Planting a church requires great gall. In one sense, we come to God knowing only he can expand his kingdom. But we also come believing we’ve been endowed with gifts and grit for the work ahead. An over-reliance on our skills and an under-appreciation of God’s grace, however, is a breeding ground for pride in a church planter’s heart.
Additionally, many planters become easy prey to the lures of the limelight, feasting on man’s praise. And for those who make it through the gauntlets of fundraising, assessments, and recruitment, we’re typically even more solidified in the cement of man’s approval. If we’re not careful, the assurance we receive through affirmation, education, and sometimes even ministry success can make us feel like experts, even if we’re not, as John Piper said, “professionals.” Worsening symptoms of growing pride often remain undetected to the detriment of a planter and his church.
One evidence of escalating pride is a lack of teachability. The prideful aren’t teachable, and a church planter with nothing more to learn is a dangerous leader. The Bible calls him a fool (Prov. 18:2). As men who’ve been entrusted with the work of planting churches, we can’t afford to be foolish.
We must be teachable. Without this key virtue, we may find the doors to missional impact locked. Let’s consider three characteristics of teachable church planters.
1. Teachable Planters Foster Collaboration
When we survey the church-planting landscape, we often see a pandemic of covert pride. There are many who may not be outright jerks, but are theological know-it-alls who claim they’ve been charged by God to start the “first” gospel-preaching church in the heart of a city, or missional innovators who will show the rest of us how it’s done. Perhaps this is why many seasoned pastors and parachurch leaders have an allergic reaction to church planters.
A church planter with nothing more to learn is a dangerous leader.
Invested saints in our cities aren’t looking for saviors, but co-laborers. Maybe one of the first idols we should shatter is ourselves. We’re not the answer, but we know who is and we point people to him. Our communities don’t need another expert or a trendy new vision. They need to know God’s Son, who saves them from their sins. Teachable planters value gospel collaboration for the good of their communities.
As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” The church planter who partners with others is an asset to his community and a treasure to his church.
2. Teachable Planters Display Humility
A church planter’s humility is expressed through his eagerness and willingness to learn from others. We’re not church leaders because we have all the answers. I’ve learned this the hard way. Honestly, I’m still learning this lesson.
Through the emotional rollercoaster of church planting, God has given me a gravitational center to latch on to: we aren’t omniscient. No, I’m not advocating for intellectual laziness or a resignation from our role as pastor-theologians. But I am pleading with myself and others to take a healthy dose of epistemic humility and say, “I don’t know, but I’m listening and I’m learning.” Leaders are learners, too.
Being teachable means I can submit to those more experienced, read, and involved in areas where I’m an amateur. To be teachable means I can be wrong. I may stand corrected, challenged, or rebuked. It’s just plain stupid to think every untrained and uninformed thought that comes to mind in preaching, social-media engagement, and writing won’t warrant some correction. It’s even more stupid to hate such correction (Prov. 12:1).
3. Teachable Planters Receive Grace
If there’s one core virtue that’s fragrant in a world of snobbery expertise, it’s intellectual humility. The ability to speak confidently of the Scriptures while exhibiting spiritual maturity is sorely needed. But why, in a culture that exalts experts, would we boast in our identity as learners?
Planters who lack humble teachability invite God’s resistance into their lives and ministries, but God’s grace follows the teachable.
Well, for the teachable, there’s grace; for the prideful, opposition. Hear the struggling know-it-all Peter: “In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Planters who lack humble teachability invite God’s resistance into their lives and ministries, but God’s grace follows the teachable.
Being teachable means we rightly relinquish burdens we cannot bear. We can’t be all-knowing; we must rely on God’s Word to guide us. Instead of loving the sound of our own voices, we long to hear the voice of our Lord.
A teachable spirit will flourish as church planters remember God expands his kingdom in spite of us, not because of us. Success and power belong to him; submission and humility belong to us.
Church planters, be teachable.