Essentials for Team Church Planting

by Noah Oldham June 13, 2015

I’m not much of an outdoorsman. If you catch me between the months of March and October, I probably have puffy eyes, a runny nose, and a Kleenex in my hand. As a kid I had an allergy “prick test” by a dermatologist. You know, the one where they lightly expose your skin to potential allergens to see what causes a reaction? Let me put it this way: at the end of the test, my back and arms looked like bubble wrap. Because of my propensity to spend the day sneezing if I’m not inside with an air purifier, I don’t do a lot of hiking. But I can guarantee this: If I were to go hiking, I would never go hiking alone.

Plain and simple; I don’t have the experience to know what I’m doing on my own. Using a compass? No way. Knowing the difference between something edible and something that will make me break out in hives? Not a chance. Understanding when to turn around to make it back before dark? Forget about it! Knowing how much food to pack for the trip? Yep, I got that one!

For most people, church planting is much like my experience with hiking: very little working knowledge, a deep level of discomfort, and if it wasn’t for the call of God on our lives, we probably wouldn’t step out to do it. But God is a missionary who has made us His missionary people. He answers the prayer of Luke 10:2 prayed by His people and He sends out workers into ripe fields for His harvest. And what God challenged me with and what I now challenge every planter I coach is to never go it alone.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. God designed the church for a plurality of leadership.

Every text in the New Testament that speaks to leadership in the local church speaks in the plural, not the singular. Ephesians 4, Titus 1, I Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5, James 3, Hebrews 13 as well as other texts illustrate the need for growing churches who are obeying the Great Commandment and the Great Commission to have multiple leaders.

2. You need help.

Simply put, the church is an organism. It is a body with many parts. You play an important and integral part. But you don’t play the only important and integral part. God specially gifts every planter for the task at hand. Where the planter is lacking, God will provide. But from what we see in biblical texts like Ephesians and 1 Corinthians is that His provision is more often the supernatural giving of people than the supernatural giving of abilities. The task of planting a church is huge and the needed gifts and strengths are myriad. Every planter will need help with the basics tasks of any pastor: shepherding, administration, teaching, and protecting the flock. But every planter will also need a team for accountability, rest, and protection from burnout, vision creep, and discouragement.

3. Discipleship takes time.

Ideally, the main work of church planting would be reaching the lost. Any person that has led others to Christ understands that the process of discipleship takes time. Developing someone from “lost” to leader can be a long, hard process. Discipleship is often a two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey on the road to maturity. If there isn’t a team of biblically qualified leaders from the start, there probably won’t be a team for quite a while.

4. Natural multiplication.

The gospel is a movement. It is the ongoing, linear story of God seeking and saving sinners and moving them toward a day; His day. That story isn’t finished when you plant a church. The movement doesn’t stop as if any one church plant is the end game. Instead, each church plant is another chapter in God’s grand story of redemption. Planting with a team challenges you to keep this in mind. If you have a team of gifted, qualified, passionate, missional leaders, then there is no way that five or ten years from now you can still all be on the same team doing the same thing. At the time of writing this, our four-year-old church plant is planning our third regional gathering and is sending out one of our core team members to plant in another area of the city. We always knew this day would come. In fact, we prayed for it.

Because of these and many other reasons, it is always best to plant with a team. But, just like with hiking, you don’t want to venture out with just anyone. So while it is never safe to go it alone, some of the greatest pitfalls that a planter encounters often come with picking the wrong team. Here are a few practical tips to help you when it comes to picking your team.

5. Make sure they love Jesus.

This should be obvious, but unfortunately it is not. I have known planters who have brought on team members who they later find out have not surrendered to Christ as their Lord and Savior. The task of planting is strenuous so you may be tempted to look for practical skill only. But the number one qualification of a leader in the church is that the leader loves Jesus with an undivided heart.

6. Make sure they love you.

It may sound weird, but when it comes to finding team members, loving Jesus just isn’t enough. Many whole denominations came into existence because people who loved Jesus just couldn’t get along and see eye to eye. Think of Paul and Barnabas! Chemistry is just as important as competency, character, and contextual fit. If you are hiking, you want to make sure someone cares for your safety, not just the success of the hike.

7. Make sure they are committed to the vision.

Taking a hike will be stressful if someone keeps trying to get you to sit down, go another direction, or turn back. This will be the situation for someone planting a church with a team member who is not committed to the vision. People get into church planting for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they are mad at the established church, have had a bad experience and are looking to be a part of something different, or are looking for a place to play out their own agenda. Before you venture out into this task together, you need to make sure you plan on hiking in the same direction.

8. Make sure they are "3G" leaders.

My three G’s for leaders are: good, godly, and gospel-centered. Good means that they are capable of performing their function in the team well. They are prepared and able to step into their role on the team. Godly means that they have the biblical character of a leader. They are people of integrity. They care more about Jesus and His church than their own agenda. Gospel-centered means when it comes to the good news of Jesus Christ, they know, believe, and apply it to their lives.

9. Make sure to take your time and pray.

Probably the biggest mistake in picking a team to plant with is moving too fast. Ultimately, this is God’s hike. This is Jesus’ church. Take time to seek Him and His will through prayer, His Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.