If a man were to come to me today and tell me he was being called to be a church planter, I would want him to affirm that. First, I’d ask him to share with me the story of his salvation and church planting call. Second, I’d ask who in his life affirms that call, particularly giving consideration to his wife’s thoughts. Third, I’d investigate his life and ministerial experiences along with his theological and pastoral training. Fourth, I’d encourage him to begin a church planter assessment process with a recommended denomination or organization.
The problem is that I did not follow this pattern of recommendation myself. Sure, I can articulate my salvation and a call to plant a church. I can give a list of people, including my wife, who affirm those callings. I even had a pretty solid resume of ministerial, life, and training experience. But I never went through assessment, and I’m two years into our second church plant.
Our first plant was a success. Sure, there are dozens of things I would have changed about how I planted it and what we did. My journals are full of those lists. But it was a great success. We saw hundreds of people saved, we grew well, we planted two other Missouri churches from it (both still growing and thriving), and we planted many international churches in India and West Africa. Four years into that plant we followed a strong and undeniable call to move to Kansas City and plant another church. Along with this calling came a position at Midwestern Seminary to help train and equip church planters. We are now two years into this second church plant and are seeing nearly 200 in worship each week, dozens of lives completely flipped upside-down by the gospel, men trained to be pastors through our residency, and a third year ahead of us that our pastors believe is going to be unbelievable through God’s grace.
Still, I had never been assessed as a church planter. Why would I at this point? What would an assessment team tell me two years in to my second “successful” church plant? If by some chance they said, “Sorry, we don’t think you are called to be a church planter,” would I just quit my church? Of course not. So why go through assessment now?
The answer is simple: to learn. This is why I began the process of a church planting assessment in the fall of 2016. I wanted to learn. I can’t lie, monetary benefits of being a North American Mission Board (NAMB) church plant are extremely beneficial as well, but I also began another assessment process (A29) that doesn’t offer any financial benefit. Why? Because I want to learn.
There is something freeing when you humble yourself and place yourself before a group of people to say, “We see this area that needs worked on.” In December 2016 I completed my NAMB Church Planting Assessment. There were aspects about the whole process, especially the pre-assessment paper work, that were incredibly mundane to me, considering the experience of planting that I already had. However, it was also one of the best experiences I’ve ever walked through. My wife and I left the assessment weekend feeling challenged, encouraged, and loved. We left that weekend with glaring deficiencies being pointed out to us by the Spirit and by others that we need to prayerfully address. We left that weekend with hopes and dreams planted in our hearts and bursting forth in life that we had not yet imagined. We left that weekend being strengthened in our marriage, in our calling (specifically to Kansas City and Emmaus Church), and in our giftings. It was a great experience.
Perhaps you are not someone who is considering church planting. Perhaps you aren’t even someone who is considering pastoral ministry of any kind. You may be called to be a school teacher, a postal worker, a stay at home mom, or work in real-estate. How does this apply to you? Keep learning. Humble yourself, place yourself under those who are wiser, more experienced, and even simply a peer, and give them permission to teach you, to point out areas that need strengthened, and to encourage you in areas you are flourishing. Be a humble, lifelong learner.
If you are someone who is considering pastoral ministry, or specifically church planting, my advice would be the same, humble yourself. Place yourself under the elders of a gospel-loving church to examine you, teach you, and walk with you. Seek their affirmation of our calling. Then, depending upon your desired ministerial setting, consider education and assessment of some sorts for further development.
I am praying for you as we each seek to be lifelong, humble learners.
Joshua Hedger is the Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Emmaus Church. He is married to Tish, and they have an adopted teen daughter and a biological toddler son. Joshua has served in several other ministry roles including Director of Church Planting at Midwestern Seminary, planting another church, a youth pastor and as a missionary in West Africa.