A Different Kind Of Church Planter

We were suspicious. His conversion story was bizarre at worst, unconventional at best.

Tom McCarthy was a young medical doctor and faculty member at UCLA Medical Center. He showed up in church, in pursuit of one of our young women.

He was also recently divorced. We were a small church and she had lots of “big brothers” watching out for her. Several of us “interviewed him” in search of his real motives.

Mine took the place of a surfing expedition. He had never surfed and I knew inexperience would render him vulnerable to wherever we discussed. It worked. He got rolled in the surf and came back from the venture with sand pouring out every orifice in his body. I figured he was ready to talk – and he was.

His story moved me, even the divorce part, and we became great friends.

Preaching In A Big Church

He craved discipleship and grew in the Lord enough that he became my backup preacher whenever I was out of town. By this time the church had grown quite large and his impact quite significant.

When I moved to Hawaii he was our first consideration has my replacement. But God had other plans. Zach Nazarian, a pharmacist, took my job. He still leads the growing and reproductive church – but that’s another story.

Tom bought a medical practice in Northern California. After moving he taught a large Bible study in a church there.

A Big Church Grown From A Living Room

A couple of years later he showed up in Hawaii for today cram course in church planting. His doctrine didn’t match that of the church he attended. The pastor wisely suggested he start a small church is living room. There was no thought of Tom leaving medicine for the church. In fact they expected that it would remain little more than a Bible study.

The Long story short is the church grew to more than 500 people under Tom’s leadership. Growth forced a move to larger quarters, but Tom stayed in medicine.

He was a single salary/bivocational pastor taking no money from the church. He remained devoted to his career but more devoted to the pastorate. This made him unique among bivocational pastors.

Eventually, the church grew large enough that he had to choose between two career paths. He chose medicine. But the church continues to thrive under Dan Boyd who succeeded him.

BiVo As A Goal

We often think of BiVo as a fallback or supplement to a pastor salary. Tom was a different animal. To make this work he became an excellent delegator.

He once told me that his goal was to give only eight hours a week to the church. He ran a two-hour staff meeting, spent a few hours in sermon prep and the rest of the time went to Sunday activities. The church hired staff members to carry the rest of the load.

Tom has since gone to heaven. Dan has expanded the reach of their church, Hope Chapel Santa Rosa. They have planted congregations in California, alongside rapid church planting in Fiji.

So what’s my point? There are thousands, if not millions of Tom McCarthy’s out there. These people could pastor a church while never leaving their career. We discipled Tom into ministry beginning shortly after his conversion. It took almost a decade before he was ready to plant a “house church,” or “microchurch.” It takes longer to train a pastor by disciplemaking than by seminary. But the payoff is huge.

Cutting Costs

The three largest costs associated with church planting are A. A pastor’s salary. B. Seminary costs. C. The cost of building a church campus. This congregation incurred neither of the first two. Growth made them happy with the third.

The numbers work on two fronts. Single-salary bivocational pastors cost churches no money. You can multiply churches faster with this model. We need to think hard about the Tom McCarthys in our midst.


What’s your story? I’m collecting ideas for a book along these lines. Please use the “Contact” button on the menu to share it. Agree or disagree with what I’ve written? Others will benefit from your thoughts–please comment below…



14 thoughts on “A Different Kind Of Church Planter”

  1. Michael Alonzo

    There are Anoited men n women who have been called by God to lead and preach the Gospel….Divorce in some denominations stop the anointed from ever pastoring a church…., I have heard they can continue because it was before their Born Again experience. Others say Never again……Yet these individuals have a calling, gifting and anointing to continue the work that Christ started in them…..They carry the Cross of brokenness yet they are encouraged with the breath of the Spirit of Grace and love…..Which one is True……I believe their are many other called church planters out there but they need to be right hand of fellowship given by Pastors and leaders…….Time is short. The Harvest is Ready. Encourage to Stand up…..

  2. Tom studied the Word long and hard but more importantly he was a gifted teacher from the first time I heard him at a Hope Chapel camp until the last time in church with Dan Boyd in Santa Rosa. Gifted because you always took something away from his message that God used in your immediate future. He was also very humble.

  3. You wrote:
    “He once told me that his goal was to give only eight hours a week to the church. He ran a two-hour staff meeting, spent a few hours in sermon prep and the rest of the time went to Sunday activities. The church hired staff members to carry the rest of the load.”

    Does this mean that as the lead pastor, he did not give the example of disciple making ?

    1. Good question! I’m not sure about that as we live far apart and didn’t communicate too regularly. If it was me I would surely spend most of staff time to discipling the team–I’d let them do their own administrative stuff if we agreed on the values and I was coaching their thought processes. To me, disciplemaking is more than just gathering Bible knowledge. It means learning to apply it to our lives and most certainly to ministry decisions.
      Another thought I had is that if I were Tom, I would meet with a handful of people after church. Time is precious for a pastor on this order.
      Thanks for asking.
      BTW, anyone else have input to this????

      1. I am Tom…except my name is Greg. I am a businessman by calling, and I started a church in 1999 after reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. Honestly, while I did go to seminary before launching the church, I had very little coaching…including how to make disciples. And I had absolutely no clue about multiplication. How could I think about multiplication when I was running a business and planting a church! (I have since changed my views on that, although it is a little late.) We started our church with twelve people. But I added people to our numbers primarily from my business contacts and from coaching Little League baseball. These were mostly unchurched people. Now, seventeen years later, many of my baseball contacts are leading our church in terms of pastoring and serving as trustees. Even more exciting is that I am getting ready to step down from serving as our Lead Pastor in about eighteen months. The next pastor is a 26-year-old who I coached in baseball when he was six years old. I unknowingly helped to disciple him to this position.

        I feel like I have just started to learn and experience the power of discipleship and multiplication, and I am going to dedicate the next season of my life to these endeavors. But I think I can answer the question about Tom’s discipleship effectiveness. It is apparent to me that Tom was called to be a doctor. But he was also in love with the Kingdom of God. I know that life. I feel as called to business as I do to ministry. I believe that is extremely healthy. I was able to use my business to pay for my seminary, and to cover most of the expenses of the church plant. In seventeen years, I have been the biggest financial contributor to our church. But what Tom gave, and the costliest thing that I gave to our church was time…time that I could’ve used to grow my business larger. But the joy of business growth cannot compare to the joy of Kingdom growth.

        I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Tom’s disciple-making. I’m still trying to improve my own. But just imagine how many people in Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa, other parts of California, and finally in Fiji and beyond will owe their own discipleship to a divorced doctor in California!

  4. I think I am in a similar situation; with the difference that I see myself as being called to evangelism (small groups) and disiciple-making, more than pastoring. But I do not see myself being called to leave my “secular” calling as ecologist.

  5. bobby gilbert

    I am working in the catholic church and trying to figure my way through the maze. I have been thinking more and more about leaving. Every time I begin to get in this direction, something happens and God is working. A new clique has been formed outside all the clans (or clique). The church is in a very old community with certain clans running the church for maybe 80 plus years. This new clique is forming on it own. I have been working on it for about year now. All the kids are altar kids. I am thinking how do I “intentionally share Christ in the clique without them becoming worried that I am forming a church”. I have been also trying to figure out a working definition for the word church. Unfortunately or fortunatly, the word church most likely found its roots with the german language.

    It is good to read a different story of someone doing “church” and keeping to a complete different work station in life. This was a fresh read today in light of the “new clique” in the community where I work. None of them have a history back in this community. New live bodies that are seeking life, hopefully.

    Thanks Ralph for the post.

  6. I was a full time pastor for 22 years.
    I have switched to bivoing and love it.

    It forces prioritizing and delegating. And people give me a break because they know my time is limited.

    I wonder why I avoided it all those years. Probably because “full time ministry” was held up as the goal.

    This season of my life is working better

    1. Thanks Reese,
      It is that model being held up as a goal that needs to change if we want to plant enough churches to keep up with (or surpass) population growth.

  7. Hi Ralph,
    I really appreciated this story about my former Pastor & friend, Tom McCarthy @Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa,Ca.This is in response to a question from Ala ^^^ above.I went to HC from 1991-1998 when Tom was the Senior Pastor and when he switched with Dan Boyd (associate Pastor). Whis is a mark of humility to step down from Senior Pastor to Associate. Never seen that before. His Dr. responsibilities had greatly increased, he was the then the new President of all the Dr.’s association in Sonoma County.
    Tom was the one of the best teacher and evangelist and disciple makers I’ve known. I went there for 8 years and every Sunday at least one person got saved. He didn’t use fear tactics about hell, pressure or manipulation. Just find out how good God is, he loves you so much & you can find your true identity in Him. Most Sunday’s lots of people got saved.I am totally 100% in agreement with your views on the new ‘pocket Church planting’ concept with people bi-vocational to free up the burden of raising money & house church’s or groups or bars or restaurants as places to meet alongside the mother Church.
    Tom, because he was out in the ‘real’ world not just church world, could speak deep truths of the kingdom in non-religious terms and make it intriguing as well as show people it was fun to know & serve Christ. But to Ala’s question: I found out after Tom’s passing & at his celebration of life memorial that he was meeting & discipling people all the time at coffee shops & restaurants and praying & studying the Bible in practical ways. So, yes he was an incredible example for raising up new leaders.
    Women were also equal in SR HC as Paul said ‘no male or female in Christ.’ I heard a lot of funny stories at the memorial. We lived in ‘wine country’ & craft beer Mecca also in Sonoma County. Tom apparently like good beer & wine & the occasional good cigar and playing cards with fiends. He was not a prude or uptight religious and that’s why all the non-believers liked him. He could hang out with anyone & get you to be open to Christ. One last funny conversation. It was after service outside at coffee/snack station and I was talking to him when a visitor lady said, “Hi, I really liked the service and how we weren’t Pentecostal like she thought. Tom laughted & said well we actually do believe in divine healing, prophecy & tongues as a prayer language. She was shocked. He said we just don’t push it or hype it (paraphrased).
    God bless you. I go to Bethel Church in Redding now that I moved to Chico & I want to ask Bill Johnson to invite you there to speak about the ‘pocket church’ concept. We need that we used to do a big organized home group thing but it got too structured or something before I came but they have mostly groups now wit people of like giftings being discipled but I think to get raw I believers into the mix in the ‘ethne’ neighborhoods is key. Have you heard of our Bethel Church & Bill Johnson? I was trying for years to get Tom or Dan to get you to speak in Santa Rosa. I really think you are on the cutting edge of Apostolic work & wish you could brainstorm with Pastor Bill??

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Get a Free E-book "Gaining a Leadership Advantage"

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, only notifications of  new blogs, podcasts, etc.