Book Review: Church Planting is for Wimps by Mike McKinley

Title: Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things
Author: Mike McKinley
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Church planting is kind of the en vogue thing these days. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace, and Harvest Bible Fellowship (among others), church planting has never (as far as I’m aware) been more front of mind as an effective and God-honoring approach to missions.

So, how do you do it?

In Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things, Pastor Mike McKinley doesn’t exactly answer that question, but he does share what he learned while replanting Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, VA, with a great deal of humility and more than a little sanctified sarcasm.

As a seminary student in 2004, McKinley met with his former pastor, Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Dever told him that Capitol Hill was going to start planting churches, and they wanted McKinley to be their “guinea pig church planter.”

I would eventually say yes, of course. Mark is a made man in the Reformed Mafia. He has a giant Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals logo tattooed on his back. He has J.I. Packer’s home phone number in his contact list under “Jim P.” You don’t say no to a guy like this. (p. 16)

He and his wife, after much prayer, agreed that this was the right move, and he joined the staff of CHBC to work toward church planting. One of the questions that came up was whether or not to plant a brand new community or revitalize an existing one. After listing the advantages and disadvantages of each, McKinley writes:

[P]lanting and revitalizing take different kinds of courage, and God appoints a particular task for every man. Go where God guides you. As Karen and I thought about our future, we wanted to take the path of revitalizing an existing church . . . I believe revitalizing may be more difficult at the outset, but I also believe that it offers all the rewards of planting—a new gospel witness—and more: it removes a bad witness in the neighborhood, it encourages the saints in the dead church, and it puts their material resources to work for the kingdom. (pp. 36-37)

Where they ended up was Guilford Fellowship in Sterling, VA, a church that boasted 20 attendees on a given Sunday and was, as McKinley describes, a “tiny ecclesiastical Hindenburg.” At first he was against it, but ultimately, he became the pastor of this church and set about the hard word of revitalizing.

The first year and a half was spent mostly preaching as boldly as possible and cleaning up the governing documents and membership of the church. What I appreciated about reading this is that McKinley doesn’t present revitalizing as all-glamor, all-the-time; a lot of it is not terribly exciting. But it’s all essential work.

Perhaps most impactful for me, as one who is someday pursuing pastoral ministry, was the McKinley’s account of the struggles he and his wife faced during those early years. “Planting a church can be brutal on your marriage. It almost wrecked mine,” he writes. “No, scratch that. My sin almost wrecked our marriage. Church planting was simply the arena in which the whole thing played out.” (p. 85)

The strain of ministry—and not simply ministry, but an entire change of lifestyle—combined with all the responsibilities of home and family can wreak havoc on a marriage. For the McKinleys, it took the help of a couple that they met at a Sovereign Grace pastors conference to begin the hard work of forgiving each other and allowing God’s grace to strengthen their marriage. McKinley gives the following advice:

[Y]ou won’t be able to plant a church if you don’t get marriage right. . . . [T]here were times in the midst of our marriage struggles that I found myself wondering, God, why now? If you wanted to deal with these issues in my life, why didn’t you do it before I got into this church planting mess? . . . So if you plant a church, be prepared for the fact that God may begin to sharpen and sanctify you in ways that are difficult. But take heart in the fact that God will use it. Just as Paul comforted others with the comfort he received from God (2 Cor. 1:4), we too help others grow in holiness when God puts us through a season of sanctification. (pp. 89, 92, 93)

To share how his sin nearly ruined his marriage and ministry requires a great deal of humility, and I am grateful for how God is using McKinley’s experience to help others like me.

Church Planting Is for Wimps, while being a very fast read, is a challenging one. McKinley’s experience revitalizing Guilford Baptist is encouraging, humbling and altogether helpful. This book is a must read for all wannabe church-planters who want to know what it takes to plant a church: An ordinary guy willing to be used by an extraordinary God.

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  • Jay Cookingham

    Great review! I’m involved in a church plant now and this sounds like a valuable resource. Thanks for sharing.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks Jay – I hope you find the book helpful if you get a chance to pick up a copy!