Lessons From the Trenches: 4 Things I Will Do Again and Again

By Jason Zellmer

I have learned a valuable lesson for battling in the trenches: When you discover what works, stick with it. I want to share four things that are biblical, effective and, regardless of your context, will yield success as you battle in the trenches.

Church planting is war. When you are in the battle, your vision and strategy must be subjected to two important questions: Is it biblical? Will it work?

Make no mistake, Satan wants to crush your dream and kill your church plant. 1 Peter 5: 8 reminds us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” That “someone” is not an ambiguous person. That someone is you. Satan has you in the crosshairs. Even as you read this, he’s devising a plan to drop bombs and deploy enemy snipers over every good plan laid out in your prospectus.

When I was in high school, I played tight end for the hometown football team. My coach was a crude, pragmatic bully who only cared about winning. When he discovered a play that worked, he would drive it down our opponent’s throat until they learned how to defend us. While I learned nothing from him about godly character and leadership, I learned a valuable lesson for battling in the trenches: When you discover what works, stick with it. In other words, keep running the play!

In my previous article, I unpacked four mistakes I will never make again. In this article, I will share four things I will do again and again. I believe these lessons are biblical, effective and, regardless of your context, will yield success as you battle in the trenches.

1. Preach the Bible verse by verse
I was only 24 years old when we planted our first church. I had no formal training or theological degree. With unquenchable zeal and blind courage, we launched our first preaching series in the book of Genesis. After all, if Rob Bell (who was not known as a heretic in 2005) could launch his church with an 18-month series in the book of Leviticus, what could go wrong? Then we got to chapter 5, the first full chapter on the lineage of Adam, and we started to wonder, “What on earth were we thinking?” But God was kind. The church grew. And a love for God’s Word consumed our people.

You might be tempted to preach the trending topics or download the latest four-week series on Ministry Pass. It could captivate your audience and keep your socials abuzz as you post pithy quotes from your message on “Financial Freedom” and “Things Jesus Never Said.” But what your city needs most is heat and light from God’s own mouth. Jesus himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And the apostle Paul put it like this, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

I’m not opposed to topical preaching or tackling hot-button issues, but it should only be a brief intermission as we drink from the bottomless well of God’s Word verse by verse. 

2. Establish a plurality of leadership
I grew up in the South and my father was the pastor of the traditional SBC church I was raised in. On a good Sunday, the attendance board boasted of 100 attenders in weekly worship. My dad preached the morning and evening service, led visitation on Tuesday, taught Discipleship Training on Wednesday and led church workdays on the weekend. He was the church counselor, chaplain and custodian. If it involved ministry, my dad was your man! I remember sitting at the dinner table with my dad, watching his eye twitch from stress induced by relentless hours of work. I longed for a deeper relationship with him and felt our church had robbed me of the time and attention I so desperately needed.

The burdens my father carried were never meant to be shouldered alone. As a young church planter, I was determined to find a better way. Thankfully, the New Testament gives us a guide for plurality in leadership. When Paul established new churches, he appointed elders in every town where the gospel took root. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) Collectively, the elders carry the burden of ministry, which includes preaching, leading, planning, praying and counseling the flock of God. Sharing in this work is a gift because it provides safety and accountability. It also affords pastors the ability to work within their gifting and provides a respite from the grind of ministry. Even the best soldiers need an occasional furlough. Leading with a plurality affords these seasons of rest.

Every church I’ve planted was established with elders. Having comrades in the battle has protected me from my tendency towards pride, lust, workaholism and self-doubt. It also has afforded me the opportunity to make deep friendships with men who are like brothers to me. Establishing a plurality of leadership is something I’ll do again and again.

3. Build a robust residency process
Allow me to bring you back to the analogy of the trenches. Right before Paul exhorts Timothy to be a good soldier for Christ, he exhorts him to train other men in the lessons he’s been taught. Why? So these new recruits “will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2). Embedded within the text, we see Paul’s strategy for war. Your church plant isn’t an infirmary for the wounded; it’s a boot camp training soldiers for war.

As Clint Clifton once said, “A residency is very simple … It is one man giving away what God has given him in its most basic form.” A residency is like a finishing school that accelerates multiplication. Through it you can disciple pastors, planters, counselors, worship leaders and missionaries. You don’t need a big budget or a large staff. The only prerequisite is a flexible schedule that allows learners to walk alongside you in the trenches of ministry.

Through our residencies we’ve trained up and deployed a host of missionaries. We’ve never made an outside hire because our leaders are developed from within. This is a time-tested combat strategy that works. I recommend doing it again and again.

4. Develop healthy rhythms of rest
You need to fight for a lot of goals while planting. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you must fight for rest. Nobody else on your team will fight for your days off. That’s a battle you must wage. And wage it you must, because without rest you will be another casualty of war.

In the early years of planting, my day off was Monday. Mostly because it was the farthest day from Sunday, and as the days inched closer to preaching another sermon, my mind became more focused on the work at hand. Rest isn’t only physical; it’s also mental. So, on this matter, you need to discern what’s best for you. On my Sabbath, I turned off my phone, blocked out my emails and planned intentional time with my family. It was a cosmic reset that rebooted my system. God reminded my busy heart of its finite limitations and His infinite love. As the Psalmist says, it was an opportunity to “be still and know that (he is) God” – and I am not (Ps. 46:10).

Brothers, take a day off. Plan a date night. Take your kids to the zoo. Go on a family ski trip. Schedule a personal retreat. Take an annual sabbatical. Build a culture of rest in your church because God doesn’t need your productivity. He wants your heart. When I refuse to rest, I become irritable and prone to sin. I’ve come to understand that it’s better to finish well than to not finish at all.

The old axiom is true: Slow and steady wins the race. Preaching through the Bible takes slow, steady practice. Developing leaders is a slow, methodical labor. Resting is an invitation to halt your breakneck pace. But in the final analysis, your goal is not to plant a church or even win the battle. Jesus already did that. Fellow soldier, your only goal is to finish the race and win the prize.

Published March 20, 2023

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Jason Zellmer

Jason Zellmer serves as the director of Send Network Missouri. He spends most of his time helping churches multiply across the state. Prior to working for Send Network, Jason planted three churches around Saint Louis. He currently serves in the local church as the lead residency pastor at Northroad Church. He and his wife Heather have five kids: Benjamin, Olivia, Julia, Isaac and Jayda.