The Lewis & Clark Guide to Church Planting: Write Everything Down

One of the greatest accomplishments of Lewis & Clark’s exploration was contained in the journals they returned with that document the trip and what they discovered. Lewis, as the main leader, was charged by Thomas Jefferson to keep a careful record of everything they observed, discovered, saw and experienced. As they traveled, they wrote and documented their experiences with various Indian tribes. They described the landscape, the new creatures they discovered, what they ate, the condition of the men they were leading and so on. Almost everything they were doing they recorded.

There are a few strange issues with their journals however. For instance Lewis would not write anything down (that we have today) for weeks and months at a time. During some of the most important discoveries and the most important times that we would expect to have a record of what was happening it seems that Lewis didn’t pen for us what was happening. Stephen Ambrose states:

There are long periods—months at a time, nearly a year in one case— for which few and only sporadic journal entries by Lewis are known to exist…. There is no explanation for the gaps. Possibly he was depressed, or maybe it was just a severe case of writer’s block. Neither explanation seems likely, however.[1]

Nevertheless there was documentation, and good documentation at that. Even if we don’t have much of Lewis’ writing Captain Clark journaled just as much and gave us good detail about the progress of the voyage as well. They were detail oriented, factual and even enjoyable to read. Ambrose recommends that one should travel the route that Lewis & Clark took and read the journal entries they wrote along the way.

So what does this have to do with church planting? I think Lewis & Clark, by their careful documentation of their voyage help us see how important it is to keep written documentation. Write down everything. Write out you doctrinal statement (yes, you should have one). Write out a clear constitution. Put into written form the way you will handle church discipline. Write down a philosophy of ministry for everything in the church, from preaching to nursery. Give clear, written processes on how to become a member, deacon, elder and so forth. Write down your strategy for church planting and global mission. Write out how you will distribute funds to those in need, what qualifies a person to lead a community group, and how to be a part of the worship team. Take careful notes at your staff and elder meetings. Log just about everything you do as a church.

I know there might be a bit of push-back from many on this especially from those who see written and institutional as the enemy of relational and organic. If you begin now, at the front end of church planting, to write things down you will save yourself many headaches, repeated conversations and much frustration down the road. If you document yourself well people will be well served later. Furthermore you won’t constantly have to go back to the drawing board again and again because you don’t have things written down.

One of the ways I employ this myself in ministry is by having a couple of notebooks. One is a Moleskine weekly planner that I can write down appointments, important things I have to and other such items each week. The second notebook is a smaller Moleskine Cahier Journal that I keep as my idea book. I doodle, write down an idea when it pops in my head, plan, pray and outline through this journal. But I have all my ideas in one place. For some you might prefer to go digital and keep everything in a space like Evernote. Fine. Just make sure you write everything down.

This might seem tedious and useless but the payoff down the road will be huge. Not only will you be able to clearly document and see where you’ve come from (and have a better idea of where you’re leading your church), you’ll also be able to help others that are looking to plant down the road. Imagine the wealth of wisdom, knowledge and help you can give to a young aspiring church-planter when you can hand him a notebook of all the things you’ve written down about the launch of your church. If the journals of Lewis & Clark still benefit us today, how much more can the written life and practice of a church on the rise benefit those who are planting themselves. Brothers, please - write. everything. down!

  1. Ambrose, Stephen E. (2011–10–31). Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Kindle Edition) (Kindle Locations 2192–2195). PREMIER DIGITAL PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.  ↩