Category Archives: Church Planting

Church Programs: Get A Better Vehicle

lakeI have only traveled internationally a couple of times in my life, and I have only left my home continent three times. I am clearly no expert on intercontinental travel, but I am fairly confident that a US resident will need more than a car to reach five of the six other continents. A vehicle working here is not necessarily a vehicle that will work everywhere.

I feel like most churches, pastors, and Christians struggle to understand this concept when it comes to reaching the world around them with the gospel.

The vehicle you have been using to reach the world around you is probably not the vehicle you need to blaze new ground in the places outside your world. Andy Stanley makes a painfully obvious observation that pastors and churches need to understand:

“Your [church, discipleship program, evangelism plan, missions strategy] is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently getting.”

Think of every frustration you have with your church. Think of every person you wish you were reaching. Think of every empty seat you long to see filled with a person committed to following Jesus. Think of every ministry and mission you wish you could fund.

Now, recognize the brutal truth – your church is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently seeing.

Every problem has to be met with a solution. If your solution to seeing an ocean between you and your destination is to just keep driving, it won’t be long before you are sinking.

You may already feel the water around your ankles. But you can stop. You can find a new vehicle. You can get where God is calling you to go.

Let me share 5 absolutely crucial steps to get where you want to go.

  1. KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!!!! I cannot overstate this enough. Most churches and pastors have no idea where they want to go. You need to be able to answer that question in two sentences or less. If it takes more than that, no one else will remember everywhere you are trying to go, and you will end up going by yourself. Two sentences. Where is your [church, ministry, discipleship program, evangelism strategy] going?
  2. Ask questions until you have to look up more questions to ask. Once you know where you are going, ask questions about everything! Why are we doing that? Who is helping us get there? Should we be doing that? Is that working like we were promised it would? What do we need more of? What is our cost benefit for every ministry and event we have at our church? Ask questions until you have exhausted yourself learning about where you are, refining where you are going, and evaluating what you have and what you need. Never stop asking questions.
  3. Be personal, loving, and generous as you evaluate people. Prioritize people as you try to go to a new destination. Go as slow as they need to go. Communicate clearly, then communicate clearly again, and again, and again. A leader who arrives as a destination without people following is not a leader – you’re a lone wolf. A leader who arrives at a destination with a trunk full of dead volunteers is not a leader – you are a sanctified sociopath. Prioritize people as you reach your destination.
  4. Be obsessively relentless and coldly ruthless in evaluating systems. Once you know where you are going, you need to evaluate everything you do, every penny you spend, every word you say, every program in place. My dad was part of a major mega church that would literally spend millions of dollars on a massive Christmas production every year in order to reach the lost with the story of Jesus and the gospel. Over the course of a few years, my dad was able to present a brutal truth to the leadership of that church – their 20 year tradition, taking millions of dollars, thousands of man hours, and every ounce of leadership capital every year, was, and had been, failing to fulfill its purpose. Every year. I am proud to say my dad was influential in killing one of the most loved traditions in one of the most important churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I am proud because my dad was ruthlessly committed to reaching the lost. Be absolutely ruthless in evaluating your systems, because no system is worth the soul of a lost person in your city who will not be reached with that system.
  5. Take the action you know you need to take. As you deal gently with people and harshly with systems, you will find times where action must be taken. Pray for the courage to take that action. I once had a mentor tell me courage was the most important quality of a leader, and I did not understand that at all – until I looked back and saw all the ways my inaction had hurt the church I was called to lead and the people I was called to shepherd. Be strong and courageous. Take action as soon as you know action is needed.

Just over 10 months ago, my church I am helping to plant had a really great women’s bible study going, led by a seriously gifted teacher in our church. At that time, we were a church plant team that had not even launched yet. That rocking bible study was amazing, but it was not leading people to disciple other people, which is why I speak of that amazing bible study with an incredibly gifted teacher in past tense. Having a great women’s bible study is not what we need right now. We need our people to disciple other people. So we were ruthless in our assessment of that system, and we took the action we needed to. We broke up our great bible study led by a phenomenal teacher to start three small bible studies led by less gifted teachers.

Now, almost a year later, we have four women who are teaching the bible to other women on a weekly basis. We have seen two women find their place in our community with relationships they never imagined having in the church. We are currently seeing a marriage saved, and one of those small groups, led by one of our not-as-good-as-her teachers was the catalyst that led to life change for both the wife and husband. We know where we are going, and we aren’t about to let the wrong vehicle stop us.

Pastor, find and use the right vehicle to get you where you want to go. You will never regret dropping the program that wasn’t working in order to embrace the one that will.


Protecting Your Wife: Principles for planters

Tomorrow will mark my family’s one year anniversary in our new home in Phoenix and our new life as church planters. Reflecting on our first year, I can confidently say I did a pretty decent job of serving my wife. I made a LOT of other mistakes in a LOT of other areas, but I did pretty well in caring for my wife. I want to share some of the principles I set in place that protected my wife. My principles were developed to address our parachute approach to planting, but they can apply any time you leave your primary support network to start something new. I hope these principles will be a blessing to other planters, but mostly, I pray they will result in blessings to your wife.

Devote the first 6 weeks to finding Christian friends. I know you want to hit the ground running and focus on evangelism, but, for the long term good of your wife’s heart, devote significant time to build a relational foundation. Both you and your wife will instinctively crave relationships, but, be warned, most people you meet in the next year will come and go faster than you will believe. You need to develop a strong foundation of stable friendships to help keep you grounded during the coming tempests of temporary relationships. Practical Tip: Develop a plan for finding friends. I decided that for the first 6 weeks, I would constantly pursue pastors and Christians hoping to find some families with whom we would click. My focus was on pastors of missional churches, in roughly the same life stage as my wife and me. I literally had a list written before we hit the ground. I pursued the pastors on my list, and we invited them into our home for dinner with no agenda, which was a blessing to them as well as us. Pursue Christian friends!

Share the vision with your wife before anyone else. Church planting is relational work, which is tiring work (at least it is to introverts, such as myself). Your temptation will be to constantly share the vision God has given you with everyone, then come home, exhausted, and assume your wife is still on board. She needs to be reminded constantly why you are there. Do not assume she is still on board – ask her! Let her see your passion. Let your enthusiasm spill over onto her. Keep her fire burning for the mission you have been called to. Practical Tip: As soon as a plan develops to the point you write it down, share it with your wife first. My measurable for this principle is simple – if my wife is ever surprised by a decision I made, I failed to keep her primary in my vision process.

Keep your family first. . . on your calendar. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to prioritize spending high-quality, focused, and uninterrupted time with your family. I suggest you have a day of the week that is your family day. Pick a day, and then guard it ferociously. For us, we decided to enjoy Family Fridays. Over the past year, during different seasons, we have switched to Monday Fun Days, but we have never let the week go by without a designated day of intentional family fun. Don’t believe the lie that you are too busy, or the needs of the community are too great, or your work as an evangelist is too pressing. God will manage for those 4 or 5 hours without you. Practical Tip: Spend the money and get some passes to a local museum or the zoo that your children love. Take away the decision process involved in “where do we go?” Kids are creatures of habit, find what they like and just keep doing it.

Gently, but consistently, press into the tensions your wife feels about how you allocate your time. This principle should be a humbling, tough process. Because if you are truly loving and serving your wife, sometimes you will have to relinquish your plans for the good of your family. And, if you are called by God and driven towards that call, slowing down hurts! Sometimes you may be tempted to think she is slowing you down, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Really, she is helping you pace. Which I definitely need. Whenever I go running by myself, I literally run half the distance I can run when I run with her. Not because I am weak-willed when running by myself, but because I am too confident in my own capacity. Church planting is about distance, not speed, and you need someone to pace you. Most likely, that person is your wife. Value her as a gift, and lean into it constantly. Practical Tip: Set aside 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon to look at your calendar with your wife for the next two weeks. Decide upon priorities together, and ask her directly what kind of time she and the kids need from you above your family day together.

Shepherd your wife’s heart. What kind of a shepherd ignores his flock in the plains in order to pursue mountain goats on the cliffs? A bad shepherd. Your wife is your most important church member. Be the pastor she needs. Find out how she is responding to the circumstances of her life. Counsel her when she is trying to balance her roles as mom, unpaid staff, and devoted wife. Weep with her when her good friend leaves the church and drops her without looking back. Help her disentangle her frustrations with the process of church planting from the people of the church. In general, treat her like a church member you desperately need to keep connected to the body, because she is and you do! Practical Tip: Establish a weekly date night (ours is a Friday night, at-home date night after the kids are in bed) and focus on asking her questions, and ask her if you can speak to those things. You will be amazed what intentional pastoring will do in your wife’s heart.

Church planting has chewed up and spit out more more men than you would ever want to know when you are planting yourself. When I talk to most people involved in lots of planting, the posture and commitment of the planter’s wife is almost always a factor. That points to a failure of men, not a weakness of women. When Eve succumbed to the lies of the serpent, God called Adam to account. Her failure in the face of trial was Adam’s failure to protect and serve her through the trial.

Your wife is her own person, with her own relationship with God, but your job is to protect her, serve her, and lead her as you walk the path of planting together.



Christian, Be Like Bourne: Living on Mission

BOURNEThere is a new Bourne movie coming our way, and my wife and I cannot wait. Jason Bourne is one of my favorite action movie heroes for lots of reasons. He is humble. He never quits. He can do just about anything. And he is always the underdog, hopelessly outmatched, but able to find a way through. Aside from the character, the music always great, the acting is top notch, the cinematics are flawless, and the greater story arc pushes the individual movies. They are really great movies.

There is one type of scene which has featured in each of the movies about Jason Bourne, and it ties directly into Christian living: improvised weapons.

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Spiritual Warfare: My life as case study

spiritual_warfareHave you seen or experienced spiritual warfare? Until my family and I began the process of planting a church, I don’t know that I ever had any experience with spiritual warfare outside of battling my own sin, hearing missionaries talk about their battles, and sharing and hearing with other Christians the stories of demonic oppression told to one another like ghost stories around a campfire. And that was the extent to which I understood spiritual warfare – fighting with my own pride or bad attitudes and stories of the creepiest, unexplainable stuff that happened somewhere else in the world. I only understood Spiritual Warfare as something small or something remote.

I really didn’t understand spiritual warfare.

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Strengths Based Leadership In Christian Ministry

leaderYesterday, I saw something scary. Something that I have sadly come to expect. I saw a couple of Executive Level leaders bantering back and forth about the people they cannot wait to cut from their organization. I listened to them discuss the best strategies for engaging people just enough to get their help without creating lines of connection that would be difficult to break. Where I come from, we call that using people. They laughed at the weaknesses, quirks, and eccentricities of the organizations they compete with, and they reveled in their personal aspirations towards greatness. Sadly, I see this all the time.

I see this, because I am a church planter, networking with other church planters.

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Saturate: Chapter 4

saturatePaul once wrote about how he struggled with sin. He talked about doing the things he did not want to do. I get that. He also talked about not doing the things he did want to do. I get that part also. He lamented about how tough it was to be saved by Christ, yet still caught up in sinful desires. Check that box too. Then, in the midst of his lamentations, Paul draws up and ends the pity party by clearly declaring thanks for Jesus, because “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ!” This is where a lot of Christians get waylaid in their walk with God.

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Saturate: Chapter 3

saturateJesus is better.

That is a pretty simple message for anyone involved in the church for a while. After all, this is the core of the gospel, the good news; whatever you’re idolizing, loving, or desiring – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re hating, running from, or fighting against – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re pursuing, fighting for, or working towards – Jesus is better. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is better than anything in this world, and you can have him.

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Saturate: Chapter 2


This chapter centers around one big idea: Jesus broke down the divide between secular and sacred, and we should do the same thing in our lives.

Vanderstelt unpacks this idea through a story from his own life (the poker game), the trajectory of Israel towards a divide and Jesus’ intervention, and a diagram that I found a little difficult to decipher. The secular/sacred divide seems to be at the heart of most missional community movements, so this is an important chapter to understand from a Biblical theological perspective. But make no mistake, this goes against the grain of much of the Western church’s history, as Greg, at Jeff’s poker game made clear.

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Saturate: Chapter 1

saturateThe first chapter of Jeff Vanderstelt’s book focuses on the problem he saw with the traditional (practiced by our parents’ generation) understanding of ministry and church. Let’s first off note that Vanderstelt is an excellent writer. His ability to communicate big ideas through simple stories makes it easy for us to capture the heart of what he is saying. So let’s trace the problem as he encountered it.

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Pentecost: The Original Launch Service

pentIf you are protestant, you may not know it, but today is Pentecost Sunday. It is about 50 days after Easter, and on this Sunday Christians all over the world celebrate the day of Pentecost, where Christ’s disciples were given the power Jesus had promised to them. And the world was forever (literally) changed. The day of Pentecost marks the beginning, or the birth, of the church, God’s people, predestined by the Father, redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice, and marked by the filling of the Holy Spirit. On this day, I want to share a two quick observations about this time, and its significance to me.

1. God will build his church. As a church planter, I cannot express to you how frequently I am tempted to think, act, and pray as though it is my job to build God’s church. That temptation easily overtakes men in my vocation, because we can easily blend our task of organizing and equipping God’s people with God’s promise to multiply His people. When I look at people in my community, I see sheep without a shepherd. The danger is when I move from compassion to action, because no action of mine will ever save anyone. Instead, I should look to the disciples as my standard. Even when I am fully confident of my calling and the needs of those around me, our job is to pray and wait upon the Lord. Because when he begins moving, the world begins changing.

2. God’s power > My action. Every. Single. Time. The disciples walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, shared the same rock/bed with Jesus, and experienced the miracles of Jesus. But when Jesus left, he commanded them to wait. He gave them the most important mission the world has ever known – Go into all the world and baptize everybody, teaching them to be like me – and then told them to relax for a bit. The reason for waiting is simple. God was sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and anything they did before they received God’s power was pointless. God’s power trumps our work every time. I think our desperation to do stuff comes from a good place, like when my four year old son brushes his teeth by himself. I walk in and see about a month’s worth of toothpaste squeezed out on the counter, water dripping from every solid surface in the room, and my proudly smiling son standing in the midst of it all. He worked hard to please me. But it would have been much easier, and I would have been equally pleased had he asked for my help in the first place. The disciples did not need a discipleship strategy, a three pronged outreach focus, or a solid digital presence (maybe this is more for myself?). They needed God’s power.

On this day of Pentecost, some 2,000 years removed from the day God launched his first church plant, I feel only grateful for the simple promise Christ gave along with the most important mission the world has ever known. “I will be with you always.” That was no Hallmark sentiment. Jesus made a declaration of war and sent out his army fifty days later, armed with some pretty serious firepower!

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