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November 12, 2015

Preparing Church Planters to Swim with Sharks

By Daniel Im

Behind the scenes with Mac Lake and Daniel Im

*Plus Members can watch this entire Behind-The-Scenes interview by logging in and clicking here.

Have you ever gone swimming with sharks? While I haven’t, I could imagine that doing so would get one’s adrenaline pumping. Like for instance, I remember a scene in the movie Couple’s Retreat, where the character Dave (played by Vince Vaughn) is snorkeling and feeding fish, when out of the blue some lemon sharks start circling around him. He totally freaks! He tells his counselor guy to get some guns and start shooting the sharks. Frightened, Dave swims franticly towards safety. He simply wasn’t prepared to swim with sharks that day.

The good news is that church planters don’t have to swim with real sharks, but they do plant in a world filled with cultural sharks. These sharks can be anything from identifying the various types of people present within the community, to creating and casting a compelling vision, as well as understanding how to build a solid team, combating false or heretical theology, and having what it takes to persevere through dry seasons. Honestly, swimming with these sharks and more can raise our heart rates, produce lots of adrenaline, and at the same time be extremely intimidating and overwhelming.

Understanding the need to prepare church planters to swim with sharks, to the degree that they thrive, not merely survive, is the heartbeat of Mac Lake and Multiply. They desire to equip church planters to plant healthy multiplying churches.

I recently connected with Mac Lake, the Visionary Architect of The Multiply Group, and the Senior Director of Multiply with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to talk about how they assess, train, and coach church planters. Here are a few takeaways from my conversation with Mac as it relates to preparing church planters to swim with sharks.

Takeaway #1—Planters need to be assessed to see whether or not they are called (and even able) to swim with the sharks through church planting

Before being accepted into Multiply, individuals must go through (or have gone through) an assessment. Some dread assessments or see them as useless. The truth is, assessments aren’t equated (or shouldn’t be equated) with the Holy Spirit’s confirming or denying the call that one has on their life to plant a church. While they are certainly tools that can help to confirm or deny one’s call to plant a church, assessments serve more in the capacity of displaying the preparedness of one to enter the waters of church planting.

In Mac’s experience, those who enter training without being assessed tend to water-down the quality of the training experience for others. Thus, assessments play an important part early in the coaching and training process.

Takeaway #2—There needs to be intense, informative, and interactive coaching to prepare guys for the sharks ahead

A general rule, based upon John Maxwell’s “law of the lid,” is that a coach or leader’s ability to lead is manifested in the leader’s ability to execute effectively. According to Mac, if we really want to impact the quality of church planting, we must target the quality of the trainers. In other words, to raise the level of church planting, we must raise the level of those who train church planters.

This is why Multiply has a “Train the Trainer” development process that equips trainers to effectively coach church planters through their 12 Leadership Competencies.

Once a coach has gone through the training process, and a small cohort of two to five planters has been created, they all meet bi-monthly for four hours at a time. These coaching segments are not meant to be informational dumping sessions. In fact, Mac believes that dumping information doesn’t produce transformation. Rather, these sessions are intense, informative, and most of all, interactive for the planters.

The goal for taking the cohort through this type of training is to prepare them to face the challenges, difficulties, highs and lows—in other words the sharks—of church planting.

Takeaway #3—If you can’t face the sharks who are for you, you will not be able to face the sharks who are against you

One of the most interesting things that the Multiply Group does as part of their training process is to create a mock Shark Tank. Towards the end of the process they tell the guys to prepare a three-minute vision presentation where they pitch their church planting mission and vision to three so-called “sharks.” These “sharks” hear the three-minute presentation and then respond with a series of rapid-fire questions back to the planter. This intense grill-fest lasts for three-minutes (which probably feels like an eternity to many guys).

Mac believes this exercise simulates an experience that church planters need to go through that helps prepare them to communicate a compelling vision that people want to invest in—whether that investment is someone’s or a church’s time, talent, or treasure. If someone cannot face sharks who are for them—by communicating a compelling vision and articulating sound orthodoxy and orthopraxy—then they will not be able to face sharks (the world, the flesh, and the devil) who are out for [their] blood.

Thus, from start to finish—from assessing the readiness, to engaging the mind and heart, to simulating shark attacks—the aim for Mac and Multiply is to prepare planters to be effective leaders who plant vibrant, healthy, and reproducing churches.

While I don’t have any plans to swim with real sharks, I am grateful for friends like Mac, Multiply, and NAMB that prepare planters to swim with the cultural, structural, and theological sharks that have the potential of hindering and hurting church planters, their families, and their plants.

*There was much more Mac discussed as it relates to training church planters and the leadership competencies they use to do so. You can view the video and its resources in its entirety here. Remember, this video is part of Plus Membership, so to get full access to it, and much more, I encourage you to become a Plus Member. Click here to see all the benefits of becoming a Plus Member.

If you are a church planter looking to connect with a network, I would encourage you to check out Multiply. If you are praying about whether or not God is leading, or calling, you to plant a church and you would like to talk with someone, Multiply extends an invitation for you to contact them.


  • Church planters don’t have to swim with real sharks, but they do plant in a world filled with cultural sharks
  • Those who enter training without being assessed tend to water-down the quality of the training experience for others
  • A leader’s ability to lead and equip will be manifested in their ability to execute effectively
  • If we really want to impact the quality of church planting, we must target the quality of the trainers
  • Dumping information doesn’t produce transformation
  • If a guy can’t face sharks who are for them, they will not be able to face sharks who are out for their blood



Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Lead Pastor of Beulah Alliance Church, a multiplying multisite church focused on reaching 1% of Edmonton for Christ. His latest book is You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love. He is also the author of No Silver Bullets and co-author of Planting Missional Churches. He co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, as well as the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Because of their love for the local church, after pioneering and leading the church multiplication initiative for LifeWay, Daniel and his wife, Christina, moved back to Canada with their three children. For more information, visit danielim.com and follow him on social media @danielsangi.


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