“INTERVIEW WITH A CHURCH PLANTER”
March 14, 2008
Forgive me for shifting gears a little this week but I felt this might be of some value to many of you. One of our church planting couples, Mike and Leslie Kim, have taken upon themselves the task of chronicling what God is doing through the simple church movement in this area. They met recently with three of our more apostolically gifted individuals, ones who have been moving in the house church revolution for awhile, to listen to our stories and interview us with a view toward encouraging other church planters. Since our storytelling lasted far into the evening and we ran short of time, they emailed their remaining questions to us. I am passing along to you my responses to these questions in hope that they might help you understand a little more about our ministry and encourage you in your personal walk with the Lord.
What did it cost you to do this? What kind of spiritual warfare did you endure?
When we began this adventure into the simple church movement some five years ago we had no idea where this would eventually lead and the trials we would endure in the process. Shortly after beginning our walk down this new path Babs, my wife, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though we were told that the tumor had likely been growing inside of her for at least five years, the timing of its discovery came as a crushing blow to our ministry efforts. It monopolized our focus, zapped our energy, severely tested our faith, and reminded us that the enemy doesn’t play fair. But through it all we have also learned that the Lord of the harvest is far more powerful than any blight or ill-wind the devil hurls in our direction.
In the years since our journey into simple church began we have endured the loss of health, wealth, jobs, title and prestige. Many we once fellowshipped with now look upon us with incredulity, fear and disdain. We have had to scramble to earn a living in the secular workplace. I have walked away from the title of “Pastor” and all the influence and prestige that comes with it. Even members of my own family have wondered if I might be “losing it.” We have suffered much loss and the temptation to give up has been a constant companion. Yet God has proven faithful through it all. Our ill-health has been healed (again and again), we have never been in financial crisis (the bills always miraculously get paid) and have even managed to provide help for others, and God has graciously supplied new partners in our ministry with a fellowship that is stronger than we once knew and a sphere of influence greater than ever before. Everything the enemy took away from us was replaced by the Lord in greater numbers! “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” – 1John 4:4.
What was the relationship your family had to these things? Did they assist in planting or praying or what not?
At this point our children are all grown and no longer live at home. I am sure they lift us up in prayer and occasionally they will send us financial support, as do several of our extended family members. However, the only one in my immediate family who is currently walking with me in this journey is my wife. It has been truly fascinating watching her grow and blossom in the freedom of this movement. In every other ministry position I have held she was regarded as only a spouse, just the pastor’s wife. Now I regard her as a full partner in ministry. We have discovered that Babs is gifted as a pastor while my gifting is more apostolic. Together we make a formidable team. While we each have our own small groups with which we minister and we each are involved in our own individual discipling efforts, most of the time we are laboring side by side in our various gatherings. Her loving spirit, her pastoral heart, and her touching prayers have opened up many doors to our ministry. People are drawn to the love of Jesus which exudes from every pore of her being and they are anxious for a closer relationship with us and with the Lord we serve. Having my wife as a ministry partner is one of the greatest blessings I have received from the Lord of the harvest.
How has your walk with God changed — if at all– during the process?
I have been walking with God for over 47 years. I grew up in a pastor’s home, earned a master’s degree from a Christian seminary, and have been in the paid ministry for over thirty years, yet I have never enjoyed as close a relationship with Christ as I now have. He has led us into a ministry where we absolutely have to rely on Him, and He has never let us down. My prayer life has mushroomed, my faith has skyrocketed, and my intimacy with the Lord of the harvest has become vastly more satisfying. Even so, I feel like I am only just beginning to know what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
Whether you know it or not, you’re spiritual fathers in the apostolic; what would you pass on to young men and women? What were some of the most helpful or important things you learned?
Thanks for the complement, but I can’t help but think the honor of being an apostolic father is as much due to my age as any other factor. I was wondering if there might be any openings for an apostolic big brother? Seriously though, I’d love to pass on a few thoughts.
1. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not hearing from the Lord. There will be a plethora of well intentioned individuals who will roll their eyes and shake their heads when you share what the Lord has revealed to you about your ministry. Be willing to be a fool for God. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” – 1 Corinthians 1:25.
2. Don’t worry about how you are viewed by others. Do not seek after a title or earthly prestige. Seek only the Lord of the harvest. He calls us simply “harvest workers.” This is blue caller labor. There is very little here in this ministry that would speak of any earthly significance. But to Jesus we are of prime importance, for we are the answers to His own prayer request (Luke 10:2b).
3. There will likely be a wilderness-wandering trial waiting for you if you have not already suffered one. Our Lord endured such a trial and His disciples seem to be destined to do the same. When it happens embrace it as an invitation to draw closer to Christ, to learn humility, patience, endurance, and intimacy with Him. It is in the wilderness where we learn to discern His still small voice from the myriad of others screaming for our attention. The temptation to return to Egypt will be intense. There were difficult times in the last five years when I threatened to give up nearly every day, but the Lord always managed to find a way to bring some amount of encouragement to my life to keep me going. I praise God that I was open enough to see those moments of favor from the Lord and foolish enough to continue pursuing Him through the wilderness in spite of what appeared to be an impassable desert. “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” – Hebrews 12:1-2.
4. Don’t even think about trying to do this alone. We have got to learn to partner together in ministry. Five years ago it wasn’t easy to find others in this area who were following a similar path. I forced myself to travel great distances to link up with other simple church advocates. Those times of fellowship were invaluable to me. Today there are people all over Northern California who are moving in the simple church revolution. We have no excuse for loneliness. “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two…” – Luke 10:1.
If you could have done some things differently what would you have done? Did all of this look the way you thought it would when you started?
At one point in my life I wanted to be a forest ranger. I believe that would have been a far easier pursuit. But then it’s hard to ignore the Lord when He calls. It’s easy to look back and see what we could have done differently. I believe the Lord allows us to make mistakes and miscalculations in life precisely because that’s how we best learn. I have certainly had much more than my share of opportunities to learn from mistakes. For me it has been a painstaking process of learning to let go of institutional church traditions and just follow the Lord into the harvest. When we started doing church in our home five years ago it looked pretty much the same as we had always done church—set order of worship, prepared study, pastor-led. Over the years the Spirit slowly pealed away the traditions until we are left with a simple gathering where He leads, the order is constantly changing, and nothing but the food is prepared ahead of time. Our definition of church has changed dramatically. We have learned that church can be two individuals meeting at Starbuck’s to share what Jesus is doing in their lives, or a carload of people praying together on the way to a conference, or a piano lesson that morphs into a counseling session. Yes, I wish I would have known all this years ago, but I’m not sure I could have made the adjustments any more quickly.
What do you feel are the main ingredients or “essentials” in doing organic church planting? How would you define or describe organic church planting to someone asking about it?
Trying to define organic church planting is a near impossibility. I could point you to Luke 10: 1-20, but the reality is little fuzzier than what is written. It is simply following the Lord into the harvest field, listening to what He says, and obeying what you hear. He leads us to a key individual (“man of peace”) who connects us with others (“household”). We pour out the love of Jesus upon them, lead them to faith in Him, disciple them, and the Lord plants a church there. There is no set pattern; every church is planted in a different way. However, I can think of a few essentials which have led to our greatest success.
1. Pray the Lord’s own prayer request; pray it regularly and often. Recruit others to pray with you. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Luke 10:2b.
2. Be alert to people the Lord brings into your path. If you are praying for opportunities, they will happen, but they could happen anywhere. Just don’t miss them. Be bold, most people are open to spiritual discussions and most will not refuse an offer to pray for them.
3. Let Jesus pour His love through you upon these contacts. Love will open up doors and break down barriers you would think were impenetrable. It has happened for us even cross culturally, even through languages and customs unknown to us.
4. Don’t invite these contacts to your own home group; go to their home. This single change in strategy has probably been the greatest factor in our success this past year.
5. Don’t try to plant a church right away unless you feel led by the Spirit to do so. Keep pouring out the love to them. Lead them to faith in Jesus. Disciple them. Jesus will build His church.
6. As soon as leaders have been discipled and are mature enough to shepherd the gathering, leave. Staying too long will make them dependant upon you and stifle their growth.
7. Try to discern those who may be gifted in one of the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4:11—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. If possible, link them up with other similarly gifted individuals who are more mature. All of us need to be reproducing ourselves.
What are the things that excite you the most as you tell your stories? What are your dreams and passions now; what is God putting on your heart to pray for? If you could have anything at all from the Lord now, what would you want to help equip you?
One year ago I thought I might be the only one in this region interested in simple church. Now we have five gatherings of church planters meeting around the Bay Area, one of them in our own home. We have witnessed people won to the Lord, churches being planted, lives being transformed, and miracles of healing taking place. I can hardly wait for what God has in store for us in the next year. I truly believe this is all just a tiny trickle of the flooding river that is about to pour over this area. Please Lord, let the river flow. Let it flow through me. Let it flood this area with life-giving, disease-healing, love-penetrating power. I pray not just for churches to be added to our numbers, but for a church multiplication movement to spring up and grow, a viral contagion infecting every neighborhood in the Bay Area, Northern California and beyond. I pray for more workers for the harvest because the harvest here is immense with webs of influence reaching to every corner of the globe. I pray for more apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, and I pray that more intercessors will arise to bathe this region and this movement in prayer. Please Lord, do it for the sake of the harvest, for the advancement of your kingdom, for your glory, in Jesus name. Amen.
Bill, a child of God and a simple harvest worker