Join Me! Guidelines for Recruiting a Church Plant Core TeamBy Bradley Bell
February 3, 2022
Each Christmas, my family has a tradition of watching a little known movie called The Nativity Story. We love it not just because it closely follows the Scriptures, but also because it takes some reasonable creative license. For example, it envisions the scene in which the wise men were initially deciding to follow the star. There, the entire party is skeptical and full of excuses—except for one man. After making an impassioned case based on Old Testament prophecies, he offers a bold and climactic call to his friends—two simple words that sum up a wise man on a mission: “Join me!”
This is a picture of the critical part of church planting that is building a core team. Ed Stetzer describes this group as “the team at the onset of the church who typically sticks around for the long term, contributing once the church has already been started.” If Christ is the church plant’s foundation, then the core team is its pillars. Yes, as the cliché goes, you have to be a little bit crazy to plant a church. But to plant without a core team—that’s just insane.
Despite the stereotype that Paul was a lone ranger, the New Testament paints a clear picture that he was ruthlessly committed to church planting in community. In fact, the only time I can remember him rolling alone was his brief stay in Athens in Acts 17. Yes, he preached an epic sermon there and saw people believe, but we shouldn’t miss how the entire section is prefaced: “Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed” (17:15). The guy did not want to be alone.
Even if you’re committed to the principle, how should you go about recruiting a core team? Is it simply a matter of finding anyone crazy enough to join you? Or approaching people while quoting Old Testament prophecies and shouting, “Join me”? Although that might draw attention to the “man on a mission” part, it pretty well leaves out the “wise” part. Instead, here are a few guidelines as you recruit (conveniently in the form of four C’s).
Look for Calling
Church planting is an exercise in desperate dependence on God. Recruiting a core team is no different. Consider Jesus, the Son of God, having chosen his apostles before the foundation of the earth. And yet we read in Luke 6:12-13, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.” Obviously, you are not the Son of God, nor are you choosing apostles, but if Jesus nailed down his “team” by first communing deeply with his Father and praying over his followers, then it is wise for you to start there as well.
You will no doubt have your eye on certain people, and that’s fine. But how do you know who God might be calling? Ask God to bring candidates to mind, then pray over them by name. Sure, pray that they’ll join your team, but also pray for their conformity to the image of Christ. And pray for yourself, that you would be sensitive to the Lord’s leadership and full of trust that He will call people to join you.
Look for Competency
I think it’s safe to say Paul was very strategic about who he pursued to be on his team. We don’t know all the nuances of his decisions, but his testy relationship with John Mark seems to point to the bottom line: can the person help get the job done? After Mark bailed early on a missionary journey, Paul was convinced that he was a hindrance to the work. Thankfully, toward the end of his ministry Paul’s view had changed. On what basis? Because Mark had redemptively become “very useful for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Yes, you’re wise to want a team of people who can help get the job done. But what exactly is the job? In other words, what specific roles do you need to have filled? Worship leader? Children’s director? Small group leader? Financial administrator? Determine what you can and can’t do yourself. Then for the roles that need to be filled, write out a one-page role description that explains what you’re asking of them. Include in that role description the necessary qualifications. Is it a pastor, deacon, or volunteer role? Are you looking for a male or female? How much experience is required? Answering these questions up front will help you know what to look for, and will help candidates more realistically consider the opportunity.
Look for Character
Although the first two guidelines tend to come more naturally in the hustle of recruitment, character should always hold more weight than calling and competency. Though not everyone on your core team will be pastoral candidates, it’s still helpful to consider Paul’s chief qualification for church leaders: “an overseer must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). The standard is a person who will not bring shame on the name of Jesus and his bride.
We will always be tempted to measure only the outward appearance, but God invites us to join him in searching the heart of a person. If you find yourself having to choose between a candidate who has remarkable gifting with questionable character and a candidate who has less gifting with blameless character, choose character every time. Do the digging. Know the person. Ask their community. Are they open about their struggles? Are they fighting for holiness? Are they serving humbly? Are they eager for reconciliation? Ask the hard questions and scour for precious character.
Look for Chemistry
Years ago I would’ve left this category out altogether, but I learned my lesson the hard way. Ignore the matter of relational chemistry and your potential for conflict multiplies. If only Paul and Barnabas were here to warn us. After making it work really well for a while, even their seemingly flawless partnership fell apart: “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other” (Acts 15:39). Since the New Testament spotlight remains on Paul, it’s natural to assume he was right and Barnabas was wrong. But I chalk this up to the kind of tension that comes from different wiring.
There are three realities to draw from this. One, conflict is inevitable. Be honest about that with yourself and with the people you recruit. Assure them you are committed to conflict resolution (and learn some tools to navigate it). Two, conflict is redeemable. I am convinced that the ultimate reason Luke includes the embarrassing story of Paul and Barnabas is to show us that God is able to bring good even from conflict. And three, chemistry matters. Take into consideration things like personality differences. Ask yourself the practical question, “Do I enjoy spending time with this person?” Consider spouse dynamics and how they relate to the group as well. Obviously you don’t want everyone on your team to be just like you or to be your best friends, but you do well to watch how the room changes when they walk into it.
Those are the guidelines, but what does it tangibly look like to have a conversation with a candidate? Here are a few things to consider: