9 characteristics of a church planter: Emotional and spiritual health

Church planting is a not a young man’s sport, nor an old man’s sport. It’s a healthy man’s sport. However, with all the hustle and bustle that goes into starting a new church, one can easily get bogged down with the workload and become emotionally and spiritually unhealthy.

Lance Witt, in his excellent book Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, writes: “Godly leadership is always inside out. God always has and always will choose to smile on men and women who are healthy, holy, and humble … a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.” And while most leaders would agree that these principles are true, it takes intentionality and focus to not only become emotionally and spiritually healthy, but to remain that way.

I want to provide three focus items that if applied, will help lead to an emotionally and spiritually healthy soul.


I can remember a time not long ago where I was so entrenched with ministry activity that it had been days, if not weeks, since I last sat down to read my Bible and pray in an unrushed way. I spent more time and energy doing ministry for God, rather than spending time with God, and it began to take an unhealthy toll on my personal life and soul. I became more edgy, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. It was in this phase of life that I realized I was placing ministry for God over my intimacy with Him. Jesus modeled this practice best, as He would often break away from the surrounding crowds to get alone with the Father (Luke 5:15-16, Mark 1:35). The church planter must prioritize time with God as his highest priority as everything else flows from it. Revivalist Leonard Ravenhill once said, “No man is greater than his prayer life.” He who is little with God, will ultimately be little for God.


The task of church planting is less of a 100-yard dash and more of a long-distance marathon. When Neena and I first received the call to church planting, it felt like we were shot out of a cannon. We were running a thousand miles per hour, trying our best to save the city. The problem with this mentality was that we only had the energy and capacity from a health standpoint to invest in the handful of people that God was putting right in front of us. We hadn’t taken the time to develop a team to assist alongside us (which takes time). We hadn’t read the books together that we planned on reading (which takes time). We hadn’t developed a strong discipleship pathway for people who were getting connected (which takes time). And there were much more important things we hadn’t done yet that all required T-I-M-E.

With the help of our sending church and some honest conversation, we finally came into agreement that we needed slow down. If it wasn’t for this mentality shift, I don’t believe our church or marriage would be alive today! In any major league season, opening day is always a big deal, but the fact of the matter is that so is games No. 2, No. 3, and No.57. If you don’t have a marathon mindset, it can be tempting to run at a pace that isn’t healthy — eventually leading to emotional and spiritual burnout.


There’s a trend in our culture today that has crept into the local church — that being the idea that “bigger is always better” and that true success is dictated by numerical growth. This thinking has resulted in church planters becoming disenchanted, due to having the wrong goal in mind. The New Testament goal has never been to have the biggest church on the block, but rather to lead gospel-infused, multiplying churches that are in right relationship with God and people. This goal can be realized as church planters move from a growth mindset to a health mindset.

When the pastor is locked in and focused on his intimate relationship with Christ as his top priority, he will ultimately be the best husband and parent he can be, as Christ will lead through him. And when the home is healthy, he will be the best pastor amongst the church leadership team that he can be. And when the church’s leadership team is healthy, the people of the congregation will become healthy. And when the congregation is healthy, it will grow — anything that’s healthy grows. Therefore, the focus should be less on growth and more on health. To quote Lance Witt once more: “It is the nature of our world to be enamored with what’s big. But in the church we should seek to be enamored with what’s godly.”

From one church planter to another, I’ve learned that the godliest thing one can do is press into Christ and lead from a healthy soul. By focusing on the right things, we can together plant churches that are God glorifying and emotionally and spiritually healthy.


  • What are some steps you can take to grow deeper in your intimate relationship with Christ?
  • In what area(s) of life or ministry do you need to slow down in order for you to grow spiritually and emotionally healthier?
  • How are you currently measuring success in ministry? Is this measurement more numbers-driven or health-driven?

Published February 6, 2018