Something Different, Something Simple: Confessions of a Disappointed Church Planter

I had been a church planter and pastor for 15 years. My personal call was to make disciples who would make disciples, and I thought that planting churches was the best way to reach the unreached. But as I examined the four church plants I’d helped launch, I wasn’t convinced that we were producing disciple makers. I was struck with a “holy discontent.”

I really began to struggle with it. As a last ditch effort, I welcomed a new role as pastor of discipleship and mission with my church, and put together a church-wide effort to produce more disciples, but we ended up with more classes. No one was going out to make disciples. After a year of doing that I knew something wasn’t right; it wasn’t working. However, my church loved it and wanted more classes. So I resigned.

My denomination wanted me to plant another church. I told them I would only plant a church out of disciple-making. If a church came out of those efforts, great! I hand-picked a few believers who were really fired up about disciple-making to join me in this new plant. There were about 15 people who I trained. At that time, my disciple-making method was very knowledge based: I taught them how to read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew as well as biblical history. My teaching has always included practical application as well. But week after week, they told me they hadn’t done what we’d talked about. At the end of eight months, they all told me in different ways, “Pastor Dan, this is not for me.” They quit.

At this point I was ready to give up. “God, I’m done. I can’t do this. Nobody wants to do this. Either I’m a really bad discipler or this is an impossible task for our generation.”

That’s when I met Novo (CRM) staff Joe Reed. Since we were both thinking about how to make disciples, we immediately became “team-mates.” We started meeting every week to discuss who we were reaching. At that time I knew nothing about Disciple Making Movements or the Discovery process, but I noticed that Joe was doing something uniquely different. I realized there was some movement happening in his work that I didn’t seem able to create. So I asked him about it. “Joe, you’ve got to tell me what you’re doing. Clearly, there are people multiplying—making disciples or doing something—and I can’t see that in my people.”

As he told me about Disciple Making Movements and Discovery Bible Study, I was skeptical. I came from such a head-oriented, theological background.“This is too simple, too elementary,” I thought. But at that point I was so desperate for answers that I would try anything. I had nothing to lose.

I had just a couple of people left in my discipleship group, so I tried the Discovery Bible Study (DBS) method with them. Immediately, I saw the difference. One of them had been in my group for two whole years, and she was fired up! I hadn’t ever seen that kind of passion in her! She was acting on what she was learning for the first time—because the application and teaching in the DBS was simpler. Now she was the one discovering the truth, rather than me telling her what to do, and that led her to want to do something about it. The following week she came back to our group with a level of excitement I hadn’t seen before. “I have a story!” she exclaimed. She’d taken action on her conviction, and God had used it.

After that, I was hooked! Something about this simple DBS method was working. I had an MDiv degree, but I had no idea how to produce multiplying disciples. I decided then and there to humble myself and try everything Joe told me to do. I started doing it, and then I had stories to tell too! And I got my first DBS group launched soon after. 

Some time later Joe sent me a photo of a handout on blessing prayer and said, “Try this.”

So I tried it with my group. We each made a list of five names (people who didn’t know Jesus), and prayed for our list for five minutes a day, five days a week. It was really easy. These weren’t boring prayers; you really had to put yourself out there, praying things like, “In Jesus’s name I bless so-and-so to have trust... peace... strong family relationships...” In blessing prayer, we weren’t just asking God to bring something about; we were stepping into the authority given to us by Jesus and using it to bless another person’s life.

As I started practicing blessing prayer, I saw myself start to change. I didn’t really know my neighbors, but because I was praying for them, I started to get really curious about whether God was actually answering my prayers. Anytime I saw my neighbors go out, I wanted to go out and have a conversation. I’m a pretty shy, introverted guy, so this was really new for me! I’d never wanted to go after my neighbors like that before! Now I was looking out my window, just waiting for an opportunity. Trash day? Yes! Snow day? Yes! If they were blowing snow, I wanted to go out there to blow snow at the same time and have a conversation!

When I saw what blessing prayer was doing in me, I became convinced. “If I am changed like this—motivated to talk to non-believers and get to know my neighbors in this way—how much would this help other people?” So I started sharing it with people I was discipling. “You’ve gotta try this!”

One of the people I shared it with was Laura. She soon started to find people of peace (those open to spiritual things) through blessing prayer—people who had seemed very antagonistic to God—and reading the Bible with them. It was a great story, so I made a video about it and started sharing it. The video went viral across New England and all of a sudden all of these organizational leaders were asking me, “What is this movemental prayer thing?” And all I had was that PDF file! I was getting so many phone calls and emails that I didn’t have time to sit down with everybody. So I just sent them the PDF and said, “Try this.” It’s really become a movement of prayer in New England. I’ll overhear random people talking about “their 5s,” or saying, “Oh, we’re doing blessing prayer.” 

I do a lot of coaching and training now around Disciple Making Movements, and one of the most common questions I hear is, “How do we find people to do a Discovery Bible Study with?” Blessing prayer has been the game-changer for them. Praying blessings helps them find people of peace, or at least head in that direction. They’re praying for coworkers, neighbors, and friends who are far from Jesus, and practicing having spiritual conversations as a result. If you’re doing this kind of prayer, it’s hard not to build relationships, because you’re curious how God is moving in their lives! 

For 15 years I did church planting because I wanted to make disciples who make disciples. But I never saw multiplication like I see it now. It’s actually hard to track how many people are coming to Christ, being discipled, and leading Discovery Bible Study groups, because it’s spreading faster than I can keep up with the relationships! Before that could happen, I needed to be willing to change. I had to lay down my knowledge and agree to try something different. Something simple. And something that is beginning to look like a movement of the good news.

Would you like to start praying blessings over your neighbors, coworkers, or friends? We’ve created a blessing prayer guide, “Praying for 5s” that you can download here.


Dan Lee and his wife Diana live in Boston with their four-year-old daughter. In 2016, after more than 15 years of church planting, Dan joined Novo’s Catalyze Team (previously called Accelerate) to equip disciple-makers.