church planting

Of Discipleship and Destiny

It was a fresh, autumn day. "Fresh" is that euphemism that Scots use to describe utterly terrible, grey, rainy weather that most other places in the world would deride. Call it a coping mechanism.

Anyway, it was fresh with a bit of sun that day.

I just moved to Edinburgh with my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our dog, and her grand piano. I was 21, she was 22, and we'd been in country for a few weeks. All our earthly possessions had been delayed, not to arrive for another couple of months. But, it was time to get to work.

We'd moved to help a team of men and women plant a new church in the city, and the work couldn't wait for my couch to arrive. So, off to the train station I went to get to Edinburgh Uni. My job was to reach out to incoming freshmen (or freshers, as they're known there. Boy, they love that word "fresh,"...) I arrived to Teviot Square. I was to tell students about Jesus. This was the moment I'd prayed for, worked for, hoped for, and raised a small pile of money for. It had all come to this. I stepped into the square, teeming with students.

I was terrified.

I probably walked around that square for an hour, praying and asking God to open a door, to give me courage — to make it easier. Then, I spotted a Georgia Tech hat.

As a graduate of FSU, I knew what that meant. I'd found a southerner — a dude who rooted for an ACC school, no less. This was my man, so I approached him. "Are you from Georgia?" I asked this dude. Confused, he tilted his head and replied, "no."

As it turned out, this fellow had gotten the hat from his roommate, who was (and is) American. He borrowed it and stepped out to play a bit of frisbee there in the square. We struck up a conversation. He attended an outreach we were sponsoring. He and I began to get together for coffee. I told him about Jesus, and about the destiny and calling on his life. After a while, he began to believe me.

Weeks later, this young man found his way to the first few worship gatherings of our newly formed church — Every Nation Edinburgh — meeting weekly at the Dominion Cinemas. He joined our setup team. Then our worship team. This young Scot became one of the first men I had the privilege of discipling. By the end of his first year at University, God had done quite a work in his life.

For the five years that we lived in Scotland, I enjoyed this relationship with Gordon. I was mentoring him in the faith, and in a bit of life, too. I played music with him (since I was the worship leader), and I did a bit of campus ministry with him (since I was the campus minister, too). I got to watch a teenage boy who wandered to university become a man of God stepping into his destiny.

Seven years ago, I said goodbye to Gordon, to Scotland, and to many other young men into whom I had the privilege of investing a bit of my life. Hope and I packed our bags, a few more kids, and her grand piano, and moved home.

This week, I got to return.

The occasion was to be one of the many men who witnessed Gordon become the Lead Pastor of our church in Edinburgh. The dream of any missionary is to hand the work over to locals, and for the many of us who invested our lives into this place, it was a glorious occasion of thanksgiving to see this young man and his amazing wife step into leadership. Missionary dream come true.

I had the chance to catch up with many old friends this week, pray with many, encourage many. Now that I'm on my way home to Boston again, I can't help but draw a few conclusions.

Discipleship is About Destiny

Twelve years ago I could have never known that Gordon would become a pastor. That's not why I spent time with him. I invested my life and faith into this young man because Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. The fun part, only known to the Lord at the time, is the result. I'm convinced, however, that if we'll stick by our calling to make disciples we will never cease to be stunned at the destinies that are walked into.

Discipleship is Not Automatic

I'm tempted to make discipleship a class or a program. And, while classes and programs are indispensable, discipleship ends up being about relationships. Those don't just happen. They aren't automatic. They require a high degree of intentionality.

Destiny is Up to God

We don't make disciples because we see their destinies. We never know what will happen, only God does. I think it's safer that way. God wants us to be faithful to invest in others. We embody faith in the gospel and trust in the God of the gospel when we leave the results to him.

I'm proud of Gordon. I'm grateful to God. And, I'm really humbled and stunned that this is the kind of work I get to do. By grace, it's work that, for me, will never stop.

Talent Ain't Enough

If you're leading a church, you're probably gifted. God's given you some skills which you bring out on a regular basis to build the church. Maybe it's a preaching or leadership. Perhaps you're a great evangelist or strategic thinker. Whatever your talent is, it ain't enough.

Your talents aren't enough to do what God has asked of you. If they were, then you wouldn't need God. Can you get to a certain level on your own? Sure. But to take the work of God in your hands to greater heights, you're going to have to see that your talent alone just won't cut it. Your people deserve you to be more than who you are naturally.

To your talent, you'll need to add the following to steward your talent well:

Study Don't just rely on your gifts. Work your mind to make them better. Get that seminary degree. Dust off the Greek and Hebrew. Your people need you to know what you're talking about.

Fidelity Talent and faithfulness aren't the same. In fact, a lot of talented people get discouraged and quit. Don't. You'll have to become faithful to be truly fruitful.

Practice Talent is just a sign of untapped potential. If you're naturally a good communicator, imagine how good you'd be if you practiced. Do the hours, do the reps. Get better.

Coaching Whatever you're talent is, I guarantee there's some better. Find that person and beg them to coach you. You're never too old, too good, or too lofty to get good kick and a hug.

Your talents aren't enough. But, they're a great place to start. Get a plan, and get to work on them to maximize your effectiveness for Jesus.

A Little Post-Easter Pastoral Perspective (Or, "Resurrection is for Pastors, Too")

Yesterday was Easter Sunday — pretty much the biggest Sunday for us pastors. The pressure was on early this year, since Easter came so Early. But, the folks show up in their Sunday best (even in Boston). Familiar and unfamiliar faces find their way into the seats to celebrate the risen King. Or, at least, to have something to do before brunch.

In any case, Easter Sunday can be a source of massive encouragement and/or massive discouragement for us pastors. So, here are four handy reminders for those of you who find yourself in ministry this meaning, either feeling either good or bad over what are simply the wrong things.

Church Competition Sucks

Measuring my church's crowd against your church's crowd is just terrible. I've been on both sides of that equation. When church is small, you think, "I'll feel better better when it's bigger." But, you don't. When the church is big you think, "I wonder if I'll see many of these people again." Quit comparing your church to something else. Pretty sure the only one who wins there is the devil. Be faithful with what you have, not fretful over what you don't.

Mustering Crowds is Easier Than Making Disciples

Fact: If you give me a million dollars in my marketing and outreach budget, my church will "grow" enormously.

I love that a lot of people came yesterday. And, I'm grateful that it was more than the previous year. But let's be honest, it's way easter to muster a crowd than to make disciples. Fellow pastors, let's celebrate the little movements of discipleship more than the big moments. It seems to me Jesus would feel that way. You know, more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, and all that.

The Easter Moment Could Make Movement

Here's what's great about Easter: opportunity for movement. As my old pastor used to say, people are more likely to believe the gospel if they're in church hearing the gospel. The crowd is bad at all. It's an opportunity. So, however yesterday went, learn from what happened. How could you turn great moments into discipleship movements?

Jesus Rose for Pastors, Too

Hey, Pastor, Jesus rose for you, too. If yesterday was awesome, it wasn't so awesome that the resurrection is somehow less great — peripheral. In fact, if you weren't stunned at the resurrection yesterday, it's a good indication that you're attempting to metabolize ministry success into spiritual life. Not good.

And, if yesterday was terrible, it wasn't so terrible that resurrection won't redeem it. Fellow shepherd, Christ is alive. He is our hope, not just the hope of our people.


His Faithfulness Observed

This Sunday we celebrated our fifth birthday at Aletheia. It was a great day—a wonderful moment to celebrate all that God has done over the last five years. Very often I will write to solve a problem, share a skill, or add a thought to an ongoing issue in church planting or in culture. But to commemorate all that God has done for me personally and for our church corporately in the last five years, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than to briefly enumerate some of the amazing ways God has proven Himself faithful.

  • God called some of our best friends in the world to move to Boston with us. We would not be where we are if it weren't for Donny and Janna Fisher.
  • God gave me a supportive, prayerful, faithful woman of God in my wife, Hope. Without her, I would not and could not do this.
  • We were so scared to move up here, but God gave both our families beautiful, new apartments right on top of each other. Our kids got to play, we got to laugh, and our families grew in close proximity. This made the hard, early years so much sweeter.
  • God gave us a people from day 1. Not everyone gets that, but I never once had to bear this church plant totally alone.
  • God gave me two amazing ministry mentors in Jim Laffoon and Stephen Mansfield, who have walked closely with us for years, guarding me, my family, and our church, with selflessness and wisdom.
  • God provided a building in the perfect location for our launch.
  • God gave us every single dollar we needed, from partners who've given to our ministry for years, to churches who gave us enormous special gifts.
  • Through us, God has saved a lot of people.
  • We launched with 99 people.
  • We've never stopped growing.
  • God has given us hundreds of amazing volunteers. These men and women are selfless, Kingdom-minded, and joyful co-laborers for Christ. I am humbled to lead them.
  • God called and enabled the launch of a second location in downtown Boston.
  • My kids love Jesus and like me. Not everyone can say that, so I'm grateful.
  • All our gatherings are packed, and that's nuts to me.
  • God has allowed our spiritual family to be a diverse one, and I'm so, so grateful for that testimony of gospel power for unity.
  • When I was walking through the valleys of depression, God delivered me.
  • I get to preach the Bible for a living, and make disciples of Jesus Christ as a full-time job. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
  • God has given us an amazing spiritual family in Every Nation. There's no other group of men and women I'd rather walk with in the world.
  • God gave us an amazing staff, and I love these men and women with all my heart. I love working with them, and think they're all rockstars.
  • I've lost count of how many people I've baptized in the last 5 years.
  • When church planting was hard, God never left me. His presence and power sustained me.

It's good to make lists like this. One thing is sure, not every day in ministry will be as sweet as a 5th birthday, but seeing just some of what God has done in the last few years reminds me that He is unstoppably faithful. I can't wait to see what the next few years hold!


4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planting

This post also appears at As the entrepreneurs of the church world, we church-planters tend to have strong opinions on the kind of church we want. So once we get the idea of the future church in our heads, we go after it. We raise money, find the venues, and organize the team to get to the goal that (we hope) was given to us by God.

While this goal-oriented nature can be a huge blessing in the life of the planter, it can also be his demise if his goals aren’t good. I’ve had the privilege to train, equip, and coach a lot of godly planters with godly goals. I’ve also seen a few whose goals were suspect. So how do you know if your goals are godly? Try answering these four questions:

1. Why are You Planting this Church?

If I had a dollar for every guy I’ve met who had a bad answer for this question, I’d be able to buy myself at least two Ed Stetzer books. “There’s nothing like this church in my town,” or, “There’s no Reformed (or charismatic, or missional, or whatever your thing is) church around here,” are bad answers. Also unacceptable are, “I’m ready to be the boss,” “I’ve got a great vision for how church could be done better,” or my personal favorite, “I’m not really sure what else to do.”

The only correct answer to this question sounds something like, “Jesus has commanded me to go make disciples. Planting a church seems like the way God wants me to do that.” If you’re not doing this to form and fashion followers of Christ, you’re not doing it for a good reason.

2. What are You Reacting Against?

Many a church planter has a bad PH balance in his soul. You’ve probably met them — guys in their 20’s and 30’s who are reacting against their mega-church leading, boomer Pastor dads. Such reactivity makes their work acidic, dripping with the “I’ll show so-and-so,” attitude that may doom their work. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you’re reacting against? What way of doing church, or denomination, or leadership style, or theology are you determined to avoid? Do you want to lead a house church on its merits, or because you just hate how “corporate” church has become? Is ancient/future worship your preference because you’re listening to the leading of the Spirit or because you heard about it through a podcast?

Church planter, don’t be reactive. All things are yours in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21). Take the best, leave the rest, and don’t succumb to the pressure to form opinions on other church’s methods or leaders.

3. How Will You Make Disciples?

Do you realize its entirely possible to gather a mass of people without ever actually making a disciple? That’s the scary thing about church growth techniques — most of them work really well. When I’m coaching planters I always want to know how their why (Question 1 above) connects to their how (How they make disciples). Now I’m no anti-church-growth guy. Who doesn’t want the church to grow!? I simply mean that attendance and decisions are not the metrics Jesus asked us to track. He told us to make disciples. If you can’t figure out how to do that, you’re probably in the wrong business.

4. Who is Pastoring You?

Church planting is difficult, soul-draining, devil-fighting, marriage-stressing, and financially-challenging work. You need a pastor. Scratch that, you need pastors — individuals committed to telling you the truth, asking you about your marriage and kids, and keeping your soul healthy. Ideally they will be older and wiser than you — people to whom you’ve given permission to speak into the deep, dark recesses of your soul. Our church is doing really well right now, but I’m convinced I’d have wrecked it at least three times without the men who pastor me. Church planter, who is pastoring you?

Answer these questions, planter. The future of your work — and probably your soul — depend on it.

Church Planting and Me: A Love Affair

I've got a slobbering love affair with church planting. Not the conferences, books, and accouterments of American evangelical church planting culture, but church planting — the actual doing of it. I'm a bit of a purist. I love the start up riskiness, the way it forces the planter to trust God, and the way it creates new platforms from which to do it all again. Like most purists, I don't care much for trends. Every season (here please read that Christian word we all use for an unknown period of time) there's a "new" idea that's really going to revolutionize everything about planting. It's incarnational missional attractional monastic youth-oriented family-oriented purpose-driven seeker-sensitive ... well, you get the idea. Church planting isn't new, and it isn't easy. But if you're called by God to do it, it's still great. And I still love it for at least these 4 reasons:

Church Planting is still the best way to make disciples. Disciples are followers of Jesus and fishers of men, and nothing forces someone to live that rhythm like the planting of a new church. Like weight on the bar, you can't lift it and not get bigger. All the stresses of a start-up are the same pressures that make a great business leader. Church planting works very similarly, and it can produce some amazing disciples.

Church Planting is still hard work. I love the work of planting — the actual tasks involved. Heck, I even love teaching others how to do it. Any method that makes planting look easy, less costly, or overly simple is therefore wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It takes a ton of work, and I love the work it takes.

Church Planting still takes great faith. Both in quantity and quality, church planting has increased my faith in God. The work is up to me, but the results are very much up to God. I love that.

Church Planting still shrinks me. I'm on my third plant (fourth if you count the new site of our current church, but I digress...). Every time something good happens — salvation, reconciliation, healing — I am struck with just how great God is. I decrease in those moments, because God gets bigger. That's a good thing.

So here's to church planting, and my deep love for it. If you feel inspired, maybe come on up and do some church planting with me.