The one essential book every church planter needs to master—or as Don Carson puts it, be mastered by—is the Bible.
This inclusion isn’t a throwaway point—something merely to anticipate the Jesus jukers on social media—but rather it’s to remind ourselves that God’s Word must fundamentally shape all we do. In an age of rampant pragmatism, when the church often mirrors the world, God’s Word sets the agenda for life and ministry. As God himself reminds, “[T]his is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2 ESV).
Christ is the Lord of the church, and therefore we joyfully submit our preferences, imaginations, even traditions to God through his Word. Therefore, this should go without saying, but these books are only true insofar as they are in accord with Scripture.
Here are five books that every church planter should consider reading. Whether you’re aspiring to plant a church or currently in the trenches, we pray these books would be an encouragement in your ministry.
“This book tells the story of the revitalization of Guilford Baptist Church in northern Virginia. Weaving together Scripture and biblical principles with humor and personal anecdotes, Mike McKinley asserts that a pastor’s faithful exposition of God’s Word, passion for sharing the gospel, and care in the training of other godly leaders are more important than the size of his church.
“McKinley honestly shares his own fears and rookie mistakes, along with encouraging stories of how God moved at Guilford Baptist. We are reminded that God uses weak and fearful pastors in plants and revitalizations; church planting is indeed for ‘wimps.’ For pastors and seminarians considering a church plant and those already struggling in their own fledgling congregations, this book is a thoughtful and encouraging resource.” (Publisher’s description)
Read more from Mike McKinley at IMB:
- The Church Planter’s Second Priority: Raise up Leaders
- Missions Is Church Planting—Or It’s Not Really Christian Mission
“In this second edition of Planting Missional Churches, not only will you find a completely redesigned book with new content in every single chapter, but you will also find several new chapters on topics such as church multiplication, residencies, multiethnic ministry, multisite, denominations and networks, and spiritual leadership. So if you’re planting a church, be prepared. Use this book as a guide to build the needed ministry areas so that you can multiply over and over again.” (Publisher’s description)
Read more from Ed Stetzer at IMB:
3. The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart by Christine Hoover
“Christine Hoover’s words in the first chapter describe so well the life of a church planter’s wife, which is enormously difficult yet extraordinarily rewarding. To be married to a church planter is a calling of its own, with a richness of its own. In The Church Planting Wife, Hoover explores and encourages the heart of her readers while teaching what it means to have heart prepared for this unique ministry.
“She knows the challenges: a church planter’s wife must develop a job description, be a wise helper to her husband, develop friendships within the church and community, deal with stress and discouragement, handle wounds, and more. Hoover speaks candidly about these challenges while urging readers to grow a heart that wholly reflects Jesus. Spread throughout these pages are stories and interviews from church planting wives. Christine Hoover empathetically and pointedly builds from these testimonies to uplift the reader and offer lessons of hope in the midst of a challenging ministry.” (Publisher’s description)
Read more from Christine Hoover at IMB:
4. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers by J. D. Payne
“Church planting is not just about gathering new communities of people who are already Christians. In the book of Acts, church plants begin with sharing the gospel. Planting churches flows naturally out of making disciples. Pastor J. D. Payne explains the process and stages of church planting with biblical foundations and practical steps for planting teams. He provides a pathway for the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches.
“Here are church planting strategies and activities that are simple, highly reproducible, and can be implemented by ordinary team members, not just by charismatic leaders. This guide can be used for planting in contexts among any given people, domestically or internationally. It is an ideal resource for teams to work through together as they follow God’s call in their community.” (Publisher’s description)
Read more from J.D. Payne at IMB:
5. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible by Mark Dever
“Christians face lots of practical questions when it comes to life in the local church: How is the gospel displayed in our lives together? What are we supposed to do and believe? Different followers answer differently—even as they preach the same gospel. What should we think about such differences? A church’s life, doctrine, worship, and even polity are important issues. Yet they are so rarely addressed.
“The Church is Mark Dever’s primer on the doctrine of the church for all who see Scripture alone as a sufficient authority for the doctrine and life of the local church. He explains to the reader what the Bible says about the nature and purpose of the church—what it is, what it’s for, what it does. Indeed, Scripture teaches us about all of life and doctrine, including how we should assemble for corporate worship and how we’re to organize our corporate life together. God has revealed himself by his Word. He is speaking to us, preparing us to represent him today, and to see him tomorrow! A congregation of regenerate members, fulfilling the responsibilities given to us by Christ himself in his Word, regularly meeting together, led by a body of godly elders, is the picture God has given us in his Word of his church.” (Publisher’s description)
I don’t think these are the only books a church planter should read—nor would the IMB affirm every single point argued for in these books—but consider them a starting point.
Christ loves his church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Whether we’re church members, pastors, or missionaries on the field, we should long to see our churches reflect the splendor of her King. May these books encourage and equip us in our labor, and may King Jesus be glorified in his church.
Ivan Mesa is an editor at the International Mission Board. You can follow him @IvanTable.