Shepherding the Heart in Sending

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I was walking toward Jennifer in our sanctuary. “Pastor, can I talk to you?” she asked. I responded, “I already know.” Then we both cried. I learned the day before that she felt led to be part of the core team of our new church plant.

Jennifer came to our church in college, was baptized in our congregation, served as a summer intern, and was instrumental in our church revitalization. Our family and church loved her. We were thrilled and sad. She was thrilled and sad.

How do you shepherd the hearts of those who are sent? What about those who stay? Paul charged the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

We must pay careful attention to the whole flock, the sent and the senders, since both were obtained with the precious blood of Christ.


Through Joy

Planting a church is exciting. People feel new energy building a new work. We must help the senders celebrate the work the Lord has done in their hearts to impel them to go.

Through Grief

Pastors need to help those being sent to deal with separation anxiety while leaving a body they love. Sadness is natural when change happens. People need to take time to reflect and rejoice in all the Lord has done in the present body. While grieving they will no longer be a part of this congregation, they will remain members of the same family in Christ—forever.

For Perseverance

Church planting is not easy. The shine of the church plant’s tender young leaves dull and blooms fade. Relationships grow difficult. The inconveniences associated with church plants become tiresome. Pastors must prepare the hearts of CP team members to persevere. They must have realistic expectations of what will happen. They must understand that long and hard conversations will precede desires to return.

Transitioning Authority

It is a challenge to give away authority, but it is essential for the planting elder to assume responsibility for the core team. Sending pastors can’t pull back completely but must hand off avenues of authority progressively and with confidence. The conversations about future job decisions, the counseling of sin, corrective counsel for family issues, and the joys of praying over newborn babies will be given to another body of elders.

Ongoing Care

Even though we have placed authority into the hands of others, it’s important to check up on those you’ve sent. “How has the transition been? How can we pray for you? We miss you.” We have sent some dear brothers and sisters whom we didn’t follow up with, and it felt to them like we didn’t care. I would encourage pastors to develop and maintain some mechanism to check in and care for those who are being sent. Every instance of heart-felt shepherding will deepen their love, not just for one particular local church, but for the beauty and gift of the church of Jesus Christ.


Through Grief

It is hard to send away people you love. Even though the new church may just be down the street, it will still dramatically change relationships. We need to allow our congregation to grieve the goodbyes.

Through Joy

Although sending goodbyes are bittersweet, they are also glorious. God’s kingdom is advancing. We are joining in God’s global mission of gospel redemption. The church should celebrate every time it hears of new work happening in our city, nation, and world.


Church planting is exhausting and costly for the sending church. Many members will struggle to pour their lives into people amid seasons of transition. We must encourage and exhort our members to keep discipling one another, even if some are called to go elsewhere. Investing our lives will be worth it in this life and eternity.

Do It Again

Pastors must shepherd their churches to want to plant again. It is costly, time consuming, and emotionally draining, but it is worth it. Yes, we will lose some of our best. Yes, our budget will decrease. Yes, we will lose enthusiastic volunteers. Yes, Jesus and his kingdom are worth it. Let’s do it again!


Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to pay attention to themselves too. Brothers, church planting is hard on the heart of a shepherd.

Slaying the Idol of Vainglory

Personally, planting a church has revealed so much pride and vainglory in my heart. I preached for years about rejoicing in all gospel growth in our city, even if it happened down the street. And then people decided to leave our body and go down the street to join a new work. And I struggled with it. I struggled because I had an idol of success and wanted to make a name for myself. Church planting slowly and consistently helped put to death my vainglory, and I praise God for it.

Be Ready for the Rollercoaster

It is natural to have highs and lows in the planting process. You’ll get excited about people following God’s will and then sad they are gone. One day, you will rejoice in the strength of the core team and, the next, struggle with fear over the budget. New visitors will choose the plant over your church. Sometimes, you’ll rejoice that they are where God wants them to be; other days you’ll be discouraged that “your church” wasn’t chosen. Be ready for the emotional rollercoaster. Communicate with your elders while consistently confessing your sins. Wait for the Lord to move in matters and always give God the glory.


All our shepherding is for the glory of God. While being sensitive to your own heart, allow God to use the sending and staying to slay idols and grow you in Christ’s image. The Chief Shepherd laid down his life for sheep like Jennifer, and we are to do the same.

Our church still misses Jennifer, we still pray for her, and we rejoice she is still walking with Christ. Our labors for the sheep are for God and his glory, and our pains will be worth it in this life and the life to come.

Dave Kiehn

Dave Kiehn is the senior pastor of the Park Baptist Church in Rock Hill, SC.

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