PITTSBURGH (BRN) — Currently serving as the Baptist Resource Network’s director of multiplying churches, as well as a lead church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board’s Send Network in Pennsylvania/South Jersey, it’s no secret that Dr. Cliff Jenkins knows a thing or two about church planting.

In fact, his church planting days started shortly after he graduated college, but long before he truly knew what church planting was all about.

Cliff Jenkins
Cliff Jenkins, director of multiplying churches for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and lead church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board’s Send Network in Pennsylvania/South Jersey

“[I] stayed after I graduated in Pittsburgh, started working, [and] got saved at a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh,” shared Jenkins, explaining how he helped plant a church as a church planting team member, but had no clue what any of those meant. “We were just helping out because the pastor asked for somebody to help with the new church that was starting near where we lived. So, now I look back and see church planting, but before I had no clue, I was just helping to serve.”

Eventually, Jenkins’ job moved him from Pittsburgh to Reading, Pennsylvania, where he was called into ministry.

“All in all, around 2006, I wound up not only going to seminary – still working full time – but also planting a church. Not something I recommend to church planters today,” he said.

Not long after that season, Jenkins and another minister felt called to plant a multiethnic church. Initially, the two church planters had support from a local church, but that quickly changed once they started the plant.

Through an old friend – Dr. Larry Anderson – God provided support and funds for Jenkins and his church plant.

“It was providential timing from the Lord because He used Larry – that was the time we were really struggling. We were a church plant that really had no support, and he introduced me to Southern Baptists,” said Jenkins.

Since then, Jenkins has been connected to the Southern Baptist Convention – working with church planters across Pennsylvania and South Jersey through the BRN and nationally through the North American Mission Board.

“I’ve learned so much about vision from my time planting, to even coming alongside other planters and helping them. Most of them have a vision that is man-made. I know I did when I planted. I always tell them that you need to have the vision that God gave you – write it down, capture it, and make sure you refer to it on a regular basis.”

Jenkins continued: “What happens is once the vision is given by God, we have the tendency to let our imaginations take over and make it more or less than what God intended it to be. That’s been the biggest thing that we’ve dealt with. It happened in my own church plant.”
Jenkins went on to explain that when he received the calling from God to plant a multiethnic church, God did not give him any numerical specifics or standards for the church.

“It’s been 20 years now [since] God said, ‘You got to plant a multiethnic church.’ I’m thinking I had to have 200 people for it to happen. When I went back years later, we never got above 50, but when I went back and thought, ‘Wow, what I did as a church plant was a failure,’ the Holy Spirit took me back to the actual vision that God gave. The vision He gave had no number in it.”

He continued: “So often, men and women record success based on the number of people and how much money is given, and those are not Kingdom goals necessarily. It’s transformation to sanctification, it’s duplicating yourself, pouring in, [and] raising the believers. You know, some people live for 99 years – Jesus was 33 – everybody has a number, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be effective in the time that God’s given, and the same is true for a church plant.”

Along with keeping God’s vision at the forefront, Jenkins also expressed that it is important for church planters to “pour into leaders” and to “practice soul care.”

“Church planters and pastors definitely do not take the time to pour into leaders like they should,” said Jenkins.

“I spend a lot of time discipling men who feel called into ministry now, and I keep telling them – I really don’t think I’ve done much – but I always say, ‘Whatever God has allowed me to do, I want you to do that much and so much more.’”

Jenkins compared this approach to leadership development to a relationship between a parent and a child.

“[It’s] just like I do with my children. You come to it with an open hand and say that we want them to learn and grow, and do better than we’ve done. So, the thought is to raise up leaders, not being afraid of who’s going to take your job or who’s going to take your ministry. If God gave you something, nobody else can take it from you and even if you want to get rid of it you can’t. It’s something that He’s given you.”

Soul care, unlike leadership development, is not so much caring for others and their relationship with God, but being mindful of your own connection with God.

Jenkins defines soul care as “making sure that you take care of yourself, that you take a Sabbath, [and] that you spend regular time in meditation, prayer, and communication with the Holy Spirit.”

“Those are some things that pastors are horrible at, taking time for themselves,” said Jenkins. “You know, we say [when] you get on a plane, in case of an emergency, you’re supposed to put your oxygen mask on first and then somebody else next to you. Well, the pastor is the one putting it on everybody else in the plane first and then saying, ‘You know, I don’t need to breathe.’”

According to Jenkins, one of the best ways pastors can make sure they are breathing with their congregation and feeding their souls is by having a mentor.

“You always need to have a Paul and Timothy in your life. Somebody who’s mentoring you [and] somebody whom you’re mentoring. Having that helps hold you accountable,” said Jenkins.

“When that person who’s mentoring you can ask you about anything and hold you accountable to anything in your life – if they’re discipling you right – they can be the ones that say, ‘You need to take the time.’”

Interested in learning more about church planting in Pennsylvania and South Jersey? Visit online at sendnetworkpasj.com.

Listen to the podcast interview:

The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!