The Lewis & Clark Guide to Church Planting: Have a Clear Mission

Recently I have been leisure reading through Stephen Ambrose’s study of the exploration of Lewis & Clark, Undaunted Courage. Something about my own drive across half the continent over a month ago prompted me to read about the first group of travelers that did it over two hundred years ago. For those of you who are unfamiliar with American history, I would commend this book to you. It’s part adventure story, part travel-log, and like all history should be helpful for our own lives as we learn from the successes and failures of others.

As I have read some clear lessons (or best practices) have jumped out at me in relationship to church-planting and the advance of the gospel. On Tuesday’s I will relate some of what I have read with the much more glorious, and just as difficult task of church planting.

One my first misconceptions about Lewis & Clark was that they were two buddies of Davey Crockett and liked to explore and hike and ended up crossing the continent one day. No mission, no real goal, just out for a hike and one day, “Hey! Is that the Pacific Ocean?!” The reality however is that there was a clear and specific mission from the highest authority given to these two leaders.

In 1803 the United States, and more specifically, Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from the French for a bargain price. But, unlike purchasing a home or land today, there was no pre-purchase inspection or appraisers that went out to tell you what condition the land you just bought was in. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory sight-unseen.

So what did he have? He had to know. Hence Lewis & Clark. Jefferson wanted to know all about the rest of the continent. Scientifically, he wanted to know the botany, zoology, geography, and minerology of the Purchase. Politically, he wanted to set up relationships with the native Indian tribes and bring them into the realm of the United States. Economically, Jefferson was looking for a way to monopolize the fur trade in the North Pacific and undercut the British operating in southern Alberta and Manitoba.

Yet the biggest question and the main purpose of the mission was to answer the question that everyone in the world had been guessing and rumoring about since the discovery of the New World. Was there an all-water route from one coast to the other? Could someone get on a boat in St. Louis and, by boat go all the way up the Missouri River and then hop out and jump into another boat and cruise down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean?

Jefferson's charge to Lewis & Clark was straight forward and clear; find the best route to the Pacific, survey the land and peoples, and document everything!

Now what does this have to do with church planting? Essentially, it comes down to the purpose. Why do we plant churches? Did a couple of guys get up one morning and decide to start preaching and singing and just have a church because it sounded like a cool idea? Many might have that perspective in planting a church, but it won’t be effective.

We have to know our purpose! We must clearly know what the mission is and let that be the guiding focus for us. There were so many things that Lewis & Clark could have done on their voyage. Yet their fidelity to the mission kept them on task and let them be able to say “no” to good things that weren’t necessary or even harmful to the overall mission.

Do you know the mission? Do you know what Christ has sent all believers out into the world to carry out? Will you be obedient to the King who has called and is sending us out on mission? Just as Lewis & Clark were under orders from the President of the United States, so we are under orders of the King over all kings. And just as Jefferson made it abundantly clear to Lewis & Clark regarding the purpose of their mission, so Jesus has made it crystal clear to his people what their mission is.

"All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18–19). That's the mission. Make disciples! Are you on obediently living on mission?