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Essential Qualities of a Church Planter

Steve Nicholson

Steve Nicholson

Pastor, Evanston Vineyard
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We want to participate with what God is doing today by working to plant healthy vibrant churches in every single neighborhood throughout our country.

Maybe God is calling you to be part of the solution for some people who are out there desperately praying right now, “Oh God, please help us. We need a church that’s doing something.”

So, how do you prepare for that? In addition to the biblical prerequisites, we’ve found by experience that there are other qualities that are very necessary for church planters to succeed. Here are a few of them:

You need to be intrinsically motivated.
You’ve got to have motivation from inside. When you wake up on your first day on a church plant, there’s not going to be a supervisor there that says “Today you need to do thus and so.” There’s not going to be any timecard. There’s just you, maybe your spouse, and God.

You have to get yourself out of bed, and get yourself doing things. You have to be the kind of person that can motivate yourself without having to have a lot of structure to get there. If you need high structure to function, then you need an already existing church, because at a church plant, at the beginning, you have no structure. You have no people to have a structure with. Your job is to create all that from nothing. You have to be able to work in a non-structured situation with the aim of creating structure there later.

You need to be able to create ownership of ministry.
Creating ownership of ministry means that you’ve got to be able to get other people doing ministry and help them feel that it’s theirs. They have to own it, live it, and love it without you interfering.

If you want to create ownership of ministry you need to understand that your roll is that of a coach, not as the doer. You have to be able to live with ministries with other people’s fingerprints on them. If you have too high of a need to control you’re going to always undermine yourself on this point. You’re going to have leaders, you’re going to train them up, they’re going to get started, but then after about a year, two, or three, they’re going to be really frustrated working with you because you keep interfering with what they’re trying to do. You have to be willing to not be in control of everything

You have got to be able to relate to the unchurched.
The whole reason for planting new churches is to reach unchurched people. That’s the whole game; we’re not just trying to shuffle the deck. We’re trying to get new decks.

You’ve got to be able to relate to unchurched people which mean you’ve got to like them! Or at least not be upset with them all the time.

Everyone says “yeah, yeah, yeah that sounds like a great idea.” Well, let’s see how you feel about it when they bring their kid to church with your kid and your kid goes home from Sunday School knowing a new word that he never learned at home. Now how do you feel about it? Is that okay with you? Are you prepared to sit down with your little John and say, “I know Billy uses that word, but we don’t use that word and here’s why.” If you’re going to be around unchurched people then it has to be like that.

If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to cultivate a heart that says “I kind of like being a part of working with people like that and helping them figure out what Jesus’ plan is”, rather than be all upset or in a huff, “Oh, how could that happen in church?” Maybe another way to put that is this: if you really want to do this you’ve really got to be ready to have a messy church. Because guess what? They’re messy out there.

You have to have spousal cooperation.
It’s very important that if you’re married that both of you are ready to be a part of this. That doesn’t mean have the same role and doesn’t mean “equally called”. Your spouse might not have the same degree of passion; but the spouse has to believe that this should happen and you should do it and be ready to play their part in it.

If your spouse hates the idea of church planting and wants to stay at home from all the meetings, there’s probably going to be a problem. People will think “if their spouse doesn’t even want to come to this, why would we want to come?” Then the incredible amount of time that you’re spending on the plant will lead to resentment. It just doesn’t work; in fact, what it does is set you up for having to make a choice between your marriage and your ministry.

These aren’t all of the essential qualities, but they are a few to begin to consider. If you’re exploring how God is inviting you to participate with him, and if you see some of these qualities in yourself, then a great first step is to invite some trusted leaders into a discernment process with you. We’ve developed 10 questions that can help you start or continue your discernment process. Start here.

This piece was first published as a part of From Coaching Church Planters: A Manual for Church Planters and Those Who Coach Them by Steve Nicholson.

Are You Called To Be A Church Planter?

Reflect on these 10 questions to help discern your calling.

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Steve Nicholson is the pastor of the Evanston Vineyard in Illinois and was previously the head of the Church Planting Task Force for Vineyard USA.  
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