A Different Kind Of Church Planter

We were suspicious. His conversion story was bizarre at worst, unconventional at best.

Tom McCarthy was a young medical doctor and faculty member at UCLA Medical Center. He showed up in church, in pursuit of one of our young women.

He was also recently divorced. We were a small church and she had lots of “big brothers” watching out for her. Several of us “interviewed him” in search of his real motives.

Mine took the place of a surfing expedition. He had never surfed and I knew inexperience would render him vulnerable to wherever we discussed. It worked. He got rolled in the surf and came back from the venture with sand pouring out every orifice in his body. I figured he was ready to talk – and he was.

His story moved me, even the divorce part, and we became great friends.

Preaching In A Big Church

He craved discipleship and grew in the Lord enough that he became my backup preacher whenever I was out of town. By this time the church had grown quite large and his impact quite significant.

When I moved to Hawaii he was our first consideration has my replacement. But God had other plans. Zach Nazarian, a pharmacist, took my job. He still leads the growing and reproductive church – but that’s another story.

Tom bought a medical practice in Northern California. After moving he taught a large Bible study in a church there.

A Big Church Grown From A Living Room

A couple of years later he showed up in Hawaii for today cram course in church planting. His doctrine didn’t match that of the church he attended. The pastor wisely suggested he start a small church is living room. There was no thought of Tom leaving medicine for the church. In fact they expected that it would remain little more than a Bible study.

The Long story short is the church grew to more than 500 people under Tom’s leadership. Growth forced a move to larger quarters, but Tom stayed in medicine.

He was a single salary/bivocational pastor taking no money from the church. He remained devoted to his career but more devoted to the pastorate. This made him unique among bivocational pastors.

Eventually, the church grew large enough that he had to choose between two career paths. He chose medicine. But the church continues to thrive under Dan Boyd who succeeded him.

BiVo As A Goal

We often think of BiVo as a fallback or supplement to a pastor salary. Tom was a different animal. To make this work he became an excellent delegator.

He once told me that his goal was to give only eight hours a week to the church. He ran a two-hour staff meeting, spent a few hours in sermon prep and the rest of the time went to Sunday activities. The church hired staff members to carry the rest of the load.

Tom has since gone to heaven. Dan has expanded the reach of their church, Hope Chapel Santa Rosa. They have planted congregations in California, alongside rapid church planting in Fiji.

So what’s my point? There are thousands, if not millions of Tom McCarthy’s out there. These people could pastor a church while never leaving their career. We discipled Tom into ministry beginning shortly after his conversion. It took almost a decade before he was ready to plant a “house church,” or “microchurch.” It takes longer to train a pastor by disciplemaking than by seminary. But the payoff is huge.

Cutting Costs

The three largest costs associated with church planting are A. A pastor’s salary. B. Seminary costs. C. The cost of building a church campus. This congregation incurred neither of the first two. Growth made them happy with the third.

The numbers work on two fronts. Single-salary bivocational pastors cost churches no money. You can multiply churches faster with this model. We need to think hard about the Tom McCarthys in our midst.


What’s your story? I’m collecting ideas for a book along these lines. Please use the “Contact” button on the menu to share it. Agree or disagree with what I’ve written? Others will benefit from your thoughts–please comment below…