Dr. Arnold interviews Adam Bailie about church planting.
Topics of conversation include:
- Adam’s experience with church planting
- How to measure success in church planting
- How to determine a call to church planting
- The church’s role in commissioning church planters
- The importance of contextualization in church planting.
Adam Bailie serves as the lead pastor of Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. Before planting Christ Church, he planted and was lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, California. Adam currently serves on the national lead planter team with the North American Mission Board.
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:18):
The book of Acts is the exciting story of how God builds his church through Spirit-empowered disciples. Jesus commanded his followers to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And from Jerusalem, the church began to move out in concentric circles to fulfill the mission. Everywhere the disciples went, they planted churches. It is the mission of Jesus in this world. Jesus died to reconcile people to God by faith. And then these people come together to form the body of Christ, the church. Since the beginning, the impulse of the church has been to replicate itself. Until Christ returns, the church must be multiplying. That means new churches. And that means churches planting churches. It doesn't matter if your church is 200 years old, it was a church plant at some point. Either it was a new area that needed a church, or there was a need to have more churches as population increased, or there was a lack of faithful churches, so new work was needed.
Brian Arnold (01:10):
Every church is a church plant. So how can the church go about strategically planting churches today? Well, here to help us answer this question is Pastor Adam Bailie. Adam is the lead pastor of Christ Church in Gilbert, Arizona, where he planted in December of 2012—which also happens to be my home church. Before coming to Phoenix, Arizona, Adam helped plant Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, California in 2007, and has served on the pastoral staff of churches in Texas and California. Adam also serves on the national lead planter team with the North American Mission Board. Adam, welcome to the podcast.
Adam Bailie (01:44):
Thank you, Dr. Arnold. It's a privilege, truly. It's a privilege and a joy to join you today.
Brian Arnold (01:51):
So we always ask our guests one big question, today that question is—what is church planting? And so I mentioned that you've been involved with multiple church plants in your ministry. I would love for you to just kind of briefly tell us what that experience has been like—God calling you to do that, and how you've actually gone about the work.
Adam Bailie (02:07):
Yeah. You know, when I think of church planting, and the calling—if you use those terms for it—the draw toward new work for Christ really began during my undergraduate studies back in the early 2000s. And in particular, my heart was immediately drawn to the West. I was raised in the northeast of the country, I was going to school in the southeast of the country, but the influences that I had were calling for the consideration of church planting in the West. And so I immediately began to desire it, to pray for it. I'm a firm believer in the Psalm 37:4 theology—that as we delight in the Lord, he gives us the wants that we should have in our hearts. And the desire for pastoral ministry is something the Spirit of God placed on my life. But then church planting really became a passion of mine for its benefits.
Adam Bailie (03:06):
And I know that there is significant work to be done through already-existing churches with pastoral leadership. But there was something unique to the opportunity to set a culture, to establish a new gospel outpost in a community, and to be a part of answering some of the issues that you raised in the introduction—where there is not a faithful gospel influence, where the church has grown cold toward the gospel, or has lost its influence in the community, or whether just simply has yet to be a gospel work established. So the experience of it has been unique. I was a part of two different kinds of church plants. The first one had a group of about 30 people who were already meeting in a Bible study, who were consistently gathering, who wanted to establish a new church, but did not have pastoral leadership.
Adam Bailie (04:03):
And through a series of events, they invited me to come and to be that founding pastor for their group. And that is still a church that is faithfully preaching the gospel today, in influence of the community. That's Grace Church of the Valley out in the Central Valley of California. The second plant here in Phoenix, the one that you're part of with us, was a much different experience. My wife and I came to this community without any real connections to the area that we were going to plant in. No team with us. No family members here that were drawing us here. No friendships, really, that were here. We had one church partnership about 35 miles away from where we planted—that was key and instrumental. But beyond that, we really parachuted—in church planting lingo—we parachute-planted, we dropped into this community, and began the process of establishing a new work for Christ here amongst the others.
Adam Bailie (05:00):
And I don't believe that there was no faithful gospel work in the East Valley of Phoenix, but I do believe there was a need for another one. And so we came to establish another light for the gospel in the community. And this one has been a significantly fast-growth church plant, which has been unique. So in the almost 10 years that it's been existing, the church has gone from its founding with 52 adults, now to a significant, multi-congregational church across our city, that has become a hub for planting churches all over the world. So two very different experiences, but both have been glorious expressions of the grace of God and the power of the gospel in the communities that we planted, and were a part of seeing a new church established.
Brian Arnold (05:51):
And I hope that's encouraging. I'm imagining there's some guys listening who either are part of church planting, want to be part of a church planting movement, and there's such radical different experiences, even in your own life—how God has done what he's done in these different places that don't mirror each other. There's not a necessary formula to it, in terms of what's going to happen, what the results are going to be at the end. Yes, faithful Bible teaching, preaching, strong ecclesiology, all those aspects that must be there. But then the results are the Lord's. And just to kind of put it in context for our listeners, like I said, this is my church. I'll say things that he will be too humbled to say <laugh>. I was with one of the founding elders on Saturday night.
Brian Arnold (06:36):
We were at a birthday party together. And just hearing him tell the story of basically like 12 people gathered in a room, praying about what God might do. And now there's a couple thousand people there coming every week and being fed on the Word. And like you said, what I love about your heart—which I think is a mirror of what Scripture's teaching in the book of Acts in particular—is healthy churches want to replicate and plant healthy churches. And so here you are as a church plant, 10 years old, wanting now already to replicate that effort and plant new churches. We've...there's another church in Central Phoenix, like you said, around the world. And now you're going to be using those gifts to help with the North American Mission Board. I mean, a lot of church plants fail. So let's even talk about that a little bit, especially to encourage maybe some of our brothers listening who have not seen what we might think is success in planting churches. So church planting—why even use that kind of words? And then how does somebody healthily approach that? I like to think in terms of sending churches—that you're not just rogue out there doing this, but you're actually part of a healthy church, and then commissioned to do that.
Adam Bailie (07:52):
Yeah, those are great words to use. I do believe that planting is something that amongst, perhaps, our stream of evangelical Christianity in the West, it's become a bit of a common term, but it's really rooted back in a biblical image. The idea is that we are establishing, we are putting something in the ground here. But underneath of that is the confidence that the Sovereign One of heaven and earth is the one who actually brings it forth and produces fruit through it. So our agenda is to be faithful as a planter. And I'm so thankful you said for the planters that perhaps don't think of themselves as successful—I really believe, Brian, that one of the fundamental issues in church planting is the grid by which we measure success. We certainly all desire to have a major influence in our community, for new disciples to be made, and that is the very essence of the Great Commission that Jesus gave to us.
Adam Bailie (08:59):
But we also must consider carefully that the scope and the scale of that disciple-making is not firstly ours to carry. So the planting that is faithful is marked by a biblically-convinced ecclesiology, a faithful humility to pursue Christ as a planter—as someone who is planting a seed in the ground, if you will, of a new local congregation—asking the keeper of the harvest to make it successful. But faithfulness has to be the first measure of success in any ministry, or the discouragements will be so great. Because no matter how numerically successful a plant may be, there will be a comparison and contrast point that can provide discouragement for any church planting pastor. So I would just say—I have been in the grinding and pressing, but not seeing a lot of increase. And I have been in the grinding and pressing, and seeing significant increase.
Adam Bailie (10:08):
And neither of those should be viewed as the one was successful and the other was not. The success measure—first—is the faithfulness to be what we have been called to be. So if we go back into Scripture and we think about church planting—you were right to say that every single local church is a church plant. I just believe that the ones who are most aware of it continue to be active in it. So the sending churches, or the multiplying churches, are those churches that have their heart still connected to the fact that God established something that wasn't there in their particular local church, and then strengthened it to the point where it should be and can be multiplied and reproduced in other communities. So throughout the testimony of Acts, especially when you go back to the very beginning of Acts one and verse eight, that to the end of the world the apostolic witness would go, the establishment then of that witness is always seen in local congregations being developed.
Adam Bailie (11:13):
And we continue to be about that here in our local church. And we would be encouraging every local church to be moving toward being multiplication-ready—and that's not numeric, that's the health and the pattern of ecclesiological health in each local church—to be ready to multiply and then to be seeking the opportunities to multiply, because that is still the mission of God for the reaching of the nations. And I'm convinced of it, not just in the West of the United States, but globally. This is the heart...and the initiation of this has been established by Christ himself
Brian Arnold (11:54):
And has been the way of the church for 2000 years. There's always been something healthy that God is doing to raise up church planters of that kind of missionary spirit to go and start a new work. I always think about Paul in Romans chapter 15, making it his ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not already been named. Even if that's in a city where there's healthy churches, there's still going to be an opportunity to plant a church in a place where Christ is not being named. And just to go back to the failed, you know, church plants—if we can even say that—take heart, brother, if you're listening and it has just not gone well for you—the Apostles had that experience. Where they're in a place where the ground is hard, and even Jesus is saying to to them at times, "Shake the dust off your sandals and go somewhere else."
Brian Arnold (12:40):
Because there's going to be places of good work. And, you know, the same Apostles who are planting Corinth—and it's a disaster of a church and bit of a train wreck—also plant Ephesus. And it's a beautiful, sweet work of God happening there. It's just—God's up to a thousand different things. So let me ask you this question, right? So you get somebody like Paul, who has that angst to go and to not build on somebody else's work. But then it seems like somebody like Timothy, he's saying, "Hang out in Ephesus, that's your church, that's where you're going to be. I want you to be a 30-year-guy there." How do you help coach guys who are thinking about church planting? Because it isn't for everybody. It does seem to take a unique set of skills and calling. So how do you kind of decipher that in somebody's life and help coach them along that way?
Adam Bailie (13:29):
Yeah, I do believe that fundamental to all church planting is biblical pastoral ministry. So while all pastors will not be planters, all planters must be pastors. So first thing is to encourage guys not to consider their entrepreneurial skills, or experience in the marketplace, but rather to consider their conviction about pastoral ministry. And then to evaluate whether they are wired—by God himself, as image bearers—they are wired to be initiators of something new. I do believe that there is a unique set of skills, and there are, even within church planters, a unique set of skills and even Spirit-gifting. I believe that there are two different kinds of church planters, if you boil it down. There are those who establish churches to give them to leadership that will stay, and then move forward to establish new work in a new community. And continue to do that as many times as the Lord would give them opportunity.
Adam Bailie (14:35):
And then there are church planters like myself, who I did establish two different local congregations, but my desire in each of them has been to be the founding and remaining pastor. God just made it obvious that I needed to go and do it again. But there are two main frameworks. There are those who establish, pass off, and leave to do it again. And there are those who are founders—who have the ability to start things, but also to stay there and to put in the week in and week out work of leading those congregations into their life in that community. So I would encourage guys first to consider carefully what pastoral ministry is, because you cannot be a planter without being a pastor. But then I would encourage guys who are convinced of what the Bible teaches about being a pastor to carefully consider whether or not they have any proven gifting or skill to be able to start things that don't currently exist.
Adam Bailie (15:32):
And if there's nothing proven, I would look for ways to exercise the desire, to see if in fact there is skill and gifting from the Spirit to do it. So I don't know if that makes sense.
Brian Arnold (15:43):
Adam Bailie (15:44):
I was just having a conversation with one of our lead pastors here, Nick Ely, at our central Phoenix congregation. I just had a conversation with him yesterday about the men who are coming to us saying, "I want to do this." And how is it that we would encourage them, but also slow them down when there's been very little experience for them? And the thing that I would encourage guys who desire, or maybe think they desire to plant a church, is that gifting should be proven before there is a move to pursue this kind of responsibility in starting a new local congregation for the sake of Christ's name in a community. So that would mean asking your current pastoral leadership in your local church if you might begin something under their oversight. Could I begin a new ministry? Could I gather people to something new? Could I establish a new arm of our church in this particular way? Perhaps it's a certain demographic. Could I establish a new college ministry? These are all ways to prove the desire is actually anchored to and connected to skills and gifts from the Spirit to start new things.
Brian Arnold (16:56):
That's exactly where I was going to go, too—is talking about somebody like Nick Ely, who is kind of the first plant that you had off of Christ Church, you know, in the family of Christ Church. And it...there's something about the culture, when you are a church that's excited about planting churches, that raises up men who want to do that. From my seat, as a seminary president, one of my great concerns is I very rarely hear churches calling men into ministry. Like, that was a staple growing up. You would just hear these constant calls of—is God calling you to ministry? And men training up men to encourage them to go into the ministry. And that's something I think Christ Church does very well. So let me commend you on that, of just creating a culture where you're going to have other men feel called to do that.
Brian Arnold (17:43):
And I love you asking churches to be wise about proving them before they are sent out. So many guys, when they're sent out too prematurely, they don't do well. They don't do well. And like we talked about before, but also just personally, they don't seem to do well a lot of times. But when you've kind of had that stamp by a church that then sends you out to do it because you've been proven, I think it gives them greater confidence moving out into the field to do that. Let me ask you that question, too, about churches being the commissioner of this. So we live in Phoenix, which is kind of like a rogue kind of place in many ways. It's cowboy country out here. And there's something about the Lord calling us out of the Promised Land—Ohio for both of us—and moving us into the desert, where there's an important need for this. Fifth-biggest city in the United States, constant need for a gospel work here. So kind of two pieces, if you will—the commissioning piece, but then also the contextualization piece of church planting.
Adam Bailie (18:48):
Yeah. I do believe that the commissioning is a key part of the confidence that we should have for planting a new church. And you reference that when you think of guys who have been experienced in the local church establishing something new within their local church—there is a measure of confidence that God has blessed this kind of effort before, so I'm going to go plant. There's a far more significant and biblical confirmation, and that is the laying on of hands from your local pastoral leadership, which I believe has been passed down through the generations of the church, because of the apostolic connection to it in the New Testament. So to be commissioned, to be tested and tried and proven, and loved and discipled, and to bear up a DNA, to carry a DNA with you into a new context with the confirmation of your local leadership commissioning you, sending you, behind you, is a...it's not just a psychological benefit, it's a biblical benefit for those who would seek to establish a new work for Christ.
Adam Bailie (19:55):
And we are planting, we're trusting that the Spirit of God will go before us, that the work of the gospel will be effective and efficient. But ultimately, we are going from somewhere to establish something that we've already seen. And the best church planters are those that are most informed of the DNA of the church that they're seeking to plant. So they have a healthy model that they're following. Secondly, they're the men who have been commissioned and are most connected to leaders who are sending them to establish a new work. And then thirdly, they're the ones who have the most experience in seeing God use them to establish new things within their local body before they came to start a new church. So I cannot overstate it. I have been blessed in my own pastoral life to be raised up, to be commissioned, to be sent out multiple times now, in multiple healthy local churches that were worthy of multiplication, worthy of replication.
Adam Bailie (20:58):
So that's the first piece. The second part would be the contextualization. And I just believe we have to be students of the area in which we serve. I'm not in any way a proponent or a fan of changing the church to meet the culture, but if the church is not speaking the language of the culture, if there is no sense of similarity to the way the culture communicates, then we will struggle to actually ever reach...you think of cross-cultural missions. And we would never expect someone to go into a foreign country that does not speak the language of the missionary—their first language—but the missionary is not intended to ever learn the language of the people that they serve. So contextualization merely is the understanding of the culture, and the language, and the way of the people that I'm seeking to bring the unchanging, cross-cultural, cross-contextual gospel to bear upon in a church that is a clear, distinct, biblical, local church. So I don't know if that helps. I would say there's a tightrope to walk there, contextually. If you have no contextual understanding, you will not speak the language enough to reach the people that you're seeking to reach. If you are too concerned with the context, you will end up capitulating and compromising the pure gospel and the biblical local church that's defined in our New Testaments as you seek to establish something for Christ.
Brian Arnold (22:29):
I think that's really helpful actually. And seeing it as a tightrope, I think that's a good illustration to use for that. Because I've seen guys fall off on either side of that and not take seriously...if they were going to, like you said, go cross-culturally to another language and people group, they would absolutely take the steps to do that. I had a friend when I was doing my PhD who was working on how every pastor should do the same kind of study of the city he's going to, even in the United States, that you would do for overseas missions work, because the need to speak the language of the people is so important to do. Well, I am grateful for you, for the work you've done. I would be remiss, especially as we're recording this in October, as pastor appreciation month, not to tell you how grateful I am for you following the Lord's call on your life to come to Phoenix and plant a church where my family and I are so well served under the preaching of your word every week, and the ministry that you and the other pastors have had, even in my own life. And I'm grateful for that.
Adam Bailie (23:30):
Well, it's a privilege, Dr. Arnold. Thank you for having me on.
Brian Arnold (23:34):
Well, let's hope that God uses this to raise up many more planters. The world is in need of healthy churches. And I want to see them called up, raised up, trained up at Phoenix Seminary, and sent out by the churches. All right, well thanks for joining me.
Adam Bailie (23:50):
You're welcome. Thank you so much for having me. I am thankful for the opportunity that is available right now in places like Phoenix Seminary for many, many to be impacted by generation upon generation of faithful gospel influence. So, may the Lord give favor to the work of your hand, my brother.
Brian Arnold (24:10):
Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like you to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.