Ethical Guidelines for Church Planters 29

I  have been troubled by what I believe is a missioloigcal malpractice among many church planters today.  If we say we are Kingdom citizens living by a Kingdom Ethic, then that Ethic must govern all of life, including our church planting philosophies and methods.  While we talk about the Great Commission and Kingdom advancement, we fail to allow the truth of the Scriptures (esp. on wisdom and stewardship) to guide our endeavors in light of the fact that approximately 75% of the U. S. and Canadian population have no relationship with Jesus, AS WELL AS another 4 billion people scattered across the earth.

In April 2009, I presented the paper, “Ethical Guidelines for Church Planters: A Suggested Proposal”, to the Southeast Regional Evangelical Missiological Society, and a similar paper in October, at the national meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society.  

I have been very surprised, but thankful, for the interest this paper has been generating over the past several months.  The Great Commission Research Journal asked me to write an article on this topic for their Summer 2009 volume; the Evangelical Missions Quarterly asked me to write a brief article on the topic (January 2010); and the Evangelical Missioloigcal Society is publishing a book with William Carey in September (2010), that includes a variation of the paper as a chapter.

I recognize sharing this information with you appears to be self-promoting.  Such is not my desire.  Rather, I want to bring you into an approach to missiologically thinking that is happening in certain circles today.  It is my hope that you will carry on this conversation in your circles of influence for the glory of God.

In Christ, we have great freedom with our missionary methods.  However, such freedom should only be permitted to the extent that proper stewardship, faithfulness, and wisdom are not compromised for a lesser good.  I wrote this proposal to help church planters avoid sacrificing great accomplishments for the Kingdom, while they settle for accomplishing good things for the Kingdom. 

While I have rewritten the suggested guidelines a few times, as I have continued to think on this topic (hence the reason I only list 11 guidelines below and there are 12 in the original paper), you can read the original version HERE.  There is enough material here for you to understand what I’m saying and to start a dialogue in your area of the world.   

Now, if you are anything like me, by now you are about to check out another web site.  You may be thinking, “I’d rather have a red-hot poker stuck in my eye, than read about ethics and church planting!”  🙂  But hang with me for a moment longer, before checking out the sports scores.

Here are the suggested guidelines for our church planting practices: 

  • Guideline #1:  Since the global need for the gospel is so great, unless God reveals otherwise, we will begin our ministry among people with the greatest need and with a high level of receptivity to the gospel.   


  • Guideline #2:  Since the world consists of four billion unbelievers, with two billion who have never heard the gospel, our strategy will involve the use of highly reproducible church planting methods.


  • Guideline #3:  Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, we will not prioritize transfer growth over conversion growth by designing ministries that will primarily attract believers.


  • Guideline #4:  Since unity among churches in a geographical area is a powerful witness to the gospel, we will be concerned with other evangelical pastors laboring in the same area as our team, and will take the initiative to meet with them to share our calling, vision, and ethic.


  • Guideline #5:  Since we desire to respect other evangelical pastors in the area, and desire sanctification in the lives of any transfers from local churches, we will have a systematic plan to respond to the transfers who want to become part of the new church.


  • Guideline #6:  Since our calling to this ministry, people, and location is from God and not based on money, we will not end our church planting ministry in this area simply if our financial support ends, but rather will make appropriate plans for the future of our personal finances.


  • Guideline #7:  Since the biblical model for church planting is a team approach and many liabilities come when working as a solo church planter, a team will be developed before the work begins.   


  • Guideline #8:  Since one of the most critical issues in missionary circles is that of the stress on the family, we will not neglect our families for the sake of church planting and will begin our work with a strategy for nurturing our family life while serving as church planters. 


  • Guideline #9:  Since we are Kingdom Citizens, we will not neglect our daily devotion time with the Lord by allowing ourselves to be distracted by the numerous tasks to be accomplished in the ministry. 


  • Guideline #10:  Since the task of missionary work involves effective communication, we will work diligently toward contextualization rather than bringing our preferred church traditions to the people.  


  • Guideline #11:  Since integrity and accuracy are important when reporting statistics related or our missionary labors, we will strive to report only those numbers and descriptive details which are truly reflective of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our context.

What are your thoughts?  What needs to be added?  What needs to be removed?

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29 thoughts on “Ethical Guidelines for Church Planters

  • Michael Carpenter

    A great list especially #3, #4, #5. We had three families who desired to join our church during our beginning. They all were potential lead team members. However, when asked as to why they desired to leave their current church, some deep resentments came to light. We asked them to reconcile their differences before joining our community and offered to walk with them through that process. They refused.

    Also thanks for #1. I often catch flack from well meaning people as to why we planted in Middle TN. My ONLY answer is that we received a “Macedonian Call” so to speak (i.e., this is where God sent us).

  • Adam

    These are great J.D.! What I really appreciate is including the fact that future planning is so essential and we can’t always expect a miracle to fall out of the sky (although it sometimes does). I am grateful for your wisdom.

  • JamesBrett

    Great post and ideas. I’ve linked to you on my own blog, and am posting your guidelines (along with my own commentary) in a short 2-part series. Thanks for the great work.

  • Jay

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’m sure it will be a huge help to many. One question related to #1: what is a high level of receptivity to the gospel and how do you measure that? How do you balance our own culture’s tendency toward pragmatism and the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents? Are we to neglect the work of breaking up hard ground to be sown in favor of that which has already been tilled? (I don’t think this is what you are saying, I’m just seeking to think through the list.) Thanks again! Blessings.

  • Chris

    Hi James, I’m currently a minister in Dallas preparing to plant a church in the Portland, OR area. I found your guidelines to be a breath of fresh air in this time where the Lord is working and shaping my heart and vision for Portland. I am printing these out and sharing them with my team. Thanks for sharing the wisdom God has given you.

  • Ashley

    As a recently divorced pastor’s wife, I can attest to the urgent need for guidelines such as these for church planters to follow. I firmly believe had my husband has expectations to meet and an active authority to be held accountable by, our marriage would still be intact reflecting Christ’s love for the church. God is sovereign and is the ultimate reconciler! But I still pray that in some way God will be glorified through our mess. Thank you for following the Spirit’s call to write this article. With resources like this and personal testimonies like ours, it will cause a rise for reformation in this area.

  • William Lynch

    Some real helpful stuff…thanks…especially the strategic Kingdom emphasis and de-emphasis on funding being a metric for staying in the fight. I would only disagree with the transfer theory, mny thoughts are to bring the real Gospel to an area that has been deprived. Sincere Christians need not transfer, but there are alot of “duped” people that need to hear the truth. Walk them through the transition, with much love for the local “Church” community, but come they must.

  • Luke

    One thing I would probably omit is the clause on the first guideline. I think it invalidates a lot of ministry in a lot of places, including most of those which are unreached and also extremely hard. Not only that but much of the ministry of Jesus and Paul also would be ‘unethical’ under that definition (acts 17 and all Jesus ministry among people that put him to death before believing his words. What does it say about people like Stephen, who have been martyred in challenging contexts. I think this is extremely problematic and could end with easy excuses to stay away from ‘hard’ places. Who decides who is receptive to the gospel? Is it not always a miracle? Dead is dead, is it not?

  • J.D.

    Wow, thank you Ashley for sharing something as personal as this. May it be a very important word to all who read of your story. My prayers are with you. May the Lord work through this tragic situation for your good and His glory. I am so thankful that He will never leave us nor turn His back on us, takes our burdens, and loves us without measure.

  • J.D.

    Jay, I appreciate your comments. Thank you. I’ll see what I can do in answering them. If you need more info, feel free to email me and we can set up a time to talk.
    Regarding receptivity, I’m wanting to know who are the people, population segments, groups, that are either asking the Philippian Jailer question (or getting close to it) as opposed to those who are nashing their teeth, tearing their robes and putting their fingers in their ears when they hear the gospel. While we are to rejoice over the one sinner who repents, we must recognize that there are 4 billion needing to repent and 2 billion who have never heard of Jesus. A wise steward uses his Lord’s resources (time, money, engergy, life, people) to be the most strategic for making disciples of all nations. We neglect no one; but we must be wise stewards. The hard soil areas must have missionaries! There must be people who will invest their lives among hard soil areas. However, to say that everyone must be in the hard soil areas, while others are asking the Philippian Jailer question, is wrong.

  • J.D.

    I greatly appreciate you comment, Luke. Thank you. The first guideline acknowledges that God calls people to hard soil areas. For someone to be called there but to go to a receptive area is sin. Such a calling is just as legitimate and important as a calling to a highly receptive area. Yes, Jesus and Paul (and Stephen) went to hard places, but they “shook off the dust” and then went to the more receptive. The only way we can know if someone is receptive to the gospel is to share it, and look at the churches that are growing by conversion growth. The work of the Spirit is always a miracle–you are correct.

  • Drichile Michael

    Compliments in Jess’s name. This encourages me as an African to press on with the gospel work, reaching Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda and North Eastern Dr. Congo.With Jacob Lee, Aluma Abraham,myself Michael and Patrick. We will press on where there is dry financial and Spiritual ground.

    Michael Drichile
    Moyo Uganda

  • David Sitton

    I have meant to commend “Ethical Guidelines” before now. My only difference might be under #1 where you prioritize “receptive” areas. I understand this. However, the present day receptive areas were usually unreceptive until they were sown by pioneers. Thus a need for prioritizing also the unreceptive unreached. Just a thought. However, I appreciate you very much and cheer your efforts from a distance. David Sitton, To Every Tribe

  • JD Post author

    Thanks, David. I also agree with you. 🙂 The unreceptive will never become receptive if we do not give priority to them and go. However, I would say that even in the most unreceptive contexts, we should prioritize based on who is the most receptive among them. It may be as simple as beginning among the unreceptive with those who are the least likely to kill you. Degrees of receptivity exist even among the most resistant.

  • Tony Gantana

    I appreciate this article,but would want you to eloborate on the area of mentorship for young inexperience pastors that are called into the ministry,to plant churches for the first time.

  • Erma Grace Ruedas

    Recently, one of our pastors left the church and build his own church nearby.. Just less than a kilometer away from our church. Is it ethical?

  • JD Post author

    The answer to your question depends on many factors, Erma. Is he working to plant the church with 100% conversion growth from an unreached people group? If not, did he and the church agree on any people being send out? Or, did he agree that he would not “sheep steal” from that church?