Called to Plant

Called to Plant

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…”[1] – Jesus


“If there is one characteristic that is absolutely essential for effective ministry, it’s that we must first have a sense of calling—the conviction in our hearts that God has chosen and called us to serve Him.”[2]Chuck Smith

The work of church planting must begin with the calling of a man of God.  Church planting isn’t merely something you wake up one day and choose as a new career move.  At least this is not God’s desire for church planters.  The call to church planting is the call to apostolic missionary work.  With that said, we will begin by considering what the call of God will look like in the life of a man who is truly called to the work of church planting in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.


The first thing that should be noted on the subject of calling is that the call of God on a man has an objective side to it.  Paul speaks of some qualities of a called man that can objectively be evaluated in two of the Pastoral Epistles.[8]  Let’s consider the objective qualifications of a man called to lead in Jesus’ church from First Timothy 3:1-7:

 “(1) This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. (2) A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (3) not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; (4) one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (5) For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); (6) not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the Devil. (7) Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the Devil.” 

 Paul tells us that the call to lead in Jesus’ church begins with desire in verse one.  There must be a driving inward conviction and desire to serve as an overseer of Christ’s people.  And yet, a strong desire is not enough.  Paul goes on to give his readers a list which provides objective standards by which we can assess ourselves and other men when determining if we are the kind of man Jesus calls to plant or lead His churches.  This means that though a desire to plant is necessary to consider yourself called to plant churches, this desire by itself is insufficient to determine whether you have truly been called by Jesus for that mission.  You must meet the other qualifications of a called man given in the text.

The General Reality of Your Life

Now, if you’re anything like me you read that list and think, “Who do you think I am? Jesus?”  We all know that it would be impossible to completely live up to every qualification Paul lays out for us in this passage at every moment of every day.  The point is that these things must be the general reality in the life of a man who is genuinely called by Jesus to lead in His church.  We will stumble and fall as all men do.[10]  However, the general portrait and continual pursuit of our lives will reflect the qualities listed above if we are called to lead in the church of Christ.

One Necessary Gift

One particular qualification should be singled out for a minute before we move on.  The qualification of being, “able to teach,” is what separates overseers in Christ’s church from deacons, whose qualifications Paul goes on to list in this same chapter in First Timothy.  The other qualifications primarily have to do with personal character and the treatment of others.  The ability to teach has to do with spiritual gifting.  It is the spiritual gift of teaching that a man must have to be any kind of elder/overseer in Christ’s church.  That would include functioning as a church planter.  It is implied that one who would serve as a pastor or church planting pastor needs to go through a season of being observed and assessed as they take opportunities in which they can test and demonstrate their ability to teach the word of God effectively.  This is the only way to confirm whether or not a man is gifted to teach; they must be given chances to teach, and the fruit must be evaluated.

If the gift of teaching isn’t confirmed in him, than in spite of a man’s desire to plant or pastor, and regardless of his integrity, he cannot possibly be called to church planting.  This doesn’t mean he is worthless; it simply means he must have a different role to play in the body of Christ.

This also doesn’t mean that he has to be the best Bible teacher in the world.  Sometimes we act as though men should be discouraged from pursuing the obvious call of God on their life just because they aren’t as good of a Bible teacher as Greg Laurie, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, or Chuck Smith.  This is stupid, to put it bluntly!  Every Bible teacher has weaknesses whether we recognize it or not.  The important thing is that the prospective planter is capable of communicating the word accurately, growing in their gift, and that the people of God are maturing spiritually under their ministry.[11]  Drawing on an analogy from baseball, I once heard Mark Driscoll say in regard to evaluating a man’s gift of teaching that a guy doesn’t need to hit it out of the park every time, but they do need to hit singles and doubles pretty regularly.  I think that’s a good idea of what it means to be able to teach.


In addition to the objective call of God on a would-be church planter, I believe there must also be a timely and accompanying subjective call given by the Holy Spirit.  Prior to listing the character traits and gifting a man must have before being a leader in the church, Paul said, “If any man desires the office of an overseer it is a good work he desires to do.”[12]  Paul moves from desire to qualifications, not the other way around.  Again, this is because a man may have the character and even gifting needed to be a leader in the church, and yet not be called.  His character and gifting must accompany an intense desire for the work!

Men Without Heart

Huge amounts of damage has been done to Christ’s people because men who had good character and gifting took leadership roles in the body of Christ for which they had no heart desire to fulfill.  The ministry to the called is a necessity, not merely an option.  A called man will have a passion for the work the Holy Spirit is leading him into.  If you don’t have a Holy Spirit given passion for church planting you will never be able to obey the command given through Peter to Christ’s leading men: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”[13]

Two important applications can be made from Peter’s instruction.  First, if you are a strong Christian man who is aware that you generally have good character and also the gift of teaching which is required for elders, you need to make sure you still don’t take on the task of functioning as an elder or lead church planter UNLESS YOU ALSO HAVE THE DESIRE!  You will only end up hurting yourself, your family, and the church if you don’t have a Holy Spirit implanted intense desire for the work.  The ministry isn’t to be something you do by compulsion.  You will hinder what Jesus is doing in the church, not help it.  So please don’t feel the need to pull your bootstraps up and proverbially take one for the team by merely being a warm body in a needed area of service.  You will only deal a deadly blow to the team!

Secondly, those in leadership who want to be instrumental in training elders and church planters need to continually fight the temptation to empower good and gifted men who lack personal desire for the work.  Gifted men with good character and no desire for ministry will be unproductive, unmotivated sources of huge frustration for you.  You will hurt them, Christ’s people, and the mission by putting them into a place of leadership for which God hasn’t given them a burden.  Keep waiting on the Lord and He will raise up the right leaders with the right character, gifting, and desires in His own time.[14]  Jesus will equip, mold, and inspire the men He calls from the inside out.[15]



When Jesus is calling a man into the war of church planting, another way He will confirm His call is by speaking His will clearly through the Holy Spirit to the leaders in the prospective planter’s life.  Ample biblical texts demonstrate this principle.  Saul (Paul) and Barnabas’ call to church planting was confirmed when the Holy Spirit spoke prophetically through another leader as they were gathered together in a time of worship and prayer before God.[16]

Paul wrote reminding Timothy of a time when a prophecy given by the Holy Spirit regarding his call to pastoral and church planting ministry was spoken over him by the elders in his life.[17]  Jogging Timothy’s memory about that charismatic moment was intended by Paul to reignite confidence in his heart in regard to his calling, enabling him to continue on when the mission had become almost unbearably difficult for him.  The memory of Timothy’s Spirit-led leaders confirming his call would serve to encourage the young pastor and church planter to persevere being confident of the Lord’s will for him based on that moment.

Later on in his ministry Paul would command both Timothy and Titus to take on the role of being the lone men who would evaluate multiple potential church leaders for placement in leadership roles over the new church plants they’d established.[18]  They were to make the decision about whether or not to utilize these prospective leaders on their own with just the leading of God and the foundation of what they’d learned already serving with Paul as the basis for their decisions. Clearly Paul believed that as men already proven to be God-called missionaries, the Lord would use them to confirm the same call in other men’s lives.  Paul specifically instructed Timothy on two separate occasions to view the role of identifying, training, teaching, and mobilizing other men for leadership in the church as something he was to take very seriously as a pastor.[19]

Again, this all serves to demonstrate that God delights to make His call on future elders and church planters clear through giving confirming insight through those already successfully serving as elders and church planters.  A man’s call to church leadership and church planting will be confirmed by the Lord through the encouragement of Spirit-led men already serving in those roles.


Personal Story

When I was 22 I began serving as the worship pastor of an Evangelical Free church in West Point, Utah.  Early on in my time with this ministry, the pastor who is a great friend to me to this day asked if I would share the Word a little bit before we observed the Lord’s Supper together as a church one Sunday morning.  After service that day my pastor told me that he had discovered my gift; he said I had a gift for teaching.  He was basing that off of the ability I demonstrated to read a text, pick out the points, and apply the truth to the church in regard to the Lord’s Supper.

From that day forward he began to ask me periodically when I was going to preach a sermon.  I would usually respond by saying, “never!”  I didn’t think that I could teach the Bible.  I was scared to get in front of people and talk.  I’d never taken a public speaking class.  I was in choir in public school for four years and only attended one performance because I was so scared to get in front of people that I couldn’t even do it as part of a large group!  But my pastor had seen a gift in me that I couldn’t.  Ultimately Jesus continued to give me a burden for ministry and for teaching the Word, and later took me down the adventurous path of church planting.  But my journey down this path began with the affirmation of Spirit-led leaders in my life who had journeyed this way before me who saw the clear calling God had on my life as they watched me assist them in ministry.  It will be the same in the life of every man called of God to plant churches.  You’re leaders will see your call, and affirm your call.



If a man is called, not only will Spirit-led leaders be able to identify and confirm the call, but so will the wider body of Christ with which the man is locally associated.  This is why Paul told Timothy to give himself to fulfilling His function as pastor/teacher in such a way that his progress would, “be evident to all.”[20]  When a man is Spirit-gifted for what he is doing it will be obvious not only to those he is assisting, but also to those he is leading.   Paul knew that, and he also knew it would encourage Timothy to see people affirming his growth in what Jesus had obviously designed him to do.  That is why he told him to persevere and grow in his gifts. He knew that as people saw his growth and received from God through him that they would be able to affirm his calling.

In the book of Acts we see the apostles looking to the affirmation of the local church to confirm the call of God on the lives of certain men to help take care of local churches.  This is the case in Acts six where we find the appointment of seven men by the apostles to take care of some physical needs in the church in Jerusalem.[21]  This is also clear in Acts sixteen where Paul pays attention to Timothy’s reputation with the body of disciples in his hometown before officially bringing him onto his church planting team.  He knew that Timothy’s leadership potential would either be validated or brought into question based on the observations of the local believers that knew him best.[22]

An Important Issue

The affirmation of our calling through leaders who have gone before us and other believers with whom we are in consistent community is more important than we sometimes admit.  I have personally seen people ignore the warnings received from their leaders and other Christians in this area to their own detriment.  Perhaps pride hinders them from humbly receiving exhortation.  What I do know is that we need to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through the wider body of Christ about our desire to pastor and plant churches.  There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.[23]  Specifically regarding the call to church planting, God’s people will see it if we have it.  Men Jesus has already used in that role will see it.  If they don’t see it, you’re probably not called, at least, not yet.

If you’re not called to church planting, than know that Jesus has something better for you that will glorify Him and bring satisfaction and purpose to your life if you let Him have His way!  Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up at the proper time.  In the meantime, rest in His will for your life today!


Summary and Exhortation

In summary, it is absolutely imperative that a man discerns whether or not He is called by Jesus to be a church planter before pursuing the work church planting.  The called man will have the objective side of his call manifested through Christ-like character and a Holy Spirit given ability to teach God’s Word that has been demonstrated practically.  He will have an accompanying subjective side to his call that will be manifested as an intense inward desire for the mission of church planting born in him by the Holy Spirit.  His call will be confirmed by leaders who’ve gone before him, as well as through the wider affirmation of the local church of which he is a part.  If these aspects are in your life, you may be called to plant a church.  If they aren’t in your life, I would wait for the Lord to give you more clarity and direction.

*Note- The above post is an excerpt taken from the book, “The Spirit-led Mission: the Church Planting Philosophy of Refuge Church” by Kellen Criswell 

[1] John 15:16a NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Page 3.

[8] I, II Timothy & Titus

[10] 1 Corinthians 10:13

[11] 1 Timothy 4:13-16

[12] 1 Timothy 3:1 NKJV

[13] 1 Peter 5:2-4 NKJV

[14] Acts 13:1-3; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-4

[15] 1 Timothy 1:12

[16] Acts 13:1-3

[17] 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6;

[18] 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

[19] 1 Timothy 5:22-24;  2 Timothy 2:2

[20] 1 Timothy 4:14

[21] Acts 6:1-7

[22] Acts 16:2

[23] Proverbs 24:6

5 replies
  1. Brian Sauvé
    Brian Sauvé says:

    Great post, Kellen. When are you going to publish that book? 🙂

    What would you say if there was a mixed congregational reaction to a person being assessed for this office? By that I mean some people in his church would say they see evidence of calling and some would say they don’t see that?

    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. If you didn’t get my tweet, Nate’s finishing the art and we should be printing it for Refuge in a month or so.

      As to your question, if a guy has mixed support I’m going to pay attention to what people are saying, but I’m going to pay attention to the other marks of calling as well. If a guy has a gift of teaching, meets the personal qualifications of 1 Timothy and Titus, has the support and affirmation of the elders, and has part of the congregations affirmation as well, I’m probably not going to listen to the side of the congregation that doesn’t affirm him.

      It’s hard to say exactly how I’d handle the above situation because there can be so many different variables to consider. Is there a character concern? We’d have to investigate that. Who are the sources of criticism? Not every critics opinion is equally valid. Does it seem to be an issue of communication style preferences or ministry philosophy that is driving the opposition? All that to say I think you have to take that kind of situation on a case by case basis and pray a lot.

  2. Tom Jones
    Tom Jones says:

    Good article Kellen. I thought your comments about ‘Men without Heart’ was excellent. There is this compulsion sometimes in a person that when they appear to fit the mold they feel the pressure to be the object of it, though they don’t have a desire to be. Something to think about for sure.
    Looking forward to the book.

    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Tom. I’ve definitely seen guys pressured into taking roles in the church for which they have no desire end up frustrated, and frustrating those who put them there. I’m glad this was valuable for you…..Wait, I’m not doing that to YOU am I! 😉

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