnerships with sponsoring and sending churches. Along with this, a church planter assessment is in order. Church affirmation is biblical and can be one of your greatest indicators and components.
Other things to consider
Obviously, there are other factors that weigh into planting a church. Have you considered the location? Part of the nature of church planting is the idea that you are going to a certain place to plant. This isn't about sowing seeds by throwing them into the air and hoping they find a good place to land. It is about digging in, preparing the soil, and planting a growing organism. You need a draw to a certain location, people group. There's something about where you're going that says to people, "This is something I want to consider being called to, and planting, and being a part of."
Often times, we need someone to give us a straight answer. Charles Spurgeon would have young preachers tell him they felt called to plant churches. He would ask them about their vision, their plan. Then after hearing them he would either affirm it, or would tell the preacher, "Son, I just don't see it." And that would be it.
One of the things we need today is people to honestly affirm, or say, "I just don't see it." Hopefully these six indicators will help you discover if church planting is right for you.
Is there a certain indicator that most aspiring planters miss? What would you add to the list of indicators?
For those of you considering church planting, why not take a few minutes and take the Church Planter Candidate Assessment—one of our research tools to help you get an early indication if church planting is a right fit for you. The assessment is regularly $88, but you can take it for the discounted price of $29 if you are considering planting with one of our sponsor organizations.