How do you know if you’re qualified to be a church planter? (1)

By Andrew Munneke

So you are interested in church planting, or maybe even feel the call to plant a church? You marvel at the beauty of the Gospel and are filled with excitement for the potential of what your church may become. There is just one problem: you don’t know what qualifies you to plant a church.

Character and Weakness

A month ago we took our 3-year-old son to a boat show. He loves getting behind the steering wheel, running up and down the aisle, and imagining we are out on the lake having a good time. My imagination ran with him, and for a moment I actually thought about what it would be like to take my son out on Beaver Lake with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs.

And then I remembered…I know nothing about boats. I don’t know how to take care of them, how to winterize them, or even how the engines work.

Many aspiring planters see church planting like that boat show. It seems fun, exciting and adventurous, but they know very little about how they are wired. Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. What will take you out of ministry is not your vision statement, personality type, or your leadership pipeline—it’s your character.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul penned his qualifications for a leader in the church. Go ahead and get your Bible and open it (I’ll wait because I want you to make note of this). How many of those qualifications that Paul mentions are skilled oriented? Just one—the ability to teach. All the others are character-driven. It’s 10 percent what you know and 90 percent of who you are. So according to Paul, what qualifies you for leadership in the body of Christ is not your logo or your new cutting edge way of doing church; it’s are you someone who loves Jesus more than anything else? 

{ Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. }

Now take a look at that list again. Do you know where you a weak? Are you self-aware to know what you run to for significance, identity, purpose and hope instead of Christ? Do you know the sin that can take you out of the ministry because Satan knows it, and he is coming after you? In church planting, every weakness is magnified and every character flaw is tested. It exposes the idols of your heart. 

The Heart and Glory

So let’s just pause and ask yourself this question: What is my heart really after? One overarching issue I see with church planters specifically is a kind of glory-hunger. It’s more of an inward focus vs. an upward focus. More than a focus of, “I want God to do a good work in my city,” I’m more concerned about what God has done or will do through me.

In other words, if something was done through someone else, would I still be grateful for that? Or would I give glory to God regardless of if He used me? If we’re honest—both pastors and planters—something we have a hard time giving up is this hope of God wanting to do things through us.

Yes, we want to see God glorified and made known. That is a part of a church planter’s heart, and metrics and numbers tie-in to that. We want to see growth and impact—more missional communities, baptisms, social media engagement—constantly measuring and evaluating our own success by metrics.

In the first few years of planting The Hill, my mood would be swayed based on attendance or the feedback I was getting. It would destroy me if I ran into someone who visited our church wearing a T-shirt from another church in town. Church planting spread my insecurities like a rash that never would seem to go away, and the more it was scratched the wider it spread.looking-down-the-aisle

But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. If your identity is not in Christ but in this church plant, then it’s going to unravel you.

I think a desire of humanity is to be a part of marvelous things and see great, magnificent things happen. We love going to Razorback games, and we like it when our friends like our social media posts. We are drawn to this kind of glory. This is engrained in us because God designed us to be with Him, but because of the Fall we’ve lost intimacy and now seek the created world for that glory.

Adam and Eve wanted to seek the glory of themselves, and we can fall into the same sin of glory-hunger. But the beauty of the Gospel is that this desire to be around glory—to be known, approved, accepted, that you matter—can only be and is fulfilled in Christ.

When Jesus gives the analogy, “Come to me you who are weak and weary…” especially for people in ministry, the reason the yoke is easy for us is that Jesus is pulling the weight. We can go into ministry, bring Him honor, and lift Him up without trying to prove ourselves in ministry. It frees us of the weight. The one who fulfills the ministry is not you. You’re just being faithful to what He’s called you to do.

{ But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. }

As church planters we get so excited about the potential of what our church can be, or we are in awe of how the church is reaching people. We might have the noble motivations of reaching people for Christ, but are we really in awe of the beauty and power of Christ? Are people being reached, not because of a logo and slick campaign, but because God is honoring our faithfulness to do what He’s called us to do?

There is just as much honor and glory for the church that brings one person to Jesus as there is a church that’s brought 1,000 people to Him. It’s all a miracle, and this should make us all move in awe. Maybe God did give someone a higher domain or blessing than another, but knowing He is working frees you to be the pastor and church planter that God has called and needs you to be.

In church planting we get caught up in, “This is going to be amazing! Sexy! We’re going to solve and we’re going to fix all these issues!” It’s beautiful, but it’s also difficult and hard. Like marriage, it’s not that every day is perfect. It’s that a lot of days aren’t perfect, but going to bed and saying, “I’m fighting for you and pursuing you.” That’s what makes it beautiful—because it isn’t easy.

Identity in Christ

That’s why I want to bring you back to 1 Timothy 3. Instead of looking at what we think qualifies us, even though gifts matter and personalities matter, our character is the first thing that matters. Even for people with the best intentions to spread the Gospel, there still needs to be a season of pausing and using Paul’s character test to go deeper. To ask, “What are my moral weaknesses? What is my heart really after?” instead of asking, “Am I capable of doing this?”

I can truly say there are days in my ministry and The Hill Church that I have marveled at what God has done and what I have done. One needs to be fought for. One needs to be fought against. My feeling goes to the thought of not being successful, or things not going according to plan, vs. doing what God’s called me to do.

So maybe for you, where you are right now, the first step is actually to know that your identity is in Christ and not who you are or what you do—a husband, a baker, etc. The problem with this is 1. it’s sin and 2. it actually takes away your identity. With one change, all of a sudden my identity could be shattered. If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart?

{ If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart? }

If my identity is in Christ—where it should be, the one thing that does not change—then my identity is never in crisis. My church could be 100 or 1,000 people, or my core group could leave, and I’m still secure!

We all have times when we know the Gospel but don’t believe the Gospel. I can know God loves me and is in control, but anxiety shows because I don’t believe it. I need to remind myself and trust in what I know is true. Anxiety feels lonely, abandoned, but when identity is found in Christ, it’s something we believe but don’t forget.

I’m not sitting here four years into church planting perfected; I still have weaknesses. I know my weaknesses will continue to be my weaknesses, but I need to continue to put my trust in Christ.

Ready for the next step? Start reading the second blog of this series.


The prodigal son who found new faith

By Izah Broadus

I grew up in a little town called Lakeview, Ark. with about 1,000 people. Town was like a family. Everybody looked out for each other. Growing up in that environment made me a caring person. I always wanted to help others.

My mother and father raised me in church. They kept my brothers and sisters and me away from drugs and gangs. We didn’t experience those things and weren’t allowed to do anything like that.

As I got older, I thought there was a better life. I spent some time in the streets when I was about 18 years old. Even in my time in the streets I was a caring person because it was what I learned growing up. I was always trying to help everybody else, but I never took the time to help myself. I was a lot like the prodigal son.

What really did it was 2006. I was a diabetic and didn’t even know it. They couldn’t get my sugar down. I went into a coma, and the doctor said I wouldn’t live. I was fighting for my life, and I did live. When I got out of the hospital I said, “God, why did you save me?”

I went back to running the streets. In September 2008, I was shot five times—twice in the chest, once in the face, once in the hand, and once in the leg. It was a life change. I woke up, and I was still alive. While I was recovering from all of this, I was praying, reading the Bible, and talking to God.

Then in January, the mother of my kids walked out on me and took the kids with her. It was one of the hardest things I went through. I wasn’t ready for it. I wanted to be a better man for my kids and show them this was not who I was raised to be. I needed to change my life.  

A New Faith

I didn’t have to go to rehab or a program to get my life back together, I just got on my knees and started praying. One day my prayers brought me to Jesus Christ. I had experienced the pain and suffering that people going through in the world, and I knew I wanted to help them.

From that point on I struggled because I knew that God was calling me. I wrestled with Him for three years, but I knew what He was doing. That’s when I got back in the church. I decided I would go back home to the church I grew up in.

One Sunday as I listened to the preacher, I thought about ministry and how I had been running this whole time. I stood up in the middle of the message. The pastor came out of the pulpit and walked down to me. I knew he was preaching and talking directly to me. I told him, “I can’t run no more. God is calling me.”

The pastor looked at me and said that my father, on his death bed, told him that he wasn’t going to hear his son preach his first sermon. That broke me. I cried right there in church.

Even with my past, the church accepted me. But the longer I stayed there the more I felt that we weren’t reaching the lost people in the streets. The lost people hadn’t heard the story of Jesus. Or if they had heard about Him, they didn’t know what He really means. These people needed to be reached, and I wanted to meet people and make a difference on the area.

{ The lost people hadn’t heard the story of Jesus. Or if they had heard about Him, they didn’t know what He really means. These people needed to be reached. }

That’s what I want to teach people: there is a Savior for all people! It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make, but I left my home church. I felt that was what God wanted me to do.

At about the time I left, I joined an organization in West Helena, Ark., that was supposed to be helping youth who were living on the streets. The organization owned a building in West Helena that was connected to a church, and they asked if I wanted the church to start a ministry.

I prayed about it and said yes. The church started on March 15, 2015, and they installed me as the pastor of the church. We had our first service on Easter Sunday that April, which gave me time to talk to people and make flyers. My family knew about it and people in the community found out. Sixty people came that morning, and eight people joined. We named the church New Faith.izah-preaching

At first I just focused on preaching but then I started doing more. Now I talk, go into praise and worship, talk, turn it over to the musicians, then preach the Word. I’m up and doing something the whole service. I get up in the choir sometimes, too.

The Lord Provides

When the church was about two months old, I found out the organization that owned our building was not who they were telling people they were. I thought, I didn’t come to this to do wrong in the church. When I reported them, they told me we had to move out of the church. By that time, we had about 30 members at New Faith. 

I said to God, “There’s no way you brought me back to West Helena to start a church for this to happen.” I started looking for a place to worship and found a church in the same neighborhood—St. Mary’s Church. They were only worshiping on the second and fourth Sundays, so they approached me and offered that we could start meeting there on the first and third Sundays. At the same time, I felt that we needed to be in our own facility.

So I’m walking through the sanctuary with a member of Harmony Baptist, who was selling St. Mary’s Church, and talking about what was going on with New Faith. Then he tells me they wanted to sell their building. Their asking price was $125,000, but I made them an offer for $20,000.

I was surprised when he said, “I’ll take it.” I asked, “What makes you want to sell it to me for $20,000?” He said, “We’ve had people approach us and make offers, but they wanted to turn it into a game room or a studio. This church has history, and we wanted to keep it as a church.”

So after hearing our story, they simply said they wanted to help us out and sold it to us for $20,000!

{ God is showing us, “Don’t worry about this. I got y’all,” just like Jeremiah 29:11. }

As it turns out, this building needed so much work—new copper wire, an air conditioning unit, a new gas pipe. I realized we couldn’t hold a service there until we got some things fixed, so I made a smaller offer.

New Faith met in this “new” building the first Sunday of July 2015. We didn’t have anything but lights, air conditioning, the sanctuary, and a restroom, but we got in there and started service. Some windows were broken, and we still have broken windows.

Then I started hearing things about Arkansas Baptists. I went to Anthony Banks, and he sat down and explained to me how things worked with Dixie Jackson missions. And I’m thinking, “I need to talk to them. That’s something I’d love to be a part of.”

I was able to meet with ABSC church planting strategist Bro. Willie Jacobs (and when I met him it was like God poured out the blessings of heaven!) to talk about Dixie Jackson funds. He also introduced me to the Church Planting Team and the pastor of First Baptist Hot Springs, John McCallum.

First Baptist Hot Springs volunteering at a block party hosted by New Faith.

First Baptist Hot Springs became our partnering church. They came down to West Helena and did some work on the church. We probably wouldn’t be in our church building if it wasn’t for them, but we don’t dwell on that. We don’t have big funds coming in, and sometimes they step in and pay the utilities for the month. God is showing us, “Don’t worry about this. I got y’all,” just like Jeremiah 29:11. I made this our church’s Scripture!block-party-3

One hundred and forty-seven people are on the church roster right now with at least 50 to 80 people in service on Sundays.

At New Faith we teach come to Jesus right where you are in life and let Jesus change your life around. I know my God brought me out of my situation, and I started serving God right there and my life changed. I have truly watched people come in our doors that were homeless, drug addicts, or alcoholics, and we loved them and introduced them to Jesus right there.

My gang & drug days didn’t keep me from God’s call

By Anthony Banks

I say I’m from West Helena, Ark., but when I was growing up it was actually two cities—Helena and West Helena. I guess you could say I started like any other adolescent. I grew up with a good home and good values, but I wanted to grow up and do my own thing. I got out with the wrong people and started doing the wrong things. However, even as an adolescent, I realized I possessed a leadership skill.

Going through school I wasn’t so rough. I was just a regular class clown. When I was going into 12th grade, I dropped out of Helena-West Helena School and moved to California with my sister. I was going to school and I wound up living this life in the Crip Empire. I became a Crip.

I messed up some things in our house and wound-up leaving California in December 1989. I hopped a bus December 21 and went back to Arkansas. By mid-January, I was in jail, and I spent three months and 19 days in prison.

That was where I had my first vision of God’s divine intervention. I went to the prison church service every Sunday, and I remember one Sunday I asked the chaplain to pray that I make the board and to get out. About a minute into the prayer, he stopped praying. 

I didn’t know what was going on. I was on my knees with him standing over me. When I looked up, there was a bright light shining so bright above me. I could not stand to look at it. The voice from the light was telling me what was going on—that I was getting out of jail. But the voice also said, “If you keep living this life of sin, all you will see is death.”

The person I was, I only paid attention to the part where I was getting out of jail. I did get out about two weeks later, and I went back to the same things—even more than what I had been doing. Until 1993.

{ The voice from the light was telling me what was going on—that I was getting out of jail. But the voice also said, “If you keep living this life of sin, all you will see is death.” }

I had my second intervention with God. This time it was his still, small voice. I was talking to God out loud, and he told me what he wanted to do. He wanted me to go to schools and talk to children about a boy who had been in jail and in gangs, and things he had been through. And I told God, “No. Who am I?”

When I was in prison, I had read the Bible and began to see the Revelation. I remember reading in the Bible, “Even your best is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). I thought, Why would they listen to me? I’m a filthy rag. God and I were having this tug-of-war, which I found out I could not win, but he did this miraculous thing.

I was in the car and kept refusing to do what he said. So I’m driving, and all of a sudden my car stopped. It was almost like the transmission went out because I was still hitting the gas. I recognized clearly that God was doing something. I said, “Ok God, whatever you want me to do.”

The car started moving again. By then I had passed the school, so I put the car in reverse and backed back and I went inside. I met the principal, and I had only talked to him a moment before he said he knew why I was there. I found myself talking to kids at this elementary school and later found myself talking to every school in Helena-West Helena.  I would always pray and ask God that the words coming out would be his and not mine.

Once I remember putting together a 30-45 minute speech to be more prepared when I spoke. I worked on this thing for hours and hours. At the time, I didn’t know how God was using me. I had this two-three page paper in front of me and realized I did not look at that paper one time.  God had just given me so much to share with those children.  I was being videoed, and I watched it later and thought, This is not me. That’s my body, but is that me?

The Struggle to Find Peace 

I did this for a few years, but I went back to the streets again and started back dealing with drugs. One night I went to work, and guys came to my house to get drugs. Come to find out, one of those guys was robbed and killed. When I came home the next day, I was told the police wanted me to answer some questions, but I wasn’t about to go up to the station. When you are dealing with drugs, you do not have any peace.

A few days later, nine or ten police officers filled my window. I thought about running out the back door. I was panicking, but then a voice said, “Calm down and open the door.” The police told me they were looking for a guy who lived next door. When they left, I realized this life wasn’t for me.

Nevertheless, three people came to buy drugs from me one day. I knew them, so the last thought on my mind was that they would rob me. I did not have any more drugs, so I told them I had to go pick it up. They offered to take me to the spot where I pick up, but they started talking what sounded like another language. I finally understood what was happening—they were robbing me.

They started yelling and telling me to give them the money, and then their shotgun went off at my feet. I had already given them my money, but they still held the gun 8-10 inches away from my face. I thought, Well they’re going to kill me anyway. One guy knew me from prison in 1990, and I had beat him up pretty bad. So I gave up, put my arms down beside me, and closed my eyes.

As I was closing my eyes, he had the gun pointed right at me. I heard the “click,” and I opened my eyes again. The gun had not gone off. God allowed me to escape, but I was still thinking I was tough.

I got off the streets and tried to change. I had getting back in church on my mind. LT Sims, a deacon at Second Baptist Church in West Helena, encouraged me to come to church. He had been talking to me for a couple years about coming to church. I had in my mind that I would go to Beautiful Zion or Second Baptist. So I decided, Whichever church is on my mind that morning that is where I am going. I got up and went to Second Baptist the next morning, and that was my home church until God called me to Turrell.

But before I came to Turrell, some lies were told about me and I was arrested. I was so angry because this could have cost me 25 years to life in prison for something that I did not do. That’s what brought me to the cave. However, that is also where God brought me out of the cave.

God’s Plan

I had nowhere to go, so I got to hear God and hear him right. He came to me and here’s what he told me: he had another plan. I know God stepped in because he gave me the mind of Christ. That is what I want people to understand when they read my story—God had another plan.  He took a whole lot of dirt and he made me a whole ‘nother man.  I am so glad God had another plan for my life. If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about the plans you got for your life.

My wife did not know what was going on, so she called my brother.  When he came down the hall to see me, the power of God’s spirit knocked him back. He said he could see the Spirit of the Lord all over me. The Lord was showing me that he had been calling me. When he had me speaking at schools in 1993, he was preparing me and setting the way for me to talk to his people.

Then it was like he took me through a re-enactment. It was like I was there when they nailed him to the cross. I asked, “What is it you want from me? What do you want me to do?” and he said, “Tell your pastor that you’ve received your call and wait for his instructions.” 

{ The Lord was showing me that He had been calling me. When He had me speaking at schools in 1993, He was preparing me and setting the way for me to talk to his people. }

When I opened my eyes, I saw what was going on around me. My brother was on his knees, crying. He said, “You’ve received your call. Now go tell your pastor you have received your call and wait for him to instruct you.” I told him that he just confirmed what the Holy Spirit had spoken to me.

Evidence came forth that proved my innocence of the charges that were pending against me, and I was exonerated.  

I received the call to be sent in 2013. After this, my pastor put me on “a watch.” In January 2015, I preached my first sermon. People were opening their doors and asking me to preach. I reflected back to the streets and how I knew then that I was a leader.

Later I talked to Bro. Willie Jacobs (Church Planting Strategist for the ABSC) and my pastor Jarvis Smith, and we prayed about a church plant in Turrell, Ark.  Last January, Bro. Jacobs took me down to look at this church, the church that became Second Baptist Turrell. Turrell is the kind of town I was raised up in. I came out of a place like this with gang banging, drugs, and poverty.

They gave me keys to the building, and we started Bible study in April. I knew the Spirit was saying we needed to move forward with a church service, so I talked with Bro. Jacobs and my pastor. The older crowd did not want to get out at night because it was somewhat rough, but I said, “With all due respect, I understood it is not the popular thing to do. However, I have to do what the Holy Spirit is leading me to do.”

We had our first service May 1. Even though we discussed going back to just having Bible study, let’s just say we have had services every Sunday since. To God be the glory!


Why church planting?

By Lee Kemp

When I’m talking to people and sharing Forefront Church’s story, I have often been asked “Why did you go into church planting after being involved in an established church ministry for more than a decade?” I think it’s a great question.

Back in the day, Sarah and I made this little magazine when Forefront was becoming a reality. There was a “Why Church Planting?” page, and it had a few simple points. I’ll use them as a starting point to answering this question.  

1. God has called me to do it.

That’s reason enough to be involved in church planting, but it is a hard answer to give sometimes. I’ve always tried to be careful saying, “God called me to do this.”  Maybe it was my creative brain and not God?

Even though I know God called me—to church planting and to do other things—the one thing that would limit me is feeling ill-equipped. Well, if God is sending people to do it, he must be equipping people to do it! I know whenever God calls us he equips us.

I feel he equipped me by giving me an entrepreneurial spirit for Kingdom advancement. He also gave me a pioneering spirit, and by that I mean a willingness to cut a trail, to settle a vision into a reality. The grass was bent in Fort Smith and there was a trail, and I felt like God was leading me to take a road over there. 

2. Church plants are fulfilling the great commission, sometimes faster than established churches.

Church plants are effective, and they reach new people. There is plenty of research on this. Church plants, also known as church starts, in many cases have been observed to grow from 0 to 200 people quicker than established churches.

Church plants also have a passion for evangelism, and they have a tendency for a disciple-centered culture. It’s a part of the demand that they make disciples because there is nothing else for them to hang their hat on.

A lot of church plants have evangelism so ingrained in their ministry DNA that they “plant pregnant.” In other words, they are starting new churches as they are becoming a new church. There is a lot of statistical data to back up that church planting is one way of fulfilling the Great Commission at a faster pace.

3. There is a need for church planting.

When you listen to someone talk about a business, people often ask, “Is there a viable reason for this?” I’ve talked a lot in previous blogs about being a missional church, but there really was a need for a missional church plant in Fort Smith. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read “We Are Forefront” and “My Apartment Is My Mission Field.”)

We have seen God fulfill his vision through us. Sometimes it was in “small” ways, and sometimes it was in big ways. (Check out “Sowing Seeds with People of Peace,” “From Homeless to Homemaker,” and “God is Still on the Move.”)  

Continuing to grow

I have done a lot of growing over the years in both the ministries of established churches and church planting. The first sermon I ever preached  was awful and doctrinally wrong. In a church plant, if someone preaches like that, visitors might go to a completely different church! If someone had never given me that opportunity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

One thing I really don’t dispute is God calling me to church planting, but what I struggle with is if I am doing it in the way he would have me do it. Sometimes I think I’m doing ok, and other days I feel like I should be blocking off my whole day for prayer.

I have learned that even though I am a pastor, I am still obligated to lead with the fruit of the Spirit. In church planting, the success of the church plant can hinge on whether this new thing rolls or doesn’t roll. If something’s not working, then why? How will I know if it is worth continuing?  When I shepherd, I have to lead with the fruit of the Spirit.

Signing off

This is my last official blog post for “A Day in the Life of a Church Planter.” I am passing the baton to several great guys who will share their lives, tell their stories, and give you a glimpse into what God is doing through their church plants. Continue following Forefront Church’s journey at, or add me on Facebook.

I would ask that you continue to pray for Forefront Church and for our family. Here are a few specific ways you can pray:

  • That Sarah and I will continue to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and that we would seek to minister being filled with the Spirit.
  • We ask for wisdom and discernment about how to position our people where they can fulfill their calling in ministry and ultimately advance the Gospel.
  • That we would continually walk in faith. We want to see God provide for us in a way where only he is seen as our source of provision. We don’t ever want to be in a spot where we “finally make budget.” If we make budget, it’s our desire to constantly have a posture of faith as a church. We don’t want to ever be in a spot where we financially settle. Pray that we don’t become complacent.
  • Please pray for my children. I don’t want to reach the whole world and lose my own kids. I don’t want to minister in such a way that my kids hate the ministry. I pray that they would continue in—and maybe even be called to—ministry, and that they would continue the race that Sarah and I have started.

God is already there

By Nicole Hutcheson 

I spent this summer on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia. Though I can’t say which country I served in, I can say it is against the law to “Christianize” the people who live there. The good news is that God is already there, even in the hardest and most closed places.

It’s illegal to share the Gospel. It’s hard. But we have to go!

My team and I had to use a lot of discernment as we talked to people, but our priority was not the number one concern—the people we met were. Someone told us during training that we were on a rescue mission, so we kept that mindset the entire summer. 

We would really want to share with someone, but the opportunity did not come up naturally in the conversation. Silently, we would ask the Lord to please open a door. So many times I was praying that specific prayer, and the door would open right in that instant.

Relying on God

We had a neighbor in one of the cities where our team was staying. For several weeks we visited with her, but the opportunity to share the Gospel never came up.

On our last night in the city, we were having dinner with this woman. I was sitting on the edge of my seat asking God for his help because we still had not shared the Gospel.

Then my teammate sneezed. The woman turned to her and said the traditional “May Jesus bless you,” but in her language. When I heard her say his name I asked, “Would you tell me what you just said?” She said it again, so I asked, “Do you mean Jesus Christ?” In that moment we shared the entire Gospel with her.

{ Later, our team talked about how God just used a sneeze to share the Gospel! }

Also about the midpoint of our trip our team was struggling because we hadn’t seen a lot of fruit from our work. We knew that the Lord was faithful—that we might just be planting seeds—but we were praying and hoping we would see someone come to know him.

We had the day off from work, so we were spending the day at the beach just paddle boarding, relaxing, and having a good time with our team coordinator and his family. One of my teammates went down the beach to buy coconuts for us, and he realized the guy he was buying from had a Bible verse on his shirt.

He asked the man if he knew what the shirt said and meant, and when he answered “no,’’ my teammate shared the Gospel with him. The man accepted the Lord on the beach right there! The guys went back later and talked with him, studied the Word, gave him a Bible, and really solidified that faith.

It was just the coolest thing to see that, but this moment spoke to more than that. We were trying so hard to be faithful and wanting things to go the way we thought they should, and when we least expected it God moved into that man’s heart and changed his life.

God is definitely moving in this nation! (For a similar God story, be sure to checkout Lee’s post “God is still on the move” about a divine encounter with a member of the Arapaho Tribe.) 

Sharing the Gospel is more than telling

Last September, I was reading in the New Testament and God told me I should checkout church plants in our area. I thought, “That would be cool. Ok.” A few days later, my Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) campus minister, Lee Woodmansee, told me that a local church planter would be speaking at one of our events.

It was Lee Kemp. After he spoke, I introduced myself and told him, “I’m coming to your church on Sunday.” I’ve been going to Forefront Church ever since.

After I got back from Southeast Asia, I was sitting at Forefront and very distinctly God told me, “This is what you’re going to do. Go out and make disciples.” In order to go and make disciples, we have to have to create a place to come together.

Nicole (left) with members of her team.

We can’t ignore that fact as believers. We can’t just go and tell people about Jesus. We have to see it through! We need people to grow with new believers, to come beside them, and walk with them through life. You get that that discipleship and community through church.

To me, it’s not about becoming a “church planter.” It’s just part of my call.

Attending Forefront, I’ve kind of seen how church planting works. I’m pretty sure that will be my future in international missions: planting a church with local believers and knowing the church and their outreach will continue even after I leave.

I don’t know how I will get to that point, but I think it’s a biblical truth. That’s what we should do. One of the things they say in East Asia’s underground church is this: “Every member of a church is a church planter, and every church planter plants churches.” 

College, missions, or both? 

I’m not on the field right now, and that’s hard! I’m now a senior at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. I know I’m supposed to finish school, but I also need to play an active role in missions work.

We had one lesson this summer that was about different aspects of missions, like praying for and mobilizing missionaries. What that looks like for me as a college student is telling people about my experience, encouraging them to do international missions, and explore those options with them.

At the same time, I just completed the first step in a long application to become an IMB Journeyman. I had kind of written it off as too big of a commitment (two years), but after a summer of serving with Nehemiah Teams I am convinced this is what God is telling me to do. So I’m praying he will see me through again!

Want to learn more about Nehemiah Teams? Be sure to checkout the “Team Work” CP Share story!   

Nicole’s video diary 


What “radical” living teaches my kids & church

By Lee Kemp 

My kids are like me, they love adventure. People used to ask me, “Is living in a two-bedroom apartment necessary? You are a family of seven. Isn’t this a little too radical? Can’t you live in a nicer neighborhood and just go to Timberline?” But we couldn’t do that.

My neighbor is a stripper. Another is a prostitute. There are policemen constantly driving through the complex. We don’t let our kids go outside by themselves.

But what am I teaching my kids if I don’t do this? Someone once said: “We may teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.”

I’ll give you a recent example of this. There’s a guy at Forefront Church who is praying about planting a church in another complex. His family has been kind of critical about it, and someone asked, “If your pastor wants you to go live in a rough apartment complex, why doesn’t he?” The conversation ended when he said, “He already has.”

{ My neighbor is a stripper. Another is a prostitute. There are policemen constantly driving through the complex. We don’t let our kids go outside by themselves. But what am I teaching my kids if I don’t do this? }

What am I showing my kid if I don’t go all in? My kids are going to have this half-based faith. If I don’t want my kids to live like that, then I don’t want to live like that.

Even the businessmen who supported our ministry initially thought we were crazy. One of them told me later, “Lee, I thought you were just a squirrel. We gave you six months tops to quit and move out of the complex. People who talk like you talk, they quit.”

Well, when I stuck around, they said “We’ll keep funding!” They came back on when they saw I was here to stay.

You can’t quit on the vision God’s given you. I think he gives us all a specific calling, and if you don’t answer that call he’s going to send somebody else and you will miss out on what’s unique to you and him. It’s like God says, “I want you to do this Lee, and I want you to do it with me.”

{ …if you don’t answer that call He’s going to send somebody else and you will miss out on what’s unique to you and Him. }

Making it all work

When we first moved into the apartment complex, we had three kids and one on the way. (A baby has never stopped us!) Sarah and I took the guest bedroom and gave our kids the main bedroom. The two girls were in the bedroom, and our son was in the walk-in closet. We made it a man-cave and built a loft bed that was attached to the wall; we made it feel like a duck-blind!

Honestly, it’s been great. If I wasn’t a married man I would live here all the time, I really would. But I have a family. People ask what we’ll do when our girls are grown and our son is 12. We want this ministry to be fun for our kids. I want to show my kids we can go on adventures with Jesus, but I also want to take care of them. If it’s not exciting to them, then sometimes we need a break.

 { I want to show my kids we can go on adventures with Jesus, but I also want to take care of them. }

Taking a break, restoring roots

When you deploy a soldier you don’t deploy him forever.

The complex we lived in, it wore us down. We lived there for almost two years until another church in town offered us a six-month stay in their mission house. After that, we still felt like we needed a break and my wife was pregnant, so we did a one-year lease in a historic district in town.

It was a big house. We used that season to entertain and have people over often, just practicing hospitality. Because we had so many people over my kids would always ask, “Who are we having over tonight?”

A couple from our church stayed in the apartment complex while we were gone. They needed a break, and even though we had asked another couple in the church who might be ready to take their place, the more and more we thought about it we felt the Lord was bringing us back. As our lease came up we felt like it was time to come back to the apartment.

The break brought us back to our roots. We just moved back in, and this go-round we have five kids! The girls have the bunk beds in the main bedroom, our son is back in the walk-in closet and the baby is in our room. We plan to do this for another year and a half.

My hope is that by doing something “radical,” Forefront Church would be willing to be radical!



How a vision became Forefront Church

forefront logo

By Lee Kemp 

My wife Sarah and I really felt affirmed in our ministry. We had spent eight and a half years working with youth and absolutely loved it. I was also preaching several times a year in our church, which is unusual as a youth pastor.

We questioned whether we would go to seminary or begin pastoring a church. I actually went to seminary three different times . I was thinking “I have three kids with one on the way.”

Instead, I got involved with a multi-site church called Brand New Church, and I was a campus pastor for 18 months there. We enjoyed that time even though it wasn’t completely what we felt called to. It did give us a lot of opportunities to work with adults. The only adults I had worked with were my kids’ parents in youth ministry, so I really got my feet wet working with adults and not just students.

Still, we were asking God why this didn’t feel like everything we were being told to do. So I gave Dave McClung a call; he is on the Church Planting Team at the ABSC. I told him “I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking.”

{ I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking. }

Dave sent me several books to read, a few being “Strength Finder 2.0” and “Church in the Making.” At the time, I also was reading a book called “Greater” by Stephen Furtick. As I read those books, it was a process of assessing who I was.

The Vision Comes

So then I tried to sit down and pray for a vision. I asked myself, “If Jesus were to ask, ‘If you could do whatever you want to advance my kingdom in ministry, what would you like to do?”

I just thought about church—getting outside the box—and I wrote out Forefront Church.

After that I had coffee with Roy, a business man in Fort Smith, and told him what I wanted to do. He gave me four other guys to talk to. I also talked with a guy named Burt who would ask questions. What we ended up with was a magazine; it’s the business plan of our church plant. We put in 40-50 hours planning out this vision.

Raising Support

There was a season where it was just businessmen and my money. I was going to be short and I was like I have to get a job or it’s going to slow me down. We had some support from our personal savings, from businessmen, the ABSC, Dixie Jackson funds & the cooperative program. There are church planters in Arkansas like me who really need those Dixie Jackson funds to keep them going.

With things in motion, we lived with our parents for a little bit before moving-in to an apartment complex that the businessmen (who were sponsoring us) owned. It was a two-bedroom apartment. We had three children at the time with one on the way!

Lee’s advice if you are considering church planting :

  • Start by asking yourself these questions: Who are you? What are your spiritual gifts? What are you passionate about?
  • Write down your thoughts/vision.
  • Meet with a coach to critique your plans in a positive way, someone who will bounce your ideas around and be a sounding board.
  • Business men are not pastors; they want to know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.