This month’s question is posted by Nicole McAdoo-Popovich, Denver Hub pastor from Arvada Vineyard, CO and answered by Jeff Heidkamp, co-pastor of Mercy Vineyard in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Le Que Heidkamp, and editor of Cutting Edge, the Vineyard church planting magazine. Nicole is one of a group of current and potential church planters within Arvada Vineyard, and this is one of the most common questions they struggle with.
Nicole: Is there a specific gift mix or personality type that’s necessary to be a successful planter? Is VLI or seminary/bible school education necessary? Is being on staff at another church first necessary?
Jeff: There are some irreducible necessities, but beyond that, there are as many ways to plant a church as there are churches. The assessment process we use identifies twelve quality characteristics that are necessary in some degree in anyone who wants to plan.
However, my sense is that sometimes we really pigeonhole the sort of person who can be a success at planting. For example, I am really not much of a people person. I'm fairly introverted, somewhat socially awkward, and above all, I really struggle with meeting new people. On the surface, church planting might seem like the worst possible idea. But it turns out I'm pretty good at gathering and inspiring a team of people. As long as I get some good social people on that team, I can help them use their abilities to accomplish a bigger goal.
Peter Wagner said something interesting that strikes me as helpful here. In writing his book on spiritual gifts, he did some research to see what sort of gifts successful pastors had. The result was interesting. There were two gifts that almost every successful pastor had, but they weren't evangelism, preaching, or counseling. They were leadership and faith. I don't know how accurate his research was, but it strikes me as true. If you really know how to trust God and follow him, and you know how to get people to do it with you- you're a lot of the way there.
About graduate education and prior pastoral experience, how do you define "necessary"? Neither is required, and there have been many successful church planters who fulfill none of these conditions. But both of them could be helpful, and they equip us with two things that are very much necessary.
VLI or other education isn't required, but the ability to teach others and run a complex organization is necessary. Some people might be driven enough to read enough books and listen to enough mp3's to bypass formalized training. But even in this case, there is a well-roundedness that a formalized program provides which is difficult to replicate.
Remember that Sunday comes every week. This means that you are going to need to have something reasonable to say every seven days. It's going to be hard to pull that off with just your Bible, The Shack, and a good attitude. You are going to need to have the tools for constant, in depth Bible study.
As far as working on staff at another church- certainly many planters never have this opportunity. In fact, I suspect that some large churches might have on their staffs several people who might better serve the Kingdom by leaving the safety of the mothership and striking out on their own church planting adventure.
However, there is something about being on staff that is very important for every planter to have - a proven track record of effective ministry. "Potential" isn't enough to plant a church. You need to know how to actually gather people, call them into action, evangelize, serve the poor, and develop leaders. You can get a track record without being on staff. But you can't get it without being up to your ears in some kind of ministry in a local church. Nothing magical happens when you move to a new city. You can't do there what you can't do where you are right now.