Ancient Future Musings on Success

Recently I was asked the following question, what does it take to be a successful church planter? See my response below. Fellow ancient future thinkers, what would you add? What would you omit?

What does it take to be a “successful” Church Planter?

Of course “successful” is subjective and therefore resides in the eye of the beholder, make that the many beholders. Any measure of success, dare we create one, should begin with essential elements necessary to advancing the Kingdom. After all, any apparent success in the absence of these elements is to achieve something other than what Jesus started. That may be a very good thing but it would not be the church.

A successful planter has a heart for Jesus, a heart for the lost, and a heart for the found. Let me elaborate.


The successful planter will have a heart for Jesus. Even prior to the great commission John the Baptist said one would come after him who was mightier than he was. Elsewhere he added, I must decrease that he might increase. Others asked rhetorically to whom shall we go? Successful planters, like the disciples, realize in every way that they have come upon the one who is the fount of all wisdom and the source of all true life. Planters cease looking and point to Jesus as the one coming and the one to come.

The commitment of the planter to Jesus is unparalleled. When commissioned after Easter, the disciples were told they would be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Witness in Greek is the source of our word martyr. These fledgling planters would “witness” to the point of their own death and thus bequeath to us a legacy that sets the bar high. It was their own devotion or heart for Jesus that associated witnessing with rejection and death and ironically not acceptance and success.

And the content of the witness? The first Spirit filled disciples declared “the wonders of God.” A planter always points to another, one of infinite power, even in the face of great talent worthy of worldly recognition. A planter is never central to the success of a plant. He may sow. He may water. But it is the Lord who causes the growth. And the planter knows to give him all the credit.


Luke 15 is to be appreciated above all others when it comes to those scriptures which inform the planters heart for the lost. The “religious” folk of Jesus’ day scoffed at the company he kept. Lost, sinful and broken people are scorned by the religious in every age. And yet Jesus chose consciously, in the face of opposition, to hang with them. More than that, Jesus chose to defend his presence among the tax collectors and sinners through stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

While it would be offensive to the text to suggest the 99 were left without care and concern, one cannot deny that the ninety-nine were left in order to find the one that made the fold complete. And in the lost son we find a man insisting on his own way and finding the result a life of squalor. He is living a life that defiled every Jew and indeed finally every human. Yet the arms of his father are flung wide open when he humbles himself and starts toward home. The insider, the older brother, like those scoffing at Jesus couldn’t find it in his heart to celebrate. But a feast followed because the father and by example the kingdom celebrates when one of the lost are found.

Such wisdom led the Apostle Paul to say he would become all things, to all men, that by all means, some might be saved. Strikingly, Paul calls us to distance ourselves at times from the rebellious believer but not from the great unwashed.

In 2 Corinthians 3, the same Apostle Paul reminds us of the chief role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple. That work is to transform us into the likeness of the Son. The Son has a heart for the lost. The disciple has a heart for the lost or the work of the Spirit remains undone. If the disciple, then the planter.

See attached article “The Church’s Downward Trajectory Explained.”


A successful planter has a heart for the found, those whom God has chosen to redeem. Salvation is the beginning of a greater work that is meant to be achieved in us. The greater work is sanctification or being transformed into the likeness of the Son. The planter appreciates the fullness of the work to be done. Having done it himself, the planter helps others with an inventory that reveals what transformation the future holds.

Does the believer know love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? These are sincere promises that can be achieved by the grace and power of God. The planter must become pastor and be up to shepherding the found through this growth. As Peter says this is to help them be effective and productive in their own life in the footsteps of Jesus. The planter is a pastor and teacher who loves the sheep and leads them to growth which equips them for greater works of service.

As one found among many the planter continues in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and the prayers. He enjoys the company of those entrusted to his care. He eats in the homes of others and breaks bread with a glad and sincere heart. To this kind of “grace” fellowship the Lord adds daily to its number.

These elements, a heart for Jesus, a heart for the lost and a heart for the found, are vital. To build upon something else may be good but it would be a foundation other than the one given to us.  Too many churches are pursuing principles (matters of the mind) and not pursuing relationships (matters of the heart). A planter leads people to the value of the one vertical that in the end transforms all others horizontal.

Beyond all these essential things, being well versed in matters of church growth, leadership and management are helpful. Indeed I would submit to you that one can build a successful church with the latter nonessentials without much commitment to the former essentials. However, one can never advance the Kingdom of God without the former, the essentials, and indeed the Kingdom quite often gets advanced without a hint of the latter. The apostles themselves bear witness to this. They had increasingly the right heart and with the exception of Paul they did not seemed schooled in the methods and yet they managed to create something that God used to find me/us.

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