Who is the ‘experienced’ church planter?

Anyone who knows me knows that, in God’s manifold grace, I’m very much on the ‘church waterer’ end of things, rather than on the church planter end! So please forgive me for dipping a toe into something I don’t know too much about. Nevertheless, while I’ve not kept up with all the discussions and conferences and so forth, in the things that I have read, a question has been slowly developing in my mind—a question that I’d like to ask by way of clarification. It was raised again for me by Ben’s recent post on the Acts 29 conference.

Maybe the answer is already out there and I just haven’t seen it (which is very likely). Whatever the case, what are your thoughts on the following: what makes someone an ‘experienced’ church planter? And, to that end, who is a ‘church planter’?

I know lots of guys who are leading a church plant—and they still are, even though that church is now established. Maybe another way of putting this is: I know guys who’ve led one church plant, and who are now the pastors of an established church (the same church). For some of these men, God in his grace has grown those new ministries to the point where they now have their own ‘satellites’ (whether these be congregations or more church plants).

But I don’t know many guys who have led a church plant, established it, replaced himself with a pastor who is more suited to the longer-term growth of that church’s ministry, and then gone and planted another church.

My impression is that, often when we speak of an ‘experienced’ church planter, we’re actually speaking of someone who has done one church plant, and then over time, becomes the minister of an established church, wherein he becomes a church plant facilitator. But these are actually different roles, and the two aren’t necessarily to be found in the same person.

For instance, I know some ‘maverick’-type ministers (I mean this positively) who are great at gathering people around them for a short time, and together, doing great evangelistic work in God’s grace. But after two or three years, this church planter has taken them as far as he can go with them; he needs to move on (and do it again), and they need him to move on if they are to become established and to grow.

In contrast, I know some men who are brilliant church plant facilitators. That is, they don’t do the church planting themselves (and couldn’t, in terms of giftedness, etc.), but they conduct ministries in such a way that church planting happens constantly through it.

So in all of this, who is the ‘experienced’ church planter? Who has ‘track record’?

In terms of being a hands-on church planter, do we really have many experienced people in this at all? We have lots of people who’ve done it once, but few of our ‘household name’ planters have experience in personally leading multiple church plants.

In terms of being a church plant facilitator, we have many more experienced people here, but because of the conflation of roles, is it that we don’t recognize some of our most experienced people simply because they didn’t do a hands-on church plant themselves in the first instance?

Moving on from this, do we need to address the reality that some church planters are staying in positions that have grown around them, but now they need to move on so that those churches can outgrow them? That is, is their leadership hindering that church’s growth? Shouldn’t they then seed another church? We want these guys who were great at it once to be freed up to be great at it again! And again, and … (More of this in my next post).

If there are some good issues to raise here, please don’t let my ignorance of the specifics stop discussion about the issues I’m stirring up!

One thought on “Who is the ‘experienced’ church planter?

  1. Some great questions & thoughts.

    I guess any new church can be called a “church plant”, but I would prefer to reserve the term “church planter” for those for whom starting churches is their primary role. i.e. those more in the mould of pioneer missionaries than that of local church pastors. Although some can do both jobs, the demands and gifts required are somewhat different.

    e.g. In our mission work we emphasise that we are to be missionaries/church planters and not pastors because we want our people to start a church, train local leaders, hand over to them, move on & do it again. Working cross culturally, this is an imperative to ensure the church has indigenous roots. But I think there are also good reasons to identify people to do this at home as well.

    I agree we do not currently see very many of these people in Australia as it appears most plant one church then transition into the pastor role. In this situation, when does someone stop being a church planter and start being a pastor?

    I think the current usage of the term “church planter” is not so helpful as it tends to blur the two roles and confers hero status on those who qualify as church planters rather than just garden variety pastors.

    As you mention, it may also slow growth as the pioneer types get caught up leading that one church rather than helping to facilitate multiplication.

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