7 Marks of a Healthy Church Planter

The history of the United States is comprised of a rugged individualism, spirit of independence, and self-support. The lone ranger is seen as a hero—the one who is able to get the job done on his or her own, answering to no one. Dependence on those outside of ourselves is thought to be a limitation and a challenge to greatness. But the kingdom of God relies on a different value, one that places a great emphasis on partnership and community.

Ministry has always been a team sport. While we do find examples in the Bible of individuals serving the Lord on their own (such as Elijah in 1 Kings 17–19 or Philip in Acts 8), the model of people co-laboring takes priority. This is most evident in the disciple-making and church-planting efforts of the apostolic church. In the Gospels we read that Jesus sent out the seventy-two in teams (Luke 10:1), and the first missionaries from Antioch were the team of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2–3). In God’s economy, the missionary team is vital to the propagation of the gospel and the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.

Resources abound on the topics of team formation and development, team leadership, and the strengths and limitations of teams. However, I want to focus on seven essential characteristics of church-planting team members, as seen in the life of Barnabas. Healthy manifestations of these practices should be present for each team member, regardless of their personal gifts.

A team member who demonstrates Barnabas’s characteristics is someone who:

1. Walks with the Lord

It was out of his relationship with the Lord that Barnabas was able to serve wisely and well. It is unlikely that the Spirit wouldve called him if he was out of fellowship with God (Acts 13:2). If he regularly grieved the Spirit, it’s hard to believe that he and Paul could have given an account of the work of the Spirit to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

Barnabas called others to remain true to the Lord with a resolute heart (Acts 11:23). His walk with God made him lovable (Acts 15:25), reliable (Acts 11:30), bold (Acts 13:46), and resilient (Acts 13:50–51).

2. Serves the Local Church

The first mention of Barnabas in the Bible describes him selling a piece of property and giving the money to the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:32–37). The leaders of the church trusted him enough that they sent him to Antioch for a year to encourage and teach the new believers (Acts 11:22). He was a man who encouraged, sacrificed for, and submitted to the church.

If the team longs to see new believers become fruit-bearing disciples in a local church, then the team members must manifest this commitment themselves.

3. Remains Faithful to the Call

We’re not told when Barnabas was converted. It’s possible that it occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). He’s simply introduced as a faithful member of the Jerusalem church (Acts 4). It was out of this ministry in Antioch that the Spirit called him to church planting (Acts 13:1–3). This calling came out of Barnabas’s faithfulness to the Lord, the team, and the Great Commission, especially during times of persecution.

Great challenges of spiritual warfare and persecution are likely to come to any church-planting team. Members should be faithful to God’s calling on their lives. Days will come when it’ll be the only thing that keeps them on the field.

4. Shares the Gospel Regularly

Barnabas knew that church planting began with evangelism. In all likelihood he agreed with Paul that church planters must become all things to all people in order to save some (1 Cor. 9:22). His work as an evangelist was done with intentionality (Acts 13:50–51; 14:1–6). He was bold (Acts 13:46). He responded to persecution with a tenacity to continue to share the gospel (Acts 14:6–7).

“Intentional, regular evangelism is one nonnegotiable practice of church-planting teams.”

Intentional, regular evangelism is one nonnegotiable practice of church-planting teams. If teams are not significantly engaged in such work, disciples will not be made and churches will not be planted.

5. Raises up Leaders

Barnabas spent time with other leaders. His reputation was known among the elders and apostles in the Jerusalem church. He also practiced wisdom-guided risk taking when it came to developing leaders.

We often forget that it was Barnabas who vouched for Paul when the other leaders in Jerusalem feared him. Barnabas was willing to take a chance with Paul, knowing of the truth of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:27). It was because of Barnabas’s ability to see the potential in Paul that others embraced this persecutor-turned-preacher (Acts 9:28). Barnabas also saw the possibility in John Mark for a leader. On the second missionary journey, Paul refused to take John Mark on the team since John Mark had deserted them on the previous journey (Acts 13:13). But Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance (Acts 15:38–39).

Raising up leaders is another nonnegotiable practice. It involves teaching others right doctrine and right practice.

6. Encourages with Speech and Actions

In the Bible, names were sometimes given based on a person’s characteristics. Barnabas’s birth name was Joseph. Sometime after Pentecost, the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation” (Acts 4:36). As a result of his relationship with the Great Encourager, Barnabas was a man whose words and actions were above reproach. His speech was trustworthy, true, and consistent. He convinced the church in Jerusalem that Paul was a genuine believer (Acts 9:27).

“In church planting, you have to look for things to be encouraged about and to encourage each other about. Encouragement is a cornerstone of church planting.”

Barnabas’s actions were substantial, sacrificial, and helpful, and they set an example for others to follow. Commenting on the significance of encouragement in church planting teams, one church planter shared with me: “Encouragement is key. In church planting, you have to look for things to be encouraged about and to encourage each other about. Encouragement is a cornerstone of church planting.”

7. Responds Appropriately to Conflict

Where two or three people are gathered in the name of Jesus, there will be conflict. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Church-planting teams are composed of forgiven people, but forgiven people are still sinners. And even when sin is not present, conflict still happens.

Barnabas and Paul had such a sharp disagreement over whether to bring John Mark on their missionary journey that they went their separate ways. Paul also experienced great disappointment and conflict as a result of Barnabas’s hypocrisy (Gal. 2:13). From Paul’s reference to Barnabas in his letter to the Corinthians, we may conclude that these disagreements did not sever the relationship between Paul and Barnabas (1 Cor. 9:6).

When times of conflict arise, teams must respond appropriately. Everything must be done out of love for the sake of the kingdom and the witness of the team. A spirit of humility, servanthood, and seeking the best for the other team members must be present.

J. D. Payne is the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills. He is also a missiologist, author, podcast host, and blogs regularly at jdpayne.org.