The Difference Between a Planter and Pastor

I once asked Ed Stetzer the difference between a pastor and a church planter. He didn’t know it, but I was really asking him if I could make the transition. I have, and time will tell how things go. I’ve been learning lots, though, and I’m very encouraged. I often wonder what took us so long to do this.

But how is a church planter different? There are at least six things a church planter needs to do:

  • Establish a theological vision. Tim Keller calls this middleware. What is the church? What are the means of grace? How does the church accomplish its purposes? You won’t go far in church planting if you don’t wrestle with these issues.
  • Learn the practices of mission within a community. Church planting means that you are taking on the posture of a missionary. This means understanding a community, and learning effective missional practices within that community. Church planting is inherently outward focused, and should be incorporated as part of the DNA.
  • Build a team. Try to plant a church by yourself, and you will die. You need a team that owns the vision as much as you do, and is ready to sacrifice for it.
  • Raise money.  There are different ways to do this. You can choose a lean model (see this post) or a traditional church planting model. Both are effective, but somehow you need to raise money.
  • Make it happen. In church planting, you don’t have to make things happen. You need to get the ball rolling. Your theology can’t stay on the page; you have to design ministries, implement them, fail, learn, and repeat.
  • Maintain an edge. We all tend to settle pretty quickly. One of the important tasks of church planting is not to resist this urge to settle in and get comfortable. Church planters need to have a vision as large as the mission field, and to not allow things to drift into complacency, especially when things start to go well.

I’m sure there’s more, but this is a start.

As I read this list, I’m struck with how little difference there is between effective pastoring and church planting. A pastor in an established church has to do all of these things as well. The main difference — and this is a big one — is that each of these six tasks is exponentially harder in a church that has entered decline and established a culture in which these things aren’t present.

The tasks may not be that different between a planter and a pastor. The context, though, changes everything.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada