Experience, Humility and Growth: A Church Planting Residency Story

When the thought of doing a residency was first proposed to me I was certain my family and I were not going to do it. I had already taken a year off from vocational ministry to rest and rejuvenate for the church planting season of my life. In our minds, my wife, Kayleigh, and I were eager to move and plant with no more delays. However, we humbled ourselves before the Lord, prayed about the residency being proposed to us, and I called the pastor of the church offering the residency. What was supposed to be a 15 minute phone conversation turned out to be almost two hours long and when we finally hung up, I realized God was redirecting us. Within two days, Pastor Corey Johnston of Heights Church already had a plan for our 9 months there and a couple inexpensive options for our living situation (turned out a family let us stay in their guest house for free). We had specifically been praying that wherever God wanted us to live next, He would provide affordable housing. We thought it would be in Manistee, Michigan where we originally thought we would plant a church. Turns out our next nine months would be in Troy, Illinois. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

The reason we chose a residency with Heights Church all the way in Troy, Illinois is because my regional Converge Director, Norm Byers, had searched out Converge churches whose model of ministry fit closest to what Kayleigh and I are called to do with our church plant. We are very passionate about the Missional Community model that Soma Family of Churches does, and Heights Church was planted to follow this. Interestingly, when Norm first mentioned Heights Church to me, I knew of it because Pastor Corey’s philosophy of ministry paper was previously one of the examples Danny Parmelee emailed to me the year before to refer to as I wrote my own philosophy of ministry for my Converge Church Planting Assessment Center. Heights was the perfect fit for my family and I to do our residency.

Once Kayleigh and I knew God was calling us to do a residency with Heights, we knew we had to raise money fast and do a lot with our current house to get ready to leave for 9 months. We reached out to friends, family, and our local church where I had been a youth pastor for five years, and they stepped up in a huge way. Every month God provided exactly what we needed. The family that hosted us was incredibly generous, and I was thankful that I could use some of my landscaping experience to do a great deal of work on his yard to make it suitable for them to do foster care in the future. God knows exactly what He is doing and he put us in a situation where my “tent maker” skills and experiences played a huge role in being an alternative way for us to pay back some for our living space that was generously provided. We became great friends with the family as well. It’s too long and too wonderful to explain it all here, but every little detail God provided for our residency to happen proved over and over that God knows exactly what He is doing when He calls us to follow Him. His grace abounds abundantly where He directs our steps.

The residency didn’t just give us exposure to the Missional Community church planting model; we lived it! We really came to understand Missional Community as synonymous with Church. The Church by definition is a community on mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ, so really living week in and week out with people who genuinely believe that and are very gospel-fluent was refreshing and extremely exciting. We were part of one Missional Community at Heights for the first 5 months of our stay then the final four months we visited all the rest of them twice each, going to one or two a week while still visiting our own as time allowed. It was amazing how unique they all were and yet unified under the vision and the gospel. It takes about 3 months to really shift in mindset from Church as programs and events to identity through intentional gospel rhythms of life and mission but once that shift happened for us, everything we had researched and studying about missional community before came alive and made a lot more sense.

...the model of church we are passionate about wasn’t just theory anymore. It wasn’t just a great idea on paper for us anymore. It was real and we were living it.

A couple months in the realization hit both Kayleigh and I that the model of church we are passionate about wasn’t just theory anymore. It wasn’t just a great idea on paper for us anymore. It was real and we were living it. The gospel centrality, gospel unity, and gospel fluency we read about, wrote about, and craved so deeply was happening around us, in us, and through us. Words cannot express how much of a game changer our residency was for us. I had studied Soma Family of Churches and Jeff Vanderstelt’s ministry work for 3 years prior and even helped start a hybrid version of missional communities for a large church in transition, but the pieces I didn’t realize I was missing because I hadn’t lived it yet were significant. I thought I got it. I didn’t really get it until I lived it. And now Kayleigh and I feel so much more in tune with our vision and how the Lord has shaped us for the church we are called to plant.

Of course there were definitely humbling sacrifices we made. Firstly, having waited a year already to plant only to be led by God to take another year of preparation was particularly humbling for me, almost humiliating at times since the expectation around us was that we were launching soon. But it’s not about what others expect of you, it’s about where God is leading you and He knew we needed more preparation when we thought otherwise. Moving five hundred miles south to another state was also extremely humbling and overwhelming, especially since we went from living in a full size home that we own to a one room studio apartment above a garage with a kitchenette and small bathroom downstairs. My wife, my two year old daughter, and I along with our dog and cat all lived in one room for nine months, most of which were snow/rain winter months where we were stuck inside a lot. It was very hard but a blessing all the same. We realized how much stuff we had back home that we really don’t need, so the donation pile is growing each day now that we are back. Life was tight during our residency but it recalibrated our minds toward simplicity, and we couldn’t be more thankful for the breath of fresh air that is in a day burdened by possessions.

We weren’t the only ones impacted by the residency; Pastor Corey and many others told me how much of a blessing it was to have us there. Since Heights is a young church with Corey as the only seasoned preacher, having me preach gave Corey some breaks he really needed. I also met with Corey every single Tuesday morning for a couple hours just to talk, learn from, and sharpen one another in Christ. He has great elders and staff, but he told me my outside perspective helped him see many needs and changes to make Missional Communities better. We were able to serve our Missional Community, children’s ministry, and so much more during our time at Heights.

There are many forms of important training any church planter should invest in before being sent out to plant. Jesus’ disciples, although they had no formal training, basically did a residency with Jesus before He commissioned them. Whether you have formal training through seminary or, like me, have a wide variety of experiences under the leadership of others who trained you in ministry and in the Word, doing a residency specific to the model of church Christ is calling you to start is priceless and I highly recommend it.

A residency isn’t just a time to learn more about a certain church model you are passionate about. It is a time to grow spiritually and in the kind of character you’ll needed to plant a church. It’s a time to realize once again that apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, your vision is blind, your strategies are total garbage, and your mission will fail – or worse, it will succeed through carnal means and self-driven ambitions and lack of genuine spiritual vitality.

Looking back, it was mostly my pride that was initially against a residency. I was done waiting and thought I was as ready as I needed to be, that I really understood my vision, and that I didn’t really need to live it out before I planted a church. But I was wrong, and God knew there were things I needed to learn in my residency. Make no mistake, you are more prideful in yourself and dependent on your church planting ideas than you think. A residency isn’t just a time to learn more about a certain church model you are passionate about. It is a time to grow spiritually and in the kind of character you’ll needed to plant a church. It’s a time to realize once again that apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, your vision is blind, your strategies are total garbage, and your mission will fail – or worse, it will succeed through carnal means and self-driven ambitions and lack of genuine spiritual vitality. From a spiritual perspective, if you are absolutely opposed to doing a residency before you plant like I was, you need to spend some time with the Lord and ask Him to search your heart for why you are so opposed. If the answer is your pride then chances are you probably really need to do a residency or some kind of season of repentance and renewal from your idolatrous view of yourself and your ideas. Peter reminds us that “…God detests a prideful heart but gives grace to the humble…” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

One of my other prideful fears was that our residency may cause us to lose the wind in our sails and fall behind all of our assessment center friends who have since gone out and started planting already. Truth is, church planting is not a competition and we didn’t lose any wind in our sails. We are far more passionate and far more confident in God’s calling on our lives. It wasn’t a 9 month set back, but a leap forward. God will use our residency investment to multiply our ministry efforts in the future. That’s who God is. He is the Multiplier.

From a practical standpoint, if you are setting out to plant a church with a model you have never lived before under the leadership of another then I strongly recommend you find a church body that is doing what you want to do really well and go spend time with that church and immerse yourself. Your church planting dreams cannot just be a good idea on paper even if you’ve heard of other’s successes with it. It can’t just be something someone else you trust and admire has lived and done. It is invaluable for your vision to be something you’ve lived and done with others in some context. If you love Jesus and are a church planter, there are few things more encouraging than seeing what you’ve been praying about in action before you’ve even broken ground on your future church plant. It’s priceless and it’s precious. You also get to have a few good laughs as you see how some of your ideas were just plain stupid and, dare I say, unbiblical.

There are many ways God shapes a man and his family to be fruitful church planters; doing a residency is not the only way to go, much like going to seminary is not the only way to go. God trained me through other means, and one of those was a robust residency with a church five hundred miles from home and six hundred miles from where my family and I eventually want to plant a church.

Finding Rest in Busyness


I am a married pastor with six kids. Life is busy with vehicles breaking down, house projects never-ending, deadlines needing to be met, and to-do lists filling my time while dreams of leisure fill my mind. I am exhausted. Where is margin and balance in life? Where is there rest in busyness?


In Mark 6:31, Jesus invited his followers to rest. “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Doesn’t Jesus’s invitation sound delightful?

The context tells us that the disciples returned from ministering in pairs. They went out telling people to repent, cast out demons, and anoint the sick with oil. Some people received them, and some people rejected them. What a tiring day of ministry. In verse 30, they came to Jesus, and he instructed them to come away and rest.

What did they do? They got on a boat and set out for a secluded place. I picture a favorite spot in the house, a quiet place, with a book and a cup of coffee. Maybe your resting place is a beach, mountain top, or stream. Come away and rest awhile. Do you long for a vacation from the frenetic pace of life? Do you long for rest?


Jesus’ invitation results in the opposite. Outsiders saw Jesus and his friends. They raced to meet them. Jesus was intoxicating and electrifying. He was a miracle worker. The masses were hoping that he could offer what they wanted. They want a rest in a way too.

I envision the disciples seeing the growing crowd thinking, “Let’s turn around!” or “Let’s get out of here!” It may have been like waking up in the middle of the night, after a back-breaking day of work, hoping your spouse gets up with the sick kid. You pretend to sleep. Your body aches. Someone else can do it. The immediate thing before us sometimes is the least appealing. Where is the desolate and restful place Jesus promised? Must they dock with all those people right there?


Jesus didn’t see it that way. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Jesus was human and divine. He embraced the limits of his calling. He tired, hungered, and needed rest. However, he chose compassion.

Why then would Jesus make this invitation to rest before they got in the boat if they were landing to work? Jesus was taking his followers on a journey that was not predictable or easy. Why does he keep teaching instead of start resting? Maybe Jesus had another lesson that didn’t involve words.

Day ended, and night fell. The disciples saw an opportunity to bring Jesus’ conference to a close. They were done. What did they do?

… his disciples came to him [Jesus] and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

Have you ever gotten to the end of your rope, tired, and hungry looking for an escape? I wager many of you have. I bet the disciples had. It was time for rest. Bodies need it. Rest is biblical. Send them away.

How did Jesus respond? Did he go along with their suggestion? “… he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat’” (Mark 6:37).

What! Jesus commanded the impossible. These spent disciples, with only five loaves and two fish, couldn’t possibly feed everyone. There were 5,000 hungry mouths to feed. What was Jesus thinking? You give them something to eat. He knew they couldn’t. Impossible!

You get up and deal with your sick kid in the middle of the night. You help the person broken down on the side of the road. You stay late at work to fix the broken machine. You do it.

Jesus knew what he was saying. He knew they couldn’t feed them. Why would he say that? Maybe it was this lesson without words.

Jesus was teaching. Times like these show desperation. When we are young and rested and full, we believe we have something and are something. We have the truth. We have power. We have vitality. We have answers. Then, we get to the end of the day, energy, and life, pondering if we have anything at all. In truth, all we have is Jesus. I think that was a central point of Jesus’ ministry.

What happened next is familiar. Jesus didn’t send the crowd away as the disciples suggested or split the paltry food and offer crumbs to the hungry. He took the meager rations and miraculously multiplied them. Everyone had their fill and leftovers to boot in the end. Jesus did what his followers couldn’t.


The night is upon them. Time is up. We get to verse 45, and Jesus finally sends the crowd and disciples away. They are done with this desolate place. The disciples go to the boat to cross the sea, while Jesus stays to pray.

How restful was that next boat ride? It wasn’t. Their progress was painful. The wind buffeted them. Where is the rest that Jesus invited? Mark recounted,

And about the fourth watch of the night [3-6 am] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. (Mark 6:48-51)

What a man. When Jesus instructs rest, his disciples sought it. Instead, they found work. Night came. They hungered. He issued more work by calling for the feeding of the people. He provided what he demanded. He instructed the disciples again to cross the lake in their boat. The winds rose, disrupting rest. Near morning, quite casually, Jesus walked on water, told the disciples not to worry, and the wind stopped—what a man.


When they get to their next destination, people recognize them and ran from all over for more healing. The cycle recycles.

This brings us back to the beginning invitation. Where is there rest in following Jesus? Where is balance and margin in the Christian life? Certainly, we need to rest. Sabbath is good. At the same time, Jesus invites us to something better than a 40-hour work-week, an eight hour day with breaks, or a vacation. Fatigue, hunger, and brokenness can present opportunities for Jesus to demonstrate his all-sufficiency. Don’t miss the blessings of interruptions, accidents, and late-night disruptions they can drive you to meet the savior. Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we have nothing left, we can rest in him.

Are you spent with busyness? How do you think Jesus felt serving the masses? Are you willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads? Where can God enter and offer to supply your want? What does it look like for you to follow Jesus’s leading today? Rest in him.