How Planters Can Learn from Baseball: On Building a Church-Planting Farm System

Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore said in a recent statement that he plans to spend the next two-to-three years restocking the organization’s farm system. For those of you who don’t speak baseball, a farm system is a network of minor-league teams affiliated with a Major League team. Players for the Royals’ minor league teams are under contract with the Royals organization, meaning that they can be “called up” at any point to join the Royals’ forty-man roster.

In other words, a farm system is a system of players with potential–a place where they can spend years developing their skills under the instruction of experienced coaches. The Royals don’t have the expendable capital of the New York Yankees or Chicago Cubs, so a farm system is important because, when well managed, it becomes a wealth of resources upon which the team can draw when in need of developed players in the future.

For example, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer both spent time in the Royals’ farm system before heading to The Show. Dayton Moore’s plan is to spend some time strengthening the system in the hopes that in the next few years it will begin to churn out more World-Series caliber players.

Church planters can take a lesson from the world of baseball here. If you hope to multiply, your plant needs a farm system. That is, you need a structured and organized way of developing future leaders in your plant.

How do you do that?

I sat down with a couple of experienced pastors and planters to find out.

1. Start a residency program.

Identify potential leaders in your plant and invite them to become residents. For some plants, this will be a very structured, organized endeavor involving regular residency meetings with pastors and elders, writing and presenting papers on particular theological and pastoral topics, preparing and delivering sermons for evaluation, and so on.

For other plants, it might be less structured. But the point is a simple one: you need to have some kind of plan in place for how you will develop future leaders.

2. Grant your residents an all-access pass to your ministry.

For many planters, pastoring your plant is a daily grind involving meetings with members, holding office hours, sermon preparation, hospital visits, and the like. Invite your resident to take part in those things. Grant him a peek behind the curtain at the ins and outs of pastoral ministry. Take him to visit a sick church member. Let him sit in on a meeting. Show him how you prepare your sermons.

In other words, grant your resident exposure to the realities of church-planting ministry. A potential player cannot learn how to play baseball in theory alone. Nor can your resident learn how to do ministry in theory alone.

3. Develop the person, not the vision.

One planter shared a story about a resident who aspired to be a pastor of teaching and preaching but had no apparent gifts in those areas. It became clear during this young man’s residency that his gifts involved providing biblical counseling for hurting people. Thus, biblical counseling became the focus of his residency.

Here’s the point: your resident will have personal strengths and weaknesses, natural gifts and deficiencies. It is your job to identify these and develop him accordingly. You cannot make a 6’7″, 230-pound first baseman into a short stop. Nor can you make a resident into something that he is not.

4. Think theologically and practically.

Good theology is vital, but a good theologian will not always make a good pastor. Strive to marry theological and practical considerations for your resident. It is important for him to have strong and consistent views of atonement, original sin, and the like. It is also important for him to know how to write by-laws and conduct business meetings.

5. Utilize NAMB resources.

This is a shameless plug. The NAMB Church Planting Pipeline in particular is a great resource for those looking to discover and develop future planters. It allows for up to three years of thinking and training for future church planters, and covers a total of thirty church-planting competencies. You can learn more about it here.

To summarize…

Take the following steps to develop your plant’s farm system:

  1. Launch a residency program intended to identify and train future planters.
  2. Allow your residents to see the ins and outs of church-planting ministry.
  3. Keep your resident’s strengths and weaknesses in mind.
  4. Utilize the wealth of resources available through the North American Mission Board–particularly the Church Planting Pipeline.



5 Ways Planters Can Protect Themselves from Sexual Scandal

Vice President Mike Pence set off a Twitter firestorm a few months ago when he stated that he observes a couple of simple rules to protect his marriage. First, he said that he refuses to be alone with a woman who is not his wife. Second, he said that he avoids attending events featuring alcohol if his wife is not with him. His opponents called him a bigot, a pervert, and a sexist.

Weeks later, Hollywood erupted in a volcanic explosion of sexual misconduct allegations against men like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. Maybe if these men had employed Mr. Pence’s rules to their own lives, their integrities and careers would still be intact.

But the point is this: in a culture that is hypersensitive to issues of sexual misconduct, and in an age when an accusation is as good as a conviction, public figures must protect themselves. Church planters must protect themselves. The healths of their marriages, families, and ministries depends on it.

I sat down with a few experienced church planters and pastors to discuss this issue. Here are a few pieces of advice I jotted down during our conversation.

1. Avoid private messaging.

Church planters are pastors, and pastors must interact with female church and staff members. Keep these encounters public. Avoid private-message exchanges via Facebook, Twitter, or texting. In the event that a woman sends you a private message, get another person’s eyes on that message thread as soon as possible.

2. Hold meetings in public.

If a female church or staff member asks for a one-on-one meeting, move that meeting to a public place. Private meetings with women are often the breeding ground for inappropriate relationships, so eliminate the possibility of encroaching upon dangerous territory by making your meetings as visible as possible.

3. Share issues brought to you with your fellow pastors/elders.

Some will object to this rule, asking, “But what about confidentiality?”

Keeping a church member’s private affairs confidential is important, but not more important than preserving your integrity. Your people should know that you have to share with your fellow pastors for the sake of transparency and accountability.

That is not to suggest that you should betray the confidence of your people–only that you should establish policies in order to protect yourself from completely private and potentially-dangerous interactions with female church and staff members.

4. Involve your wife.

Tread lightly here. As I mentioned before, you do not want to betray your people’s confidence. Your wife does not need to know every detail of their private lives. She does, however, need to know about your interactions with other women. If possible, she needs to be involved in them. If a woman wants to discuss a sensitive issue with you, ask if it is okay to involve your wife in that discussion. Better yet, ask the woman in question if she would like to meet with your wife one-on-one.

5. Be vigilant.

You might think that you are not vulnerable to moral failure, but you are. Just as pride cometh before the fall, so a false sense of invulnerability cometh before the failure. The moment you begin to think that sexual scandal cannot happen to you is the moment that you will cease to employ these common-sense rules. Remain vigilant.

Note: This post resulted from a conversation with Matt Marrs of Northland Baptist Church, Craig Coppenbarger of Valor Church, Joshua Hedger of Emmaus KC, and Christian Williams of The Grove.


Plant Profile: The Church in Waldo

Send KC church planter Peter Assad has never met a stranger. He exudes an unreserved, approachable aura that makes him easy to talk with and hard to outdo in kindness—a kindness which allows him to accept your offer to pay for his coffee only if he can pay for your lunch. As we sit discussing the ins and outs of balancing a young church plant and a family—his wife Grace, children Annie and Wes, and a third little Assad on the way—a woman with three small children in tow approaches Peter in obvious distress. He puts his work on hold and takes a few minutes to minister to her.

Peter Assad is, in short, the sort of church planter that Waldo—and Kansas City—needs.

The son of a father from Syria and a mother from Lebanon, a desire for racial unification in the body of Christ helped to shape Peter’s church planting journey. “I don’t like this talk about ‘color blindness’ in the church,” he says. “The people of God ought to strive for unity through our diversity.”

And such is the kind of unity Peter desires to see take hold at The Church in Waldo. Upon his arrival in Kansas City, Peter began to notice the obvious divides erected between the white community and people of color.

As one whose passion for evangelism began at a young age and developed into a call to and desire for domestic missions, Peter recognizes that the answer to issues of racial division does not lie within the halls of government. “Unity won’t be achieved through social programs,” he says. “Unity will only take hold through the gospel.”

But Peter is quick to point out that racial reconciliation is only one of many types of reconciliation the gospel provides. It is hope for the broken and the hurting, mercy for the suffering, community for the lonesome. And God’s chosen agency for the proclamation of the gospel? The church.

Unfortunately, “church” is a word that the Waldo community greets with natural skepticism. “But it’s a word I’m willing to fight for,” Peter says.

And fight for it he has. Since opening its doors in January of 2016, TCIW has nearly doubled its membership, not including several attendees involved in the current membership process. It has celebrated eleven new believers and seven baptisms. But Peter and his team do not take credit.

“In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, ‘I will build my church,’ and we believe he meant it,” reads TCIW’s website. “We desire to be a local expression of that same church Jesus promised He would build—a church that the gates of hell would never prevail against. So as His body, as His church, as the hands and feet of Jesus, we press in. As we learn from Jesus to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly, we dig deep and reach out to make known through word and action this glorious Savior we’ve come to know.”

Learn more about The Church in Waldo here.



On Casting Vision

You will often hear church leaders quote Proverbs 29:18 when discussing the importance of vision casting. That is, you will often hear them quote the first part.

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.

But there’s an oft-neglected second half to the text. Here it is in its entirety:

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.

But happy is he who keeps the Law.

The parallelism here likens a lack of vision to a failure to keep God’s law. In other words, the verse in its context says little about what we might think of as “vision casting.” In reality, it is a statement on the importance of obedience.

That leaves a lot of leaders scrambling for a biblical basis for vision casting. Where do we see it in Scripture? Where is it commanded? Where is it modeled?

The troublesome reality is that you will be hard pressed to find an explicit reference to or model for vision casting in the Bible. The general idea is present. Especially in the Old Testament, faithful people waited on a vision from the Lord before taking action. The disciples awaited the Holy Spirit’s coming in the upper room before establishing the church in Jerusalem. The Spirit himself directed the church to set Paul and Barnabas aside for the missions set before them.

As such, the desire for a direct vision from God is not a bad thing. But consider the advantages the missionary of today enjoys that the apostles and early disciples did not–namely, the complete canon of Scripture. What vision can you hope for that is not already present in the sufficient, inspired Word of God?

Jesus already cast the perfect vision for his church, and he did so more than once. In Matthew 16, Jesus promised to build his church on the foundation laid by the apostles. In Matthew 18, he envisioned his church as an embassy of heavenly accountability and grace. In Matthew 28, he gave his disciples explicit instruction on how to build the church. He also made strong statements about the scope of the church’s mission, saying that it will include disciples of all nations.

Who can improve upon that?

“But wait,” you might say. “Doesn’t NAMB assess potential planters on their abilities to cast vision?”

Yes, it does. But not in the way you might think. When a NAMB assessor asks you to describe your vision, he is looking for a specific plan. Where do you aim to plant? Why did you choose that community? What strategies will you employ to gain credibility in that community? When do you aim to launch? Do you have a launch team? How are they involved?

In other words, “vision casting” within the world of church planting needs to do two fundamental things:

  1. It ought to assume that Jesus already cast the perfect vision for building his church. In simpler terms, he already established “the bottom line.”
  2. It ought to outline a specific strategy for contributing to Jesus’s “bottom line.” What steps will you take to make and baptize disciples? How do you plan to teach them all that God has commanded?

In sum, vision casting is, at its heart, equal parts trust and hard work. You must first trust that Jesus will keep his promise to build his church. The work is ultimately his. That does not, however, give you a free pass to slack off. God is moving in and through his church. How do you plan to join him there?