Everything we do is in vain without the Lord (Psalm 127:1-2)

"Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep." Psalm 127:1-2

Today my prayer was "Lord, without you all of my work is in vain. All of my hopes are in vain. Everything I'm doing is in vain. My team, our ministry, our vision for this city - it's all in vain unless you, Lord, are in it."

I've known this for some time. The city simply has way too many people in it for me to believe we can have much of an impact in our own strength. But this verse is a reminder that it's not even "much of an impact," rather it is "no impact." That is it will be utterly worthless without the Lord's hand. All of it in vain.

That's humbling. Pleasantly so. And brings me to my knees to beg for more grace/mercy/patience/help/wisdom etc...

How to plant a church - in 5 steps

(this post also available as a downloadable PDF)

There are many guides out there for how to plant missional churches, but all of them seemed too complicated, philosophical, impractical, or just plain misguided. I've attempted the following things in my own ministry with varying degrees of success. What I've compiled here is a list from what I've learned (by experience and trial and error) from my own work and what I've learned in watching other's fail or succeed.

Many systems list 10 things as essential. Or 30 things. I actually firmly believe there is only one thing essential for a successful church planting movement. Prayer. Obviously planting a church is not easy. If it were many more would be successful. But it IS simple. Love the one who created you. Follow him.

If you are regularly humbly praying then you will be tuned in to God's will. You will be walking closely with the Lord. And it will be difficult to not catch His vision and follow His direction for what you're doing.

Therefore prayer is essential throughout this. First and foremost - everything listed here must be sprinkled, covered, drowned in prayer.

Some people argue prayer is first, education second, and leaders third. I would argue prayer is first, second, and third.

Love God and seek His glory first
You need to have authority in your life *1
Have a friend who will punch you in the face when it becomes about you.
Step 1 - Get Started - Pray for it
1 - Invite a crowd of 4-5 to a restaurant and start meeting weekly.
The place is unimportant
The length/type of the sermon is unimportant
The education of the preacher is unimportant *2
2 - Cast vision for church growth.
Via multiplication (not addition).
Cast a vision for evangelism
If we really believe Jesus is the BEST thing in our lives we will talk about it.
3 - It has to be about loving the Lord
Not building your own name, becoming a famous church planter etc...
4 - Pray that it would be about the Lord
5 - Pray for converts, growth, and wisdom in your methodology.
Get your members praying with you.
Get your members praying FOR you. You need all the prayer you can get.
Step 2 - Evangelism - Pray for it
1 - Can happen before people attend the church, but non-Christians can come too if they're willing.
2 - Understand sharing as necessary
For non-Christians to have any hope in this life
For the church to grow
3 - Learn how to share your faith
Via practicing - Share regularly
Attend trainings
Read books etc...
4 - Do evangelism - Regularly
5 - Teach others to share
Pass on what you've learned
Put on your own trainings
Bring people along with you
Pass on books that were helpful to you

Step 3 - Raise up Leaders - Pray for them
(it's not about you, it's about the Kingdom)
1 - Call people to what they're called to do and enable them to succeed at it.
People are called to something
Help people understand their calling
Enabling them to do what they're called to do may mean releasing them to leave your ministry and do something else
2 - Entrust to faithful men (2 Tim 2:2)
People become responsible when given responsibility
Call people to step up in maturity
Leaders are defined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus
Not by how much education they have
3 - Provide training (ongoing)
Leadership training
Theological development
If you cant provide this send them to someone who can
It does not have to be full time
4 - Shepherd your flock of leaders
So they can shepherd their flocks

Step 4 - Prayer - Pray that you'll know how to faithfully do it
1 - Organize prayer meetings outside of regular church time
2 - Give away leadership of prayer meetings
To those who can train others
And then give it away to others
3 - Pray yourself
Ask God for wisdom and direction
He will give it to you
Ask God that you would do His will not your own
You will be tempted to the opposite
4 - Pray with your leadership
Teach them to pray
Model prayer for them

Step 5 - Send people out - Pray for wisdom, patience, and direction in doing this
1 - Hand steps 1-5 to a member in your group
They will not be as ready as you
Hand things off before people are ready
Otherwise they will NEVER be ready
2 - It should make you uncomfortable
Because it includes people. And people are messy
Because God's Kingdom is bigger than your idea of it
This means gifted men and women may have different theology and methodology than you
3 - Make mistakes
If it's not messy then you're moving too slow
Better to plant 10 churches and 1 heresy than no churches
You pray against this but you cant control everything
*1 - This person should know the answer to the question, "What sin/s is most likely to disqualify you from ministry?" And included on your list of answers to this question should be "Pride"

*2 - The patterns you set will affect the DNA for the future of the church. If prayer is not an essential part at the start (and it should be) then it will be difficult or impossible to add in later. If you meet in an expensive building to start then others, when they are released, will think they need an expensive building before they can plant. If you meet in a house and preach 20 minute sermons then you're creating something reproducible. Think strategically.

This guide is clearly not infallible, therefore - pray.

Turn to Him with your whole mind and being (Deut 30:10b)

"But you must turn to him with your whole mind and being." - Deuteronomy 30:10b (NET)

It's strange to think just how easy it is for me to get caught up in ministry. I love ministry. I love sharing the gospel. I love trying to raise up leaders. I love trying to plant churches. It gets me so pumped up it's ridiculous. Sadly, often times what gets me excited is the strategy of it all. I feel like I'm playing RISK on a team I know will win, but I get to move the pieces. I feel like the Lord is choosing to use me to align things in the right places and make wise decisions.

Which is true.

But if that's all I do then I miss the point of life. I'm thinking about a cheesy Michael W. Smith song from forever ago "The main thing in life, is keeping the Main Thing the main thing." I have to turn to Him with my whole mind and being. Not be focused on the goal of church planting. Or city transformation. Those are fine goals, but my WHOLE mind and my WHOLE being are to be on Jesus.

This should be a reminder for me that going a week without a quiet time - even if I see unbelievable things happen in ministry - is unacceptable. I NEED to be loving my Creator. He can do without me strategizing for this city. But I cannot do without Him. At the center. Of everything.

Most of the time in life it's money, or fame, or pride, or whatever, that takes us away from Jesus. But it's almost even more sad when ministry is what keeps me from rendering my whole mind and being to the only one who deserves it. Even worse is how common the problem is.

So you're called to be a pastor . . . .

So you're called to be a pastor. A church leader. A preacher.

Congratulations. Now there are a few things to understand before you get too carried away.

First of all, if you're called to be a preacher in the sense that you feel you have the gift of teaching, then please, teach. But recognize preaching is something different. If you're funny, and are good at communicating truth, if you love to exegete scripture and hash it out for people to understand then FANTASTIC. The Church needs people like you, but you're a teacher - not a church leader. Not a pastor. Please don't take a job as either of these.

A huge problem the church has today is the confusion of these three roles. I would venture to say there are very few to none who would successfully fill all three of these roles. So lets look at the difference between them in role and goals.

If you feel called to be a church leader then recognize that your goal is to raise up as many men and women as you possibly can and enable them in the ministry they're called to do. Did you hear that? Your goal is not to grow the biggest church in your city. In fact if that is your goal then you WILL fail. You may succeed for a time, but eventually someone will be better looking, funnier, and more charismatic than you - and people will switch churches. But it's okay because you weren't called to be an Entertainer. You were called to be a church leader. A church leader is not capitalized because it is special in a "different than someone called to be baker" kind of way, not special in an "Oprah is different because she's famous" kind of way.

A church leader's role is to lead a church. A church is a group of men and women getting together and trying to walk closer with their creator. It is exactly as large as it can be before someone is raised up out of it start a new church. And the church leader's role is to love, shepherd, mentor, and release other church leaders. Not lead in a "run the show" kind of way.

A pastor's role is to shepherd, mentor, and guide the other members of the church. In a functional church there will be two or three of these for a crowd of 30 or so. They will naturally pastor and you will spot them doing their pastoring frequently one on one. A pastor can be and often is introverted and generally doesn't fit well into the "church leader" role. You know this guy (or girl) because he has pulled someone aside and is asking them how they are doing, he is challenging thoughts which aren't loving, he is pressing for a closer walk with God and a more intimate prayer life. He picks out the person in the room who has been crying all week and prays with them through the loss of their mother. A pastor cannot effectively pastor a group too large, the church leader needs to therefore be sure he is encouraging the people in the group with the calling/gifting of pastoring to be doing that pastoring.

The preacher is also a wonderful asset to a church. People love it when it is the preacher's turn to share at church because he is fun, entertaining, and brings the Lord's truth in a way that is both informative and speaks to the heart. The preacher recognizes that people can sometimes remember one or perhaps two sermons which really had an impact on their lives - i.e. most of what he says will be forgotten before the week or even day is through. But he also believes that the Lord's word is truth, and that hearing truth WILL change people. He is passionate about his own personal times with the Lord, both in prayer and Bible study and loves to share about what he's been learning with others. A preacher does not need any formal education. A seminary degree will often do more to hamper his ability to teach than it will help.

Now back to my favorite role. The church leader. If you're called to be a church leader then what you are called to is a great task. A wonderfully overwhelming job that you will never be able to accomplish on your own. Thankfully you wont be on your own. You'll have other's around to encourage, enable, support, strengthen, and humble you. If you get rid of these people you will die a slow and painful embarrassment of a death (so keep them around). You are asked to be a general of an army, on the front lines along with your men, but also back in the tent looking at the situation of the troops and planning for the big picture. It is your job to know the people of the church and therefore intuition is of great help - if you lack it, pray for it. You are to constantly be calling people to what you believe the Lord has called them to. There are people everywhere who are called to take a part in God's Kingdom but don't know where, how, or even that they are invited to do so. You will be an enabler.

You will be a violent man taking hold of God's Kingdom and violently advancing it. You need to be steeped in prayer because as the strategist you will be greatly under attack from the enemy. Every little move you make will be closely watched by the enemy. Beg people to pray for you because you'll need it. You'll be tempted to pride, fame, and glory. It will be easy to forget that you live for the name of Jesus to glorified - not your own name.

Never forget that your success is measured in numbers (yes!), but the measure of success is not the number of people in your church, rather it is how many of those who were called did you enable? How many of those to whom God said, "Go forth and be a pastor (or preacher, or church leader, or whatever)," did you release with a blessing? How many did you challenge to move forward with God's calling and enable to succeed?

If you are a leader you have a choice to make. Will you have as much influence as one man can have on one church? Or will your influence be the influence of the many you raise up? And those they raise up? Will your influence be your small role in the greater Kingdom? Because if your goal is to have the name that is known as "great speaker," "wonderful preacher," "down to earth, easy to talk to guy," then what you're really seeking is for your name to be known in God's Kingdom. A place where there is only room for one name to be glorified. The name of Jesus.

At this point I need a disclaimer. My disclaimer is this. I live in a country where "big church" is an impossibility to due to government regulations. As such I've been living in a world where "house church" is all that really exists (there are exceptions, but I basically never encounter them). My opinion has shifted in the direction of seeing the house church movement as *generally healthier* than "big church." That said, I recognize the Lord can use and DOES use "big church" in His Kingdom. While I strongly believe in a small model, it's not that I don't recognize that the Lord can use either system. It's that I've seen a LOT more unhealthy leaders in the "big church" model - which I would argue is inherently broken - than I see in the house church model. In a house church model there is no room for the "hero pastor," because the church can only be so big before someone goes to jail. Therefore new leaders are always being raised up because there is always a need for a new pastor, a new leader, and a new preacher.