Poles of Church Planting Dusty Thompson By Dusty Thompson April 18, 2016
Acts 29 A diverse, global family of church-planting churches

The planet earth has two poles on its extremes: north and south. Church planting and pastoral ministry feel like this sometimes to me because I feel pulled in opposite directions that require different skill sets. I want you to know from the start that I believe you need both of these seemingly opposite things: leadership and personal contact. I am assuming a healthy spiritual, emotional, and family life and will focus on these two very opposite poles of pastoral ministry.

Pole #1: Leadership.  

This includes skills such as leadership development pipelines, preaching, strategy, skill in running meetings, hiring, etc. This pole is critical for the long-term health and missional impact of a church. Having a plan and an execution strategy for developing leaders multiplies impact. Quality, impacting Sunday services are underestimated by some new pastors who emphasize the organic over formal gatherings. A well-articulated strategy for discipleship and mission is brewed like coffee into the members of a church and they begin to see life differently. Slow, deliberate hiring and eldership installation processes build into the long-term health of a church and avoid unnecessary splits, drama, ineffectiveness, and distraction. Having clear roles and lines of communication is often the difference between effective and ineffective teams and churches. This stuff matters.

Pastors overlook the pole of leadership at their own peril.

Additionally, leaders that only live in pole #2 (personal contact) bottleneck at their personal pastoral capacity and can frustrate their members with poorly executed events, inconsistent practices, and frustrating communication. I have a friend that was reflecting on his first few years as a church planter and he said that his church was capped at his own capacity—about 100 people. As soon as #101 would come in the door, #1 would leave. Pastors overlook this pole at their own peril.

Pole #2: Personal Contact.

This includes, pastoral care, evangelism, counseling, meeting new people, recruiting, etc. These are the kinds of things that don’t scale (see this article for a related idea in startup businesses http://paulgraham.com/ds.html). If you currently lead a larger church, some of these things feel like a drop in the bucket, but I am making the case that you need to be engaged in these activities regardless of church size. Yes, you’ll want the first pole to help with systems to multiply your efforts, but you are a pastor and need to be actively engaged in caring, evangelism, counseling, recruiting, etc. While we are in the equipping business, this doesn’t imply we outsource these forms of direct, personal contact with needs.  

Leaders that only live in pole #1 have incredible structures, dynamic Sunday production, and crystal clear vision with all of the right branding, but they become disconnected with real life needs, how their small groups (that are so amazing on their whiteboard!) actually work, and where their people are struggling to believe Jesus. This type of leader might be relationally isolated and may not be modeling the kind of discipleship they are calling their people to practice. Remember, 1 Peter 5 encourages pastors to be examples to the flock and this extends beyond moral issues. We are called to actually live the Christian life in community and make Jesus known among our friends that don’t know Jesus.  

Please don’t spend 20 hours on a sermon when you are planting a church.

Surprisingly, I have seen this area neglected by some church planters in their early stages of ministry. These so called “Pastorpreneurs” have read books and articles on leadership and have a personal assistant and make it hard for people to meet with them – when they have a church of 40. Please don’t spend 20 hours on a sermon when you are planting a church (or maybe ever?). It doesn’t matter if you will organize your time differently down the road as your church grows! This is a highly relational period in the life of your church and you need to be present and engaged.

How the poles might be closer than we thought!

As stated earlier, a pastor needs to prioritize both the leadership and personal contact poles even if they seem to take you in different directions. I’d like to conclude by making a case that active engagement in each pole has the opportunity to inform the other pole. Let me offer some examples that I’ve experienced.  

1.  Systems for care and discipleship are impacted by your involvement in those systems.  Are you in a small group? Do you have friends helping you walk with Jesus? Is your group including non-believing friends into the life of your group and church? If you are trying to personally do these things, you’ll get two things at once. First, you’ll have a much greater sense of the effectiveness of your strategy and see gaps in communication and vision. Second, you won’t be the proverbial isolated, lonely pastor guy at the top of the pile that is barking orders.  What a win!  

Church planter, are you active in a small group? Do you have friends helping you walk with Jesus?

2.  Pastoral counseling and evangelism helps your preaching. I wouldn’t recommend sharing specific stories in sermons, but you’ll see gaps in the lives of believers between the gospel message they hear weekly and problems they are experiencing. As you share the gospel with your non-believing friends, you’ll learn about the kinds of barriers people have in your city to the gospel message and the church. This will help you speak in a way that will cause people to feel like you are “reading their mail.”

3.  Meeting new people helps you see both strengths in your church as well as some things that aren’t working or don’t make sense like they do in your strategy sessions. I can almost guarantee that there are things that your staff/elders/launch team think are so clear, but are terribly confusing to people that are new to your church. Inviting friends into the life of the church, meeting new people, and asking for feedback will help you craft the way you say things and even some structures and assimilation pathways.

Yes, you will feel pulled in these two (and more) directions. Lean into it, pastor. They will compliment one another.  


Dusty Thompson planted Redeemer Church in Lubbock, Texas in the fall of 2007. Redeemer has a vision to plant 20 churches in the US and send 20 teams internationally to work among unreached peoples by the year 2020. He is married to Amy and they have two sons. Dusty currently serves as the US South Central Network Director.

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