August 17, 2017

Do You Have What it Takes?

Dave Barba

The phone rings. A fine Christian layman tells you that his church is compromising. His and three other families are eager to start a new church. Is this “Macedonian” phone call a divine call from God? Should you pack up and sail to Philippi?

Paul the apostle, the premier church starter in the New Testament, planted the churches of Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, and others. Educated under Gamaliel, Paul was a multi-gifted man. He was a pastor, a teacher, an apologist, an evangelist, a writer, a church planter, a counselor, a passionate soul winner, and a contender for the faith. He could even make tents.

Not all pastors are called to start a church from scratch. A church planter who is God-called will be equipped to do many ministry tasks. He cannot afford to wait until the church grows enough to add an assistant who complements his weaknesses. From the beginning, he must have what it takes to start, grow, and maintain a local church. With Paul as our model, let’s look at seven essential marks of a God-called church planter.

Genuinely Born Again

Paul served God through shipwreck, hunger, beatings, rejection, and stoning. One reason he endured was that he knew he was a child of God: “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12).

I made a profession of faith as a child and lived a “Christian” life for years, but I actually received the Savior at age 20. Others have testified of being in ministry for years before being saved. Remember, it is possible to do ministry without knowing the Master.

Don’t begin the difficult adventure of starting a church unless you are positive that you are God’s child. The confidence that you are “in Christ” will sustain you through difficult days.

Absolutely Certain of a Call to the Ministry

Paul was converted and called to ministry in Acts 9, and he never seemed to doubt it. He said to Timothy, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Tim. 1:12).

Was it God who called you into the ministry, or was it a godly grandmother or a well-meaning Sunday school teacher who noted that you would “make a wonderful minister someday”? If you can do anything other than full-time ministry for a living and be happy, do it! However, if God calls you, you will NOT be happy as a doctor or a teacher or anything else. Like Jeremiah, you will proclaim, “His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jer. 20:9). You will probably have the spirit of Deputy Barney Fife who said with unwavering conviction, “It’s a compulsion, Andy. It’s just a compulsion!”

The pressures of ministry in a new church can be more intense than those in an established church with buildings, trained workers, staff members, and guaranteed salary. Be absolutely certain that you are called to the ministry.

Tenaciously Committed to the Great Commission

Paul was sold out to the gospel: “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). He spent his life fulfilling the Great Commission as a missionary church planter and considered all believers to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).

This is not an easy time to proclaim the gospel. Twenty-first-century postmodern thought has erased the moral ties that our forefathers made to God’s Ten Commandments. Easy access to immorality through the Internet, Hollywood, and television has created a more difficult climate in which to build a church that exalts our holy God. Planting a New Testament church today is harder than it was twenty-five years ago.

Since the world and its influences are so powerful, the church planter must be constantly winning souls to replace those he may lose to high-entertainment, low-commitment churches. A man who has primarily pastoral gifts, but who finds it difficult to witness, will find church planting very discouraging.

If you are convinced that God will get the elect saved whether you witness or not, do not attempt to plant a church. Similarly, if you see yourself spending forty hours a week crafting magnificent expository sermons that folks will flock to hear, do not try to plant a church. Biblical preaching will edify those who choose to come to church, but it will not bring the lost man into the building. You must evangelize.

Evangelistic churches that do more than just talk about evangelism are pastored by men who actually give out tracts, regularly talk to people about their souls, and personally win the lost! If you are not compelled by a sense of personal responsibility to get the gospel to every creature, you will struggle as a church planter.

A church planter needs to have an “evangelistic attitude”—a compelling desire to witness to everyone! He will feel guilty if he is not often talking to people about their souls. All Christians should feel like that, but it is especially true of a church planter who is called to produce crops from a field that he has to plow himself.

Naturally Comfortable around People

Paul’s ministry focus was people. In Romans 16 he lists the names of many his life had touched. A new church does not have a lovely facility, active programs for all ages, and a calendar full of upcoming activities. But it does have people. A church planter will be a personable guy who is sincerely interested in people.

He enjoys talking to people about their personal lives, their family, and their burdens. He has natural people skills and can make friends in a room full of strangers. Standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart, he is thinking of a way he can witness to folks around him. He finds that way. He initiates that conversation. He goes after people because he really cares.

A church planter must be constantly reaching out to people in the marketplace— people he does not know by name. People who do not know (or care) what a good preacher he is or how many college degrees he holds. He must be a Spirit-filled lover of all people, just like Paul.

Musically Informed and Equipped

There is no Biblical evidence that the apostle Paul played a musical instrument. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas did bless the prisoners’ hearts with a vocal duet, resulting in a miraculous jailbreak! Though he never said he was a musician, Paul did note that Spirit-filled believers speak “to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18, 19).

The Bible does not require a church planter to be a musician, but in this age it surely helps. Being a musician can help you fill the role of the song leader, who sets the tone of the worship services by his demeanor and enthusiasm. Being able to identify bad music will help you keep it out of the church. Also, having a wife who plays the piano is a tremendous help! In the United States, where some churches spend thousands of dollars on their music programs, it is a necessity to have a properly played instrument accompanying the congregational singing. With only a few people singing, the melody produced by the piano may be a key to a Spirit-filled atmosphere. Of course, God may call you to plant a church even if you “cannot carry a tune in a bucket,” but be aware of the dangers of being musically uninformed.

Established Convictions on Key Issues

Satan is skilled at knowing what current doctrinal controversy or what lie will be most effective. Paul addressed contemporary issues such as the Rapture question of 1 Thessalonians 2 and the church-discipline dilemma in 1 Corinthians 5.

If you know where you stand on potentially divisive issues, you will avoid many conflicts. Several key areas today include the Bible text concerns, church music styles, divorce and remarriage, and the gifts of the Spirit. The well-prepared church planter will have settled convictions in these areas before his first service. You do not need to write a book on these issues. Just know where you stand and be prepared to offer Biblical explanations.

Endowed with at Least Three Leadership Abilities

Paul, a gifted leader, envisioned the need to spread the gospel to his world. He organized and motivated fellow missionaries to complete three journeys that resulted in churches and converts. God gave him the leadership abilities necessary for a church planter.

1. Visionary

The need for vision is especially true in a new church that does not have a lovely building, a choir, a nursery, or a children’s Bible club. Though it may not appear to have much else, it should have vision. The church-planting pastor is the “therapist” who provides the constant “vision massage” that folks need. He must envision the good things God has prepared, and talk about those things constantly.

2. Organizer

When the church-planting pastor calls a staff meeting, he is the only one there! As God sends workers, he must be able to recognize their abilities and organize them into a team. Though he may be a wonderful preacher, a disorganized man will struggle in church planting.

3. Motivator

The church planter must be a Spirit-filled motivator. Nice laid-back guys are nice laid-back guys, but church planters appear to have caffeine (probably espresso) in their veins. They are consumed with a burden to get the church planted today. They work with an “impatient patience” and continuously discover ways to motivate others to get the job done. A God-called church planter knows that God will send success. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). Be sure you have what it takes!


 

Dave Barba is an evangelist and church planter. At the time of original publication, he was helping Derek Harm plant a church in Folsom, California.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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