The Lewis & Clark Guide to Church Planting: Lead Like a Father

Imagine yourself having the highest rank in a special operations military team designated with a very particular and specific mission. Underneath you are thirty soldiers who are working to achieve the same goals and accomplish the same mission. Like yourself these men are young, strong, and eager to achieve something for glory. Also, they will be undisciplined, unruly and disobedient to you. This flaw of theirs will put your mission in jeopardy on more than one occasion. How do you lead this team of highly potent and highly volatile men? Stephen Ambrose gives some insight into how Lewis & Clark led. For instance,

His leadership had been outstanding. He and Clark had taken thirty-odd unruly soldiers and molded them into the Corps of Discovery, an elite platoon of tough, hardy, resourceful, well-disciplined men. They had earned the men’s absolute trust.[1]

But how did Lewis lead? How did he take this rag-tag highly motivated and highly erratic team and form them into an elite group of leaders? Again Ambrose gives us some clues,

How he led is no mystery. His techniques were time-honored. He knew his men. He saw to it that they had dry socks, enough food, sufficient clothing. He pushed them to but never beyond the breaking point. He got out of them more than they knew they had to give. His concern for them was that of a father for his son. He was the head of a family.[2]

Herein lies the application for us in church planting. Lead like a father. Particularly lead your leaders like a father would his sons. Church plants these days are places where young men who are chomping at the bit to be lead guys are going. These young men are energetic, strong, eager as well as undisciplined, sometimes foolish and in need of your leadership. So how do you lead them? Like a father.

Paul called both Timothy and Titus his “true children in the faith.”[3] He perceived not as a lord, manager, CEO or director. He saw himself as a father to these two young leaders in the church. He knew he must lead them well in that way. Furthermore, we see how to lead when Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about how he lead them:

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.[4]

Paul tells us about how to lead like a father.

  • Fathers lead by working hard so they don’t burden their children (v. 9). A father knows his children don’t exist to serve him. He exists to serve his children. Lewis and Clark knew their men didn’t exist to ensure their comforts. The men were part of the team to accomplish the mission. As a church planter we must work hard not to be burdens to our young men, but we work hard to lead them well. We work hard for the glory of God so they will work hard for the glory of God.
  • Fathers lead by conduct themselves with honor and dignity before their children (v. 10). Fathers don’t act like babies or pigs. They don’t take advantage of their sons. They command respect because they live well and earn that respect. Lewis & Clark earned respect, it wasn’t just theirs by privilege of rank. You might be the only elder at your plant. You might be the first among equals at your church. You will lead well when you act with honor and dignity before your leaders. Earn their respect by the way you treat others.
  • Fathers lead by exhorting, encouraging and challenging their children (v. 11). Lewis & Clark accomplished this well. They used their words with their men to get the best from them. They knew when to exhort their men. They knew when to encourage them. They knew when to challenge and push them. This is the challenge of leadership; knowing when to exhort, encourage or challenge. Fathers know to do this. We can’t just default to one form of communication with our people. It seems like many church planters are stuck on exhorting or challenging or even berating and constantly rebuking, but few know how to encourage well too. It's essential that you exhort. It is essential that you challenge. It is also essential that you encourage. We must lead the young men of our church plants like fathers do their children.

The leadership ability of Lewis & Clark are not modern phenomenon. They are time-tested truths about how to lead all men. However, their leadership gives us insight in how to lead men as church planters. When we see their leadership, and more importantly listen to the leadership technique of church-planters like the apostle Paul we see that leading as fathers is the best way to lead the young men of our church plants.


  1. Ambrose, Stephen E. (2011–10–31). Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.  ↩
  2. Ambrose, Stephen E. (2011–10–31). Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.  ↩
  3. 1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:4  ↩
  4. 1 Thessalonians 2:9–12.  ↩