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15 Life-Giving Habits to Cultivate As a Church Planter/Pastor


About a year ago I gave a talk in Nashville for Church Planting Leadership Fellowship. The theme of the event was Alpha Cities and my talk, rooted in my book Why Cities Matter, was about 15 life-giving habits/priorities for church planters to cultivate in city environments (this content should also be helpful to those not in city environments, and to pastors who are not church planters). I received a great response from this talk and people have asked me for the notes. I finally got around to turning a condensed version of my notes into a brief blog post.

1. Know and love your city
I would live in Silicon valley even if I wasn’t a church planter. I love living here. Having this kind of love for your city helps you contextualize the gospel from a place of deep understanding and genuine love for your city, and it ensures that you’re not simply using your city for ministry–you and your family genuinely enjoy living there. Do you know and love your city? The best way to start is to approach you city like you’d approach knowing and loving a person.
➔ Action Question: What is your city’s history, values, dreams, fears, and ethos? (see chapter 4 of Why Cities Matter for a more on the 5 key questions to ask of your city)

2. Prioritize friendship
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?

3. Disciple men
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?

4. Rest
Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?

5. Unleash your rookies
Some of your best ministry will happen through new believers. Don’t wait for people to ripen on the vine, we have an enormous mission and the best news in our city! God is able to use anybody, and seems to love doing a special work through new believers, so give them vision  for this and set them loose (even before they feel ready). Sameer is just one of many examples of how the Lord has blessed this at Garden City.
➔ Action Question: Who do you need to set loose?

6. Play big
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?

7. Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?

8. Go to where men work
Nine years ago I started to visit men in their workplace. I realized this was the first time anyone had done this for many of them. This is a great way to care for the men in your church, spur them on mission, and get to further know your city (#1) as you see and observe these work environments.
➔ Action Question: Whose workplace can you visit this week?  For more, read my post: Go To Where Your Men Work.

9. Do what you love
“One of the quickest way to burn out is to stop doing what you enjoy.” – Mark Sanborn. Most church planters stop doing what they enjoy. What do you love to do? When is the last time you did that? I’m hyper-responsible, so I have to remind myself at times to “be irresponsible” — go surfing, running, exploring–to push my work aside do something that has nothing to do with my work.
➔ Action Question: Ask “What do I want to do?” for the rest of your life.

10. Date your wife
I wrote an entire book about this, because If your marriage is strong and healthy, you can face almost anything. Pastors are in the unique position of having the one job where marriage can disqualify you. Men, we can do what we do because of our wives. Don’t forget this.
➔ Action Question: Are you taking good care of your wife?

11. Set the culture
The values written on your walls won’t matter if your culture does not reinforce them. Culture trumps everything. As the planter, you set the culture of your church. Set it intentionally, set it early, and realize that you are always setting and protecting it.
➔ Action Question: How can you nurture the culture of your church this quarter?

12. Take care of yourself financially
This one is easy to ignore, but nobody will think of this but you. Cities are expensive and you will need to have a plan for how you will take care of your family so you are not constantly worrying about providing for them.

➔ Action Question: Are things set up such that you and your family are adequately provided for financially?

13. Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.

➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?

14. Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.

➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?

15. Stay excited about Jesus
This is the single most important thing you can do for yourself and the church. Your leadership flows from your relationship with Jesus, so your most important meeting of the day is connecting with him. Staying encouraged and excited about Jesus = healthy leadership.

➔ Action Question: Have you lost your wonder and fascination with Jesus? How can you get it back?

08. January 2015 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 7 comments

Preaching That Connects With People’s Stories


Moody Publishers recently asked me to write 350 words to pastors about preaching, story, and non-Christians. What follows is what I wrote for their newsletter.


Everybody in your city has a story. Preaching is your opportunity to share the Bible in a way that engages each one. But how do you do this with both Christians and non-Christians at your service? Effective preaching is preaching directed at both the people who are already part of your church and people in your city who are not yet part of any church. Story is the key to engaging both of these audiences well. If you can connect with each person’s story, challenge it, and recast it with your preaching, your Sunday gatherings will be increasingly filled with people who are following Jesus and people who aren’t.


It is natural for most pastors to connect their preaching with other Christians, but they must also connect their preaching to the very different storylines inhabited by the non-Christians in their community. If you’re not yet doing this, now is the time to start. Start preaching each week as though there are non-Christians in the room, even if there aren’t. You will learn to do this better by having non-Christian friends and by knowing the pulse of your city. Eventually, non-Christians will start coming—the Christians they know will invite them because they know your preaching will speak to them.


After you connect to the storyline non-Christians are living in your city, challenge it. Use your preaching to show how the story has a bad ending—how faith in atheism, success, power, etc.—leads to disappointment instead of freedom and joy. This isn’t just a technique. This is a way of preaching that grows from a heart that wants to know and love the diverse people in your city who are far from God.


After connecting with and challenging the non-Christian storyline, retell people’s story with the happy ending found only in the gospel and the particular text you’re preaching. For example, if you’re preaching John 10:10 in Los Angeles, a city obsessed with image and fame, you can show people that the abundant life, love, and excitement they’re searching for is found only in Jesus—the One who laid down his life and fame in order to give us true life. Such preaching is relevant to non-Christians, but it also equips the Christians in the room to better understand their faith and how to thoughtfully share it with others.

Everyone on the planet believes some sort of story to make sense out of their life. Only the story of the Bible is big enough to make sense out of both the beauty and the brokenness in people’s lives.


For more on this topic, see my book, The Big Story (Amazon) or bulk discounts at Moody Publishers.

05. January 2015 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 1 comment

Best Books of 2014


Here is my Best Books of 2014 list, in no particular order. This isn’t a list of books published in 2014. This list is of the books I read in 2014 that I enjoyed/benefited from the most. Click here for last year’s list: Best Books of 2013 (and links to past year’s lists).

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that has impacted me the most. I’ve grown in gratitude and living more fully in the moment as a result of stewing my way through this book.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Originally I decided not to read this biography because I’d read a few reviews of it and concluded I already knew the gist of the book: Steve Jobs was an uncommon genius and jerk. But then a pastor friend told me he couldn’t put this book down and learned a lot from it. I picked up the book and experienced the same: I couldn’t put it down. This book is packed with leadership lessons (what to do and what not to do) and it provides a fascinating mini-history of Silicon Valley.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller. For me, this book ties with Eugene Peterson’s, Answering God (noted on my Best Books of 2010 list) as the best book I’ve ever read on prayer. Peterson defines prayer as “Answering God.” Keller defines prayer as, “Continuing a conversation that God has started.” These two definitions are key to cultivating a rich prayer life–we first listen to what God says to us in his Word, then we keep the conversation going by responding to God in prayer.

Zero to One: Notes On Startups, Or How To Build The Future by Peter Theil. Thoughtful writing on entrepreneurship and leadership. I take back what I said above about One Thousand Gifts. Zero to One is a tie, I think this book has impacted me just as much. No, actually, it’s a three way tie between these two and Prayer by Keller.

Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit And the Primal Future of Fitness by J.C. Herz. I started doing CrossFit a year ago. I really like it. This book tells the CrossFit story and provides a great education on fitness. I couldn’t put it down.

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels. Significant practical wisdom from a leader who has been around the block. I had two big takeaways from this book that I’ve carved into my life, and I’m better for it.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. One awkward character’s quest for “The Great Perhaps.” A good story. Good fiction.

Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl Many of the essays in this collection are really good–great thinking on the gospel and our culture.

Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm. The story of a man changed by grace, who then gave up his life for others.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This summer I worked through much of this book in preparation to preach The Sermon on the Mount, which I’m preaching right now. MLJ’s material warms my heart and is, in my opinion, the best content out there on The Sermon on the Mount.

The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund. What makes this book so good is Ray’s articulation of a gospel culture, and the reality that Ray is the real deal–a man continually changed by and passionate about the good news of Jesus.

The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer. I have 50 pages left in this 468 page novel. I started it the first week of January. Throughout the year I’ve put it down and forgotten about it, but then a few weeks later I’m so curious about what happens next that I pick it up and read another few chapters. What makes this novel shine is the length of time it covers and the depth of its character development. The narrator repeatedly returns to each character’s backstory, showing why people are the way they are. Note: There’s a good bit of depravity depicted in this novel.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. You have to be proactive to stay creative and innovative, and to keep such a culture alive in your organization. I got a lot from this one.


Click here for last year’s list: Best Books of 2013 (and links to past year’s lists).

15. December 2014 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | Leave a comment

10 Keys to Building Strong, Healthy Teams


At Garden City Church we’re working hard to build strong, healthy teams: our elder board, our staff team, our team of deacons, our various volunteer/serving teams, etc.  I’m learning a lot along the way. Here are 10 keys I’m personally discovering to building strong, healthy teams.

1. Stay humble. Be open to learning a lot more about yourself, other people, and your organization as you build your team. You will learn and grow a lot more in a team leadership environment than you will in a solo leadership environment.

2. Be clear. One of the most important things a leader can do is be clear. As you develop your team, get rid of the murky confusion and clutter that creeps in and bring fresh clarity to the purpose of the team and each person’s role on the team. I don’t mean twice a year. I mean weekly. Every week you need to work hard to ensure clarity. This will never end.

3. Build a diverse team. Healthy teams are diverse teams. Put people with different strengths, personalities, backgrounds, etc. on your team. Read Team of Rivals for inspiration. Find out what is unique about each of your team members and utilize their unique strengths.

4. Pray a lot. It takes a lot of prayer and wisdom that you do not yet have to build healthy teams. Jesus got away to pray before building his team.

5. Introduce conflict. Introduce conflict to your team and watch how the team handles the conflict. Ensure that your team is unified around your values, not vague fuzzy feelings. If your team is truly united around your values, you’ll be able to navigate the conflict humbly and wisely and experience more unity and effectiveness on the other side of the conflict. Healthy teams argue.

6. Run to the tension. As you build your team, tension will come. It will never stop coming. Tension is inevitable in teamwork. Healthy teams “run” to the tension and directly deal with it. Unhealthy teams ignore the tension. Create a culture where “issues” are handled directly and quickly.

7. Remember: Culture is everything. Know in advance the culture you want to build in your church/team/organization and fight hard to protect and nurture that culture. Don’t think in terms of rules or policy, think in terms of the overall culture you are setting with your team. Ask questions like: Is our leadership nurturing or harming the culture we value?

8. Go slow. Don’t rush team building. Move slowly and make sure you’re putting the right people on the team. You’ll rarely regret moving slowly. You’ll often regret moving too quickly.

9. Enjoy your team. Don’t only lead your team. Enjoy your team. Make space to simply be together as a team and enjoy your relationships. I think it’s important for teams to have fun together.

10. Love your team. Don’t only lead your team. Love your team. People will follow you if they know you care about them.



21. November 2014 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 1 comment

The Joy And Power We’ve Lost


We used to be different. I know I was different. The empty spaces of my day I gave to communing with God, silent little prayers, thinking, stumbling upon new ideas, and being fully present in the moment.

Things are different now. I’m different now. I’m drawn into the digital world/black hole, frittering away portions of my day and energy instead of investing them for fruitful, focused purposes. I’m waking up and realizing that I don’t like this. I thrive on focus, being fully present, making steady progress forward each day, and connecting often throughout the day with my ever-present God. I’ve always thought that my ability to focus was a great gift from God, an important joy-inducing discipline, and a way to serve others. I’m discovering that I’ve lost some of this muscle. I’m weak where I used to be strong.

I’m not suggesting we throwaway our smart phones and cancel our twitter, Facebook, etc. accounts. Created in God’s image, we are designed to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. Today’s technology gives us amazing opportunities to communicate, connect, explore, and learn. I’m going to keep leveraging technology to do that. But, I’m going to make some changes.

I’m not sure what the specific changes will be, but the over-riding principle is this: I’m going to do what I want to do instead of doing what I’ve become habituated to do. What I want to do is live free, enjoy God and his grace, live fully present in the moment and love others well, and give more time to prayer and thinking. What I’ve become habituated to do is lose energy and joy by too much digital distraction and frittering away of my time.


19. November 2014 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 3 comments

Parenting & Grace

World Magazine recently ran a great interview with Elyse Fitzpatrick. I loved what she had to say about parenting. Here are a few excerpts (click here for the whole thing):

And none of us is consistent. Do you hear people tell parents that their children’s salvation depends on their consistency? When I hear that, the top of my head wants to blow off. Listen, if the salvation of our children doesn’t depend on Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the sovereign work of God through the Holy Spirit, if it depends on anything else, then nobody will be saved. I have never been consistent doing anything in my entire life. I write books about the gospel and I consistently forget it. That’s the only consistency I’ve got.

We press our kids to be good outwardly? I’ve heard parents tell kids that if you say “please” and “thank you” and you say you’re sorry, you make God smile. But self-righteousness was at the heart of why that rich young ruler went away sad that day. Jesus wasn’t saying none of us should own property. Jesus knew that the man really didn’t love his neighbor and really didn’t love God. He was able to perform all this stuff outwardly, but inwardly his heart was set on himself.

The prostitutes knew they needed help. Zacchaeus knew. And Matthew knew. But the Pharisees didn’t know, and the thing that guaranteed Christ was going to die on the cross was His love for sinners, because the Pharisees didn’t think they were part of that group. Yes, of course, we might sin somewhat if we take too many steps on a certain day, but we’re not really sinners. The thing that drove them to crucify Him, of course in God’s sovereignty, was that He didn’t pander to their religion. He told him their religion was the very thing that kept them from God. So we have to not only repent of our badness (I didn’t make this up) but also our goodness. There is nothing more difficult to accept than the truth that you bring nothing to the table except your sin, and He has to bring everything else.

24. October 2014 by Justin Buzzard
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One Of The Most Powerful Questions You Can Ask Yourself



I have a number of questions I like to regularly ask myself. These questions keep me focused on what is most important. One of the questions I regularly ask myself is, “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in the future?”

This question makes me look at my life with a bigger-picture perspective. This question gives me a higher-up vantage point on how I’m currently investing my energy, the problems that are currently stressing me out, and the dreams that are currently exciting my heart. This question/vantage point brings me quick clarity. Exploring the regret question sharpens what is most important to me, showing me what adjustments and decisions I need to make–and what prayers I need to pray. This question has immensely helped my life, my marriage, my parenting, and my leadership.

It can help to attach a time frame to the end of the question: “What am I doing now (or not doing now) that I would regret in 2 weeks/4 months/1 year/5 years/20 years/etc?

I encourage you to ask yourself this question regularly.  What are you doing now (or not doing now) that you would regret in the future? It could be a wise use of your time this week to take 20-30 minutes with pen and paper to wrestle with this question.

See also: One Of The Most Powerful Questions You Can Ask Someone

13. October 2014 by Justin Buzzard
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The Reminder on My Wrist



Sometimes I forget important stuff. So, a while ago I tattooed a reminder on my right wrist.

“Tetelestai.” This Greek word is one of the final words Jesus spoke from the cross. We translate this word in English as “It is finished.” This word changed my life.

I’m an achiever. I like to get things done. I need the daily reminder that my identity comes not from what I do, but from what Jesus had done for me. This word/work of Jesus is a constant reminder of who I am: I am an unfinished man with an unfinished life resting in the finished work of Jesus.

Above the word sits an anchor/cross (or you could say, an anchor-cross). Some of the early Christians, while undergoing persecution, disguised the cross as an anchor. The anchor is a symbol of strength (and is used as powerful imagery in Hebrews 6:9) and the cross is a symbol of the center of the Christian faith. My wrist is a reminder that my life is anchored in the finished work of Jesus.


29. September 2014 by Justin Buzzard
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One Of The Most Powerful Questions You Can Ask Someone

imagesQuestions are powerful. Questions lead you to truth and closer relationships.

I think one of the most powerful questions you can ask someone is, simply: “How are you?”

Ask this question to a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or stranger. Then, listen. Really listen. Most people would love to have a safe and caring person/place/community where they can share how they’re really doing. Most people rarely get to share what’s really going on because 1) they’re rarely asked and/or 2) most people don’t listen, but instead simply take turns waiting to talk.

Good listening is a byproduct of understanding grace and how the human heart works. As I’ve written before: grace creates safety (which includes an environment of listening), which creates change.

How are you? It’s a great question be asked, and it’s a great question to ask.

24. September 2014 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 1 comment

Garden City Church Turns 3 Years Old


Yesterday Garden City Church turned three years old! Three years ago a handful of us started this church with a dream to engage Silicon Valley with the good news of Jesus in a fresh way. You can click here for more of the story of how we got started. We are amazed and grateful over how God is building our church. The picture above shows part of our gathering yesterday.

Sit glass

In contrast, this is a picture of our first core group meeting. What you’ll notice is a lot of empty seats. Starting a church is far from easy.


Our favorite thing to celebrate at Garden City is baptisms, when people go public with their faith in Jesus. Yesterday we celebrated a lot of baptisms–our most ever in a single day.


The baptisms included two dads who baptized their oldest kids. Here, Garden City elder, Matt Lyon, hugs his son George after baptizing him.


Garden City people like to have fun. Here some people from one of our Neighborhood Groups (the family rooms & front lines of our church) strike a pose at the photo booth we set up at yesterday’s party.


One of our downtown San Jose Neighborhood Groups having some fun.


The fun included free food for everybody, good music, and face painting for the kids.



This is Barry. We love Barry. Barry is constantly encouraging people, praying for people, and cracking jokes.


My wife and I had the joy of baptizing Michele, our friend and our son’s Kindergarten teacher.


This is Michele’s story. We showed this video yesterday and the congregation cheered and clapped at the end.

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 2.09.27 PM

We have a lot of kids and babies in our church family. Right now the average might be that a new baby is born here every two or three weeks.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 8.08.45 PM


Yesterday’s service included a powerful spoken word by our Family Pastor, Steve Patton, accompanied by the Garden City band playing, “Redeemed to Redeem.” The church went crazy over this. We hope to have a full video later, for now click here to catch a few seconds of it.



This is the Garden City staff. I love, love, love the team we’ve assembled here. Each member of this team has a big heart for loving people and has unique leadership abilities that complement the team. It feels great to be part of a great team. From left to right: Chad (Intern), Colin (Worship Leader), Nick (Executive Pastor), Noemma (City Coordinator), Ronnie (Communication Coordinator), Steve (Family Pastor), and me.



Yesterday I preached an important message, Give Your Church To Your City. We’re excited to grow as a church in both declaring and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus to our city.


Yesterday we passed out stickers with the Garden City logo. Our goal with these stickers is to stir up curiosity, for people ask about these stickers and to get a chance to tell people about Jesus and our church family. When you see one of these stickers around the city, post it on twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. with the hashtag #GardenCity.


My middle son put his sticker on his Kindergarten folder.



I love my church. I love this adventure we are on together. Thank you to those of you who have been praying for Garden City for three years now. Keep doing it. And, if you know of someone looking for a church in Silicon Valley, you can send them to other great churches in our city or you can send them our way. Send them to one of our Sunday gatherings, at 4pm or 5:30pm. We’re excited to watch Jesus keep building our church and keep building all of his churches in the Bay Area.



22. September 2014 by Justin Buzzard
Categories: Adventure | 2 comments

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