A Church Planter's Advice to Church Planters

February 1, 2010.

I had the privilege of sharing a duplex wall with Danny Braga and his family in Twin Falls, Idaho before he headed to Seattle to plant (re-plant) what has become Taproot Church.  For many months, we met to discuss theology and church planting, watch the Office, or consume inappropriate amounts of fiery hot wings.  Inevitably, his family moved to Seattle as mine journeyed to Salt Lake City.

In many ways, Danny is my go-to guy.  His experience is informative and his biblical insight is invaluable. In those times when seminary-snobbery starts to creep in (as it so easily does when we start stacking letters behind our names and comparing schools), I'm reminded of Danny's sound self-study, his theological knowledge set, and his insatiable appetite for greater understanding.  Sure, there are things Danny could learn from seminary, but at the same time, there are many, many things my fellow students and I need to learn from brothers like Braga.

As I've previously mentioned elsewhere on this website, Lisa and I are considering joining this church planting team coming to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Obviously, I've been regularly praying, thinking, and meditating about church planting in this city.  So I was pleased when Danny agreed to share some of his insights from his church planting experience.

Danny Braga is Lead Elder and Teaching Pastor at Taproot Church.  He launched his replanting efforts in the south-side of Seattle in the Summer of 2007 and he's active with Acts 29, a church planting network.  He's passionate about church planting, desires that his guitar becomes an extension of his thoughts, and wants a full sleeve tattoo but has yet to put needle to skin.  Here's Danny's advice to fellow church planters:

Danny, when you planted (re-planted) what worked?  What didn't?
I'd say that the most important thing for a plant team is that they deeply depend upon what the Holy Spirit is leading them to do in their specific context.  We are a people of pragmatism. I've seen guys fall into the trap of looking at what other ministries are doing and what seems to be "working" and then adopting that wholesale as their own plan. There's nothing wrong with getting ideas and learning from others; but for a planting team, there must be the deep conviction that 1. God has called and assembled a specific group of people for a specific work in a specific place, 2. That specific work must be God's work and not "what works," and 3. definitions of success (or "it's working"), must be determined by faithfulness to what God calls this specific group of people to do and their obedience to that vision and mission.

In my context, I spent nearly 10 years planning and preparing to do a church plant from scratch (you were part of the last year) but then the specific work for which I was called just a month before moving to Seattle was a "replant."  In other words, God turned my "what will work" paradigm on its head and put me into His work.  I guarantee this is what He's gonna do with you guys and "what will work" is your team being flat on their faces continually in submission to Him and seeking His will above all else.

There's lots than can be said to this question, but let me just say this: don't be afraid to experiment with other ideas after you've spent extended seasons of prayer and fasting and been confirmed that the Lord is leading you in a particular direction.  Jesus will tweak what He's doing in other contexts to fit yours, but it'll be yours and not something plopped down out of an entirely different situation.
If you could go back and do it again, what would you change? 
I'm 2 1/2 years into my gig and I've learned much more than could be written or expressed in the time we have.  Here's the things I'd have changed in the first 2 years.  First, I would have embraced a deeper humility and a softer servant's heart.  I came in with my church planter cape blowing in the wind and got the s**t kicked out of me by the enemy, the people, and somewhat the Holy Spirit.  I, like the majority of planters, knew how to do it and the Lord really had to take me down a few notches. Second, doing it over again, I'd set my time-lines completely down at His feet and then not let them drive my decision making process.  Fast food and high-speed Internet and the anomalies of a select few fast growing churches have warped and deformed the average church planter's time-lines.  I made decisions thinking that after year one we'd be at 500 when we really were only gonna be at 75.  This is an ongoing process in my life, but things sure would have been more restful if I'd submitted to His time-line early on. And third, I'd slow down and enjoy the process.  It's only been in the last six months that I've slowed down enough to go out and enjoy the gorgeous city of Seattle.  I love to just sit down on the beach and watch the clouds float by.  I should have done this more in the beginning.
What suggestions would you give to new church-planters?  
First, Jesus said He will build His church.  Get it out of your thick head that you're building anything and that this thing is yours.  It's His church, it's His work; so be a good slave and do what you're told.  Rejoice in the amazing grace that He even lets you get anywhere near His Bride. 
Second, love your wife.  Love her, every moment, like it's the last moment you'll have with her. Pour into her, nourish her, strengthen her.  Repent daily of your neglect, selfishness, and down right cruelty in not honoring her as the weaker vessel.  Cherish her as the most gracious and prized gift that you've ever been given, because she is.  Pull your head out of your church planting butt and realize what's important, the Lord, your wife, and your family.  The church must be somewhere after that list. 
Number three, get real accountability and coaching that you respect and will call you out. Church planters are bull-headed, arrogant, and sometimes extremely stupid.  It's vitally important that there is another bull-headed, arrogant, sometimes stupid guy whose been through a couple years of the ringer who will speak into that for safety, growth, and overall health. 
And finally, just love Jesus.  Your His kid so be His kid and enjoy Jesus.  I know it sounds simple, but just love Jesus every day.  Develop a heart that yearns for His return and presence more than anything else and you'll be good, your wife will be loved, your kids will be well taken care of, and He'll plant a healthy church through you.
Danny, what books should a church planter include in his library?  
There are many, but here's a short but essential list:

On theology, Grudem's Sytematic Theology and JI Packer's Knowing God 
Preaching, Bryan Chappel's Christ Centered Preaching.
To the heart, Keller's Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, Piper's Desiring God, and AW Tozer's The Pursuit of God and Knowledge of the Holy. Also, The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

For leadership, Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, Sander's Spiritual Leadership, Piper's Brothers We Are Not Professionals, and Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham by Harold Myra.

On prayer I'd say anything by E.M. Bounds, and DA Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

Church, Total Church by Steve Timmis and Driscoll's Vintage Church. 
For training, look into Trellis and the Vine by Collin Marshall and Tony Payne.

And biographies: anything on the great men of God throughout history. (I just finished Ian Murray's work on Edwards and it was awesome.)

If you're in the Seattle area, join Danny on Sunday mornings at Taproot Church and if you're not in the area you can still catch the podcast of the sermon here.  Or you can follow Danny Braga on Twitter here. Danny Braga is a church planter with the Acts 29 Network.  

*Neither Danny Braga, Taproot Church, or I have any material connection to the books recommended in this post.