Top 10 Resources for Pastors & Church Planters

I was recently asked by a pastor friend to recommend my top 10 most influential resources for pastors, church planters, or those aspiring to high-level ministry leadership.

He wasn’t looking for explicitly theological resources as much as tools that explore ministry design, pastoral leadership, and developing a disciple-making ministry. While a number of these resources flow out of rich theological reflection, they aren’t the kind of tools most pastors would get from seminary. Thus, I’m making the (somewhat dangerous) assumption that a pastor is grounded in the gospel, the Scriptures, and a robust theological understanding.

So, with that caveat, here’s what I would recommend (in no particular order):

trellisvineThe Trellis and The Vine (Collin Marshall & Tony Payne) – Beautiful vision for equipping and multiplying ministry through making disciples and training people. Chapters 2-3 are on a short list of must-read resources for all our new staff.


move bookMove: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth (Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson) – I’ve never talked to another pastor who read this book, but it’s one of the best I’ve read in the last few years. It explores how people actually grow in their faith. You can read my lessons from it here.


keller preachingPreaching to the Heart (Tim Keller’s audio lectures from Gordon Conwell) – Single best resource on preaching I’ve encountered. Also amazing for anybody who does counseling or disciples others (i.e. everyone).


heart servant leaderThe Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (C. John Miller) – Collection of letters from a mature, wise, prayerful pastor. So much is modeled through these letters, especially about prayer, family, love for non-Christians, courage to confront tough issues, and how the gospel actually changes you.



Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Bill Hybels) – Short, practical, wise nuggets from one of the sharpest leaders in modern church history. Each chapter is only a few pages, which makes it easy to read and easy to remember. I guess that’s the point of an axiom, eh?


center-churchCenter Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Tim Keller) – One of the highlights of this past year was working through this book with a cohort of pastors from across the country, guided by the staff of Redeemer City to City. It’s most of Keller’s thinking on gospel, culture, theological vision, and evangelism all in one place.


the advantageThe Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business (Patrick Lencioni) – Most of Lencioni’s books are short fables designed to teach crucial lessons in organizational life. The Advantage is his non-fiction magnum opus, an all-in-one book on the importance of organizational culture.


stanleyChoosing to Cheat (book or sermon by Andy Stanley) – This a game changer for prioritizing family and keeping things in perspective. In fact, when I heard Stanley present this content at a leadership conference, he said it was “the most important leadership decision he ever made.” What was it? Choosing not to cheat his family in the name of ministry.


what's best nextWhat’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman) – I’ve read many books on productivity and time management. This one contains all the best-of thinking found in those other books, yet comes from a gospel-centered perspective. Here’s my review of it.


innovatingdiscipleshipInnovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results (Will Mancini) – I read everything I can by Will Mancini and love the way he thinks. This is a little known read-in-one-sitting book that helps leaders identify their approach and strategy for disciple-making. I desperately wish I had read it before planting a church.


BONUS: The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – every episode is interesting, helpful, and chock-full of thought-provoking ideas (See other podcasts I recommend here).

What would you add?


4 Advantages of Video Multi-Site

My last few posts have been about Redemption Church’s multi-congregational model and then about why I believe this model is better than the video multi-site model. (Note: I didn’t say that our church is better than the video multi-site churches, but that our model is better).

multi-site church

In this post, I want to discuss four advantages that the video multi-site model has over the multi-congregational model.

1. Video multi-site leverages the significant strengths of a proven leader.

Churches that can even consider doing video multi-site are led by dynamic, gifted preachers who are often also gifted visionaries. These are often uncommonly gifted men whose gifts create parking problems and crowded rooms.

Whether a video multi-site starts in order to handle numerical growth or to reach a new community (or both), it has an advantage in starting with a proven, gifted leader doing most of the talking rather than a new church planter. While these churches still need good leadership to direct the ministry at the video campuses, there’s a huge advantage to having your teaching pastor be Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, or Matt Chandler.

2. Video multi-site is much simpler.

Notice, I didn’t say that video multi-site is simple. It’s not. Any kind of multi-site is shockingly complicated. But video multi-site is much simpler than multi-congregational (read this post to see my definitions).

  • It’s simpler to have one message given by one person via video than to have multiple pastors preaching the same passages.
  • It’s simpler to reproduce your ministry to a new community than to shape every aspect of your ministry to a new community.
  • It’s simpler to rally everyone around the vision and teaching of one Lead Pastor than multiple key leaders.
  • It’s simpler to find a campus pastor who can shepherd and organize people but doesn’t need to preach than to find a church planter who can do all of it.
  • It’s simpler to have a campus pastor with limited autonomy than to have a visionary congregation Lead Pastor who can significantly shape the culture and nuanced vision of his congregation.
  • It’s simpler to have one visionary leader who calls the shots than to have a plurality of strong leaders who have to work together.


3. Video multi-site more easily creates unified, multi-campus momentum.

There’s a continuum in all multi-site ministry: on one end is “we’re one church,” and on the other is “with multiple locations.” The video multi-site model tend to emphasize “one church” and the multi-congregational model tends to emphasize “multiple locations.”

If the goal is to create a lot of unified synergy, video multi-site is the way to go. Because the preaching comes from one main voice (or few voices) and the ministry is highly unified or even centralized, it’s much easier to create unified momentum. It’s easier to get people at one campus to identify with and rally around the other campuses. This sometimes even allows some video multi-sites to raise money on behalf of other campuses, which would be really hard in a multi-congregational model.

4. Video multi-site can launch and grow new sites faster.

Because of the factors above, video multi-sites can reproduce with much greater speed than multi-congregational churches. For instance, we recently had a church approach us about giving us their property for a new Redemption location. Unfortunately we had to decline. While we have a number of exciting young leaders who are developing, we did not have somebody at the moment ready to carry the leadership and preaching burden. If, on the other hand, we could get one of our associate, staff-level pastors who can shepherd and organize people and put him with video preaching of a highly gifted preacher, we could make that happen quickly.

Additionally, video multi-site churches can often grow faster. One of the major attractions to a church is the quality of the preaching and, with video preaching, the quality is superb. A church like Mars Hill can plant new campuses in cities where they already get many sermon downloads and quickly attract a strong following. Many church people are familiar with big-name preachers and transfer and many unchurched people are impressed with the high-quality communication and check it out.

There are a number of other strengths that video multi-sites and multi-congregations would have in common (reaching new people, multiplying ministry, leveraging administrative strengths and branding, etc.). But these are the places where I think video multi-sites have an edge.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what I think is at the heart of Redemption’s multi-congregational approach. It’s much more than just a “model,” and there are a few crucial elements worth highlighting.

What are some other advantages that you’d add to video multi-site?

5 Reasons Why Multi-Congregational Church is Better Than Video Multi-Site

In my last post I explained how our church does multi-congregational ministry. In this post, I want to flesh out how it’s different from “typical” video multi-site church and why I think our approach is better.

multi-congregational church

What’s the difference?

Technically, a multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations. The term multi-site is a bit like the term automobile. Just like there are different kinds of automobiles (cars, trucks, vans), there are different kinds of multi-site churches. For this discussion, I’m comparing multi-congregational churches with video multi-site churches.

A multi-congregational church is one church (one 501c3, payroll, employer ID, etc) with multiple congregations, each led by a Lead Pastor and elders who oversee the ministry, preach live, lead the vision and shape the culture of the local congregation in very specific and customized ways. Examples would be Redemption Church, Harbor PresbyterianExodus Church, and Redeemer Presbyterian (kind of).

A video multi-site church is also one church with multiple locations (usually called “campuses). In video multi-site, there is a highly gifted preacher (or team) who provide the sermons via video each week and lead the vision of the church. Local campuses are led by a Campus Pastor who reports to a centralized overseer from the main or original campus. While each campus has some distinct flavor, the branding, naming of ministries, culture and identity are highly similar between campuses. In some cases, even the service is planned identically (same songs, order of service, etc.). Examples would be North Point Community Church,, Mars Hill, The Village Church and dozens of other nationally known churches.

Many churches are some kind of hybrid or something else altogether — these are not the only two kinds. However, video multi-site is the typical kind of multi-site church (amazing that anything could be typical that is still so historically new), and I want to compare that to our less-typical approach.

Why compare?

Some might ask, “Why talk about what’s better? Can’t we just say they are different? Aren’t we all trying to reach people for Jesus?” I appreciate that kind of question.

Let me state very clearly: I am not against video multi-site. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad. I actually think video multi-site is a good thing. It’s awesome when a church has a such a vibrant ministry that it can even consider expanding into video multi-site and reaching more people.

Let me also state very clearly: I’m not saying video multi-site doesn’t work. It works amazingly well. People are coming to Christ in droves as effective ministry gets pushed into new communities.

Video multi-site is good and it works. But I still think it’s weaker than multi-congregational church. And, since many of my readers are church leaders and pastors — some of whom are considering expanding their ministry to some kind of multi-site approach — I think it’s worth making a case for why our model is stronger.

5 reasons why multi-congregational is better.

1. All ministry is truly local.

I was recently at a gathering of larger church pastors and some were explaining how they do video multi-site. They emphasized a crucial phrase: All ministry is local. Their point was that if everything at a campus has to come from the mothership, it’s a bad thing. Local leaders have to be strong.

I agree that all ministry is local. But in a multi-congregational model, we actually believe it.

At a video multi-site, all ministry is local except the preaching. All ministry is local, except the primary catalyst for instruction, culture-setting, and vision.

You can call your kids ministry the same thing and have the same signage, but you can’t tell me that the culture in Edmond, OK is so similar to Wellington, FL that it makes no difference where the preaching comes from. I know that television, technology and pop culture unite us more than ever, but you can’t convince me that the culture in Bellevue, WA is the same as Olympia, WA — let alone the same as Huntington Beach, CA.

For example, previously had a few campuses here in Phoenix. When I spoke to one of their leaders prior to launch, he was unaware that our suburban community has a 25%+ Mormon population. Additionally, they were surprised when their southern-accented preacher didn’t thrive out here in wanna-be-California. I was not surprised.

In multi-congregational church, sermons are preached, vision is cast and culture is shaped totally by leaders who are in the community where they are ministering. Lead Pastors have the opportunity to think through and address the issues that face their people and their neighbors in a way that video-preaching cannot.

2. Every level and kind of ministry is multiplied.

Video multi-sites are incredible at multiplication. Prior to going multi-site, they grew by multiplying services, small groups, and leaders. Then they grew by multiplying campuses and ministries. To do any kind of multi-site well, you have to multiply like crazy. But in video multi-site, everything gets multiplied except the preachers and the visionary leaders.

On the other hand, in a multi-congregational model (like a church plant) even the senior leaders get multiplied. This strengthens not only the congregations that get started but the body of Christ as a whole.

Now, some video multi-site pastors, like Mark Driscoll, have argued that he does multiply preachers because when he’s out of the pulpit he’s giving 15 preachers the chance to preach live. This means if he’s out of the pulpit 10 weeks a year, he’s giving 150 opportunities to preach. That is truly impressive. But while video multi-site gives a man the chance to preach, it never gives him the chance to be the preacher. Which leads to my next point…

3. Gifted young leaders want to stay.

I have no scientific data or research to point to, but from being quite connected in the ministry world, I can tell you that turnover among video multi-site Campus Pastors is very high. Additionally, many churches are having a hard time finding the kinds of leaders they need to be Campus Pastors.

In some cases, one wonders whether the turnover is because of the unhealthy culture of the particular church or because of the model itself. I’m not sure, but I know that gifted, visionary, leaders (especially with preaching gifts) are initially attracted to these visionary video multi-sites to receive training and growth, but often end up leaving when they realize there will not be a real opportunity to lead (North Point seems to be an exception).

On the other hand, we are attracting and keeping many young leaders who see that they can lead a congregation, have and cast a vision, and preach regularly while still having the benefits of being part of a healthy, visionary movement.

4. There is real freedom and real team.

My favorite part of being a Lead Pastor at a multi-congregational church is that I have the real freedom to lead with a real sense of team, friendship, and accountability.

I have a friend who was a Campus Pastor at a big video multi-site church that told me his boss came to town one day, didn’t like a song they sang (not on theological grounds, but stylistic) and told him, “We don’t sing that song here. You may not play that again.” Forget that the song fit his context better than the mothership’s context. It wasn’t allowed.

That would never happen for me. Instead, I can shape our ministry in ways that fit our context but still not be alone. I have real friendships with real peers who are in the same role as me and understand the same pressure I feel. We can carry each other’s burdens and help one another deeply.

5. It’s less dependent on one visionary leader.

All churches are personality driven to some degree. This is normal because people follow people. This is inevitable.

What nobody knows, however, is what will happen to the video multi-site movement when the visionary leaders go. The movement is too new to know. I’ve heard an assortment of ideas and plans for how things will be handled and many of them sound promising. But it concerns me to think that so much is riding on one leader.

In our model, the church as a whole is riding on a number of people. We’ve even lost our two best preachers (one to plant in San Francisco and the other to retirement) and have thrived despite the loss. This is partly because our model communicates that nobody is that important. As a result, the environment tends to be more humble and healthy.

Some video multi-site pastors scratch their heads when we tell them what we’re doing. They can’t imagine that something like this could work without a person like them calling the shots. It defies their categories.

Which makes me think we’re on a really good track.

These are some reasons why I prefer our model. In the next post, I’ll share some of the down sides and explain the advantages that video multi-site has over what we’re doing.

Any questions?

Do You Love the People You Have Now?

keep-calm-and-love-sheep-32The best leaders are always looking for a way to take things to the next level.

That’s a good thing. Without this trait, we’d be stuck with the status quo, never pushing ourselves to improve or grow.

For church planters and pastors, this often means we focus on reaching new people. We cast vision to help the church care about new people. We create systems and strategies to reach new people. We create environments that will be attractive and helpful to new people.

The focus on reaching new people is a good thing, but only if you love the people you already have.

A major danger for church leaders is using the people you have to reach the people you really want. (Read that sentence again. How dark is that?)

But God has called church leaders to truly love. To lay their lives down for the sheep. To shepherd the flock of God that is among them. To love them the way we’d want to be loved ourselves.

If we don’t really love God’s people this way now, why would God want to send more people to us?

There’s a difference between a mom who wants to have more children because she treasures her kids and there’s still more love in her heart and a Ms. Hannigan who wants to house more orphans so she can get more money and free child labor.

Pastor, it’s good that you want to grow the church and reach new people. This is consistent with Jesus, who talked about a shepherd leaving the 99 to find the 1. But the good shepherd loves the 99 so much that he’d go after them too.

So let’s stop looking over the fence at the greener grass. Let’s stop letting our insecurities and pride drive us to make a name for ourselves.

Rather, let’s love the people we have so much that they would want their friends and neighbors to be loved like that too.

First Things First

First things first

Some things are more important than others. Leadership is required to filter what’s most important and keep first things first.

I received this email the other day from the folks at North Point Community Church who run the Drive Conference (We took our team to Drive earlier this year for a great few days of training):

We’re canceling Drive 2014
We’re in the middle of two major campus construction projects. The unusual amount of rainfall we’ve had this summer has caused the completion of the projects to bump up against Drive. Since we are a local church first, the building projects take priority.

Both of the construction projects are for different campuses than the one where Drive is hosted. It’s not like the building to host Drive would be unavailable. So why would they cancel Drive?

After all, Drive generates almost a million dollars in revenue from conference admissions, plus hundreds of thousands more in resource sales for North Point Ministries. It’s also a major rallying point for thousands of leaders who look to North Point for direction. This decision seriously hampers their platform. Why would they do this?

Because they are a local church first.

With the other projects going on, Drive–a good thing–would be a distraction.

This is an important lesson for pastors and church planters. It’s easy to be distracted by networking with other pastors, getting involved in multi-church events, speaking at outside events, writing blogs or books–all good things.

But often the cost is that the local church–a pastor’s first calling–suffers.

Whatever you’re calling, work hard to focus on that calling. Put first things first.

Why Aspiring Planters Need a Church Planting Residency

I’ve seen it time and time again: A potential church planter who is determined to launch a healthy church.

It’s a great, godly ambition.

But there’s often a big problem: Rarely has the potential church planter actually participated in a healthy church. Not to mention that they’ve never been on a healthy church staff, led in a healthy church, or started a healthy church.

Understandably, these men are often reacting to some kind of unhealthy church experience. They know with crystal clarity what they don’t want their church to be. But they don’t really know what they do what it to be.

At least not beyond their imaginations or the books they’ve read.

It reminds me of the young married couple who both come from broken or dysfunctional homes but are determined to have a healthy marriage. It can be done, but what they probably need is some kind of healthy model (or models) who can show what a strong marriage really looks like. Without this input and modeling, the young couple is sure to repeat the mistakes of the past or make new mistakes that could have been easily avoidable.

church planting residency

This is why potential church planters should consider doing a church planting residency at a healthy church. Few things could be more valuable.

In a church planting residency, the young leader is immersed in the life of a healthy church where he can spend time with leaders, ask questions, learn from mistakes and have the freedom to fail. He can see firsthand what a healthy ministry environment looks like and his chances of starting something similar increase dramatically.

Sadly, there are too few healthy churches (at least when it comes to leadership culture). Additionally, there aren’t too many churches with church planting residencies available.

I’m happy to be part of Redemption, a healthy church with a growing residency program.

But there are some others I know of:

I want to see healthy churches get planted by healthy leaders. These churches make a bigger impact for a longer period of time.

This is why I hope that potential church planters will consider delaying their dream for just a year or so to get a clear picture of the kind of culture and environment they hope to create.

Interested in the church planting residency program at Redemption? Contact me for more information.


What are some other healthy churches with strong residency programs?

“Would it be a sin for you to NOT plant a church?”

It’s a common question that potential church planters get asked in the assessment process. The intent is to see how firm God’s calling is on this man to plant a church.

What a stupid question.

church planting calling

Similarly, church planting gurus will say things like, “If there’s anything else you could be happy doing, then you should go do it instead.” Implication: church planting is so hard that you should avoid it if possible.

This, too, is a stupid statement.

I loved church planting. At times it was very difficult, but on the whole it was a blast. I have full confidence that this was something God called me to do and he has blessed it beyond my hopes or expectations.

But there are all kinds of other things I could have done—and could do now—and still obeyed and glorified God. I could have been a baseball coach. I could have been a teacher. I could have sold medical equipment, insurance, accounting software, or real estate. I could have started a business or worked at my uncle’s boy’s ranch. I could have stayed on staff as a groups pastor at an established church.

I could leave the ministry tomorrow and still enjoy my life and glorify God in 10,000 other ways.

I didn’t get into church planting because it’s the only thing I could do. I got into it because:

(a) we need more good churches,

(b) God seemed to have given me a skill-set that fit church planting, and

(c) our family thought we’d enjoy it.

Ironically, church planters often struggle with their identity being the church or their ministry. Could this be due in part to stupid assumptions like the ones above?

If church planting is the only thing you can do and still obey God, then it’s almost guaranteed to become an idol.

So, my advice to potential church planters:

If you want to plant a church, you think you’d be good at it, and have godly elders who have trained and affirmed you in this endeavor, then go for it.

Or don’t.

God loves you—and you can serve him faithfully—either way.