It’s the question I get asked most often by young, aspiring church planters — “If you had to do it over again, what would you do—or not do—differently?” It is in answer to that question that I’ve been using my “rearview mirror” perspective. So today, here’s installment #3, with the first two listed as well.
3. Keep preaching, praying, and pastoring connected. While a “clear voice” and a “bent knee” are important, so is a “strong shoulder.” In fact, they go together in church planting. Paul lays this out so well in 1 Thessalonians 2, where he beautifully describes how he delivered God’s Word and his own soul as well (my paraphrase). Ivory tower proclaimers don’t cut it by themselves, but neither do walk-in-your-shoes pitiers. A combination is needed. Yes, preachers who also pastor. Voices that call out for action, and hands that show them them how.
What I discovered early on is that all three support each other. Consequently, I encourage church planters to use them together like a chain, linking them end-to-end to help them “pull the load” of their work. In other words, as you preach and people respond, serve them the best you can. Pray with them and shepherd them as a brother or father. All three — preaching, praying, and pastoring — are connected in church planting, and necessarily. Because your Spirit-empowered, prayer-soaked preaching will cause hearts to lean in to you and your team, use those opportunities to help them put the Word into action. Do more than preach to them and pray for them; walk with them towards obedience.
Conversely, often you’ll discover your best preaching points and specific applications via your time with people. I by no means am encouraging you to “rat” from the pulpit; that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. I’m simply saying that being with people will clue you in to their needs, hurts, desires, and frustrations. And as you faithfully deliver the Word week after week, God will use those real-life moments to make your preaching more tangible.
This was powerfully and memorably illustrated to me during our Ephesians series when, after a personally frank message on speaking the truth in love, especially within families, one of the couples for whom I had been praying earnestly approached me and asked, “So can you teach us how to implement this in our specific situation?” I immediately responded that I had been praying much for them (which, by the way, was exactly what they needed to hear as God used it to confirm their sense of conviction), and was so pleased that they were sensitive enough to take this next step. So we began to meet, and sure enough, over time, through prayer, and via truth, God changed them dramatically. Their entire mode of communication underwent seismic shifts, all for the good of that whole family. It was a splendid joy to walk with them and watch them as God sanctified them in a wonderfully messy way.
As a result of those conversations and encounters, I became even more acutely aware of the specific struggles facing our sheep. Not only did my prayer life get more specific, my preaching became more targeted and my pastoring more intentional. Questions about particular things worked their way into “normal” conversations; inquiries about certain issues were “added” into the regular exchange of pleasantries. It may sound odd to you, but it is exactly how God kept my preaching, praying, and pastoring linked so that the shepherd and sheep mutually benefitted.
Furthermore, when people see you beside them, they are much more apt to let you stand before them. This is how your pastoring affects your preaching, and how your preaching is affected by your pastoring. It still sits fresh in my mind — laying squares of carpet with my wife alongside other men and women. Or painting walls. Or clearing out tile. You see, we had just purchased an old warehouse, and in order to move in by January, it was all hands on deck. Yep, all hands. Mine and my wife’s. And our kids. So late into the night we knelt, stood, sat, and reached with other families who were also there, doing anything and everything to get this facility as close to ready as possible. Was it my “job” to be there? Maybe not. Could I have used that time better in some ways, maybe studying, writing, or discipling? Probably so. But in the end, it was exactly our willingness to walk with them that allowed us to even more deeply speak to them. And boy, the things I learned those weeks listening to so many of our sheep as they talked, talked, and talked. It was a window into how to pray for them.
This is the inseparable essence of preaching, praying and pastoring. And while each one is valuable, their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. It takes all three joined in unity to see a church plant become all it can be for the glory of God.