Eight non-negotiables for church planters, Pt. 1

By Todd Stiles

We’re just shy of 14 years old as a church. It seems like just yesterday there were six of us around a kitchen table committing to planting, not knowing if anyone else would even join us. But they did. Through regeneration and relocation, God birthed a body to the glory of His name in the power of His Spirit.

That passage of time has given me reason to ponder a question I’ve received frequently during this first season of ministry: “What do you wish you had done differently?” or even “What things would you not change if you did it all over again?”

However the question is asked, it always prompts me to take a look in my rearview mirror and think about the ups and downs, failure and victories, good and bad, wins and losses. In mentally rummaging through this trip, I began itemizing the things — both positive and negative — that made those miles unbelievably delightful or unbearably dutiful.

First and foremost, church planting is a supernatural endeavor, a work of the Spirit of God. This understanding should pervade everything we do. Natural elements like strategy, demographics, location, finances, personalities — all that may have a part in the equation somewhere, but the hard truth is that nothing of any real value will occur if God’s Spirit doesn’t empower, anoint, and gift the people for the task of making disciples.

That’s why the church planter and church planting team have to exhibit incredible discernment and courage in following God’s leading. Yes, God’s direction! Not yours, the latest author’s, the trendiest speaker’s, the popular podcaster’s, or the techiest Tweeter’s. So ask yourself: Can you detect clearly the voice of the Shepherd? Do you hear God’s Spirit as He speaks and leads?

Here’s why those questions (and others like them) matter: Church planting is currently in vogue; it’s trendy and popular. Thus the church planting market is flooded with tips, tricks, and tools to do exactly that — plant a church — in “three easy steps.” But without the breath of God upon our souls and efforts, it’s a dead, religious exercise. Should you read books on church planting? Yes. Attend seminars on launching a church? By all means. Seek a mentor to help you with leading a new body? For sure. But all of those fall a far, distant second to the preeminent voice you need to hear (God’s!) and the indispensable power you need to have (His Spirit’s!).

This is the single overarching, non-negotiable conviction I — we — had as we took the step of launching a new church: God’s voice above all other voices. It has affected so many things, usually in a counter-intuitive manner. Things as “big” as where we initially met or as “little” as why we wrap up our children’s ministry each November and April. Things that relate to how we give our offerings or when we take Communion. Things that pertain to how we structure our services or why we hire the way we do. Each of these things has a story, and each story tells how God uniquely and powerfully led this specific faith family. It’s what he was — and is — calling us to be and do.

You see, there’s no cut-and-paste option for church planters. Sure, you can implement the principles in this series of blog posts, but exactly how and when and where — well, that’s the joy of the journey! That’s the adventure of hearing God’s voice in specific, precise ways — above the noise of all other voices and vices — so that you are supernaturally gifted and corporately crafted for maximum impact right where you are. And make no mistake: Every church plant journey is specifically individual. Precisely unique. Customized. And it should be. For God is bringing together and building up a specific gathering of grace-saved followers — His family — who will spiritually reproduce, not a franchised entity of mere physical beings who will only produce.


Published August 20, 2018

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Todd Stiles

Todd Stiles serves as Lead Pastor at First Family Church in Ankeny, Iowa, which he and a core team planted in 2004. Since then, FFC has planted three more churches locally and one internationally. Todd also serves as a church-based CPC, volunteers on the board of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, and is a member of the SBC Executive Committee. You can follow him on Twitter (@ToddStiles) or read more of his writing at ToddStiles.net