How God Stirs the Heart of a Church Planter

I love church planters! In fact, I believe God called me to minister to church planters in any way possible in any position I ever hold. As a Pastor, I’ve never apologized for bringing plenty of these God-called, Spirit-filled courageous leaders before my church to hear them out, encourage them, and partner with them financially.

Last week, I shared via this blog the news that we are in the midst of a transition in ministry. We’ll be re-locating to southern California where I’ll join the staff of Saddleback Church. Upon that announcement, my friend Rob Hagar left a rather lengthy comment that touched my heart.

I wanted to share it here instead of leaving it at the bottom of a post sure to become quickly lost in the stream of new articles. This is the testimony of how God called one courageous church planter to do what church planters do…

Rob Hager

Rob Hager, Church Planter

It was a Rick Warren “Ministry Toolbox” weekly email that literally changed my life forever. I had already read “Purpose Driven Church” (of course)…which, along with “Re-Discovering Church” began the Spirit’s slow (I was excited and yet skeptical of the vision of what the church was supposed to be and could become again) transformational renaissance of my Kingdom world-view.

After completely re-submitting my life to enter the new calling of church planting in August of ‘05…a received my weekly “Toolbox” and in it there was a personal promo for the Planting Churches on Purpose Conference. Remember, this was BEFORE church-planting became the rage. Back then, only 5 years ago, you probably could have googled church-planting and been lucky to come up with maybe 2 conferences (the Exponential Conference/originally National Church Planters Conference had yet to even hold its first conference…I think the Acts 29 Network was probably only a year or two old?). Anyway—in addition to some compelling church planting testimonies a particular four letter word caught my attention, “free”.

Couldn’t believe it…a free conference…really? Sometimes when something is free there is a reason…but with Warren’s personal promo that didn’t seem likely. And so I decided to call Kevin Clayton up and ask him how attending this conference might affect my potential assessment and candidacy as a BMA church planter. He had not heard of it but was supportive…so long as we took care of our expenses he agreed it might be a good idea to attend. And so I planned to make my first trip to Florida to attend this conference in January ‘06. It was there in that conference that God replaced all my fears and anxiety over this new calling with giddy…yes-giddy…excitement of what could be. I remember distinctly saying during a conference break to Christy, Kevin…even my mom that this conference literally “turned my Kingdom view of church planting upside down and in so doing, right side up.” A huge exhale of relief accompanied by a new excitement began to build in my heart and for the very first time I had a general idea of how the Lord was going to launch then unnamed, Jacob’s Well.

It was at the conference, launched and hosted by Rick Warren’s church planting point-man-Ron Sylvia (The Church @ The Springs of Ocala, FL), that I heard and met one of your predecessors, Nelson Searcy (who went on to launch his own coaching network and write two books including “Launch” which kinda co-opted a lot of what was in this conference’s notebook!). Anyway…loved Nelson and Ron’s leading of the various sessions (along with Hal Mayer). The content truly challenged and changed my life forever.

Jacob’s Well was approved in Mobile in April that year and I was excited that this relatively new paradigm was welcomed by Kevin who simply said…Rob…its no secret, the North American Missions Department needs a ‘win’ in a big way…go for it!” Turns out that the “launch large” paradigm was one of the approaches already incorporated into the DCPI handbook (which, if you have read one of Danny’s, is an every growing handbook that like a black hole co-ops any and all church planting paradigms that have proven successful and then dutifully presents them…pros and cons…as potential templates that the Spirit might lead you to consider as you prepare to begin the planting process).

Beginning in June of that year 7 months of training and deputation began…In January of ‘07 we officially began field work and assimilating our launch team. Father’s Day weekend ‘07 Jacob’s Well was publicly unveiled at what continues to be our largest outreach event to this day…Oswego’s PrairieFest. Our first “preview/kick-the-tires/de-bugging” service was on 9/16 with three more monthly services at different locations through the end of ‘07. Then, January 13, 2008 Jacob’s Well was launched. Our average for the Preview’s were in the 100’s (116 was the highest)…our Launch was also right around the 100 mark. As expected, the curious fade away and we settled into an average in the 80’s. Since then, as you know, we have experienced a pretty steady increase (with seasonal ebbs and flows acknowledged). We finished the last two Sunday’s of May with unexpected all-time record attendances that were double our average of Jan ‘08. Many on our team have a deep “knowing”—not cheer-leading spin—but a “knowing” that once we get our administrative piece fixed and flowing properly we will be at 200 by years end. If we also get into our new location (still waiting on a closing-urgh!-before we can sign that lease) there really is no telling what 2011 will look like.

I know Jacob’s Well was named and planned in God’s heart before the foundations of the World. I know He placed a seed in my heart in August ‘05 when I surrendered at the base of a wind-generator. That seed’s DNA was revealed in January ‘06 at the Planting Churches on Purpose Conference. But the most important pragmatic thing that connected God’s vision and my calling to what that conference and what we are experiencing today was… an email.

So my brother…you are not just taking a position that is going to provide you with extraordinary soul stretching/Kingdom expanding opportunities…you are taking a position that at a very critical juncture in my church planting journey sent an email that was the catalyst for the most exciting time our lives.

And BTW…I too am amazed at how our wives do what they do…I enjoy it each time you honor Angie and think of my own the same way. Unimportant though potentially curious bit of info—I too have had the misfortune of getting sick the week my wife and new baby’s have come home. Our poor wives! Can’t thank God enough for them!!!…

Hope your heart can capture why I felt the need to share this with all this with you (or else it will appear as opportunistic pandering/name-dropping or narcissism)…the odds that someone I have known about and just recently gotten to know a bit better would come into a position that had such an impact on our journey is kinda cool. If you ever think of it in a moment w/ Rick…tell him “Thank You” from me :0)

Because There is a Better Way

God bless you, Rob, and keep up the good work!

You can keep up with Rob’s ministry at the website of Jacob’s Well or follow him on Twitter @robhager.