The One Often Overlooked Mark of a Successful Church Planter

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For two games it was known as The Matthew Dellavedova Factor. Delly became a household name for those keeping tabs on the happenings within the professional basketball world. The Australian guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers captivated basketball fans with his seemingly unending tenacity, hustle, and desire during the first five games of the NBA playoffs. Virtually unknown before last year’s playoffs, Dellavedova was called into action after multiple season-ending injuries to the Cavs starters and then started in the backcourt alongside arguably the best basketball player alive today – LeBron James. His grit and passion for the game was exhibited time after time throughout the playoffs, with acrobatic shots, reckless dives after loose balls, and alley-oop passes to the King. Clearly Dellavedova was not the best basketball player in the playoffs, but he has the one attribute that others lack. Then, as soon as he’d risen to prominence, it became The Andre Iguodala Factor. The veteran righted the ship for the Warriors with his clutch shots and feierece defence. His play earned him the MVP of last year’s playoffs and catapulted the Warriors to the NBA Championship.

Both of these guys have something in common – they are scrappy.

I’ve been through at least half a dozen church planting assessments myself, and scrappiness never shows up on the list. My pastors believed that I was qualified to plant a church, and they empowered me to do so. Various denominational groups provided written and oral assessments, and I passed those also. Well, I barely passed, actually. One said that I had a number of glaring weaknesses, but they thought I was just above the cut-line. These tests tend to expose a number of factors thought to dispose one to success in church planting, such as entrepreneurial ability, marital health, and evangelistic effectiveness. These factors are vital and should be assessed.

Now I often sit on the other side of the table and have the joy of assessing future church planters myself. People call, email, or meet with me to discuss a plan to plant the church to which they believe God has called them. As I talk with future church planters, I consistently tell them that the one factor that I’ve seen unite all of the men who have persevered through the early years of church planting is that they were scrappy.

Clearly there are more important factors than scrappiness. The man must meet Biblical qualifications for the office of pastor; he must be above reproach in his character, he must be gifted to teach, and he must love and lead his family well. This should be a given for anyone who is appointed to the pastoral office.

Anyone looking to start a church will also need some added factors; a healthy team, a supportive wife, an evangelistic passion, and sustainable finances. But he’s also going to need a little Delly in him. Here’s why:

  • The early years of planting are going to expose his sin like never before. He will see things about himself that he hates and make decisions that he regrets.
  • Then, he will face the complexity of leading a staff team, often for the first time. This will force the man to lead others and expose another layer of weaknesses.
  • Things will seem to go wrong A LOT. His plans will rarely come to fruition. The building where the church meets will get condemned, a core team member will be caught in gross immorality, his pastor buddy will decide that church planting is not for him, and the list could go on and on.
  • Money is going to be a critical stressor as the man learns to manage a church budget and make ministry happen on a shoestring budget.
  • Then, there will be the reality that there is never a time when everyone is happy. Someone is always frustrated about something, and often this frustration is directed at the pastor.
  • On top of that, he’s going to have to learn to navigate his ever-changing role while still stewarding his other responsibilities in life, which will often include being a husband and father. Nobody does this well intuitively. It will take some time and many conversations to learn the appropriate balance.

Certainly there are more factors, but the point is clear: Things get crazy quickly and a church-planting pastor is going to have to scrap to make things happen. [quote]Things get crazy quickly and a church-planting pastor is going to have to scrap to make things happen.[/quote] He can’t hang his head and sulk when things get tough. He can’t give up when things don’t go according to plan. He’s gotta jump on the floor and get the loose ball. He’s gotta take control of the game by making the play that no one else sees. He’s gotta make others look good by getting them the ball at the right time. He’s gotta be willing to risk being a failure or looking silly when he’s leaving it all on the court.

I’m not sure how we assess the scrappiness of future church planters, but it seems to be one trait the successful ones all share in common.