The Church Planter’s Second Priority: Raising Up Leaders


About three weeks into my work as the leader of a church plant/revitalization, I was able to put words to something that had been bugging me. Our group of fifteen was made up of people who had come from the sending church as well as a few remaining folk from the congregation we were trying to revitalize. Some members of the group were happy and joyful servants; others were skeptical that it was going to “work” but were willing to give it a try; and still others were distrustful and unhappy. 

Yet the nagging feeling I finally was able to put into words: as dedicated as some of these people were, no one in the church cared as much as my wife and I did. 

That’s not meant as a criticism of others. It’s simply the reality of church planting. For a church planter, the work can be all-consuming. It combines your religion with your career and your livelihood. The stakes feel very high, and it’s unrealistic to expect other people to be as invested as you in the church’s viability. I know from my own experience and from talking to other church planters that this realization can heighten feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

What I longed for in those early days were others to come alongside me and bear the burden of leadership, responsibility, and care. Now, eighteen years later, I haven’t felt a sense of being alone in the work in some time. I remember taking a sabbatical at year twelve and realizing that in my absence the church’s other elders, staff, and deacons had been leading the congregation quite effectively. 


So, if you’re a church planter, you need to focus on preaching the Word first and foremost, week in and week out. Without that, whatever you’re planting, it won’t be a church. But after that, you must give yourself to developing and cultivating other leaders. Doing so has an impact that reaches far beyond your own personal need to have others share the burden of caring for the church. Here are three other benefits of developing leaders in your church plant. 

1. Developing leaders is important for the health of church members.

The most important way you’ll help your church members grow is by preaching the Word of God faithfully week in and week out. But pastoral ministry also involves a lot of one-on-one investment in people’s lives, and even the most diligent church planter will have limits on the number of people for whom he can care. By developing other leaders who can teach, disciple, evangelize, counsel, and shepherd the flock, you raise up others who can care for the health of all the church members.

2. Developing leaders is important for the health of the congregation as a whole.

Having all of the leadership concentrated in one individual is certainly unhealthy for that person, but it’s also unhealthy for a church. A plurality of leadership means a congregation isn’t held hostage to decisions that have been made without considering the church planter’s biases, weaknesses, and blind spots. When more people are involved in a church’s leadership, it’s less likely that individual members will become dependent on the gifts and personality of the church planter (who may, after all, not be with them forever) and more likely that they’ll be built into the life of the church as a whole.

3. Developing leaders is important for mission.

I don’t know about your experience of the space-time continuum, but I’ve found that I can only be in one place at any given time. That means there are many places I can’t be present to proclaim the gospel and disciple believers. Assuming that the same holds true for you, then you’re going to need to invest in other people who can go out to places where you are not. 

Planting new churches locally and internationally requires leaders who can initiate and oversee the work. Those leaders must come from somewhere, and so you need to invest in developing them. 

Church planters have a million things to do, many of which seem urgent. Investing your time in cultivating new leaders might seem like slow work that doesn’t produce immediate and measurable results. But in the long run, it’ll help strengthen and expand the scope of your ministry. 


Here are three suggestions for how to find and develop new leaders for your congregation.

1. Develop leaders by sharing responsibility.

A lot of church planters are control freaks. I don’t know if the nature of the work attracts those kinds of people (because it’s easier to direct a church you start than one that you inherit from somebody else) or if it makes us those kinds of people (because so much seems beyond our control). But you’ll never be able to raise up new leaders if you’re not willing to let other people share in the responsibility of teaching, making decisions, and caring for the flock. 

Some object that it’s dangerous to let unqualified people lead the church, and I agree. You shouldn’t do that. Instead, find people who meet the relevant biblical qualifications (Titus 1:5–9, I Tim. 3:1–13) and give them a chance to lead, even if they do things a bit differently than you.

2. Discover leaders by looking around.

Sometimes, a person’s abilities and gifts are obvious and right on the surface. But as I look at the leaders our church has helped to raise up, I’d say a good number of them were people I would not have immediately considered as having “leadership potential.” That might be because of personality (maybe they’re quiet, introverted, unassuming) or culture (I’ve learned that leadership sometimes looks different for people from different cultures). But I know I’ve been guilty of overlooking people who eventually became effective leaders. So how do you discover these people? Look around your congregation and ask questions like: 

  • Who is already bearing spiritual fruit in the life of the church? 
  • To whom do people go for help or counsel? 
  • Who is already doing the work of serving and caring for others without having been given an office or a title?

3. Develop leaders by training.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Once you’re committed to raising up new leaders and you’ve identified potential candidates, you need to start actually training them. This will look any number of different ways[1]—from one-on-one meetings to large group classes—but you must begin to intentionally invest in helping to grow the character and competencies that the individual will need for the specific service they render to the body.

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[1] For one example, you can find the curriculum for the first leadership training course that I did in our church in an appendix to my book Church Planting is for Wimps. 

Mike McKinley

Mike McKinley is Senior Pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia.

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