Almost 13 years into this church plant endeavor, I’ve been pondering more intently a question I’ve received frequently during this first decade. It goes something like this: “So what advice would you give me if I was going to plant a church?” Sometimes it’s worded like, “What do you wish you would have done differently?” or even “what things would you not change if you did all again?” However the question is asked, it always prompts me to take a look in my rearview mirror and think about the ups and downs, failure and victories, good and bad, wins and losses. And hear this clearly—all of those have been part of the journey. Hurts, joys, valleys, mountaintops—you travel through them all.
So to those who have asked, here’s what I’d say to a church planter.
1. Prioritize preaching. You’ll soon discover there are many things you can do when the church gathers together. But what is it that you must do? I believe the answer centers around the preaching of God’s Word (1 Cor 11-14, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus). Whatever you do, don’t minimize, negate, or lessen the expectation that, whatever else we may do in this church, this we will do in this church—deliver God’s Word!
As I alluded to in the above references, this is one of the primary points of Paul’s letters to his two young pastors, Timothy and Titus. Phrases like “Preach the word,” “Teach sound doctrine,” “Guard the trust,” and “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (and there’s more!) indicate that God’s Word is the priority when the church gathers. This is the target for the preacher—to sound the call. Teach the text. Trumpet the message.
So, if you don’t love to preach and teach the Bible, don’t plant a church. Lots of things come and go, but Sunday always shows up. And if six months into your endeavor you are already dreading your main job—delivering the Word with passion and precision—well, the writing’s on the wall. That’s why I ask all future church planters one question: What’s your favorite thing to do? If the answer isn’t preaching, don’t plant a church.
That may sound blunt, but its shoe-leather reality. The clear exposition and application of God’s Word must drive the preacher; he must find his greatest delight, not only in Scripture examined, but in Scripture exclaimed. Otherwise, over time, the church withers and dies from malnutrition because the “chef” isn’t willing to put in the time to prep the meal. This is why, in the long run, a man who loves to preach and will prioritize preaching is the way to go.
When the preacher prioritizes, and has a passion for, preaching, so will the people. This kind of zeal is contagious; it spills out from the pulpit to the pew. Unfortunately, the converse is true as well. And when we take lightly the job of declaring “Thus saith the Lord,” so will those who listen to us. Personally, I think this happens because we mistakenly assume that sheep begrudgingly endure feeding time; that grazing is a chore. For some reason we falsely think that people don’t want down-to-earth, true-to-the-text, God-glorifying, Spirit-anointed, Christ-exalting preaching. But they do! In fact, a hearty appetite for Scripture is one of the signs of a genuine believer (1 Peter 2:2). So when the church gathers, why do we too often engage in so many other things than setting the table with a meaty meal? It’s like we assume the room is filled with casual (or possibly counterfeit Christians who simply want a quick devotional or mini-sermon rather than a buffet of biblical content. This is unfortunate and unhealthy.
Frankly, when we first started, I made some of these very false assumptions, and would schedule “variety breaks” in our series. They took different shapes and forms, and occurred at different times of the year. But each was designed to give our people a chance to hit reset, as if we were wearing them out. It wasn’t until a kind, committed sheep approached me and asked, “Why do you give us breaks? I just get going well and then we’re out of sync. What’s up?” It was that question, along with a couple of horrendous guest speakers, that God used to center me to this truth: Nothing substitutes for preaching. Nothing.
Admittedly, multiple people can do this, and this can be done in multiple ways. So don’t think I’m suggesting a one-man show or a one-way type of communication. But if, deep down, you’re settling for less than your best in the pulpit, stop and take a long, hard look at why you’re in the role of church planter. That role demands, above all else, a heart, head, and hand that prioritizes the preaching of the Word, for this is the means by which God saves and sanctifies his people (Romans 10:14-15; 1 Thess. 2:13). If you underestimate this foundational principle, you will undermine the very church you are planting.
Rearview Mirror #2 here