Preaching in a Church Planting Context

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You’ve looked upon the crowds and observed they are indeed harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. As you’ve grown in grace, you’ve increasingly felt our Lord’s compassion for the lost. You have obeyed his call to plead to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers.

And you’ve answered the call to go. Your church has affirmed your character, gifting, and readiness. They have helped you identify a strategic location, develop a core team, and raise funds to plant a new church. You’ve moved to the area, started evangelistic Bible studies, and practiced hospitality. The day fast approaches when you will covenant together as a new church and launch public services.

You have preaching experience, but this will be the first time you’ve labored in the pulpit week in and week out.

As you step into this laborious, weighty, joyful, and glorious work, I offer you four simple encouragements.


That first Sunday in the pulpit will be exhilarating. Church members from your sending church, friends, family, and hopefully visitors from the community will gather to celebrate the birth of this new church. You will be overwhelmed and grateful.

However, it’s likely the following weeks will feel very different, as sending church members, friends, and family return to their churches, leaving you to gather in a less than ideal location with far fewer people. What will you do when you feel less momentum? Or when you look up from your manuscript to see far fewer people than you hoped?

Brother pastor, preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). Trust the Holy Spirit to move in power as you disciple the congregation through faithful expository preaching.

Perhaps begin with the Gospel of Mark or John and encourage the church toward evangelistic relationships by looking at the life of Jesus. Or maybe you planted in an area dominated by cultural Christianity but lacking in robust churches. Then consider starting with the book of Galatians in hopes of clarifying the gospel.

Either way, preach the Word. Don’t succumb to the pressure of gathering a crowd with gimmicks, entertainment, or eloquence. Jesus promised to build his church. He promised that those who build their lives on his Word will withstand the storms of life. Your church needs the Word. The Spirit must breathe on the new work for it to grow; therefore, build the new work on the Word that the Spirit himself breathed.


The Apostle Paul showed up to a dumpster fire of a church in Corinth that looked painfully like the pagan city it was in. It was overrun with sexual immorality, rampant divisions, obsessed with oratory celebrities, and swimming around in syncretistic doctrinal beliefs. What was Paul’s strategy to help the struggling church?

He resolved to know nothing among them like he knew the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 2:2). Instead of competing with celebrity orators, he preached the folly of the cross while gladly revealing his own weakness, fear, and trembling (1 Cor. 2:1–5). His weaknesses, the Spirit’s power, and the cross of Christ were the perfect ingredients for the Corinthians to place their faith in the power of God rather than in Paul himself.

Brother, every week preach the cross of Christ. Give your people the good news. Teach them the glories of the cross from every text. If you win them with the cross, you will win them to the cross. If you win them with intelligence, you win them to intelligence. If you win them with humor, you win them to humor. Hold out Christ and him crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, and sure to return.

No matter if your first year is full of Sundays with hundreds or merely dozens, preach the cross. No matter if you’re preaching from a beautiful pulpit in an old church building or behind a music stand in a middle school cafeteria that reeks of the previous Friday’s square pizza and tater tots, give them Christ crucified.

And preach the cross with the passion of one who is banking their present and eternal joy on it. If your heart is enflamed with the glories of the cross, your passion will remain steady rather than ebbing and flowing with the size of the crowd. This will disciple your people to delight in Christ and, out of the overflow of that delight, to take the good news of the cross to those who are like sheep without a shepherd.


I’ve already assumed you know the scene in Matthew 9. Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages preaching, teaching, and healing. He declared the good news and demonstrated great compassion to all kinds of people in all kinds of places. And in this scene, the Lord of the harvest demonstrates that we must live with open eyes, broken hearts, calloused knees, and beautiful feet.

Jesus saw the crowds. He saw their sin and suffering. The disciples almost certainly observed him looking at the crowds and witnessed the compassionate grimace. His heart was broken for the lost crowds. Then he turned to the twelve with compassion in his eyes and commanded them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. The disciples needed to hit their knees and plead for laborers.

And almost immediately, he sent them out. They were the answer to their own prayers. They were the beautiful feet sent to preach the good news.

Pastor, it is especially crucial that your congregation learn evangelistic compassion from you. As you preach the Word and the cross, use illustrations and applications to help them see, feel, pray, and share the gospel with their lost friends and family members. In your preaching, make sure they see and hear what compassion feels like. Exhort them to pray because only God can grant new life. But also equip them to share the gospel with bold compassion because God uses beautiful feet to spread the good news.

As you preach, remember that they are learning where to look, what to feel, where to turn, and what to do. Shepherd the church to live with open eyes, broken hearts, calloused knees, and beautiful feet.


Preach the Word and the cross, not only with evangelistic compassion, but with contextual wisdom. Paul became all things to all people that he might save a few (1 Cor. 9:22). We must not be overly obsessed with culture, but it is foolish to ignore something Paul clearly considered.

Learn the city or town where God has called you. Know the history. Learn the dominant culture. Learn the minority cultures. Work hard to understand the beauty and brokenness of that specific place and those specific people. The better you exegete the people you are praying for your congregation to reach, the easier it will be to illustrate and apply the Scripture to those people.

Remember: you are not preaching to your sending church. The congregation gathered is not the same congregation you left. Nor are you preaching to your like-minded pastor friends in your network or to your seminary classmates. God has called you to shepherd and equip this little flock to be salt and light in a particular place, at a particular time, to a particular people.

No doubt, the most important thing about your preaching and even the church is that which it has in common with all other faithful preachers and churches. However, contextual and cultural ignorance—or (even worse) contextual and cultural arrogance—will certainly not help equip your members to live with open eyes, broken hearts, calloused knees, and beautiful feet. Know and love the people in the place God has called your young congregation to serve and bear witness to.


Brother pastor, as you step behind that sacred desk or wobbly music stand, preach the Word. Make sure the meaning of the text determines the main point of the sermon. Every week, preach the cross. Make sure the gospel is crystal clear every time.

And as you do, model evangelistic compassion and contextual wisdom so that the gospel is compelling and makes sense to those whom God has called you to dwell among. As you labor in this glorious task, may the Spirit equip the saints and bring the dead to life.

Clint Darst

Clint Darst is the lead pastor of King's Cross Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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