People often ask why I expend so much energy on making disciples and planting churches. Early on, I conjured up the idea that if I were to plant churches it would leverage my gifts and skills. That God could do bigger things than I imagined.
These, well meaning, people usually question the sacrifices my family, the members of my church and I make in the process. Sometimes they bluntly query, “Wouldn’t you pastor a larger church if you just stopped giving people away?” I always answer, “Yes, but I would touch fewer people.”
A Dream Is Born
The concept first came to me when I was 19-years-old. I was pulling weeds in the yard of the newly launched East Hill Church in Gresham, Oregon. The church had fewer than 50 people but that was nearly double the 27 people we started with when Jerry Cook came to Oregon with a big vision. That church eventually grew to more than 9,000, but what god birthed in my heart that day grew a lot larger.
I was singing an old hymn while weeding the yard. The song is a prayer for “A thousand tongues” to sing of God’s wonders. I wondered if a thousand people would ever decide to follow Christ because of my life. That gave way to a plan…
I would plant a church on the Oregon coast (I loved the beach), raise a disciple, send them to seminary then hand over the congregation to them. I figured I could do this about five times in my adult life. That way God might gain a thousand new followers and I would leverage my limited gifts and skills into far more than could be expected if I remained in one place.
Plant Churches: Our Plans Versus His Realities…
When we finally did launch a church plant it was an entirely different story. I was pastoring a bunch of hippies in Southern California. A Sunday night Bible study group wanted to break free and become a church. I opposed the idea because the pastor had no “formal” training, though he did lead five Navigator Bible Studies each week. Besides, churches were supposed to grow, not make babies. That was (and, sadly, is ) the conventional wisdom among most pastors.
Somehow the Holy Spirit prevailed and we came to understand the meaning behind the word, “Go,” in the great commission. Today there are more than 2,200 churches stemming from a congregation of just 12 people. The total numbers of Christ-followers has to be around a quarter of a million people. I meet people across the globe that found Jesus in one of our churches but have moved on to another congregation, so we have no idea of the scope of this thing. The weed-puller’s plan morphed into a calling (one that extends to every pastor and congregation).
So, What’s My Point?
So, why am I writing all this? Certainly, not to brag (I’m still very limited in my own abilities). I’m writing because, statistics tell us that more than 80 percent of those reading my words pastor fewer than 200 people (and probably feel frustrated about that). My goal is for you to plant churches. Doing this will unlock the power that is pent up in your own life by leveraging your relationship with Jesus into the lives of a few people who will, in turn, do the same. If you make disciples, with an eye toward multiplying churches, it will happen.
I’m not endorsing structured study groups whose only objective is to glean knowledge, but life-to-life sharing of God’s word and its application to your life in such a manner as to reproduce yourself, as a pastor as well as a Christ-follower. I never did pastor a church as large as the one where I pulled weeds that day, but I’m glad I didn’t. What I did do was pass along my limited gifts and skills to faithful men who handed them off to others. Anybody can do that!
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Note: This is adapted from Starting A New Church, by Baker Books.