9 characteristics of a church planter: Leadership

No one has ever called me charismatic. I’m not a raging extrovert. And I’m certainly not the type of visionary that seems larger than life. It’s just not how God created me.

But over the past seven years of urban church planting and raising a family, I’d like to think I’ve become at least a fairly decent leader. Some of that is just due to time and experience (i.e., learning from mistakes and overcoming specific challenges). The rest of it, I believe, is due to a simple commitment. That is, when I’m focused on the commitment to truly know and love our people well, holy transformation generally seems to follow.

So I want to offer two lessons that have been helpful in my journey — and hopefully will be in yours!

1. Healthy leadership displays the kindness and compassion of Jesus

I think we rarely assume this to be the first characteristic of good leadership. We tend to think of organizational prowess or effective management skills. But, speaking as a church planter interested in reaching people, those skills (as important as they are) don’t seem to be “the key” to winning the most number of people to the gospel. Especially when I think about my context: a city filled with skepticism, doubt, and a huge number of competing opportunities, kindness and compassion are unusually attractive. Why? Because it’s exceptionally rare! We shouldn’t be surprised by this; it really wasn’t any different 2,000 years ago. Men and women were not initially attracted to Jesus because of how efficiently He structured the church (that happened later anyway), but because of a genuine love and care for the people He encountered. It was felt. It was experienced. It was transforming.

And so I believe leading the way Jesus did — with perfect kindness and compassion — is just as attractive today. Here are two ways I try to incorporate that into my ministry:

A. Don’t be manipulative

Ultimately, I want great things for our people. But any leader can tell you that it can be tempting to leveragekindness in order to get something from somebody (e.g. to get you in the door, to get you to join, to get you to serve, etc.). That’s not loving someone well — that’s manipulation. I want our people to be genuinely loved and cared for, not so I can just get something from them, but because I want great things for them.

B. Don’t underestimate the power of presence

Over the past year or two, I’ve been practicing greater presence when meeting with people. That means I put the phone away, I’m actively listening to every single word they speak, and I’m doing everything I can to ensure they’ve felt heard. I want someone to walk away from time with me feeling “he really cares about me and wants the best for me.” This means talking much less, listening a lot more, and being a true encouragement to others.

2. Healthy leadership can easily be replicated

It’s difficult for me to imagine leadership (as the Bible depicts it) being reserved only for the very small percentage of “natural-born” entrepreneurs or charismatic leaders that many of us aspire to be today. It just didn’t seem like the dozen or so men Jesus entrusted with planting his church from the very beginning — or the millions of nameless pastors who have followed in their wake — were particularly impressive. They were simple men, who prior to meeting Jesus seemed to live simple lives. But, after encountering Jesus, they were swept up into a passionate love for Him and his church and took the necessary steps to continue the movement.

The most effective church planters today are the ones whose followers become great leaders themselves. They create environments that make normal men and women feel empowered to continue the movement and lead with passion.

Because what’s the alternative? It’s a place where leadership is only for the elite and most of your people will never be given permission to influence others. How depressing! When churches make leadership tangible and achievable, normal dads can walk away and feel empowered to lead their families. Mothers can feel capable of influencing their children. Single men and women can believe they have dignity, worth, value, and the capacity to bring about great change in others’ lives!

Application: Every single one of your people is leading in some capacity. How can you equip them to be better leaders in their specific spheres of influence? This requires you to think creatively and learn from the unlikely.

Ultimately, the way you lead really matters. It will set the direction for your church, it will dictate who you attract and how you influence. But, from my perspective, the style of leadership doesn’t matter nearly as much as the posture of our leadership. When we are kind and compassionate, sensitive to the Spirit, and capable of helping our people take the next steps in following Christ, lives will be transformed by the gospel and the church will continue to bear much fruit.

Published January 30, 2018