10 Traits of Successful, Healthy Pastors

January's HCPN gathering was hosted by Faithbridge Church. Our speaker was Winfield Bevins.

Dr. Bevins is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary. He has served as the founding pastor of the Church of the Outer Bank in North Carolina, where he also serves as the Canon of Church Planting. He is the co-founder of two church planting networks, Mission Carolina (http://missioncarolina.com) and Kardia (http://www.kardiaanglican.com), and has been responsible for dozens of new church planting networks.

Gathering a Healthy Core Team

The spiritual health and vitality of any newly started church is directly related to its leadership team.

When I sensed God calling me to launch a new congregation, I gave careful study to Jesus’ ministry on earth, noting that even God incarnate did His work by building a core group. In Luke’s Gospel I saw that Jesus said to everyone, “Come, follow me,” but not everyone followed with the same eagerness, commitment, or maturity rate. As a result, Jesus worked with different layers of discipleship, such as the 72 (Luke 10:1-24), the 12 (6:12-16; 9:1-6), and an inner 3 (8:51; 9:28, 54).

Jesus’ model helped me to think of different categories of core group members:

  • People who sign in pencil lead. They’re gung-ho now, but they lack any signs of spiritual moldability. These are the folks you suspect might well move on to something else in a few months.
  • People who sign in ink. They show a measure of spiritual maturity. Perhaps they’ll go the long haul with you as you disciple them, but you never know.
  • People who sign in blood. They have many evidences of spiritual maturity. When praying, you feel as if the Lord is confirming, “He [or she] will go through the fire with you.”

“Pencil” people were invited to our first public launch service. I didn’t ask more of them than to be part of the crowd and excitement on that day several months ahead. I was eager for them to develop a deeper level of discipleship, but I didn’t pour a lot of prelaunch energy into them.

“Ink” people went into a discipleship group, as they wanted to learn more about what the church was about.

“Blood” people got moved into the inner core group. I looked for spiritually healthy people to be part of this foundation-building experience. I didn’t need people who were mad at a previous church or who were simply spiritual seekers; I needed people who felt called, were teachable, and had a reasonable level of spiritual maturity. If their spirit was right and they had a sense of calling that matched the vision of the church, I welcomed them into the “sign-in-blood” group.

This innermost group was small, and purposely so. I set the bar high, saying, “You’ll be the staff of the church until we have money to hire full-time staff.”

During our prelaunch time, I asked several of my “blood” group to host “Come-and-See” meetings, much like Jesus’ new disciple Matthew, who had a party for his tax-collector associates. They invited relatives, neighbors and work associates, and served desserts. Then, I stood up and talked for maybe 30 minutes, and each time one or more persons were added to the pencil, ink, and blood groups as they communicated with me through feedback cards at the end of the evening.

Following Jesus’ model of mentoring indicated in John 6:5-6 and elsewhere, I guided my core group along, helping them to figure out how we should do this or that.  I focused both on visible leadership skills and internal spiritual growth, because it’s not enough to provide skill training and then say, “Go lead,” without also discipling peoples’ souls.

The “sign-in-blood” group initially met twice on Sundays. With less than a dozen at our first gathering, we loaded up a van and drove to another church plant. During the months that followed, we visited nine other churches that were either in their early years as a new congregation or already established and doing something I wanted my core to see modeled.

After each visit, our team went to lunch and talked through the experience. It was a lot of fun and they were doing some significant learning, perhaps without realizing it. Although nearly all of them came from a traditional mainline background, I watched their paradigms shift as they responded to what they saw in the places we went.

On Sunday evenings we would re-gather for about two hours – engaging in worship, teaching, and vision-casting about where we were headed as a new church.

As we outgrew my third-story apartment and moved to a house, teams were formed based on the ministry each person felt most gifted to roll up their sleeves and handle. I put tools in their hands – such as books or sermon recordings – and helped each team work steadily toward the upcoming launch day. It was very confirming to see their excitement grow about doing something that would make a difference.

In developing the core, great attention was also given to prayer. If Jesus withdrew from ministry for regular prayer, as Mark 1:35 teaches, then so must we. Prayer is part of Faithbridge’s DNA. In fact, fervent prayer is our number-one Core Value and the driving power behind all we do.

We quickly outgrew the house and moved to a daycare center, where I combined the “blood” and “ink” groups. We held our first semipublic service in December, numbering nearly 100. Together we worked toward our first grand opening in March, which would be at a nearby intermediate school, yielding more than 400 adults, youth, and children!

The impact of Faithbridge’s overall ministry is directly related to the advance and ongoing work with the inner core group. If you’re a church planter and you’re like me, you’ll sweat more about your core group than anything else. It’s sometimes hard to reposition some people and say farewell to others, but it is always amazing what God is willing to do through us if we will let Him.

Woodsedge Community Church Partners with HCPN to Plant Churches

Rough Start
Jeff Wells' second attempt at church planting failed. After attempting to plant the church, and another two years trying to merge with another church; none of it took. "I felt like a failure" he says. "It was a very discouraging time."

Houston had been Wells home for four years as a student-athlete at Rice University. After attending seminary in Dallas, Jeff and his family moved to Oregon where he was involved in college ministry. Six years before their return to Houston he was on staff at a new church as their teaching pastor. After all those years in Oregon, Houston was still home.

Following God's call, they packed up everything and returned to Houston. Those next four years were difficult and lonely.

"I pray daily for significant revival in Houston to the point where the gospel penetrates every part of Houston"

In 1993 Jeff and Gayle planted Woodsedge Community Church.Since then they have launched two campuses and two churches. One of those campuses closed, but the others are thriving congregations. "Our goal is to help reach the city." That was their motivation for planting those four churches and it was what lead Jeff to accept a lunch invitation with Jeremiah Morris.

The Invitation
At the time Jeremiah was on staff at First Presbyterian Church. During that meeting Morris shared the vision of HCPN and the other churches involved. Wells knew that church planting has always been the most effective way to reach the lost. From the book of Acts to the present day. "We have seen how much churches can do alone (not much). Planting churches is inherently good. So why not do it together? Why not give practical expression to Jesus' prayer in John 17 working together in a spirit of oneness?"

Benefit to the Kingdom
Wells is optimistic about the future of HCPN and our partners. He is hopeful. There are "encouraging initiatives for churches partnering together to reach the city." And "relational connections with pastors show promising signs." But he recognizes that the value of their partnership with HCPN has not yet reached Woodsedge. "Our goal is to reach the city," Jeff said. "Supporting HCPN and the church planting residency benefits the Kingdom of God. And that's enough."

You too can take the next step in partnering with HCPN.


The Power of Discipleship

The other day I asked my father-in-law if he knew who Bill Walsh is. He looked at me confused. “Yeah. Of course.” In his defense, it was a silly question on my part. Aside from Jesus, his wife, and his daughters, football is his passion. He’s one of those guys that can answer those ESPN trivia questions they put up during commercial breaks. But, I didn’t know Bill Walsh. I knew some other guys: Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungy, Gary Kubiak, John Harbaugh (and his brother Jim), Mike McCarthy, John Gruden, etc. What I didn’t know until I asked that question was that all of those football coaches I knew had been mentored in some way by Bill Walsh.

Not long ago someone posted this “tree” of Bill Walsh. Directly or indirectly, Walsh is responsible for training and developing these thirty-two men into great coaches. The significance of Walsh’s example is not in the sheer number of head coaches he has produced, but the skill of these men. Many of these men have won Super Bowls. Some of them will go down as some of the greatest football coaches in history. This is just an example of the power of discipleship.

Jesus’ Model of Discipleship

Discipleship can be an elusive concept. Especially when we recognize that Jesus’ discipleship method began with evangelism. Jesus began calling the twelve to follow him in Mark 1:16-20 with Peter, James, and John. Levi comes next in 2:14. The final list is found in 3:13-19. But, the first profession of faith does not come until 8:27-30 and culminates thematically in Jesus’ transfiguration (9:2-13). Additionally, while he was closely involved with the twelve he also taught the crowds. Beyond this two-fold large-group/small-group pattern, Jesus also shows us a few other key elements.


First, and easily overlooked, is that Jesus’ discipleship strategy was lead by the Spirit. It is easily overlooked because the beginning of Jesus’ ministry begins with his baptism, which is the same time the Spirit descended. If Jesus himself would not begin to disciple without the Holy Spirit, then what hope do we have without him? Mark’s fast-paced narrative makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is the catalyst for his ministry. The Spirit descends in 1:10 and then “immediately [drives] him out into the wilderness” in 1:12. In 1:16 Jesus calls the three. And from 1:21-45 Jesus delivers a demonized man, heals a multitude, preaches, casts out more demons, and cleanses a leper. This pattern continues in Mark 2 as Jesus continues to heal the sick, call disciples, and teach.

Provocative Teaching

Teaching is a primary component of Jesus’ ministry. Later, Paul will tell Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). But this command is given for two reasons: because the word is from God and effective to rebuke, correct, and train (3:16-17); because people increasing only want to hear what they want to hear (4:3-5). Notice what Jesus does in 2:1-12 when he heals the paralyzed man. More than a simple healing account, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to challenge his audience. Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, knew where his people’s hang ups were. This prompted his question: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk?” (2:9). He wanted to challenge their assumptions. Jesus wasn’t being provocative for the sake of it, but in order to expose their blind spots.

Call to Action

Early on Jesus expects his disciples to act. The command, “follow me”, is itself a call to action. Discipleship is active. Without action can we really call it discipleship? The twelve are present with him during all that Jesus taught and did. Then in 6:7-13, the activity shifts from following to doing. Jesus starts sending out the twelve in pairs. He gives them directives to proclaim the kingdom, authority over demons, and the ability to heal the sick. In other words, he sent them to do what Jesus himself was doing. They are not autonomous yet. Within the same chapter when the thousands gather around Jesus and Andrew suggests sending them away Jesus tells him, “You give them something to eat” (6:37). Though sent-out and empowered, Jesus is still vital to their ministry.


At regular intervals throughout Mark’s gospel we are told that Jesus pulled away to pray (1:35, 6:45-46). As with the Holy Spirit, if prayer was essential to Jesus’ ministry, then so should our own.

Different Strategies, Same Goal

It is safe to say that all our varied discipleship strategies have the same goal: reach the lost, grow the saved. But, the best method seems to vary by context, history, ministry philosophy, and leadership. The website smallgroups.com has a

helpful chart of models

 that lists ten prevailing models of small groups along with strengths, weaknesses, and prominent proponents. This is where our discipleship strategies must begin with prayer and being led by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we are left choosing a strategy based on what’s popular, assumed, or pragmatic.

In any of the models listed - be they closed and small, open and large, neighborhood groups, cell groups, or any other combination - there still must be the same elements Jesus modeled for us. Why? Because what Jesus’ model of discipleship began with twelve and spread across the known world in only a couple generations. If we began to insist on Jesus' model of discipleship then what could we see in our city? Bill Walsh raised up some of Football’s greatest coaches in the course of one generation. What could God’s people accomplish with discipleship strategies built on prayer, teaching, action, and the Holy Spirit?

What strategy have you found most effective in your context? Let us know in the comments.

There's So Much To Do, We Better Start Praying

Prayer is always a significant component of our residency. Once a week the residents devote part of our cohort time to prayer. That is intentional. Church planting and pastoral ministry require a healthy and vibrant prayer life. Of all the skills that we could spend a year developing a regular life of prayer is at the heart of them all.  

Prayer is front-lines work

Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, made a practice of praying seven times a day, every day. Starting at dawn he would pray every three hours until midnight. There are plenty of others like him. David Brainerd’s journal is filled with passionate, heart-felt prayers and multiple accounts of days spent in fasting and prayer. John Wesley is known to have said that “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” Martin Luther said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” The apostles established the office of deacons so that they could secure time for prayer (Acts 6:4). Most important of all, Jesus himself consistently pulled away from the “work” of his ministry in order to spend time in prayer.


Prayer is an expression of our dependence on God.

Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life, says that “dependency is the heartbeat of prayer.” In the classic work of spirituality Richard Foster says it simply: “we are utterly dependent on him.” If, on any level, we feel as though we are sufficient we have already lost the heart of prayer. Dependence on God drives prayer. And prayer reminds us of our dependence.

This is the most difficult part. Church planters (and, even, Americans) are notorious for their independence, their sense of self-confidence, and their willingness to endure ambiguity and uncertainty. But even trailblazers need to know their limits. No fundraising stop sin dead in its tracks. No strategy can raise the spiritually dead to life. No leadership skill or gravitas can turn enemies of God into followers of Christ. No charisma can wage war against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces.

But prayer can.


Prayer is an expression of our desire for God’s Kingdom

One of our values as a network is collaboration. We desire to promote partnership and not competition. Prayer reminds us that we are about God’s Kingdom and his work, not our own. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray the very first petition is for God’s Kingdom to come on earth. After glorifying God, prayer is about seeking God’s Kingdom in our week, our families, our churches, and our city.


What is A Church Planting Residency?

On September 1 the class of 2016 began their year with the Houston Church Planting Network's Church Planting Residency. But, what exactly is a church planting residency? And What is the Houston Church Planting Network?

What is the Houston Church Planting Network?

Someone has probably counted all of the various denominations, church networks, associations, and ministry groups in the city of Houston. But it's not me. My best guess is that there are a lot. The Houston Church Planting Network was started a few years ago with the intention of bringing those pastors and churches together. Their goal was to help and encourage those who are leading churches and starting new churches in the city of Houston. This is a big city with more people moving in every day. To reach them all, we have to come together and we have to start new churches.

What is a Church Planting Residency?

A seminary education gives you the "what" of ministry. Experience gives you the "how". Many churches are starting what have been called "residencies". They are more than internships, but not quite full-fledged pastoral positions. They are meant to turn knowledge (the "what" of ministry) into skill (the "how"). A church planting residency is meant to bridge that same gap between education and experience for this very specific type of ministry.

What is the Houston Church Planting Network's Church Planting Residency?

In order to achieve their goal of supporting and multiplying church planting efforts in the city of Houston, the Houston Church Planting Network recruited a number of churches throughout the city to help fund and lead their new church planting residency. Our new residents will spend the next twelve months being discipled and lead by influential pastors in the city of Houston. Those men will help our residents create a vision, develop a planting team, establish a location, grow as preachers and pastors, raise financial support, and successfully reach their target neighborhoods with the gospel.

What is so exciting about it?

Three reasons:

  1. Time with key leaders and pastors.

Few men have the privilege to be discipled by an influential pastor. These residents will be mentored by nearly a dozen influential leaders in the city of Houston. They will pour their collective wisdom into each of them for the next twelve months.

  1. We're fully funded.

If it wasn't enough to be mentored by these men, this residency is also fully funded for a full year. That means they can give all of their time and attention to preparing for church planting. No second and third jobs. No midnight shifts.

  1. Soul care.

The third reason to be excited about this next year is that we have made soul care a key component of our residents. Pastoral ministry can be lonely work, especially when you're starting a new church. We all want to be emotionally healthy pastors. That requires dealing with our past baggage before starting this new work. They're giving us the time and people to help untangle the emotional and spiritual mess that often comes with life and ministry.

If you would like to keep up with us through our residency and into church planting sign up for our email newsletter. You'll get updates on what the residents have been learning, sermons they have preached, and specific prayer requests.


Fundraising Without Manipulating

Since August 16th John Oliver has been trending. The host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight shared a piece exposing the practices of many televangelists. He shared his own experience with one televangelist who, over the course of nearly seven months, had sent Oliver’s team over twenty-six letters and received $319. Oliver makes sure to point out that most churches are not like this. They provide valuable services to their communities. Instead, he is focused on those churches “that exploit people’s faith for monetary gain.” Oliver then goes on to explain the predatory nature of the prosperity gospel and the “seed faith” movement. Despite his language and flashes of irreverence, his disgust at this practice is both palpable and understandable. At times the audience even gasps as they hear stories of a poor, older woman refusing cancer treatment choosing, instead, to send what little money they have to Kenneth Copeland’s ministry believing her “seed” of faith would cure her cancer.

What is fascinating about this story, first of all, is that an obvious non-believer (and his audience) finds predatory fundraising reprehensible. Secondly, it provides us with a fascinating lesson in fundraising in our increasingly post-Christian age. Generis consultant Julie Bullock said during her presentation during our May 2014 gathering that the lack of trust can be a hindrance to many people. Others, especially Millennials, may be opposed to giving to “institutions”. Julie offered us some great advice for raising funds without manipulating people, these points are adapted from her talk.


Be Trustworthy

At the heart of the problem with many of the televangelists that Oliver points us to is a lack of trust. They make promises that are not theirs to make. Worse, they make promises for God that he has not made. When those promises are broken God is the one people blame!

So, do not make promises you cannot keep. Do not assure people that God will do something that he has not said he would do. Now, God has promised to meet our needs (Matt 6:26ff) and that he would bless us in real ways for giving generously (2 Cor 9:6-15). But that is not the same as “seed faith”.

Go above and beyond in your financial practices. Even if you are still building a core team find some trustworthy people to oversee the cash flow. If you need to sign a check, make sure someone else has to sign it also. If you do not have those trustworthy people, then ask other pastors from a supporting or partnering church to be your accountability.

Do whatever it takes to build trust. And do not wait to set your financial accountability plans. Begin with them. That way, when you make your first fundraising pitch you can say, “And here’s my plan to ensure that your money is used for the right purposes.”

That leads us to our next point.


Tell The Story

Often only those closest to you will give to you. The rest of us want to give to a story. Why else do you think the ASPCA got Sarah McLaughlin to sing some sad song over pictures of sad, caged dogs? Now, those commercials are manipulative. But you can tell the story of your church in a way that is real and compelling without being manipulative.

For example, HCPN Residency graduate Roswell Smith (Class of 2015), tells stories of the Church at U of H's work in Houston’s Third Ward. Their “Love My City” events provide real, tangible love to this impoverished and overlooked neighborhood. Roswell can tell powerful stories about lives changed and resistance melting (which he often does). Another member of the class of 2015, Maxwell Clark, had his sending church gift that week’s tithe to his church.

These are just two example of God working in powerful ways. Sharing stories like these communicates that God is already working. Telling the story of God’s work means that you are asking others to join what God is doing. Even if it is the early days of church planting and their support pays your light bill, they are still enabling you to lead the mission. They are still giving to what God is doing.

So tell anyone and everyone about what God has done. And your people will say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23).


Get to Know Me

As mentioned before, Paul tells us the standard of New Testament giving is generosity and joy. In Philippians, which is a thank-you note, to a church that supported him. The church at Philippi was a church that Paul knew well. Acts 16:13 says that they “stayed in that city many days”. He spent time with these people. In Corinth Paul took another job to fund his work in that city. So, when he writes to these two congregations he is writing to people he knew.

There are very few people who want to be used for their resources. But, there are very few who will not do all they can to be generous when they know that you love them and care for them.

Reach Houston, Reach the World

Talk of Houston likely brings images of barbecue, cowboys, and JJ Watt. It may also be mentioned that three of the top 15 largest churches are in Houston. Houston is home to many large and growing congregations. Yet, despite the number and size of these churches Houston’s growth outpaces even the fastest growing church. According to an article on Forbes.com, Houston recovered from the recession of 2008 in only twenty-two months! That economic strength is due to the increasing diversity of the city’s economy. In a city historically known for oil, they are beginning to lead the charge in a number of fields including biotechnology, air and space craft manufacturing and research. Forbes went on to say, “Since December 2008, Houston has added 9.8 percent to its job base, the highest percentage of any of the top 25 metros in the country”. Recently, the Houston Business Journal put out a piece stating that Houston is among the top cities for growth and income.

Earlier this year Forbes reported that Houston is the fastest growing city in the country. In the past four years the region has grown by 500,000 people.

This unrivaled economic growth has lead to Houston replacing New York City as the country’s most diverse city. A fact observed by the city’s own Chronicle and Kinder Institute at Rice University, but also NPR and the Smithsonian Magazine. The Cooper Center at the University of Virginia created a racial dot map of the United States. Houston is a bright spot (literally) of concentrated racial diversity.

Despite Houston’s reputation as a “bible belt” city, Pew Research reports that 43% of Houston is now either Atheist, Agnostic, None, or part of another religion other than Christianity. In a metropolitan area that is home to approximately 6.6 million people. That percentage represents a tremendous amount of spiritually lost men, women, and children.

For the last few years many have begun to state that Houston is America’s next global city. For those of us who have lived here for even a few years can attest to that.

Issues of Justice

Despite the racial and religious diversity in our city it remains one of the most segregated. Houston’s Third Ward is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation. Yet, it is only a few miles from River Oaks, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the nation. The Third Ward is 93% African American with a median income of $33,000. River Oaks, however, is 86% White with a median income of $157,542. What a difference a few miles makes.

In addition to the segregation and poverty, the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood is located at the intersection of some of Houston’s poorest neighborhoods, included the Third Ward. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that African American women are five times as likely to have an abortion than a white woman. Hispanic women are twice as likely. And Planned Parenthood strategically located its largest building on the borders of Houston’s largest African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Houston is also a major hub for human trafficking. The local ABC affiliate reported in March 2014 that the Federal government considers I-10 the number one trafficking route in the country. The Houston Chronicle reported the same in January 2015.

Houston takes us to the World

It is easy (and understandable) to hear all these statistics and be discouraged. All the challenges that Houston faces are also tremendous opportunities. The poverty and human trafficking are real opportunities for the church to be leading the way in mercy and justice. The growing racial diversity provides opportunities for Houston churches to model the unity that the gospel creates. The spiritual diversity is just further motivation for the planting of new churches. And the strength of our economy means that the financial resources for a church planting movement are located within our very own city!

Here is the heart of the answer: Houston takes us to the world. Each demographic presents the opportunity to reach, raise up, and send out nationals. We can reach, train, resource, and send church planters to every major continent and country in the world - all without leaving Harris county!

The convergence of people and resources could be the beginning of a church planting movement that spreads across the world. So, when people ask, “why Houston?” You can tell them, “When we reach Houston, we reach the world!"

Monthly Gathering — August

Join us on August 26th at the campus of the Houston Graduate School of Theology for our monthly gathering.

We will be hearing from Bill Wellons of Fellowship Associates speaking on “Leadership Presence”. Wellons, along with Steve Snider and John Bryson, leads the church planting training ministry of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1977 Bill helped to plant Fellowship Bible Church and served there as Teaching Pastor for thirty-two years. In 2005 he transitioned to Fellowship Associates to oversee their church planting residency, consult with church leaders and train new Residency Directors.