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…

13 thoughts on “A Different Kind Of Church Planter

  • May 23, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    There are Anoited men n women who have been called by God to lead and preach the Gospel….Divorce in some denominations stop the anointed from ever pastoring a church…., I have heard they can continue because it was before their Born Again experience. Others say Never again……Yet these individuals have a calling, gifting and anointing to continue the work that Christ started in them…..They carry the Cross of brokenness yet they are encouraged with the breath of the Spirit of Grace and love…..Which one is True……I believe their are many other called church planters out there but they need to be right hand of fellowship given by Pastors and leaders…….Time is short. The Harvest is Ready. Encourage to Stand up…..

    • May 23, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Seems that divorce is the unforgivable sin in some circles. Big mistake!!!

  • May 23, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Tom studied the Word long and hard but more importantly he was a gifted teacher from the first time I heard him at a Hope Chapel camp until the last time in church with Dan Boyd in Santa Rosa. Gifted because you always took something away from his message that God used in your immediate future. He was also very humble.

  • May 23, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    You wrote:
    “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.”

    Does this mean that as the lead pastor, he did not give the example of disciple making ?

    • May 24, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Good question! I’m not sure about that as we live far apart and didn’t communicate too regularly. If it was me I would surely spend most of staff time to discipling the team–I’d let them do their own administrative stuff if we agreed on the values and I was coaching their thought processes. To me, disciplemaking is more than just gathering Bible knowledge. It means learning to apply it to our lives and most certainly to ministry decisions.
      Another thought I had is that if I were Tom, I would meet with a handful of people after church. Time is precious for a pastor on this order.
      Thanks for asking.
      BTW, anyone else have input to this????

      • May 25, 2017 at 3:22 am

        I am Tom…except my name is Greg. I am a businessman by calling, and I started a church in 1999 after reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. Honestly, while I did go to seminary before launching the church, I had very little coaching…including how to make disciples. And I had absolutely no clue about multiplication. How could I think about multiplication when I was running a business and planting a church! (I have since changed my views on that, although it is a little late.) We started our church with twelve people. But I added people to our numbers primarily from my business contacts and from coaching Little League baseball. These were mostly unchurched people. Now, seventeen years later, many of my baseball contacts are leading our church in terms of pastoring and serving as trustees. Even more exciting is that I am getting ready to step down from serving as our Lead Pastor in about eighteen months. The next pastor is a 26-year-old who I coached in baseball when he was six years old. I unknowingly helped to disciple him to this position.

        I feel like I have just started to learn and experience the power of discipleship and multiplication, and I am going to dedicate the next season of my life to these endeavors. But I think I can answer the question about Tom’s discipleship effectiveness. It is apparent to me that Tom was called to be a doctor. But he was also in love with the Kingdom of God. I know that life. I feel as called to business as I do to ministry. I believe that is extremely healthy. I was able to use my business to pay for my seminary, and to cover most of the expenses of the church plant. In seventeen years, I have been the biggest financial contributor to our church. But what Tom gave, and the costliest thing that I gave to our church was time…time that I could’ve used to grow my business larger. But the joy of business growth cannot compare to the joy of Kingdom growth.

        I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Tom’s disciple-making. I’m still trying to improve my own. But just imagine how many people in Hope Chapel, Santa Rosa, other parts of California, and finally in Fiji and beyond will owe their own discipleship to a divorced doctor in California!

        • May 25, 2017 at 1:34 pm

          Thanks Greg,
          (READERS NOTE: This comment is a follow-on to the earlier question posed by Ala. He asked if Tom made disciples.

  • May 24, 2017 at 1:08 am

    I think I am in a similar situation; with the difference that I see myself as being called to evangelism (small groups) and disiciple-making, more than pastoring. But I do not see myself being called to leave my “secular” calling as ecologist.

  • May 25, 2017 at 3:01 am

    I am working in the catholic church and trying to figure my way through the maze. I have been thinking more and more about leaving. Every time I begin to get in this direction, something happens and God is working. A new clique has been formed outside all the clans (or clique). The church is in a very old community with certain clans running the church for maybe 80 plus years. This new clique is forming on it own. I have been working on it for about year now. All the kids are altar kids. I am thinking how do I “intentionally share Christ in the clique without them becoming worried that I am forming a church”. I have been also trying to figure out a working definition for the word church. Unfortunately or fortunatly, the word church most likely found its roots with the german language.

    It is good to read a different story of someone doing “church” and keeping to a complete different work station in life. This was a fresh read today in light of the “new clique” in the community where I work. None of them have a history back in this community. New live bodies that are seeking life, hopefully.

    Thanks Ralph for the post.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks Bobby,
      I’ll keep you in prayer for direction…

  • July 20, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    I was a full time pastor for 22 years.
    I have switched to bivoing and love it.

    It forces prioritizing and delegating. And people give me a break because they know my time is limited.

    I wonder why I avoided it all those years. Probably because “full time ministry” was held up as the goal.

    This season of my life is working better

    • July 24, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Reese,
      It is that model being held up as a goal that needs to change if we want to plant enough churches to keep up with (or surpass) population growth.


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