Lessons Learned On the Trail


Church planting is often referred to as trail blazing ministry. I think that would’ve been true maybe ten years ago but that is probably not the case today. The reason is that so many people are walking that path today that it has become a highway. Don’t get me wrong many people are blazing new ground in very hard areas to reach but with the technology and resources out there it has become incrementally easier than a decade ago.

Blazing a new trail is hard work. I ride mountain bikes on some of the best and most beautiful trails in all of California. Those paths are well defined and have been put there by people who did a lot of back-braking work. Just recently a guy in our church decided to develop a new trail which runs right behind my office. We decided to meet after church one Sunday to do some manual labor on the trail. We never made it.

First he decided to pre-ride the trail before I got there and ended up bending his derailer on tree stump that was sticking out. Just as he was getting hauled off the trail by a friend I started on the same trail. I got to a bridge, which I promptly rode off, and bent my front rim. My friend had to come pick me up.

The thing is that established trails are so much more fun because they are defined. They may be difficult due to hills and soft sand but all in all you have a good time while you are out there. New trails are no fun at all. They are poorly marked out, many elements that can do serious damage to your bike, and you often have to backtrack because you got off the path. Usually when you are frustrated by time you are done riding.

This got me thinking about blazing new trails in ministry. You see many of us want to be seen as out in front of the pack blazing trails (i.e. as church planters) but few of are willing to truly do the legwork necessary to develop new trails of ministry. The reasons for that are not always clear seen.

Here are three needed to cut new trails:

  1. You Have To See a New Path No One Else Does: The hardest part of starting a new trail is determining the direction you want to go and having an idea how you want to finish. My friend is a biology teacher. He chose to cut his path along the natural flow of the animals who live in the area. It wasn’t logical or efficient but the trail developed quicker than if he had used other indicators like ease of use.
    This is more than just vision. This is being able to see things that others can’t right now. It is being able to see the connection between what you are doing right now and where you want to go. This take fortitude.
  2. You Have To Go Over the Path Multiple Times: Once you complete the path you will often find that no one is ready to follow you yet. This is because they can’t see what you do. This necessitates you going over and over the path to make clear designations. People want to know where they are going. Our turning from trail blazer to trail guide helps calm their fears.
    So many people take the Lewis and Clark approach to ministry. They do something once, get some notoriety, and then they hit the speaking and book circuit. Being known for the trail that we cut should only be a fruit of the whole reason we cut the trail in the first place
  3. Your Path Has to Go Somewhere: Some of the best trails are never ridden because they go nowhere. Mountain Bikers want ride trails that connect to other trails so that they can go somewhere. Blazing a new trail for the sake of doing something new will end up in a dead end or an unused trail. I have met so many people in ministry who have developed great programs, systems, and events that never caught on because people couldn’t see the value in it. Don’t get caught up in doing a new thing without seriously considering the benefit of it. Being trendy only last for a while because something new comes along.

The best paths that are blazed are those that God has led us down out of necessity. They are total faith walks. Let God use you to blaze new trails.

Saturday Reflection – Dr. Tim Keller speaking at Google on “The Reason for God”

¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12” foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

Dealing With The Numbers

Everyone always says it’s not about the numbers. Let’s be honest, it is, at least partly, about the numbers. The reasons this is true are many. First off, each ‘number’ is a living soul created by God for His own good pleasure. Each person was created to worship God alone. The more of them that are assembled together, the better. Secondly, it’s really the only way to assess how a church plant is doing. When you begin a church and there are only a handful of people there, you’ll know if you are being effective if you see numerical growth. Thirdly, whatever organization you are involved with, when they want to know about the ministry you are involved in, if you don’t offer up the count, they will ask. Every group or organization will want to know the numbers. I could do this all day, but let’s move onto some more productive thoughts.

As a church planter, it is very easy to have your joy bound up in the number of people who come. This isn’t only true of church planters; this is true of all ministers in every context. Jesus speaks of this when the seventy-two returned from doing ministry and as they debriefed Jesus on what had transpired. “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!… Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”” (Luke 10:17, 20, ESV). Notice how Jesus reminds them that their joy and identity must not be bound up in their perceived success (or for some of us, our perceived lack of success), but solely in the completely gracious salvific work of Jesus Christ. We must begin by asking ourselves if our joy is bound up in the numbers of people who come. If it is, we must repent. We cannot serve two masters brothers.

At this point, what I’d like to do is give some random exhortations as to how we are to deal, within our own hearts and in our conversations, with numbers. I share these from very personal experiences. I imagine that not all of these exhortations with apply to all of us, but some will undoubtedly apply. In sharing these, I hope to encourage you all to learn from my misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.

Expect 40 people in 4 Years

I know, I know, that sounds horrible. Just 40 people in 4 years? Yes, 40 people in 4 years. I say that you should expect that. The reason that I encourage guys to expect this number is because 7 out of every 8 church plants fail. There are a great many reasons why the vast majority of church plants fail but one reason is that planters have unrealistic expectations. When a man feels called by the Lord to start a church, there tends to be an expectation that the Lord is going to blow the doors off of the place. We all expect that when we set the sign out in front of the building that the people are just going to pour in, climbing over one another to see the work of the Lord. But most often, especially if you are planting in the 21st century, this doesn’t happen. Many church plants close their doors within the first few years because there isn’t explosive growth. The Lord has many reasons for the slow and steady growth of the church (some of which include preparing and humbling the pastor, preparing the community, lessons in faithfulness and trust, the sovereign timing of God, etc). Not to mention that every area is different. Some areas have a lot of Christians, but they are mostly plugged into solid churches. Some areas have no solid churches and lots of unattached believers. Some areas have virtually no believers. Every area is unique and this will affect the growth possibilities. Statistics teach that if a church has 40 people after 4 years, then they are often sustainable. You have to remember that the 60% of churches in the United States are less then 100 people. Add to that the fact that only 2.5% have more than a thousand attendees. What this teaches us is that churches are a lot smaller than we tend to think. I would encourage you to set much more lofty goals than 40 in 4 years. But only expect that many.

Don’t Forget Attendance will Ebb and Flow

Most church plants begin very humbly so the changes in attendance are easily observable. Like waves crashing on the seashore, church plant attendance will come and go. Because of this, it is very common for a church plant to have 25 people. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, have 50 people. Then settle back to 35 people. Then swell to 70 people. Only then to pull back again to 50 people. This is very common. If you are given to joy at growth and despair at seeming decline, this phenomenon will put you on an emotional rollercoaster. One of the ways that the Lord has ministered to me in this process was to force myself to judge the numerical growth of the ministry on a year-by-year basis only. I acknowledge and expect the ebb and flow of attendance, but only make final declarations on growth based on year-to-year movements. Don’t forget that church attendance has a tendency to go down during the summer months then way up in the fall. Depending on where you live, the winter months can be sparse due to weather conditions. To give you an example, here at Calvary North Bay, Mill Valley, CA, which is two years old at the time of this writing, began with two families (3 adults and 3 children). At the end of our first year, we had about 40 steady attendees. At the end of our second year, we had about 80 regular attendees. That is quality growth when looked at on a year-by-year basis. But within the last year, we would have a few Sundays with 100 people and then two months later have 50 people for a few weeks. So for sanity’s sake, don’t forget that the attendance will ebb and flow. Try and enjoy the variations. Also don’t forget that like a little child, the most drastic changes will be in the first number of years. Scientists tell us that people grow more from one day to six years of age, than in any other span in their lifetime. Church plants are the same. Calvary North Bay doubled in size last year. My guess is that the average mega-church did not. But they are incalculably different and really cannot be compared.

Focus on Incremental Benchmarks

I have found a great blessing in having an incremental perspective of church plant growth. It’s hard to tell when a church plant can shed the ‘plant’ moniker. Does a church plant become just a church after a certain amount of time or because of certain number of people or because of a certain sized leadership or because they own a building? This I really don’t know. Because of that, depending on your perspective, you can always be striving toward very aggressive goals to your own detriment. When I was involved in the first church plant (2002 in New Brunswick, NJ), I was blessed to have a person encourage me to have an incremental perspective on the numbers. When I started in New Jersey, I was single man and there was no core team to start the ministry with. So my first goal was to hit the ten-person mark. After that was attained, my next benchmark was twenty-five people. After that it was forty people. That same idea would then continue on and on. This was a blessing because when you are at ten people, one hundred people seems almost unattainable and can be very disheartening to be judged against. So set for yourself attainable incremental benchmarks.

Like the Apostle Paul, Learn in ALL Things to be Content

When a church planter tells me that there are 40 people coming, I know that there are really only 25. If he says 75, I figure that realistically there are only 50. The sin of exaggeration bites us all. Mostly this happens because we have learned that people will think we are more effective if we inflate the numbers a little bit. We need to rigorously resist this temptation. If the Lord has blessed you with 40 people at this point in your ministry, they are His 40 and they are to be rejoiced in as such. The Lord saw fit to entrust to you 40 of His precious little lambs! They are His sheep and He distributes them as He sees fit. It is not our job to exaggerate numbers to commend the praise of man. This demeans the work of God in your midst. Don’t feel that you need to apologize for the work that is His. Rejoice that He lets your care for any of His own!

Don’t Focus on Who Is NOT There, Love the Ones Who ARE There

It has been said that the church will not grow if you have a huge front door (where new people enter) and an equally huge back door (where established people leave). If you are completely numbers driven in your self valuation, you will always be focused on what you don’t have, rather than what you do. What good is it if 50 new people show up while the 50 that you have are on the way out the back door. A minister is called to love and feed the sheep. His task is to care for the sheep in his care, not to obsess about the sheep that he hoped would be there but weren’t. Brothers, love the people that the Lord has brought to you. Love them and labor for their joy in Christ. If there are 5 people there, proclaim the glories of God in the face of Jesus Christ with the same zeal and passion as if there we 5000. Let those people know the love of God as it flows from Him to and through you and onto them. If you are too busy focusing on the lack of attendance, you’ll miss out on the ministry that God has given you among those who are there.

Finally, Don’t Ever Forget that Numerical Growth is Solely Up to the Lord

This might seem like a given, but it is still worth it to mention. The Lord adds to His church those who are being saved. No sermon or altar call ever saved a man. People are saved by the sheer grace of God and His Spirit drawing them and working in them. Yes, the Lord may use a sermon or an altar call as the instrument, but the instrument can take no credit. The most amazing Stradivarius violin will not sound great if my four-year son was playing it. But an excellent instrument in the hands of a world-class musician will make beautiful music. The work of adding to church is God’s work. He loves to glorify Himself in using human vessels, but that is solely His prerogative. If you have planted a church and it grew like gangbusters, all the glory is His. If you planted a church and it hasn’t grown, all the glory is His.

Living in the Grace we Preach

“God…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:8c-9)

Pastors Sin Alot

The other day I was talking with a good friend who senses God’s call to vocational ministry who said, “One reason I want to be a pastor is that if I have to teach I’ll be forced to study the Bible more, and studying more will help me live more holy.”

I can remember thinking things like that before I got into vocational ministry.  In fact, I had alot of misconceptions about ministry.  I remember having to call a friend who was my senior pastor at the church I attended prior to becoming a senior pastor myself and having to repent to him for being so opinionated about all the things he was doing when I sat under his ministry.  I realized only after actually being in his position that there are many things you just don’t understand about ministry until you’re in it yourself.

My friend’s perspective about holiness was one such misconception I had.  In some ways I guess I thought the same thing.  I thought that living for Christ, and overcoming temptation and sin would come more easily because of all I was doing for and with God. Man, was I wrong!  After being in the ministry to varying degrees for over six years I actually believe the battle with sin is harder in the ministry.  The fact is that if Satan can bring a pastor down, he can break an entire church apart.  For that reason, I believe he targets pastors with unique fury when it comes to temptation and spiritual warfare.


Attacks on all Fronts

Spiritual opposition in my life has felt more intense than ever as a pastor and church planter.  Sometimes it feels like the harder I study and teach and serve Christ, the more difficult personal holiness becomes.  I find myself still losing my temper, lusting, acting self-righteously, or being selfish.


Perfect Pastors Only!

The sad thing is that people don’t like to hear this kind of stuff about pastors.  They want to think pastors are perfect.  I heard someone once say, “I want my pastor to be an island.”  By this they meant they wanted a pastor who seemed untouchable by sin and failure.  The truth is, Jesus is the only island in that sense.  And I’m glad to rain on the parade of anyone who is making a functional Jesus out of their pastor.  That kind of perspective is idolatry in the life of the believer, and undue pressure in the life of the pastor.


God Still Uses Pastors

My own fight with sin causes a funny internal complication when God uses me.  The experience in my life is that God has used me in some of the greatest ways on Sunday, right after I’ve had some of my greatest failures on Saturday.  I’ve been a totally raving heathen in the morning toward people who love me, only to have God save someone from hell through my witness in the afternoon.  Experiences like that have often caused me to ask God, “Why?”  Why do you use me when I am what I am?  Sometimes they make me wonder if I will be able to complete the ministry God has called me to fulfill in this life.  I wonder how I’ll ever make it with this black heart.  And my guess is that if you’re in ministry in anyway that you’ve had these kinds of thoughts.


Saved and Serving by Grace

While all Christian ministers believe they are saved by grace, I think many (like me) at least emotionally believe they’re in the ministry by works.  As a result we see ourselves as saved by grace but serving by works.  The above verse is the antidote to this hint of legalism that I believe hides in the heart of most pastors.  When Paul the Apostle wanted to encourage Timothy to continue on in the ministry he’d been given at a time when he’d been a bit faithless, Paul reminded him of the idenity of the God they served: “God…who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus…”


Are we Approaching Ministry as if Our Calling is by Works?

If you’ve struggled with the kinds of questions I’ve presented in this post which I’ve dealt with in my life, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in that verse.  Paul told Timothy two things here:

1. He was saved by grace.  You need to know that.  You are righteous in Christ in spite of who you have been, are, and in spite of the sin you haven’t even got to yet.

2. He was called with a holy calling by grace.  You need to know that as well.  The reason that God continues to use sinful guys like myself for His great work in the world is because I’m not just saved by grace, but I’m also in the ministry by grace.  The same is true for you.  Remember that and give God glory for using you in spite of who you are.


Continue in Grace

The crazy thing is that the born again heart won’t take this kind of grace as a free pass to continue in sin.  But this kindness of God actually produces in us a deeper desire for and pursuit of practical holiness.  So remember, we are saved and serving by grace, and the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness!   Live in the grace you preach!

Answers and Direction

Proverbs 16:1-9
1 The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the spirits.
3 Commit your works to the LORD, And your thoughts will be established.
4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
5 Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.
6 In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the LORD one departs from evil.
7 When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
8 Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.
9 A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

Reading this early this morning set me to thinking.
1) It is incumbent upon me to have my heart prepared, in the right place. Or, as one biblical orator phrases it, “Living in Communion with God and living in community with each other.” For that to be a possibility, my heart needs to be prepared. And if it is, then I have no place to worry about the words that will pass from my lips throughout the course of the day whether I am conversing, counseling or teaching.
2) Verse 9 encapsulates this thought from 1-9 in saying that it is responsible for me to have made my plans, but I must remain flexible, as in reality, it is Christ who is the One who will be directing my steps today…not me.
3) Verse 3 reminds me that as I have my heart prepared, and as I have made my plans for the day, the week, or the direction of the church I am a part of, I am to commit my works to the Lord Jesus and a glorious thing happens…He, in His condescension, establishes my thoughts. That is, He orders and prioritizes them, some may fall by the wayside, others take precedence.


The peace of God floods my mind which is often times troubled and so easily stirred up by the unrealistic expectations I place upon myself and those that are placed upon me by others.
I have gleaned great and precious things from my Pastor, things that are discussed frequently, for they are constant sources of sustenance, guidance, and satisfaction. One of these falling in line with this meditation…

“How do I know God is leading me in _____?”
“Do you have the desire to do it?”
“Do you see an opportunity (a door) to step out and put that into practice?”
“Then go and do it. Step out into the thing. And see what God will do.”

Philippians 4:6-8
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

Q.1) If you could do anything in this life (as a disciple of Christ), anything at all, what would it be (take no thought of provision or resource)?
Q.2) What would it look like, cranking away on all cylinders, 10 years from now (what would be the ‘product’ coming out)?
Q.3) Who could come alongside you and help you do it?

Cultural Shift – Part 3; Implications For Western Christianity

[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.

The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.

This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?

As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.

What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.

Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.

What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.

The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region.  They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.

As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.

Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.

I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”


(1) National Congregations Study – 2006-07

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Church Planting

I often try and think about the things that I wish someone would have spoken to me about before I made a ton of mistakes. Yes, I grew from these mistakes and the Lord always brings beauty out of ashes, but if only someone would have told me certain things. Now that I think about it, it would be better aptly titled, ‘Things I Really Took to Heart Before Church Planting” as I’m sure some of these concepts I had heard about before planting.

These will be in no particular order. But here goes…

1. God is more concerned with the Minister than the Ministry.

I was shocked to realize that God was more concerned with the state of my heart than He was with the perceived success of the plant. I know a pastor who told me that the first five years was for the pastor’s growth, the next five years is for the fellowship’s growth. He even went so far to call his first church plant’s people ‘the poor practice sheep’. When God calls a man to go and plant a church, He loves that man enough to kill him. It often takes some time for us to realize, but God is more concerned with making the church planter like Jesus than He is in blessing the work. Don’t get me wrong, He’ll do an amazing work in the fellowship. But He’s more concerned with your growth, than the church’s growth.

2. Visit the Local Pastors, not the Local Churches.

It is important for a church planter to visit and meet the pastors in the area that he is moving into. I’ll speak in point 3 about the major pitfall of most church planters in this regard. But relationships with local pastors are invaluable. Those who have been in the area for awhile will have a unique perspective, an experiential perspective, about an area. You can learn from them. But don’t visit their churches. I would say even if they invite you, don’t go. Why? Because if you have a heart for people, you will build relationships with them and when they hear that you are going to plant in the area, some will want to come. And then the ‘sheep stealing’ discussion starts. Church planting is hard enough and the last thing you want is to get off on the wrong foot with people that you want to be close to. I made this mistake personally, so I know.

3. Don’t let your Calling Drive a Wedge between You and Other Pastors.

Almost all first time church planters make this mistake. I made a reference to this in my second point. Here’s how it happens… You sense God’s call to an area and you are rightfully excited. Upon your arrival, you are filled with ideas and vision. You meet with another local pastor and as you speak of your ideas, you make them feel as if they are in God’s doghouse. They will automatically resent you. An example of this is when a planter says something like, ‘God has called me here because He wants to see a Bible Church here’. That says to most people, ‘You are not a Bible teaching church.’ Humility is not learned, it is a consequence from being broken. Because He has broken you, you will be humble. So although you are just getting started, and you probably haven’t been broken much yet, try and respect your brothers who have been plowing the field that you are going to work in. Remember this, ‘You are not God’s gift to the area that you are called to! Jesus is. You are just an unprofitable servant doing what you were asked to do.’

4. Don’t even Think about Quitting for at Least 4 Years.

They say that 80% of church plants fail. Why? They fail for numerous reasons, I’m sure. I think one of the main reasons is that guys quit too soon. Before you even step out, you should be prepared to commit 5 years of your life to it. If God is calling you, what is 5 years anyway? As I said, you should not even think about throwing the towel in until you’ve been laboring for 4 years. It takes time for a church to get established (most people will say that a church is still a baby at 10 years old). God will work in His timing so be patient. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but I imagine of the 80% that fail, most of them shut the doors within the first few years.

5. The Attacks Will Come so Don’t Freak Out When They Do.

When the children of Israel left Egypt did they just coast to the Promised Land? Nope. They had attacks from the outside (the Egyptians and the Amalekites). They had attacks from the inside (Korah, the Golden Calf, the 10 scared spies, etc). The same holds true for the ministry of our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul. The attacks will come. If you sign up for the front lines of a battle, don’t freak out when bullets start flying. When you are called to plant a church, you just signed up to be on the front lines, expect there to be issues. They will come from people on the outside and they will come from people on the inside. Expect them and when they arrive, don’t think it’s strange.

6. Before You Become the Senior (or Lead) Pastor, Be An Assistant Pastor.

I believe that this is so crucial and I am soo grateful for my training as an assistant pastor. In every field, you have to learn the ropes before you take the reins. As a doctor, you don’t just jump from Medical School into the Operating Room. First you do your residency. Same is true of business. The guy from the mail room never gets hired as the CEO. Never. Why? Because they first need to learn the ropes of business. I have found that the ministry is caught (much like a cold). I learned soo much from catching the ministry from my pastor. I learned things to avoid, ways to handle situations, how to gracefully let someone leave the church, how to handle a wounded sheep, etc. Most pastors who have never been Assistant Pastors normally hurt a lot of people because they need caught the ministry from another pastor. My advice would be, “If you want to be plant a church, get on staff at a church first.”

7. Get a Mentor, You’ll Need Him.

My pastor, John Henry Corcoran, told me before I left to plant the first church, that the next set of lessons that I need to learn can only be learned as the pastor. But once you step on out, you are in uncharted territory. You want and need someone who you can bounce ideas off of. You want to have someone who can say to you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t do that.’ I did that once and …’ You’ll also need someone who can support you personally. Once you step on out, the enemy will be gunning for you like never before. You need accountability as most church planters feel isolated from people. Make sure that you have someone who will ask you the hard questions and keep your struggles and issues before the Lord.

8. The Key to Church Planting – Discipleship

There are a small percentage of church plants that take off like wildfire. Most of them are slow going. Like Jesus, discipleship is the key to building the kingdom. Discipleship involves relationship and relationship takes time and energy. You need to pour into the people that God has brought to you. You need to be available and open with them. You need, like the apostle Paul, to be a poured out offering. Discipleship builds solid churches.

9. Beware of Friends and Family Who Want to Help with the Church Plant.

I know, this statement is a bit shocking. I have found from my own experiences and in talking with many other pastors that one of the biggest hindrances to a pastor’s joy is the well meaning friends and family members (extended) who want to be involved. I often tell men to discourage their close buddies and families members from being there at all in the early stages.

10. Make Sure That You Keep Feeding Your Soul.

For most church planters, they are used to going to church. Even if you are in service at the church, you are often hearing the Word taught a few times a week. Once you step out, you need to make sure that you are still sitting under the teaching of the Word. I have found that the best way to do this is to pick a ‘Pastor’ for the next three months. It can be anyone you want. But listen to a few Bible studies a week from a certain pastor. Maybe study through a book or sermon series with a certain pastor. As I am writing this, I am presently studying through the book of Colossians with Pastor Tim Brown of Calvary Chapel Fremont and am being absolutely blessed and convicted. If you let this lapse, you will sense the leanness of your soul.

Helping God Fill the Trench with Water

“Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.”
And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time.
And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it the third time.
And the water ran about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

1 Kings 18


Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

James 5

One of the snares of ministry that I find myself entangled in occasionally is the thinking that I am somehow helping God by what I am doing…as if He needed my help with anything.

“If I were hungry I would not tell you , for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” Psalm 50

Elijah wanted to show God’s people that he wasn’t going to try to help God out. He actually went out of his way to prove that he didn’t have any smoldering charcoal briquettes up his sleeve that he shook out into the altar as he repaired it. He wasn’t putting on a religious show as he re-stacked the stones, laid the wood in order and placed the sacrifice for the burnt offering upon the wood.

He then proceeded to dig a trench around the altar with the prophets of Baal looking on, king Ahab, and the people of Israel. Now that was different. That wasn’t normal. Probably took a while ti dig since it hadn’t rained for a few years.

He then asked for four pots or barrels to be taken down the hill, presumably, filled with water, brought back up and poured over the whole altar. Now maybe some of you have stood on Carmel like I have…and the only thought I could muster was, “Where in the world did these guys go and get the water from? How long did that take?”He does it a second time…and a third time.

This guy is going out of his way to do something people had never seen before. He was removing himself from the equation, as much as he possibly could. In my mind, he was utterly convinced that God was going to show up. And the people were in need of being utterly convinced themselves that God is who Elijah says he is.

What is Elijah doing? He wasn’t apologizing or arguing or defending God. He simply afforded God an opportunity to show up.

There is a specific way in which God desires to be approached and worshipped. There is a responsibility on our part to repair the altar by  “stacking the stones, and laying the wood in order, to lay the sacrifice in order upon the altar in plain view for all to see.” But even this is nothing, in and of itself, if there is no fire sent from heaven to consume it all, beyond all logical belief and to the amazement of the people we are repairing altars in front of on a regular basis.

In the absence of fire, we are simply doing what the false prophets do…stack the stones, throw on the wood, lay on the sacrifice, and proceed to exert ourselves in vain, putting on one heck of a show to entertain those who are in rebellion against the God who created them and loves them, entertaining them for a brief morning or afternoon, while they continue to falter between two opinions and are destined to be cast into hell.

Am I exerting myself in vain, putting on a show to entertain the starving and the dying, dancing, screaming, and cutting myself to prove just how much I really love God?

Am I defying all logic and stepping outside the box, doing things that aren’t “normal” by pouring water on the altar of my ministry, the altar of my calling, the altar I have been given to repair in the generation I have been born into so that God may be glorified when He proves He is by that manifesting Presence of His holy fire?