Author: Erin Cofield

inside an old church

You’re a Replanter– Now What?

If you’ve been interested in replanting for even a short amount of time, you’ve most likely heard these statistics: 

  • “Seven out of ten churches are either plateaued or declining.” (Mark Clifton, Reclaiming Glory
  • A recent Gallup poll states there has been a 10 point drop in attendance from the previous decade.
  • 45% of American adults say they attend religious services, an all-time low, despite huge growth in the overall population.

Based on these statistics alone, there is a solid chance that graduates from seminary today are far more likely to be called to pastor a replant than a successful, healthy church. They are much more likely to need to be able to meet the needs of their congregation while also balancing the specific needs of their community and their facilities.  Many of them will be bi-vocational, requiring them to have another career path in addition to ministry.  And because replants are typically lacking in resources, they may find themselves leading multiple types of ministries with a shoestring budget.

Thankfully, our seminaries are realizing this reality and are preparing their graduates for life after the degree with classes, books, and cohorts on Replanting and Revitalization.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for us.

“Best Start Believin’ in Ghost Stories, Ms. Turner– You’re in One.”

Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean

Like Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean, I was in the story of a replant before I even knew the term “replant.”  We had been at our church for 10 years in youth ministry before my husband was hired as the Senior Pastor.  We knew how to grow a “successful” youth ministry.  But in those ten years, we realized that numbers didn’t necessarily equal health, and we witnessed the need for a church that was wholly devoted to disciple-making and for the church to invest in parents, equipping them to be their children’s primary disciple maker.

We were in the midst of changing our youth ministry strategy when the Senior Pastor was called to another church.  My husband served as the interim pastor while we evaluated the church’s condition.  By the time he was elected as the Senior Pastor, we had identified a steady declines in Sunday morning attendance, in the church annual budget and giving, and in the overall facilities. For the first two years, we were scooping buckets of water from a ship that seemed intent on sinking.  Our ministries were failing to attract anyone, and our church was an eyesore instead of a lighthouse in the community.  The parking lot was rutted with weeds and broken asphalt and the children’s area looked more like the Island of Misfit Toys than a place of security and joy. Our budget was misaligned– there was money in the bank, but limits on how it could be used and many, many areas that desperately needed it.  We began to address the needs of our church and try to bring this dying church back to life.  But by the time we heard the term and started seeing ourselves as “replanters,” we were already in deep, treading water to stay afloat.

Back to the Basics

stick figure taking the first step

I wish we had known then what we now know.  The first few years of any replant are hard, but they don’t have to be complicated.  On one of the very first episodes of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, JimBob spoke with a replant pastor about the basic first steps every pastor should take in a replant.  If you’re in your “rookie” years of replanting, allow me to share a few of those tips that would have helped us if we had known them!  And if you’re a seasoned replanter, allow this to remind you of the basics of replanting.

  1. Visit Everyone in the Church
    • Make pastoral visits a high priority in your first year to get to know everyone in the congregation. Get an understanding of where they are spiritually, hear stories of the church and their lives. You need to know the sheep in order to shepherd the sheep.
  2. Preach the Gospel
    • This is not just about having an invitation at the end of each sermon.  This is about aligning everything the church does with the gospel. We recommend ‘Gospel Driven Church‘ by Jared Wilson as a great resource on this topic.
  3. Reach Out to the Community
    • Get to know your community. Build relationships with people in the community. Make a difference in the community. Effective replant pastors work hard to move their churches to have a missional focus. Remember, you cannot reach a community you resent– you must build love for the community into your DNA as a church.
  4. Find Some Men to Disciple
    • In Reclaiming Glory, Mark Clifton defines success in replanting as a church that is making disciples that makes disciples that make the community noticeably better.  The young men in your church need you to disciple them so that they can serve and fulfill their God-ordained callings.  (This recent blog post by Caleb Duncan speaks to the need for discipling others as a major part of replanting.)
  5. Evaluate the Condition of Your Church
    • When you walk into a dying church there are often a lot of things that need to change, and you can’t change them all at once. Start evaluating and making a private list in your prayer journal. Take the initiative to help the church move forward as an organization. Be patient as you move toward change, but keep moving forward.
  6. Don’t Forget to Celebrate
    • As mentioned in the last point, you need to evaluate. But be careful not to let this give you a negative outlook. Find things to celebrate and find joy in celebration. Lead with celebration and encouragement. 
  7. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
    • Have fun! The weight of it all can make you feel like everything is make or break. The church you are pastoring has likely been in decline for a long time – one bad Sunday under your watch won’t kill it, trust us!
  8. Find Some Friends! 
    • DO NOT WALK THIS ROAD ALONE! Replanting is gritty and glorious work. There will be plenty of discouragement; work to build some relationships with people who are encouragers. Find other pastors who are farther along than you to walk this road with you. This is one of the biggest things that helped us survive our first five years. (See these past blog posts on the necessity of encouragement and friendship in ministry.)

Our rookie years were definitely some of the hardest we’ve ever had in ministry.  They were followed by a year or two that was EVEN HARDER. We walked through moral failures in some of our leadership, a scandal that had far reaching effects on our community, and at one point even had to deal with threats of violence against my husband and our family. But through every challenge and every obstacle, God has been faithful.  We may not have known we were in a replant, but God did– and He knew exactly how to bring our church back to life.  After all, He was the one who planted it initially.  All we did was replant.

 

 

Man raising hands in thankfulness

Thank you, God, for the Fleas

‘Tis the season for Thankfulness.

As I write this blog post, we have just finished the biggest meal of the year.  There are only six of us gathered around our table, but I cook like there will be 20. This year we had four appetizers, three meats, seven sides, and five desserts.  It will take several days to finish leftovers, and we will all gain several pounds trying to do so, and we will vow that we hate all of these foods and can’t stand to eat any more of them… until Christmas Day, when we do it all again.  

Before anyone is too impressed with me, I will come clean and tell you that I will save up all of my cooking skills for this one day and then turn them off again. For the record, I hate cooking.  It stresses me out– the timing of everything, things getting cold while heating up others.  Every year I forget the bread until everything else is ready and then have to hold the meal until it’s finished. I worry about having enough dishes and serving spoons, and the thought of DOING those dishes… Yuck. The anxiety is enough to make me go to Cracker Barrel and call it a day.  It’s only the lack of leftovers and my family’s protests of that plan that makes me get up at the crack of dawn and start cooking the massive meal. And don’t even get me started on going to someone else’s house– the one (and ONLY) time we did that, my son threw a football in their house and broke the hand painted family portrait hanging above their fireplace.  We were ushered out rather quickly after that.  

But I digress.

the word thankful surrounded by leaves

Several years ago, I tried to start a tradition of going around the table and having each person say what they were thankful for. I think I saw a good, Christian family post about it on Facebook and I figured we were a good, Christian family so we should do that, too. Unfortunately, my teenage children were in their peak-sarcasm years and it turned into a game of “See how quickly you can get mom to stop this.”  Let me put it this way– I didn’t post their responses on Facebook.

The truth is, sometimes when people start talking about thankfulness and gratitude, I find myself very much like my teenagers were that holiday– surly and sullen, filled with frustration at the things I don’t have and discontent with what I do have.  I find it difficult to say what I’m grateful for when I am filled with discouragement.

In last year’s Thanksgiving podcast, Jimbo discussed how a story from Corrie ten Boom’s time in a concentration camp helped to remind him why it’s important to be thankful in all circumstances. You can read the complete story here, but the summary is basically this:  Corrie and her sister Betsy discuss how on earth they could possibly live through their time in the concentration camp, a place filled with discouragement and hopelessness.  Betsy reminds Corrie that 1 Thessalonians 5:14-21 tells them how to live, especially verse 18: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”  So they begin to list the things they are thankful for, including their togetherness, their ability to have their Bible, their close proximity to the other prisoners who were also hearing the Gospel.  But then Betsy goes so far as to be thankful for the fleas that are tormenting them day and night.  Corrie protests, but Betsy reminds her that it is the fleas which keep the guards away and allow them to read and proclaim the Word of God.  Without them, the girls might be punished and separated.

Sometimes I feel like Corrie.  Surely God doesn’t expect me to be thankful for the fleas in my life– those tormenting people who seem to have nothing positive to say, that bill that came when the money didn’t, the lack of spiritual (or numerical) growth in our church, the leak in the baptistry that comes on the heels of the leak in the children’s area.  Surely when God says, “be thankful in all circumstances,” He doesn’t mean these circumstances.  I see people post about being “#blessed” but I find myself wondering why we’re only “blessed” when things are going right– what about those I see who are desperate and hurting– are they blessed?  How can we be blessed when everything around us seems to be going wrong?  How can I be grateful for the problems I face and the mounting discouragement?

Then the Holy Spirit prods me toward another Scripture: Philippians 4:11.  Sure, Philippians 4:13 gets all the glory, but why was Paul able to say that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him?  Because of verse 11.  He had learned to be content in all things, in whatever situation he faced.  His ability to be content in all things fostered his ability to do his ministry without the confines of frustration and discouragement.

Perhaps you have struggled this year with finding joy this season and feeling grateful for where God has placed you.  Pastor, can I encourage you?  Think of the “fleas” in your own life– the situations, people, or nagging problems that discourage you.  Instead of asking God to deliver you from them, ask God what He is trying to teach you through it. Instead of desiring to push “fast forward” through this time in your ministry, push “pause.” Sit with it for a moment and see where God is leading you to be content in the circumstance and then ask Him to show you how to be thankful for it.

And then, when you go around the table and say what you’re thankful for, maybe your responses will be worthy of a social media post.  At the very least, maybe your mom won’t write about it in a blog post several years later.

*On a personal note, I would just like to say that I am grateful to each of you for reading these blog posts.  I pray that they encourage and exhort you for your ministry.  I am also grateful to Bob, Jimbo, and everyone at NAMB for the opportunity to write and share my heart with each of you.  Thankful for the past and looking forward to the future!- Erin*

man with discouragement

Plagued by Discouragement? I Know the Cure.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about all of the struggles and concerns she was facing.  Her job was going through a stressful transition, her parent’s health was declining, she had financial issues that resulted in much anxiety for her future, and her children were experiencing separate crises of their own.  At one point in her conversation she sighed and buried her head in her hands and said, “I’m just so tired.”

But here’s the thing– despite all of her anxieties, she was getting plenty of sleep.  She wasn’t physically tired.  She was disheartened and dispirited.  She was discouraged.  She was working hard and she was taking care of so many people, and she was feeling overwhelmed by her circumstances that she felt exhausted in her soul.

I am sure that many readers can see themselves in this person.  Pastors in general can feel discouragement from a variety of sources– the Monday morning inbox with a complaint about the sermon, the member who decides to go elsewhere with seemingly no real reason, the stress of his family living in a “fishbowl,” the burden of caring for everyone else.  But replant pastors are susceptible to an even greater level of discouragement.  For a replant pastor, the lack of resources can be a huge discouragement.  A lack of funds, people, time, and materials can make changes go slow but frustrations run high.  Many pastors are plagued by discouragement.

It’s an Epidemic

This plague of discouragement is not new.  In the first century, Augustine of Hippo wrote a passage on how to overcome discouragement to his fellow colleagues in the faith. And yet, here we are, 2000 years later, and a Barna study recently revealed that the number of pastors who have seriously considered giving up their ministry sits at 42%, an increase of almost 15% in just the last year. Even among the pastors who haven’t considered quitting, a large percentage are facing burnout, stress, and isolation (see a separate post on pastoral friendships on why isolation is dangerous to your ministry).  If almost 50% of pastors are so discouraged they are thinking of leaving the ministry, it’s not a small issue.  It’s an epidemic.

In my own life, I have seen countless pastors, specifically replant pastors, face battles with depression and discouragement.  Pastors who entered their replant bursting with ideas and excitement, ready to breathe life into their congregation and into their church.  Within a couple of years, many of these same men (and their families) are feeling beat down and beat up.  They don’t feel effective in their ministry, they are exhausted, and they are working as hard as possible not to drown under the weight of expectations.

What is the cure?

scripture of 1 Thess. 5:11 aside men helping each other

I have good news.  

There is a cure for discouragement.  It’s actually almost in the very word discouragement.  Can you guess?  The cure for discouragement is… encouragement.  That’s right, the cure for the feelings of despair, frustration, and exhaustion, is to feel hope, to have support, and to inspire confidence.

But how?  How can we get from one to the other?  

Way back in episode 11, Jimbo and Bob (JIMBOB) helped us to answer that question with their most encouraging friend, Mark Hallock. Mark is one of the most encouraging people on the planet.  If you’ve met him in person, you already know this, because you’ve probably experienced the “Hallock Hug.” There is a reason he’s referred to as “Happy Huggy Hallock.”

In the episode, the fellas discuss encouragement as it relates to Mark’s book, The Relentless Encourager. Mark points out that many of us have encouraging thoughts, but we don’t allow them to become words.  So instead of our encouragement blessing another person, it’s just another thought, no more or less than what to buy at the grocery store later. We are often guilty of forgetting to encourage others, especially as we are feeling discouraged and frustrated.  We are not intentional about making sure our encouraging thoughts become words and actions.  We may even feel some insecurity or pride that won’t allow us to admit when someone else is doing a job well.  But that attitude costs us.

The added supplement

scrabble letters spell out thank you

Encouragement for others is like a glass of cold water to a parched soul– and not only to theirs, but to ours, as well.  Telling someone about the difference they make in your life and lifting them up creates in us another powerful combatant to discouragement: Gratitude.

Have you ever seen a photo negative?  It is the same picture, but it is distorted because the focus is on the wrong thing.  We experience this when we are so discouraged we only see the negative.  When there is a lack of resources, the discouraged heart sees only what it lacks.  But the encouraging heart looks for those doing much with little, and in encouraging them, the encouraging heart becomes the grateful heart.  

Perhaps you are wondering how you can possibly encourage someone else when you are feeling discouraged yourself.  Maybe you’re even wondering why you should, since no one seems to be intent on encouraging you. (I won’t judge you for that!  I’ve had that same feeling!) But the truth is, we are never more like Christ than when we see people as God sees them and we encourage them in their walk.  Even as Jesus was discouraged to the point of sweating drops of blood in the garden, He prayed for his disciples’ encouragement (John 17). When we look for the ways we can express encouragement to others, we are looking for the positive in them.  We are loving our neighbor and our enemy better when we seek to encourage them, and this, in turn, makes us thankful for them.

This thankfulness and gratitude cultivates an environment of encouragement to the church.  Can you imagine the difference your church could make in the community if you became known as the church where people are encouraging and thankful?  If you were known as a place people could come out of the darkness and experience light and hope?  How can we facilitate that attitude in our churches if we don’t have it ourselves?

A replant pastor needs to breed thankfulness in his congregation.  To do that, he must first be grateful.  Instead of focusing on the frustrations and the negatives, he must look at what God is doing in the church.  God is not done with your church, nor with you!  Look at all you can be thankful for:

  • God has called you to raise dying churches and to reach the faithful– what an incredible calling!  What an incredible opportunity to see growth and change!
  • You can be thankful you are preaching faithfully– you are doing your part, and you know you serve a faithful God who will do His!
  • You get to reach people with the Gospel– I am always in awe that God uses such a flawed vessel for His Kingdom purposes!  So blessed to have been even a small part in someone’s journey toward redemption and grace!

Think about your church.  The struggles, yes, but I bet there have been successes, too!  I am sure that while there may be some “grumpies,” there are probably more faith-filled believers who stand excited and ready to see their church thrive again.  Yes, there is probably a lack of money– but God can do much with little and you are learning to trust Him in that process!

Now, think of the people who are standing with you.  The friends, family members, church members, fellow pastors– have you thanked them?  Have you encouraged them?  Have you sought to tell them the difference it makes in your life to have them stand with you in your struggles?

This is how we defeat discouragement.

We look for the positive in others and encourage them, and then we cultivate a heart of thankfulness and gratitude for them.

Go seek someone to encourage today.

A man in a pew seeking to revitalize

3 Reasons Churches Don’t Revitalize- And 1 Thing You Can Do About It

When thinking about the reason our congregations are hesitant to revitalize, we often say, “They just don’t want to change.” And while that may be partly true, it isn’t the whole reason, nor is it the sole reason.

During year three of our church’s revitalization process, my husband received an email from a long-time church member.  This church member was very frustrated and disgruntled over a decision my husband made regarding small groups at our church.  Instead of calling our Sunday morning groups by their former name, “Sunday School,” he opted to encompass all of our small groups under the name, “Connect Groups.” Sunday morning, Sunday night, weekday nights, on-campus, or out of homes, they would all be under the banner of “Connect Groups.” Her email started with her main complaint, but unraveled midway through to combine all of her frustration at the changes made during the three years we had been ministering there.  For several paragraphs, this woman compared the way things had always been done against the way things were being done now.  For each change, she listed all the ways it was better before– ending the email with the statement, “I just think there’s no need to change anything. Everything needs to stay the same as it always has. There’s no reason to do things differently.”

My husband responded simply, “Thank you for your email.  I certainly enjoy being able to get quick, efficient communication from my congregation members.  Seeing as how change is so frustrating for you, I will respond via a handwritten letter.  You should receive it in several business days.”

I’m kidding, of course.

My husband has infinite patience and responded kindly and warmly and explained the necessity of the change.  Unfortunately, he did not win her over; the woman would correct anyone who used “connect group” to refer to a group that met on Sunday mornings at church until the day she left our church, still angry and frustrated.  This woman is no different than countless congregation members across all of our churches, and I’m sure each of you reading this could share your own file of “Monday Morning Uplifting” emails from sheep that bite.  So why are some churches, and some congregants, so unwilling to revitalize?

In Episode 99, Jimbo and Bob (I’m really trying to get the “Jimbob” moniker to stick but I digress) discuss three reasons why a church might not want to revitalize: a lack of self-awareness, a desire to control, and the fear of loss.

The Crack in the Ceiling

A crack in the ceiling

One of the main reasons a congregation resists revitalization is a lack of self-awareness.  The church just isn’t aware of just how bad the issues are, whether they be the facilities, the programming, or the church governance and polity. Have you ever seen the commercial for the room freshening spray where the advertiser refers to being “nose-blind” to smells?  That’s the picture of some congregations.  They don’t see the need for revitalization because things don’t seem that bad to them.  It takes an outside perspective to address the issue, because only an outsider can see it.  

A pastor I know began to look at remodeling his church’s sanctuary.  There was money in the budget to do it without going into debt, and the sanctuary’s aesthetic was dated and worn.  But more than the cosmetic reasons for the remodel, the church had serious structural issues that needed to be addressed.  There were cracks in the ceiling that were so large, swarms of wasps would swoop down from them during the service and dive-bomb members of the congregation.  The addition and subtraction of several instruments and sound equipment over the years had resulted in wires and speakers dangling precariously from the ceiling.  And yet, when faced with the decision to remodel, the church voted to refrain from doing any major remodeling.  One long time member stood up and said, “That crack in the ceiling has been there since I started here in 1960 and it’s not hurting anything!”  The pastor left the church shortly after, discouraged and demoralized by the church’s lack of awareness and vision.

Sometimes this lack of self-awareness even extends past the facilities and into the church’s reasons for decline.  “The community changed, they just aren’t the same as they used to be,” is a common refrain. “The doors are open, but they won’t come in!” These church members resent the community, and as Mark Clifton often says, “You can’t reach people you resent.”  Until your church loves their community, they will never feel the need to reach them– and reaching your community is not just a vital part of revitalization, but is also a commandment from your Creator. (Thom Rainer’s book, Anatomy of a Revived Church and Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory are both excellent resources to help your church see the connection between loving your community and reaching them with the Gospel.) Sometimes, churches will say, “The church down the street is to blame!” as though there aren’t enough lost people to go around.  Or, “The former pastor messed everything up!” But the key is the lack of awareness of their own part in the church’s decline.  There is a reluctance to admit the need to change their behavior or their surroundings.

Who is in Control Here?

Another reason churches are hesitant to revitalize is the loss of control.  Maybe a former pastor came in with a “dictator” mentality and ran people off with his authoritarian style of leadership.  Alternatively, maybe the former pastor was weak and ineffective and the church is now used to controlling its own fate and the idea of revitalizing and changing pushes against that.  

Occasionally, there are “power brokers” in a church.  These people, and sometimes whole families, have gone from being generous givers in the past to controlling congregants now.  Having a new pastor come in and give them advice to change something creates conflict between them and him.  They may even “talk” with their wallets, refusing to tithe until their demands are met.  

This struggle for control can cause pastors who deeply desire revitalization to give in and yield to those who cannot be convinced of the need to change course.  The church then continues in plateau or in a downward trajectory until it eventually dies.

Change is Scary– but Loss is the Real Fear 

A cartoon where a man protests change in church

This brings us to the third reason churches don’t revitalize: Fear.  Many pastors assume that their congregation is scared of change.  But that’s not entirely accurate.  I would imagine most of your congregation is riding around in cars with fuel injection systems and power steering, and some have even embraced such modern amenities as backup cameras, remote start, and keyless entry.  Likely, too, that they use washing machines, dishwashers, cell phones, and microwaves on occasion. Remember our friend from the introduction?  She used email, a relatively modern way to communicate, to express her disdain for change.  So it isn’t a fear of change that scares people– it’s a fear of loss.

Our culture has created a climate of comfort in all areas.  We seek, above all else, to be comfortable.  And when so much of the world changes so rapidly, sometimes our congregation just wants Sunday morning to be the one place where their friends, their pastor, their songs, and their pew stay the same.  They fear not so much the change, but the loss of that comfort zone and that feeling of safety that comes with it.  There is stability in staying the course, even if we’ve determined that the course isn’t working. 

A Spiritual Problem with a Scriptural Solution

The problem with all of these excuses against revitalization is a central one– a lack of faith in Jesus and what He can do for our churches.  This is a spiritual problem, one where the culture of a church is based around the congregation’s abilities, not the supernatural power of God.  The lack of awareness, desire for control, and the fear of loss of comfort, are all symptoms of a larger problem in which churches seek their own desires above the need to evangelize, adapt, and love the community they have been given.  

The culture of the church has to change before any revitalization strategy can ever be effective.  This is why pastors who enter into replants and revitalizations must practice holy patience.  They must be able to pray while they wait.  The pastor must be able to, as Bob says, “lead his people to understand who they are in Christ. He has to lead them to understand the mission of the church. And he asked to lead them to understand the power of Christ to accomplish that mission.”  

This is a scriptural solution to a spiritual problem.  Scripture should be our basis for revitalization, not current trends.  When we seek out what God has to say to us and to our churches, we are better able to guide our church toward Biblical Revitalization that reaches our community with the Gospel and that breathes Holy Spirit-filled life back into the dying church.

Friends hanging out

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a pastor. (I know… I shocked you with my keen insight right off the bat.) You probably pastor a church in the midst of a replant– or you’ve revitalized one. You most likely have a lot of pieces of your ministry figured out. You know what works, and what doesn’t. (At the very least, you know between Jimbo and Bob you can find some answers here.) But I think you might be missing a crucial piece to your ministry… and you might not even know it.

The missing piece?  Friendship.

In an informal survey (VERY informal, as in I had my husband text some questions to several pastors he knows), 80% of the pastors I surveyed said they sometimes find it difficult to make friends, both inside and outside of their own church. Most said that they struggled with maintaining friendships. Some even said they didn’t have a significant friendship beyond their spouse.  But are friendships with others important?  A resounding YES.  So what is the disconnect between knowing we need those relationships and actually having them?

Brian Croft’s new book, Pastoral Friendship: The Forgotten Piece to a Persevering Ministry, addresses this problem through the lens of the biblical mandate for friendships and the emotional necessity of them.  In their latest podcast, Jimbo and Bob (or, Jimbob, if you like) spoke with Brian about why pastoral friendship is so important.

Friendship, as defined in the book, is an “intimate relationship of love, trust, and loyalty.”  Now, I already know that some readers may have an issue with one certain word– “intimate.” In our society, the word intimate has been skewed to denote a sexual relationship.  But that isn’t the true definition of what it means to be intimate with another person.  Intimacy simply means to be “familiar, close, and known” by another person. This is no mere acquaintance, someone you see occasionally or know basic facts about.  This is a person who knows the REAL you.  This is someone who knows more than your spouse’s name– they know what arguments you have with them.  They aren’t just someone who would call you in the middle of the night with a crisis, they are someone YOU would call in the middle of the night as your “one phone call” from jail. (While that may sound dramatic, the truth is– some pastors are dealing with secret sin that could result in that phone call.)  Intimacy in friendship is the difference between knowing your friend’s birthday and knowing their testimony.

For many people, the idea of “friends” has shifted in the past several years, thanks to the advent of social media.  Facebook redefined “friend,” and the word has now become synonymous with “follower” on other platforms.  Counting friends this way has both cheapened the value of friendship and has altered our perception of how many true friendships we really have. As Croft writes, “By and large, our culture considers friendship a third or fourth tier relationship,” following behind familial and romantic relationships.  R.I.M. Dunbar, PhD, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford says that the idea that we have hundreds of friends through our social media channels is not physically possible, based on the ability of our brain to truly spend time on others. “We are fooling ourselves,” he explains. “You can certainly sign up as many people as you like, but that doesn’t make them friends. All we are doing is signing up people that we would normally think of as acquaintances in the offline world.” 

And yet, in a time when society seems to have more friends than ever, pastors report feeling isolated and alone much of the time.

one friend gives another friend a fist bump

WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

Croft describes several internal obstacles pastors might face that make them hesitant to make deep, connective friendships.

  • Pride: Pastors may feel they have no need for outside friendship.  They may believe that they don’t need the wisdom and support a true friendship can give.
  • Fear of Man: Many pastors have been hurt and betrayed by friendships within ministry.  Perhaps a church member felt let down when they realized he wasn’t perfect, or used his vulnerable moments as fodder for gossip. 
  • Laziness: Friendships take time.  Many pastors just don’t want to spend the extra energy on something that isn’t ministry related (later in this post we will see why friendship IS ministry related!).
  • Weariness: Pastors are often simply too exhausted to focus any time or attention on anyone outside of their family and their flock.
  • Selfishness: Sometimes pastors don’t want to give any more of themselves than they already do.
  • Lack of Self-Awareness: Sometimes pastors don’t seem “friendly.”  They have isolated themselves to the point of not realizing how they may be viewed by others.

Pastors also face a unique challenge to friendship based on their role within the church.  As the shepherd, many pastors don’t feel comfortable being seen as weak by their congregation.  Friendship requires vulnerability, but a pastor may feel as though he can’t be seen as an effective leader if he admits to a struggle.  This hesitancy is even stronger when a pastor struggles with a sin.  In his efforts to be seen as holy, he may fear confessing a sin to someone in his congregation.  The opposite is true, as well:  Many congregation members hesitate to be friends with their pastor because their sin might be exposed, as well.

THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR

With all of the obstacles to friendship, is there even a benefit to having a close, personal relationship with someone other than your spouse?  Is it worth the time and effort?

Absolutely, unequivocally, YES.

Having a deep, abiding friendship is biblical.  Croft mentions several examples of this type of friendship in the Bible, first with Adam and Eve– which, yes, is a marriage, but first is an example of why it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Beyond that, there is Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, and Paul and Barnabas.  

Not only is this type of friendship biblical, it is beneficial. The blessings of friendship can be seen in each of the above examples and what each person provided to the other.


These blessings are listed in Pastoral Friendship as: 

  • Wisdom and Perspective: Croft writes, “Many pastors fail to hear, heed, internalize, and apply warnings and direction that could spare heartache and contribute to their ministry because they fail to cultivate friendship.”
  • Support:  Pastors face the overwhelming (and often, unrealistic)expectations of their congregations, sharing grief and sorrow, and the pressure to be constantly available to everyone. This is a weight too great to bear alone. Like Aaron supported Moses, so also does today’s pastor need someone to come alongside and bear the weight of ministry with him.
  • Sanctification: Constructive, thoughtful, and most importantly, spiritual criticism is necessary to spiritual growth.  Proverbs tells us one man can sharpen another like “iron sharpens iron.” This painful and hard process is much easier to bear from a friend than a stranger or a critic.
  • Community: Pastors can suffer from isolation, and so can their families.  Men, as a pastor’s wife I can say with some authority: Please get some close friends.  Your wife can not be everything at all times.  When you task your wife with being your sole confidant and advisor, you risk isolating her, as well. (And while you’re at it, make sure you give her some time to cultivate friendships, too!)

two male friends

YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND

So we’ve identified reasons why friendships can be difficult for pastors, and we’ve established friendship is biblical and beneficial.

And yet…

Many pastors will still struggle to find and maintain those close, deep abiding friendships, especially within their flock.

This is precisely where local associations, networking, and partnerships come in clutch.  Through these opportunities, pastors can meet together with other pastors who are experiencing much of the same struggles and who understand the unique calling a pastor has on his life.  These are men who recognize the burden of ministry and can help lift it.  But they are also fellow laborers who can celebrate the harvest with you. And while they can talk “shop” with you and study Scripture with you, fellow pastors also desire to just be a “normal person” with you– something pastors rarely feel vulnerable enough to do with congregation members.  

Close, deep, and yes, intimate friendships can be the missing piece to you thriving as a pastor or merely surviving.  So gather some wings in the sauce of your choice and go out and make new friends– your ministry will thank you.

LINK FOR BOOK: https://us.10ofthose.com/pastoral-friendship-the-forgotten-piece-in-a-persevering-ministry-paperback/

 

Dying plant

Growing From Seed to Soil- Proclamation and Explanation

I am the world’s worst plant person.  Whatever the opposite of a “green thumb” is, I have two of those.  In fact, I may have two whole hands of them. I once won a prize at a women’s event where each woman got an arrangement of various sizes based on a game we played.  I won the game, but my prize was this absolutely gorgeous potted plant.  The look on my friend’s face was sheer terror.  “I can’t let you take that home,” she said. “You have to let me take it to my house for you.” I said, “No way!  I won it!”  “Suit yourself,” she said.  Then as I walked outside with the big plant in my arms, she walked behind me and yelled, “Dead plant walking!  Dead plant walking!” the whole way to the car, like my plant had been condemned to die on death row.

She wasn’t wrong. I could lie to you and tell you I tried to keep it alive; that I watered it, tended the soil, gave it plant food, sang to it, and called it by name. But the truth is, the plant died within a few weeks due to nothing less than complete neglect on my part.  And that’s how it goes with every plant I bring home, filled with hopes and dreams of a lovely plant sanctuary or an awesome vegetable garden.  Within a few weeks, the seeds have dried up and my plants have withered because I failed to take them any further in their growth process.

Often, pastors can fall into the same struggle. While they have no problem spreading the seeds of the Word, they sometimes fail to cultivate that seed into something deeper.

PLATFORM MINISTRY- PLANTING THE SEED

For pastors, the place they generally plant a seed is the pulpit, whether it be sharing the Gospel or sharing vision for the congregation. From there, the church may also post on social media or a website, and perhaps put up signage around their building.  This is referred to as, “platform ministry.”  In some seminaries, this is thought of as “proclamation.” We use this avenue to proclaim “big-picture” ideas, exegete scripture, and broadcast  powerful messages from the Word of God.  

The pastor who is skilled at platform ministry will most likely be a gifted communicator.  He will succeed at carving out time for his sermon preparation, and the church’s website will not only be up to date with the newest technology, but will also be consistently updated with new events and new ministries. 

In the most extreme version of someone gifted in platform ministry, the pastor will be an influencer of his congregation and may operate more like a CEO than a shepherd.  The church will have multiple events, always attempting to do better than the time before. The pastor may  isolate himself for study and will not get to know the people he is leading.  He may  lack authentic relationships within his church, and his congregation will see him as inaccessible or  inauthentic.

TABLE MINISTRY- CULTIVATING THE SEED planting a seed

Churches also have what’s referred to as a “table ministry.”  While this can mean a literal table, it doesn’t always.  These are deep, connective conversations that happen within fellowship with one another.  The table ministries of a church are where the seeds of life transformation germinate and are cultivated into deep-rooted life change. Churches may call these types of ministries connect groups, family groups, D-Groups, or one-one-one discipleship. In table ministry, the congregation will learn to “do life” together– bearing one another’s burdens and struggles. When seminaries teach this subject, it’s thought of as “explanation” (as opposed to proclamation). In this area, we take the message from the platform and break it up into smaller pieces so it’s easier to understand.  

A pastor who is skilled at table ministry is typically excellent at hospital visits, praying for his congregation, counseling people, and looking at the details of people’s lives.  He will be a shepherd to his flock, ensuring that they don’t stray away and discerning their spiritual health.

Unfortunately, in the extreme, this pastor is not without faults.  Because he fails to cast vision, his people are more likely to be tossed by every new wind of doctrine that comes along. His desire to appease everyone will cause him to be conflict-averse. Because he has not taken the role of a leader,  he will become simply the “marry and bury chaplain,” instead of the pastor he needs and is called to be. watering a plant

EITHER/OR or BOTH/AND?

When we look at platform versus table ministry, we might be tempted to compare the two and decide one is more important than the other.  We may wonder which is better– the preacher who can communicate change effectively, orr the pastor who ministers to the families in his congregation?

But do we have to choose?  Of course not.  One is not more important than the other.  We must have the catalyst for life change, but we must also cultivate that into lasting transformation. Doctrinal teaching is biblical, and important.  But so is relational disciple-making.  

So how do we succeed at both platform and table ministry?  How do pastors cast a vision and see the large picture while also knowing each of their congregation members well enough to know the details of their lives? 

The answer is the role of what Jimbo Stewart calls the “Visionary Shepherd.” A visionary shepherd is one who effectively communicates the God-given vision for his people while also loving his congregation and caring for them.  The best example of this Visionary Shepherd? Jesus. (Sometimes the “Sunday school answer” is also the right answer!)  Look at the Great Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

Jesus reminds pastors that loving Him with everything is the greatest thing you can do as a pastor. But He also says loving people is just as important.  Preaching the gospel AND living the gospel, both, at the same time. Always.  (No one said being a pastor was easy.  If they did, they aren’t a pastor and have never been one.  Stop listening to them for advice on pastoring.)

Churches can, and should, have both a successful platform ministry and a successful table ministry.  Before you can cultivate a garden, you must have a seed.  But a seed will dry up without proper care and maintenance.  Even I know that.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sing to the dead fern in the corner.  I know it won’t bring him back, but at least I can pretend I tried.

Do you need help with your platform ministry?  Get in touch with our partner, One Eighty Digital at https://oneeighty.digital/. They can help you optimize your online presence to be the best it can be! 

Defining Who You Are By What You Do– And Why it Matters

Three dangers to avoid when defining ourselves

One of my least favorite questions is, “What do you do?”  I never know how to answer it– because what I do is so very little of who I am.  Defining myself by my profession as a veterinary technician feels so inadequate.  I am also a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, worship leader, and writer.  For my husband, a pastor, the question of “What do you do?” can be even more complicated.  

While on vacation a few years ago, we shared a dinner table with a great couple from Colorado.  Our conversation ranged from our favorite places to vacation (cruising) to recent world events (unsettling as much then as now)  to the joys and challenges of raising children (theirs were small, ours were grown).  We were having a wonderful time and were really enjoying the company.  Then at one point, the husband said, “Man, it’s so nice to be seated with some ‘normal’ people– the last time we sat with someone who was a pastor and they were so weird!  So what do you guys do?” (Talk about awkward– my husband said, “Um, I’m a revitalization specialist.” A fancy way of saying Replant Pastor, I suppose– though there is a difference.  We eventually told them he was a pastor once they realized we were super weird regardless of his profession.)

As leaders in our churches, we are highly aware of what we “do.”  Ministry is our job– even as some of us hold down other jobs as bi-vocational leaders. So often, we are tasked with thinking of our profession as separate from who we are.  But there is a danger in separating who we are from what we do– just as there is a danger in overlapping the two.  While they are related, they are not interchangeable.

In chapter 10 of his book, Wisdom in Leadership- the How and Why of Leading the People you Serve, author Craig Hamilton gives us three main dangers of seeing what we do as who we are, or dismissing the two as completely and totally different. “At either extreme,” he writes, “we risk damaging both our ministries and our hearts.”

  • Danger #1: Trying to separate the two can lead to thinking that who God wants you to be has no impact on what God wants you to do

This danger typically shows up when we think of our ministry as “just a job.” When you forget that you are called to shepherd your people and to serve them and instead view them as employees, or worse, obstacles to “getting the job done,” you’ve begun to think of pastoring as what you do.  You preach, minister, counsel, and organize, but the heart is missing from it.  Sometimes this happens because you’ve been hurt in your ministry.  There is a temptation to protect your heart by cutting it off and doing ministry in a vacuum.  

But there is a problem with that approach– without your heart attached to your ministry, you are at risk of moral failure. Your heart becomes numb to the potential pitfalls around you, and “you begin to think that moral failings and secret sins don’t matter and won’t affect what God wants you to do in ministry.” A long term separation of your calling and your heart will result in your ministry being taken away because of your own moral failure or because your ministry is simply ineffective. A practical step to ensure you don’t fall into this danger is to have an accountability partner.  We are all fallible and we live in a fallen world.  When our heart is at risk, we need to have someone who can speak a Word to us and protect us from falling.  This isn’t just a friend– this is someone who you can be your authentic self around AND who can give you Godly, spirit-filled advice that you accept and receive.

  • Danger #2: Trying to separate the two can also lead to thinking that what God wants you to do is more important than who God wants you to be.

Just as thinking of ministry as “business” is dangerous, so too, is treating ministry as “busy-ness.” Often pastors are so busy trying to do it all, they begin to struggle to pastor themselves.  Hamilton writes, “when what God wants you to do becomes more important than who God wants you to be, one of the first things to drop off the radar is your relationship with God.” It is so easy for a pastor to have his bible open every day planning sermons, bible studies, small group materials, and counseling others, only to realize that he hasn’t opened it for his own nourishment in weeks.  This results in an atrophied heart with a weariness that leads to burnout.  “I’ve got to get this job done,” becomes the mantra.  People feel like burdens, not disciples.  Ministry feels like duty, not joy.  Long term, this separation will result in you walking away from God’s calling, overworked and overburdened. Preventing this danger requires time and care be taken for your own spiritual health.  Sometimes that means a sabbatical, perhaps getting away from it all for a season so that you can come back refreshed and re-energized for the work ahead. The Shepherd’s House may be available to you for this time, or you may be able to find time at a local retreat.  If you can’t afford a sabbatical, perhaps making sure you have a day of rest built into your schedule will give you the rest you need.  Spend time with God outside of your normal schedule and your normal study.  

  • Danger #3: When you see who you are and what you do as completely overlapping, you can begin to think that what God has called you to do is who God has called you to be.

This danger appears when we begin to see our value and worth tied up in what we do.  The success, or failure, of our ministry overlaps into how we see ourselves.  If our ministry is thriving, we feel Successful, which often leads to pride and arrogance.  On the flip side, if our ministry is struggling, we feel like we have failed, often leading to despair.  Instead of defining ourselves in terms of what God has done,  we define our worth in terms of our own abilities.  

Long term, this danger results in manic swings of highs and lows based on the measurable results of our work. But so much of what we do is immeasurable. Can we count the number of lives touched by our ministries the way we can count people in pews?  Certainly not.  We never know where we are in someone’s spiritual journey (1 Cor 3:6-8). We also never know how God will use our church to reach our community in the future.  Basing our success (or our failure) on the number of people in the sanctuary or the number of views our livestream has will always make us more dependent on our own power than on God working through us.  

We are easily susceptible to this danger when we do not have reminders of our worth in Jesus Christ.  When we see ourselves as the world sees us, we are missing a key component of our relationship with God.  He isn’t defining our ministry by our metrics. He is defining us as loved, adopted sons and daughters and heirs not only to His kingdom, but also to His suffering. As chosen disciples who are filled with his Spirit and are able to do more than we can possibly imagine through Him.  Take time to read these and other specific scriptures that define your value according to God. Write them out and memorize them. When you feel the burden of failure or the joy of success, remember to draw back to God’s definition of who you are in Him.  

When we confuse what we do with who we are, we run into dangerous territory and our ministry suffers.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 10:19-20 that we should not rejoice in what we can do, but instead what He can do through us. What we do flows out of who we are– God has already redeemed us.  We are beloved children of God, heirs to His kingdom.  He doesn’t need us, but He chooses to use us to fulfill His purpose, that all should know Him. When we feel like our ministry is “just a job,” or we get so busy doing ministry that we forget to check in with God, or when we define ourselves by the success or failure of our ministry, we fail to remember that God is doing something around us. In your ministry right now, are you dealing with a situation where you aren’t sure what God is doing through you?  Remember, as Bob said in the podcast, that first God does something around us, then He works on us through the situation, so that He can work in us before He ever works through us. 

This is what He does, because of who He is.

Which of these dangers do you fall into most?  What are some steps you can practically implement to make sure you don’t allow these short-term dangers to become long-term failings? Email us at replantbootcamp@gmail.com or contact us through social media to let us know!  

 

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