What’s your focus?

By Anthony Banks

Whether you are bi-vocational or in ministry full-time, you are in for a ride. As a pastor, minister, or church planter, a lot of times people don’t really understand what you are going through balancing family, work, and church. Nothing is easy, and sometimes you will struggle to find the motivation to continue.

That’s why it is so important that your motivation comes from constantly staying in prayer!

I know I’m not telling you anything new when I say you need focus. You know good and well that you can’t let anything slip. “Slipping” happens when you forget to do things at home because of the ministry, or when you struggle to find time at church because of your work.

There is no way, decent or above decent, to love my family, take care of the ministry, or maintain my job if I am not focused on the Lord! 

First, there is my family. My wife needs me, and my kids need me. They need my love and my care and my affection and my time. Scripture says my family is my priority, because if I can’t lead and care for my family well, then how can I take care of the church? (1 Timothy 3:1-5)

{ There is no way, decent or above decent, to love my family, take care of the ministry, or maintain my job if I am not focused on the Lord! }

Then there is Second Baptist Turrell, where the people need a teacher and a listener and a counselor. I don’t want to neglect one of them because they’re all important. I’m not a hired hand but a servant, one who serves by giving of himself and leading his sheep, and I am responsible to God for how I lead.

And last, but not least, is work. Of course I must do the job I have been hired to do. Unlike in the ministry where I want to be like Christ going after one sheep gone astray, at work I am more like a shepherd looking for all the other sheep! My drive and focus at work tends to be different from the ministry. 

I pray and talk with Him about these things—what all these people want from me—and then pray for myself! You and I must have His help if we are to do all these things as He would have us to do.

But I’m just warning you: stepping out in this feels like quicksand. You’re going to have to trust. Because when thoughts and distractions come flooding in, that’s when you have to continue to keep your eyes on Him.

Remember how Peter was walking on the water toward Jesus? I am like Peter sometimes because when He wants me to come out on the water, I go, but then I get distracted by the wind and the waves. I would say to a pastor or church planter, “Don’t take your eyes off Him!”

Distractions are a form of worrying. I would say that if you’re going to pray, then why worry? You have to do one or the other. Worrying can’t add anything to your life but stress. Worrying doesn’t add time or days to your life.

If you are worrying, then you are not trusting Him because worry won’t allow you to trust. Worrying is like saying that someone is standing behind you and strong enough to catch you, but you’re still worried about them catching you when you fall. You aren’t trusting them.

{ …when thoughts and distractions come flooding in, that’s when you have to continue to keep your eyes on Him. }

Maybe at the church you’re worried about an increase in visitors, salvations, or baptisms. Are you worrying why there aren’t more? Are you worrying about what you’re doing or not doing? Scripture says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase…” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

You just plant! Water if you have to, but God will send the increase. That is what the Word says: to trust Him! If we’re focusing on other things like Peter, then we’ll start sinking. We must continue to focus on Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Come to your family with complete trust in Him. Come to your ministry with complete trust in Him. Come to your job with complete trust in Him. If you’re not focused on God, why are you doing any of it? God should be the focus first, always.

Without Him, there is no us. That’s the reason we have to get up in the morning and say, “You have given me this morning, and You are the reason I woke up this morning.”

A lot of times we “lose it” because we lose focus. At the end of a long day we are tired and lose focus, but in the morning we wake up with a fresh look! We don’t wake up because we’re good; we wake up because He is good!

He has given us this day. That’s focus.


Catching a new kind of fish

By Izah Broadus

Have you ever thought about what it must be like for someone who doesn’t want to step foot in a church?  

Maybe church is a place of isolation, a place where you won’t fit in with anyone else. Maybe church is a place where you won’t be allowed to do a lot of things. Maybe church is a place where you will feel like people will point fingers. Maybe church is a place where you will have to meet a certain standard. 

One young guy who came to New Faith said he was afraid and anxious to be here because he felt like someone would make him feel different. Another man told me he would never let a pastor or preacher come to his home for dinner because he felt like he couldn’t trust them.

If we are going to be the church—the church saved for God—then we can’t look at what people have or don’t have. We can’t think of someone only by their color. We can’t do the groups and the clicks. And we can’t stick to a lot of traditions and things that have been going on for years that create “a standard.”

{ If we are going to be the church, then we can’t look at what people have or don’t have… }

And I’m talking to me, too. I have to show by example. I would never ask my church to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I try and communicate with people who feel like they are living without a purpose. As we are out in the community and talking with people, I make sure I’m doing it first. I spend one-on-one time playing basketball with the youth to show them that God loves them.

If we are going to be the church—people who love because Christ first loved us—then we have to love people who have no hope. We have to love people of this world who are living without a purpose. We have to love and feed the hungry. We have to love the people who put a penny in the offering plate as much as the people who give $100.

New Faith is a place where everyone is the same and accepted because of the love of Jesus. Our purpose is not to judge. We are a place to grow and help others grow in our relationship with Jesus. We are here to let people know there is more to life than this world and to live like we have a Kingdom-home to go to.

{ …we have to love people who have no hope. }

So what do we do to get people through the door? Well, to catch a new kind of fish, we need a new kind of bait!

I would say New Faith has moved away from a lot of traditions. We don’t have a pulpit where the preachers sit up front on the stage. We don’t ask people to turn around and look at the congregation after they’ve made a decision.

youth leading service

On the fourth Sunday of the month, we wear jeans and t-shirts on Sunday morning! Every fourth Sunday is the youth service, and our youth do everything. They open up with praise and worship, they welcome everyone and say the opening prayer, and they take up the offering before I get up to teach the sermon. Right now I’m praying to God for someone to train up who will preach. At New Faith, we want our youth to be a part of the service.

Before Easter, our church did outreach with The Word Church Jonesboro to invite the community of West Helena to our very first Walk with Jesus (read about it in my previous blog). Because of this, New Faith has grown thirty more people! Visitors came in one door with smiles and left through the other door with tears coming down their face. I watched one lady write her sin on the piece of paper, drop it into the water and see it dissolve, and break down crying as I told her God has forgiven her. People said they had never experienced the Easter story like that before!

Remember the young guy I was talking about—the one who said he was afraid? He now says that he feels like he’s part of a family. Remember the man who never wanted a pastor in his home? I was the first because he said my messages were not just for the congregation but for me, as well. 

If we are going to be the church, we might have to do a few things differently to show Jesus to people.

An exam for potential church planters (3)

By Andrew Munneke

So this is the third in a series of blogs to discern if you’re called, gifted, and able to be a church planter. In the first blog, we covered identity and the motivation for why you’re really pursuing starting a church. The second was about the core competencies of a church planter, and recognizing if you have them or need to grow in a few areas.

This blog is a bit more diagnostic. I’m asking you to do a candid self-examination as you read. Here are the three questions you’ll want to answer: Would I follow me? Does my household follow me? Do leaders follow me?

Would I follow me?

Trust. That’s the first step in a relationship with someone. If there can be no trust, there can be no relationship.

What we’re doing when we ask people to follow us is actually asking them to trust us. And that’s a huge thing! When you’re asking people to let you be their pastor, there’s a trust that needs to be there. This thought goes back to the character discussion we got into a little bit in the first blog.

So, if I know me—and hopefully you are self-aware enough to know your heart and its motivations and affections—and I was asking me to go and be a part of this new church, would I actually do it?

Let me ask the question this way: If you knew someone who had the same experiences, the same leadership track record, and the same heart motivations as you…would you follow that person? If you answered “Yes,” then let’s take this a step further.

{ If you knew someone who had the same experiences, the same leadership track record, and the same heart motivations as you…would you follow that person? }

The best leaders also make the best followers, so another good question to ask when considering your own leadership is: How well have I followed other peoples’ leadership? 

Do you frequently question others and think, “I could do it better…”? If so, as a leader you’re likely to lead more of a dictatorship because you don’t know how to work with people to achieve a common goal. People will become more like commodities to you to fulfill your vision rather than partners.

In the same way, if you can make a collaborative vision within the whole—not depending solely on yourself—then people will want to share this vision for your church and trust you to lead them.

And the last question I will ask you: How well do you lead yourself? Do you accomplish goals that you set for yourself? Do you show up on time? Do you fulfill your commitments and obligations? (Ok, so maybe that question actually consisted of three more questions! But, I think you get my point.) If you cannot lead yourself, then how can you expect to lead others?

Does my household follow me?

Obviously, this is taken from Scripture itself (1 Timothy 3:4). Your family is the group of people who know you and love you the most. If they aren’t willing to follow you, or you do a bad job of leading them, there are different caveats to what that means.

Is your wife on board? Sometimes we’re tempted to use our “calling from God” as an excuse to drag our wives into something they don’t really want to be a part of. Word to the wise, you should listen if she’s saying:

“I know you have a heart for New York City, but that will squash my soul.”

“I need you to be home more than the church/ministry will allow you to be home.”

I’m definitely not saying your wife can’t have insecurities or questions about going into ministry. Honestly, I think it would be unnatural for a wife not to wonder, “How are we going to pay the bills? Is this best for our kids?”

As a pastor, your job is all about dealing with people’s pain and how the Gospel speaks into that (this includes Christians and non-Christians, by the way). When your wife is in pain not knowing where the money will come from, or worrying about you being bi-vocational and the stress that comes with that, how do you speak the truth of the Gospel and shepherd her through those “red flags” and fears? How you shepherd your family is a reflection of how you will shepherd a church.

Your priority is to your family first. And nothing will disqualify you from church planting faster than if your marriage is crumbling and falling apart, or if you aren’t loving your kids well.

Do leaders follow me?

Let me say first that it’s great if you’ve had experience leading a small group. Like I mentioned in the second blog, leadership experience is necessary, and leading a small group is a good place to start.

But I also need to point out that leading a small group is different than leading a small group of leaders. As a pastor, you will need leaders (you could also call them key people) to follow you, and this requires a totally different skill-set.

{ Leading a small group is different than leading a small group of leaders. }

There are usually a few different leadership groups you will need: a core group, a financial support group, and (my personal conviction) a church or church network to support and send you out. How you lead and cast vision for each of these groups will be different.

Sidenote: I both like and hate the term “core group” because there’s the danger that they think they are the influencers. But if you communicate to your core group that they are carrying the DNA of the church, then this group will hopefully multiply itself into different ministries and leadership roles within the church in a way that new leaders will embrace and multiply. For example, if your core group is missional, then when they multiply themselves the goal is that your church as a whole will be missional.

And similarly for your financial group and church network, you must be able to cast a compelling vision so that they want to support you.

To be continued…


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.