My dad carried a little note pad with him throughout the entirety of my childhood. I watched him write down what he had to accomplish and then observed him systematically doing all that he had planned to do. I never asked where he learned to do this. He would often tell me that so much of life was “praying, planning and doing.” I cared very little about learning this important lesson for myself until after I was converted in my 20s. I’m a very different person than my dad in a number of ways. I am free-spirited. I am also, at times, the absent-minded professorial type—the guy who would rather live in his head than on a notepad. I seem to work better with a sense of chaos around me than I do in a quiet and organized environment. However, much of what I am most comfortable with has had to change for me over the years.
Tim Keller rightly notes that when a man is called to plant a church or pastor a smaller church in a rural community, he has to learn to “work with musicians, craft and lead worship, speak at every men’s retreat, women’s retreat and youth retreat, write all the Bible studies and often Sunday School curriculum, train all the small group leaders, speak at the nursing home, work with your diaconate as they try to help families out of poverty, evangelize and welcome new visitors to the church, train volunteers to do some (but not all) of all of the above tasks, and deal with the once-a-month relational or financial crisis in the church.”1 All of this means that the planter/solo-pastor needs to learn to be a planner. The Scriptures have much to say about the importance of planning. Consider the following:
1. Planning Is the Divine Pattern. The Triune God planned the world and all of the events of human history in his inner eternal counsel. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that the decrees of God are “his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Everything that happens in time and space happens according the eternal wisdom of God. The Apostle Paul speaks of the work of Christ in reconciling all things in heaven and earth as being God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (Eph. 1:10) and “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” (Eph. 3:9). Every single part of creation, providence and redemption have been planned by God and executed in time. Just as the living God set apart a 6-and-1 pattern of work and rest (Ex. 20:4), so He sets apart the pattern of planning and executing plans for us.
2. Plan Everything. A church planter and solo pastor must think about the requisite planning for worship services, outreach events, fellowship meals, counseling sessions, small groups and committee (ministry team) structures, Sunday school curriculum, website content, communication channels (i.e., newsletters, emails, texts, planning software), visitor follow up and assimilation, book table, coffee, etc. There is nothing from the front door greeter ministry to the new members’ class that ought not receive a due amount of forethought and planning. Everything that we do sends a message; and, therefore, requires a great deal of thoughtful planning. Many of the members of the church will not understand this aspect of pastoring a smaller church. That should not discourage the planter or pastor from giving adequate attention to every part of the church.
3. Seek Wise Counsel Prior to Planning. Nothing should be planned without some measure of seeking counsel. This can come in many forms; but we must always remember, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). The pastor of a smaller congregation should seek counsel from older and wiser men—men who have a long track record of pastoral ministry and experience. Too many young ministers are enamored by the young, flashy, seemingly dynamic leaders of the world. The reality is that most of them burn out or fall away in time. It is the older, wiser, more patient, godlier men whose counsel we should be seeking after.