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.  ↩

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.  ↩

The Lewis & Clark Guide to Church Planting: Keep Going

Day 1: “Today was incredible. We left St. Louis to a cheer of the crowds and with a happy heart. I know that the journey ahead will be difficult, but I’m confident nothing can stop us.”

Day 75: “One of our team died today. He was very sick and dehydrated. His death made me consider the cost of this journey. However we carry on.

Day 156: “It rained today and the work has been hard. I never thought the trip would be this difficult. I don’t imagine it getting any harder though. We carry on!”

Day 238: “It was −45 today and snowed. Again. I’ve never been so cold in my life. We’ve only made it half-way in our journey. If there aren’t enough supplies I fear we must return.”

Day 445: “Ate a dog today. Not my dog, just a dog. We have no food and the dog was the only option. This is terrible. I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

Day 447: “Our guide got lost today. The snow was at least waist deep in places. We have no food, very little to keep warm and are in the middle of the mountains. Maybe we should turn back.

Day 503: “Had my first taste of Pacific salmon. I can’t believe we made it. I am sure that the trip home will be equally difficult but I can hardly believe the beauty of this Pacific coast. We can’t count the mission completed until we return to St. Louis, but we’ve made it nonetheless!

Although these aren’t the exact journal entries of Lewis or Clark they could very well be. There was a lot of confidence and promise as they started the journey and there was a lot of trial and suffering as they traveled. They faced death, starvation, cold, heat, nature, Indians, illness, mosquitoes, and every form of potential struggle that could cause the strongest of men and leaders to give up and turn around. Yet despite the enormous odds and the amazing struggles and trials they faced they kept persevering.

The lesson for church planting, and for all of pastoral ministry is clear. Persevere. Don’t quit. We will face trials. We will struggle. People we desert the team and the mission. Carry on. Don’t give up. If God has called you to this mission then lay hold of him and the calling He has given and keep marching forward. You may only make a few steps forward each day, but keep moving.

The Christian life calls us to perseverance. Jesus calls us to endure suffering as a good solider. Paul reminds us from the Psalms that as Christians we are for the sake of the gospel “being killed every day”. The journey of church planting, and the Christian life, is far more difficult than Lewis & Clark’s journey. Yet the mission of gospel advance is far more valuable and glorious as well. Persevere brothers. Glorify Christ, advance the gospel, die, if you must, doing it!

The Lewis & Clark Guide To Church Planting: Build a Strong Team

Okay, pop-quiz time. How many explorers were with Lewis & Clark on their expedition? I know what you’re thinking. “Wasn’t that Indian woman (Pocahontas?) with them too?” Yes, there was an Indian woman, Sacagawea, who helped them in their voyage. But who else? Let me shatter a little myth about our beloved Lewis & Clark and their grand voyage. It wasn’t the two of them and an Indian woman traversing the continent looking for the Pacific Ocean. In fact it wasn’t ten of them. They had a team. They had a big, thirty-man strong team.

As Lewis was planning and preparing for the voyage he knew he needed to enlist a strong group of men who would be part of the expedition and who would free him up to be able to do the scientific research he needed to do while they moved supplies, materials and gifts up the Missouri River. In 1803 Lewis & Clark hand-selected this team and enlisted them as soldiers in the United States Army as part of the Corps of Discovery.

In the assembly of the men and the journey itself two helpful church-planting points are clear.

Don't plant alone, form a team.

Listen, lone-ranger, “I-am-so-entrepreneurial-anyone-will-be-attacted-to-me” leaders stink. And nobody follows them. And churches don’t planted. The truth is we’re really not as amazing as we pretend to be. We’re not as gifted as we think we are. You need help. You probably need lots of help. Lewis & Clark were wise to form a strong team of men who could handle the difficulty of the journey and at the same time free the captains up to make their scientific observations. Lewis could focus on leading and writing and learning because his team was focused on hunting and pulling a boat upstream and all the little daily things. Don’t be a fool, build a strong team to plant with you. And no, your wife and three kids don’t count as the whole team. Which leads to the second thing…

They were selective about who would be part of their team.

Upon hearing of the fame and fortune that would accompany the success of the mission there was no small line of men offering to volunteer to serve with Lewis & Clark. However, knowing the extent of the mission and the danger that could be expected Lewis & Clark were very shrewd and selective about who they chose to be part of the team. They were looking for men who could endure the hardship of the voyage. Men who were not married and so would not be entangled by home-life and the responsibilities of a wife and children. They were looking for faithful men that could be trusted to fulfill their duties. They were looking for the best men they could find.

Let their example serve as wisdom to us. Be selective about who you bring on your initial core team. For many evangelicals today it is an exciting prospect to leave your current church and find a new church plant to be a part of. Many try and hop on board with a plant early in its formation so that they can be key players in the formation of what they think “church” should be like. Many leave their former churches just to run away from nit-picky problems and then find that the new plant they’ve joined up have the same nit-picky problems. [1]

What this should say to us as church planters are that we need to be careful about who we entrust with leadership, responsibility, partnership and authority in the core phase of a church plant. You are wise to screen the people that want to join you, and it is okay to tell people “no”, that they aren’t the right fit for the church plant at this time. It’s good and wise to make sure people are on board with The mission, and don’t come to you with their own mission. Make hard choices. Weed out people for your core team who aren’t ready to serve, sacrifice, live and die for the mission of the advance of the gospel.

Get a team, and select the right team. Lewis & Clark did. More importantly Jesus did. The gospel moves on.


  1. Could it be that they are just nit-picky people? I wonder…  ↩

The Lewis & Clark Guide to Church Planting: Plan Ahead

In 1803 Congress approved the formation of the Corps of Discovery to set out from Washington to discover an all-water route across the continent. Thomas Jefferson’s plan was to send out Meriwether Lewis down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi to the Missouri River where Jefferson (and most of the scientific community of that day) believed that the Missouri would connect with the Columbia River out to the Pacific Ocean. The mission was clear; find that route!

We’d be mistaken however, to think that the day after receiving that charge Lewis set out to find that route. That’s not really what happened. In the year that followed Lewis set out to be a careful planner and student. He learned from the best botanist, zoologist, astronomers and geologist of his day. He talked with ethnographers about the cultures of the Indians they would most likely encounter on their route. He did everything he could do to learn about the trip ahead so he could be ready.

Furthermore, he was meticulous about the supplies they would need. The trip didn’t just consist of Lewis and Clark but also some 20 plus men making the voyage with them. They had to plan for how they would eat, what they would trade for goods with the Indians, how they would travel up the rivers, what kind of arms and weapons they would carry, and other such needs they would have. He had to plan for every variable not only to get to the Pacific but also to make the return trip as well. He had to plan for a long trip that would cover every type of weather, every conceivable situation and he had to plan for success.

Let me speak to the young, eager men that have heard the call to church planting and are ready to get after it tomorrow. The mission is in front of you, you know God is calling you plant a church and if you had it your way you’d do it tomorrow. That is good and exciting. But ask yourself this, are you ready?

Have you been equipped to handle the Word of God well enough to “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it?” (Titus 1:9). Are you qualified as an elder? Would the elders of your church be able to sit down with you and assess your life and your doctrine and your gifting and whole heartedly affirm you are ready to plant a church? Have they actually affirmed this publicly to you and the church?

Do you have a sound plan for where you would plant a church? Who would partner with you in planting the church? How will you train leaders? Where will you invest your life on mission to reach the lost? Do you know the culture of the city you want to plant in? Do you have others who will follow you into planting?

I’m not writing this to toss water on the fire of your passion to run out and plant a church tomorrow and be on mission. I do want to stop you long enough to get you to think and be patient and make sure you’re ready. Church planting, in so many ways is far more difficult than Lewis & Clark’s exploration and yet they were patient and meticulous in their planning. That doesn’t mean that things didn’t take them by surprise. It does mean however that they were ready when things did take them by surprise. Maybe you need to spend a longer season than you anticipated working on your plan, your character, your skills. That way when you get into the midst of the mission of church planting you’re more able to handle what God ordains for you and your church than you would be today. Slow down and make some plans.

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?