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Replanting as a Family

When I was twelve years old, I saw down in the living room with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. My dad was having a family pow-wow with us, and it seemed important. “Kids,” he said,” Me and your mother love you all. And I want you to know that God is calling your Dad to serve another church.”

My dad had been serving at Bethel Baptist Church in Sycamore, GA, since before I was born, and we would be leaving the church where I had grown up to move to a new town. As a twelve-year-old, that move was difficult, but also exciting. From a young age, it taught me that my Dad’s call to ministry involved the whole family. 

This week, on a special episode of the podcast, our host, Jimbo, had his whole family on the channel to talk about the joys and challenges of having a family during a Replant. If you haven’t listened, I encourage you to listen to this one and take special note of a replant from his children’s perspective. These are good things to know, not just for Replanters but for all ministers and church leaders. To summarize, I’ll give a few topics of the conversation. 

Making Quality Time with Your Kids:

As your children grow up, what they will remember most and have the most significant impact on them is the time you have spent with them. Life is busy, and ministry is full-time, no matter what your job description entails. It seems like, in ministry, it is extra difficult to “leave work at home.” Though my children are three years old and six months old, they have already spent countless hours with my wife and me at the church on weekends or at my office for a few extra hours. 

There are times when that is necessary. We have full-time roles, and there are projects to complete and things to take care of. But when we get home after a long day, we put our phones away and spend quality time with our kids. For our 6-month-old, it’s laying on the floor, having face-time with her, holding her, and caring for her. For our 3-year-old, it’s playing with monster trucks and cars, running around outside, and watering the plants together. Our kids will remember those small moments, and it instills in them the love and care we have for them.

Maybe your kids are older. Sometimes, we forget that while our kids have different likes and interests, we can always put away our “things” and spend quality time with them. Don’t neglect quality time. Every once in a while, we must put the phone or TV away, play some games, and do some silly dances with our kiddos. You’ll be glad you did. 

Being Present at Home

Another way we can be intentional with our families is by being present at home. It is possible to be home without being at home. One example mentioned was being at home but checking work emails or working on your next sermon during family dinner to catch up. We must remember that our first ministry is always to our family. That extra 20 minutes for sermon prep may have to suffer a bit. I would rather have an underdeveloped sermon than neglect my family.

Focusing on our pastoral ministry does not have to come at the expense of neglecting our family ministry. This is why time management and balance are so important. If you have to, schedule every hour of your day so that you can schedule time to be present and intentional with your family. We must learn to say “not this time” when ministry opportunities present themselves for the sake of family time.

Raising them with Grace

Another great insight shared in this podcast was raising your kids to be good kids but not raising them to be a “pastor’s kid.” What do we mean? Children in ministry must not be raised with the impossible expectation of being a perfect, rule-following child as an example for other kids. In other words, we must not expect them to be ideal role models for the rest of the kids. Sometimes, we put high religious expectations on our kids, and they fear imperfection and feel the weight of pressure that no child should bear. 

We must raise our kids to be great kids, not perfect kids. Yes, others will look at them and watch their lives. But we should normalize authenticity and grace rather than a facade of perfection that even we cannot maintain.

Creating Core Values for Your Family

At the end of this episode, the Stewart family began discussing their core values. I talked about this concept with Jimbo and loved their ideas. After he and his wife talked about how to raise their children, they came up with some core values they would instill at a young age and include in meaningful conversations with them. The four values they chose were respect, integrity, self-control, and joyfulness.

As each kid spoke, it became apparent that this was a significant part of their upbringing. I want to encourage you, the reader, to think of the same thing to implement with your family. Even if your kids are preteens or teenagers, it’s still something you can do. 

Whether you are looking for a better work/life balance, learning how to lead your family spiritually, or struggling relationally at home, a good starting point is recognizing that if you have a family, your family is your first ministry. Let us know how we can encourage you to find the necessary balance in this pursuit.

Three Steps to Powerful Prayer in Your Church

A quote from Martin Luther hung in my grandparent’s bedroom when I was younger.  It said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”  I remember thinking how backward that seemed to me at the time.  If you have so much to do, wouldn’t it be better to start doing it? Spending three hours in prayer seems like you’ve wasted so much time on what must be a busy day! Now that I am older, I see the wisdom in Luther’s quote.  But I must admit… I don’t always follow his advice.

Perhaps you can relate.  Many church leaders see prayer as something we do before we get to the “real work.” We rush through prayer to start a meeting because we understand the value of “starting with prayer,” but not in spending time to offer an “effective, fervent” prayer (James 5:16, KJV).

On a recent podcast episode, Jimbo spoke with Rev. Rick Fisher, the Vice President of Blackaby Ministries, and co-author of the book, Developing a Powerful Praying Church with Dr. Richard Blackaby.  He stated that a praying church is one where “prayer is the foundation of everything you do.”  You may think that you have built a foundation of prayer in your church, but are you truly seeing transformative, exciting communication with God?  Or are you simply going through the motions of prayer to check off a box? Rev. Fisher discussed several steps to help churches and pastors move from a prayer life that feels lethargic and powerless to an effective and dynamic one.

man's hands clasped in prayer on top of an open bible

Step One: Evaluate Your Own Prayer Life

The first step toward a powerful, praying church is to start with a powerful, praying pastor. Rev. Fisher recognized that while he knew the cliches to say in prayer and how to vocalize prayer, he didn’t know how to communicate with God.  He wanted to hear from God, but often, God heard from him instead.  

You may wonder at the difference– what does it matter if we speak or God does?  But it matters a great deal.  When we never stop to listen to what God is saying to us, our prayer life becomes one-sided and dangerously close to self-serving.  We begin to rely on our own power to transform our church.  True communication with God, where we sit and wait for His response, reminds us that this is God’s church, not ours.  

Think about it this way: when you finish praying is there time for God to respond?  Or are you immediately moving on, content to have spoken to Him?  Just because you’re done praying, doesn’t mean you’re done listening.

Prayers that Seek God’s Face, not His Hand

As pastors, we often get caught up in praying for things that Rev. Fisher reminds us are in “God’s hands.”  “God’s hands,” he says, “represent what God does.” When we pray with our hearts focused on God’s hands, we look to experience God’s gifts of favor, blessing, or reward.  We hope to have our needs met and our expectations exceeded. 

By contrast, Rev. Fisher points us toward Psalm 27:8: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek..’”  If God’s hands represent what He does, then God’s face represents who He is.

When we begin our prayer earnestly seeking God’s character, it changes our prayers from self-focused to God-focused.  When we stop striving to convince God to move according to our wants and desires, it changes our hearts to recognize His sovereignty in all things and to relinquish control over them. When we are informed about who God is, we trust Him more.  

A powerful praying church begins with a pastor whose personal prayer life is one of submission to God’s character and who makes time to listen to Him, not only speak. 

several people are praying together with thier hands clasped

Step Two: Engage Your Church in Scripture-Filled Prayer

How often have you heard the phrase, “Let’s start with prayer,” followed by, “Now, open your Bibles to this chapter and verse.”  Rev. Fisher would encourage us to flip those two statements around. Your church doesn’t need to start praying without first beginning in Scripture.  If we pray to seek God’s face, we must first understand who He is– and there is no better place to discover that than in His Word.  Many times, Fisher says, “What you need to pray, what God wants to say to you, embed in you, and adjust in you comes right out of his word.” When we engage our churches to become powerful, praying people, we must first open our Bibles and teach them to do the same.  

If your Wednesday night prayer meeting has devolved into a litany of rote names and their various ailments, it may be because your church is praying without a true understanding of who God is.  They might need to be reminded through Scripture.  Fisher recommends starting your prayer time by opening up to a Psalm and asking the question, “What does this Scripture tell me about God?” He explains that having a proper view of God and His character gives your congregation more confidence in seeking Him and in trusting Him.  

For example, if we were to open up to Psalm 130 before we pray and ask, “What does this tell me about God’s character?” we can answer that God is forgiving, and He is merciful.  We can say that God’s love is steadfast and He is attentive to our prayers.  We are reminded to wait upon the Lord as we pray.   As we begin to pray, we are better able to trust God with the outcome knowing that He is in control and our circumstances are not separate from His love and mercy.

6 people of various demographics are joined at a table in prayer

Step Three: Pray with Purpose

Emojis have made it easy to water down prayers to a simple 🙏. We can post a quick response to someone’s prayer request before we mentally register what they even asked. “Thoughts and prayers,” has become so ubiquitous that even non-Christians post it as a knee-jerk response.  

If we’re honest, perhaps even in our prayer times at church, we have grown complacent with standard cliches and phrases.  We might even be guilty of praying without any thought at all.  How many of us can rattle off a night-time prayer we learned in childhood?  My grandfather said the same prayer every time he was asked to pray over a meal: “Dear Lord, make us truly thankful for these and all other blessings, we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”  At least I think that’s what he said– honestly, it was always said so quickly I barely even had time to close my eyes or bow my head before it was over.

If prayer is the foundation on which everything in our church is built, it deserves to be treated with respect. Rev. Fisher said he realized, “I had to stop saying things that didn’t make sense in prayer like ‘God be with us.’ We’re not asking God to be with us, He’s there. The better prayer is: ‘God, make us aware of how present you already are.’”  Adjusting the phrasing and the way he prayed showed his church the importance of praying with a purpose.

Specific Prayers and Specific Pray-ers

In Acts 4, we get a very close look at a powerful, praying church.  Peter and John have been arrested and tried before the Council and the early church Christians are experiencing persecution and trials. When they return to the church members, they don’t recite a thoughtless, memorized litany of requests and cliches.  Instead, the Bible tells us that they “lifted their voices together to God,” acknowledged His plan and faithfulness, and prayed for boldness to continue healing and proclaiming His name.

The early church’s prayer was answered.  The Bible says, “When they had prayed, the place they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”  They prayed specifically for boldness, and God answered specifically.

Rick Fisher asked this question: “Is there anything your church is praying for that could only be explained if God did it?”  We must be willing to pray specific prayers for our church– to ask God to do what only He can.  

We must also be willing to pray fervently, without ceasing, until the prayer is answered.  So often, we pray a few times and then stop.  We get bored or restless and then begin to try to accomplish things on our own.  But God doesn’t operate on our timeline. We must teach our churches to pray until God moves, whatever that looks like.

As pastors, we may also be guilty of being too willing to let someone pray corporately who frankly doesn’t have a solid prayer life privately.  We need to be specific in our prayers, but also in who prays!  Rev. Fisher makes this analogy: “We never think about asking a soloist to sing who can’t sing on key. Prayer is more important than singing. So why would we ever let anyone pray publicly who prays off key?”

Is the person praying over the offering in your services doing so because he is a righteous man, passionate about church finances being used for God’s Kingdom?  Do you know that he is praying over the church budget and prayerfully supports the ministries of the church in his private life?  Or did he just lose a rock, paper, scissors game before the offering was taken?

If you aren’t praying with your people, pastor, then you don’t know who is praying Spirit-filled, God-honoring prayers that truly communicate with the Lord.  You don’t know who is seeking the Lord’s face daily.

Powerful Prayers Deserve Powerful Praise

The final step toward developing a powerful praying church?  Celebrate answered prayers!  When your church has prayed specific, fervent, God-seeking prayers, and you see God move in specific ways, then that deserves a celebration.

Don’t be tempted to speak in terms of “we were lucky to experience this,” or “this was an accident.” Give God the glory for the great things He has done! We prayed, God responded, and God did this!  Remind your congregation of the times God has answered prayers in the past and encourage them to continue to pray and seek God’s face.

Rev. Fisher made this statement on prayer and I think it sums up exactly what prayer in our churches should look like: “Prayer is not merely a means of expressing our concerns to God but a divine invitation for God to lay His heart over ours. Through prayer, we align our thoughts and desires with God’s, allowing His perspective to shape our actions and decisions.”

I want to be a part of that!  I want my church to be a part of that!

For more information on Rev. Rick Fisher or his book, Developing a Powerful, Praying Church, see

Don’t forget to nominate guests for future episodes of the Replant Bootcamp podcast!

How Christians Engage with the Public Square


Agoraphobia: the fear of public places. 

This term is normally used when someone is afraid to go into public due to an anxiety disorder. But the word, “Agoraphobia” is associated with ancient Greek culture due to its origin. “Agora” translates to “gathering place” or “assembly.” Every Greek city-state had an Agora where there was a public gathering of citizens who discussed politics, philosophy, and heard reports from governing authorities.

It’s also where we get our word for the “Public Square.” Over time, the Agora became a place for commerce, justice, and religion. It was the focal point for community life in the Greek city-state. But today, the Public Square can be found in any nation, any city. Wherever there is a general location for discussion, from small tribes in Africa to the busy streets of New York.

In today’s digital culture, most “public square” conversations are held online, through social media and other online forums. Since Christians are represented in the “Agora,” and if Christians are commanded to make disciples and live missionally, we must not have a fear of the public square. So, how should Christians engage it with the gospel? Should Christians engage with political and social action, or should they disengage entirely to “keep peace?”

For Leaders

Last week on the podcast, we hosted Brent Leatherwood with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to discuss how Christians engage with the Public Square. If you’re reading this, you are probably a Christian leader who wants to steward your opportunity well.

First, leaders should first recognize the importance of helping Christians think biblically about political and social matters. Some Christians completely shy away from any political discussions. Either they get too overwhelmed, or they feel like they should separate from any and all worldly discussions in an attempt to “love not the world or the things of the world.”

But the Christian life is inherently cultural and contextual. Living on mission means we must understand our mission field, and that means being informed about the matters that affect our lives in the social sphere. The biblical examples are too many to count – Christians have always utilized their station in life to be the light of Christ in a dark world, and more often than not, that Christian living affects the public square in which they live.

Second, leaders must leverage the tools in front of them to disciple their congregations. God has lended the pulpit to pastors to preach the word. Pastors should carefully steward their time on Sunday mornings to help Christians exerise wisdom in their context. This does not mean telling your congregation who to vote for and dictating political responsibilities. But it does mean allowing God’s word to speak to contextual Christian living. As leaders, we cannot weaponize our opportunity, but leverage it in a Godly and peaceful way.

On the other side, we must not shy away from all discussion and ignore the issues surrounding us. Faithful preaching will simply preach the word, but make application of the word to the congregation.  If your church is a voting poll, or a gathering place during the week for city meetings, utilize your people and place to show the love of Christ to the community. For example, this can be done by handing out snacks and water bottles, and praying over people as they walk out. We must lead by example, helping our people see the need of living on Mission for Jesus Christ.

For Churches

The ERLC is re-launching a wonderful resource that helps Christian engage the public square. You can find the link here: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement. Please utilize this resource and apply it to your context.

Biblically informed, God-honoring engagement from Church Members is not just helpful. It’s needed. We need wise Christians to be an influence in every area of life, including politics, for the Glory of God. Here are three ways that Christians can engage with the public square.

Public Theology

E. Harold Brietenberg, in defining Public Theology, wrote a helpful article in 2003 called “To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Public Theology Please Stand Up?” In it, he defined Public Theology as, “Theologically informed public discourse about public issues, addressed to the church…as well as the larger public or publics, argued in ways that can be evaluated and judged by publicly available warrants and criteria.”

Public Theology can bring light and clarity to many cultural issues. In his podcast

Thinking in Public and The Briefing, Al Mohler explains the theological connections and issues associated with Cancel Culture, Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Abortion, and Transgenderism. As much as the culture exhibits a polarity of opinions related to this variety of topics, Christians should be able to articulate what they believe and why—a precedent set by 1 Peter 3:15.

Public Ministry

Mark Clifton says that Replanted churches must focus on “making disciples who make disciples who make the community noticeable better.” This said, churches in revitalization should place effort towards ministry in their community. Like Public Theology, Public Ministry is a form of political activism because it concerns itself with having activity in the affairs of the public square. Using the term “Public Ministry” is related to social action, but helps dispel the negative connotations associated with the Social Gospel Movement which helped give rise to the religious left today.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by announcing his personal fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Luke 4:18-19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When we minister in the name of Jesus, we are continuing the ministry that Jesus left to his disciples when he ascended into heaven, and we will continue ministering until he returns. 

Christians today involving themselves with any sort of public ministry should recapture the original intent of Christ’s ministry—to demonstrate his supremacy and restoration of sin, in all areas of life. Due to the complexity of cultural facets today complicated by time, sin, and population, Christians have many options for various public ministries such as pro-life ministries, sex trafficking ministries, justice ministries, medical ministries, and financial ministries. God places distinct burdens, gifts, abilities, and desires in each of us, and desires that we would be faithful in whatever calling He has on our lives. We need only to obey and magnify his Lordship while doing whatever task he has given us.

Public Office

 Finally, another great way Christians can practice political activism is by running for public office. This effort involves those who are especially skilled in leadership, but Christians in political office can have a great impact on society. Each Christian should consider their own vocation and calling on their life and consult their abilities and skills as well as support from friends and family before considering running for office. While Scripture does not specifically tell Christians to try and run for political office, it does contain numerous examples of characters who were types of governing officials and in positions of influence.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Paul’s greatest desire is that he would be known for the way he obeyed his Lord and the way he handled the truth of the gospel in all areas of life. May this ethical and evangelistic mindset be the every Christian who desires to actively engage their culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information, please see my thesis on this topic from SEBTS: Transformative Cultural Engagement in Political Activism. I hope it’s helpful. 

Resources for the Replant Wife

“You can’t be a pastor!  That would make me a pastor’s wife!  And I am NOT a pastor’s wife.”  These were the very first words I said to my husband after he confessed to me that he felt God was calling him to be a pastor.  (Encouraging, I know… Bear with me.) Some women attend seminary and meet their future husband while he is studying for a career in ministry.  She’s prepared to be known as the “pastor’s wife” for their marriage.  That is not what happened to me.  I was completely unprepared to be a pastor’s wife– my husband was in logistics at a warehouse. I never imagined God would call him to be a pastor and I would be a “PW”– I didn’t even know what PW meant!

Thankfully, God brought me around and I joyfully accepted this new role. I looked at it as a big, new adventure we would go on together.  My husband and I, in ministry, doing the Lord’s work.  Proclaiming the Gospel to hurting and broken people, together! What could be better than that?

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh man… She might be in for a shock.”  You’re right.  I was!

After 16 years in ministry, I can honestly say it has been a big adventure– one that has included many wonderful, joyful mountains, but one that also included several painful and dark valleys. Most of those valleys have happened in the season of replanting/revitalization in our church.  In those valleys, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone in ministry.  Looking at other churches, I would think, “They have it all figured out.  They don’t seem to struggle the way we’re struggling!  Maybe we just aren’t called to this.” Perhaps you have felt that way, too. If you’re a pastor reading this, I can almost guarantee your wife has felt that!

On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, host Jimbo Stewart spoke with three replant wives (one of whom is probably his favorite guest of all time) to take a look at the resources available to the wives working alongside their husbands in church renewal.

The Replant Wife Experts

A woman prays alone

During those moments of isolation and loneliness, sometimes all we need is a small reminder that we aren’t alone. This is where I found myself at the first Replant Summit I attended with my husband.  We had navigated some very discouraging and hard times in our church and we signed up hoping to be refreshed and renewed.  I was burdened with many needs, some spiritual and some within our own family. When I saw a breakout session for “Replant Wives,” I thought, “Nope.” The last thing I wanted to hear was how amazing life was for all those wives and how wonderful their churches were.

My husband convinced me to go, and I entered that room overwhelmed and anxious.  I sat at an empty table prepared to sit quietly and speak to no one. But before I could enact that plan, other women came to sit at the table.  These women were all so friendly and kind, and I found myself sharing some of my concerns with them briefly before the session even started.  They seemed to understand everything I had experienced.  They seemed like they “got it,” in a way that my other friends didn’t.  Those women were Audrea Stewart, Darlene Dryer, and Barb Bickford, the hosts of the breakout session and the spouses of Jimbo Stewart, Josh Dryer, and Bob Bickford, respectively.  Turns out, I hadn’t sat down at an empty table– I was at “their” table! (I had somehow missed the purses, laptop bags, and materials they had around the table.)

For the next couple of hours, I sat with many other women in the room as these three incredible women poured into us with biblical, practical advice for this journey.  They each shared their stories, complete with heartaches and struggles.  They were transparent and relatable, but also gently and wisely continued to point us each back to Christ and His leadership.  As we each began to open up with our own worries and anxieties, I realized I had been wrong. I wasn’t alone or isolated.  There were so many women struggling with the same issues I was– and these three “expert Replant Wives” had struggled with them, too!

I know these three women would object to being called “experts”– they are just wives who are doing their best to assist their husbands in this work of church renewal. But that day, Audrea, Darlene, and Barb gave us more than the resources of books to read, biblical passages to study, and tangible tools for problem-solving– they gave us the resource of friendship.  We were able to connect with each other, as women all over the room began to bond over shared trials, joys, and everything in between.  The connections I formed that day reminded me that I wasn’t alone.  The resource of friendship was something that I will never forget.

The Replant Wife Facebook Page- a Source of Connection

After the Summit, I went home and immediately joined the Replant Wife Facebook Group.  There, I get to interact with Audrea, Darlene, and Barb, but I have also met Replant Wives from the Midwest, the Pacific Coast, and the Northeast United States.  It is a closed group, so wives can be transparent without worrying about breaking confidentiality.  They can share their burdens and know that someone out there understands what they are going through.  They can share helpful articles and books they’ve read, but they also share prayer requests and biblical questions.  It’s a forum for pastor’s wives in church renewal, so there are even helpful tools for struggling congregations.

Some of the questions that are asked and answered are practical– “Has anyone done VBS on a budget?  What tools were helpful?” “Has anyone been involved in rewriting bylaws?  What did you run into that you didn’t expect?” “What is a great meal for unexpected company or for feeding a large crowd?”  These questions are answered by other women in the context of church renewal– churches with normative attendance, budgets, and resources.  Churches a lot like yours.

This online connection fosters a community.  Now, when I go to a replant conference with my husband, I can connect with the women I know from the Facebook page and get updates on their lives and ministries.  We look forward to seeing each other and catching up.  Our community has borne each others burdens and celebrated each others successes.  We are truly in it together.

The Replant Wife Website, Blog, and Podcast

women shaking hands in collaboration

Another important resource for Replant Wives is the website, which also houses the blog.  Audrea, Darlene, and Barb have all penned blog posts regarding common issues in this renewal life.  Audrea wrote on navigating the post-holiday blues, Barb has written a series on longevitiy in ministry, and Darlene is writing about finding joy in trials. Think of this website as the “landing page” for all things Replant Wife.  In addition to Audrea, Darlene, and Barb, there are also resources from Kathy Addis (wife of Andy Addis), Jeanette Pugh (wife of Colin Pugh), and Joyce Jackson (wife of David Jackson), each of whom bring their own stories of  ministry mountains and valleys.

In addition to the incredible resources the three women have cultivated, they also have links to NAMB’s replanting resources.  NAMB is consistently looking for ways to support and care for pastors in ministry and one of those focuses has to be the pastor’s family.  In a replant/revitalization, where there are potentials for seasons of change and conflict, this is even more important.  A pastor does not weather the conflict alone– his family will feel it, too.  His wife will need support and encouragement, and she can find it within those resources.

But I think the best resource the women leading this effort have cultivated is their podcast.  This podcast seeks to be a refuge for the replant wife to be equipped and encouraged for the work God has called her to do.  Listening to it, you feel like you’re sitting around with three friends discussing Jesus, the bible, ministry, and families.  There, the three women discuss their blogs and talk about important topics in church renewal. They take the time to really dive into scripture and give biblical, practical advice.  They remind the listener that she is not alone in this work.  But they also remind her that this work is God’s glorious calling.

For every replant pastor, there is a replant wife who needs to know she is not alone.  We are here for you and we want to hear from you!  The Lord has called us to bring dying churches back to life– that’s an amazing honor!

If you want to meet these amazing women in person, you can do so at the Am I a Replanter conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary April 5-6 or at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary April 12-13.  (And, yeah, their husbands will be there, too.)

Crises and Dealing with Change

This week, the Bootcamp sat down with Will Cofield, pastor at Central Baptist Church in York, South Carolina. Will shared some highlights of his ministry over the past 15 years at Central Baptist, where he started as the youth pastor. Throughout his time, he became the church’s pastor and eventually led them through a Replant. Now, Central Baptist is committed to loving God, loving people, and making disciples. They do this through specific goals you can read about here. 

One of Will’s passions is raising up church leaders and members to make disciples and help other churches revitalize and replant. The ministry of Central Baptist is one of many churches that have gone through the process, and not without hardships. As Jimbo and Will sat down to discuss this topic, Will shared relatable stories that many can identify with. Here are a few takeaways from the conversation:

The Breaking Point for Every Dying Church

What is the breaking point, the thing that every dying church must need before it undergoes any revitalization? Desperation. With desperation comes an understanding that there is nothing that we can do in our own strength to reverse the decline. We need the power of God, the leadership of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches.

As Will led his church toward this effort, they needed congregational repentance. They had to repent that their church did not have a history of loving God and loving others the way God called them to. It was only through repentance and desperation that the church yielded its ways to God’s ways and sought after him. Through that time came the decision to Replant.

Many churches will continue to hang on by a thread if they have people in the pews and money in the bank. As time passes, a window of opportunity starts to close. What will happen when it’s too late, and Jesus removes the lampstand? What will happen if the favor of God’s hand is removed from the church?

We need repentance. If a doctor diagnosed you with cancer and simply told everyone you just had a bad cough, that doesn’t make it any less deadly. We must ask spiritual questions to properly diagnose a church’s spiritual condition. Are we loving Christ as we should? Are we worshipping any idols? Does anything else in our church have our allegiance, devotion, and loyalty? The breaking point for a dying church is this: we must be desperate for God’s work, no matter the cost.

Suffering Stories Matter

As Will shared some of his stories, it brought up memories for me, as I’m sure all of our listeners, of the hardships we face in our churches. Suppose you’ve served in any leadership capacity at your church. In that case, you know that people are sinful, suffering happens, and usually, it teaches us something about life and ministry that we need for the journey. 

Consider these relevant, timely, and important verses from 1 Peter for situations of suffering in ministry:

1 Peter 3:13-14, “Who will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed.

3:17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

1 Peter 4:12-13, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed. 

1 Peter 4:16-17, “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it starts with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? 

1 Peter 4:19, “So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.”

The Bible teaches that suffering will be expected, and God uses typically suffering experiences to prepare us for the next season of life. And when we come into a situation after suffering for a little while, we usually have been tested, proven, and challenged in ways that only suffering can produce in us.

Jimbo’s advice for seasons of suffering is that we shouldn’t try to “fix it” by addressing the symptoms. Instead, we should sit in it, seek to understand it and move forward in God’s timing, not our own. If you’re struggling in some area of your ministry, know that God sees you. He is near, and we only need to trust him through it.

Biblical Truth & Beauty from Ashes

In ministry, we can see things around us go up in flames. 

Sometimes, turmoil causes us to question God, asking where God is through the turmoil. Do we not know the God that we worship? It is in his nature to redeem, restore, and make beauty from ashes. God’s work is often a refining work. He often brings us through hardship to bring us to something beautiful. Our experiences are meant to be life lessons learned only in a dark valley.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.” Isaiah 40:28

God has not disappeared from you; he loves you, and there is a point in the struggle you may be experiencing. Sometimes, the disciplinary hand of our father. Other times, the refining fire of adversity. No matter your church’s current or past turmoil, it can be repented of and given a fresh, new beginning.

We encourage you to rest in the Sovereign hand of God and allow him to do refining work in your life and the life of your church. Please reach out to us if we can help in any way.

Reflecting on the Life and Legacy of Dr. Henry Blackaby

Henry Blackaby

When we talk about “spiritual giants,” few names loom larger than that of Henry Blackaby.  His bible study, Experiencing God (co-authored with Claude King), was published in over 75 languages and has sold more than 8 million copies in English since being published in 1990.  Countless pastors, ministry leaders, and church members have been radically challenged and changed by the bible study and its subsequent spinoff studies, books, and devotions.  Blackaby also coauthored several other books with his son, Richard, including one near and dear to most replant pastors, Flickering Lamps: Christ and His Church, which tells the story of the senior Blackaby’s journey of replanting a small church in Canada.

I never had the opportunity to meet Henry Blackaby during his life.  But if I had, I imagine he would find my naming him a “spiritual giant” a little humorous. He simply wanted to be known as a “servant of God.” Blackaby was not someone who bought into his hype– he never allowed himself to fall into the entitlement that sometimes comes with fame. He was not someone who dismissed others or expected them to cater to him.  Instead, he served God humbly, doing the Lord’s work wherever and however he was called to do so.

Richard Blackaby sat down with Jimbo on a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast to discuss his dad’s life and the legacy he left behind.  

A Fearless Follower of God

Henry Blackaby didn’t believe in limiting God to what was practical.  Was it practical to move a family of seven from the US to Saskatoon, Canada to a church with only 10 people in attendance and an offering of only $90 for the previous month?  No.  But as Richard stated, his dad believed “Ten people can’t start a church, but ten people plus God can start anything God wants them to.”

When he was faced with questions about moving to this small church in the middle of nowhere, Henry Blackaby believed even if no one else understood it, God called him to it.  He truly felt that if God called him to go, God would provide for his needs.  He said, “God called me to this. If you’d been there when we heard from God, you’d be just as convinced as we were. The difference is you haven’t heard from God and we have.”  

Richard expressed that some people assumed his dad was impulsive, or that he just thought, “We serve a big God. So let’s just try and start a lot of things.” But that wasn’t Henry Blackaby.  Instead, he made a practice of remembering who the master is and who the servant is. He would say, “We’re just the servants. We don’t come up with a plan. But when the master tells us to get busy and fulfill his plan, we’ve got no choice but to get moving.”

Henry Blackaby believed that once you heard from God, you’d be crazy to stay where you are. He was a fearless follower of God.  He didn’t take unnecessary risks, but he believed in God and took Him at His word.  He trusted that God would do what He said He would.  He trusted that God was all-powerful and he was reliable.

An Encouraging Optimist for Others

One thing Richard learned from his dad was the power of a few minutes.  After Henry’s passing, people would stop Richard to tell him how much his father had changed their lives.  Many times, the story wasn’t about a book Henry wrote or a sermon he preached.  It was usually the result of a short, ten-minute conversation they had with him between sessions or during a lunch break.  And many of the stories centered on Henry’s encouragement as he poured hope into their lives.

We’ve talked many times about discouragement in ministry.  It is no secret that working as a pastor can be discouraging– even more so as a pastor in a replant.  Change is difficult and people who supported you in the beginning will occasionally turn on you.  Your family will struggle, many times emotionally, spiritually, and financially.  Your work may go unnoticed or unappreciated. Honestly, it can be exhausting.

It was in that season of discouragement and exhaustion when a pastor might find himself at a conference standing face to face with Henry Blackaby.  Dr. Blackaby was always willing to spend time talking to people and hearing their stories.  (Richard shared the story on his blog of the time his dad offered to sign his book for a couple of people on their way to a lunch break, and FOUR hours later, Richard found him still talking to people and signing their books.) Dr. Blackaby would take the time to listen.

For many pastors, those ten minutes changed their lives.  It wasn’t just a quick conversation for them.  It was a lifeline of hope in a season of doubt.  When they would tell Henry about all of the problems they were facing, he would say, “I know all that’s true, but what, what do you have? You have Almighty God. The ruler of the universe is in your church. He’s the head of your church. He’s the provider for your church. What more do you need when you have him?”  

That changed their perspective.  Instead of seeing the problems, they saw the opportunities for God to work in their ministries.  Instead of feeling discouraged about where they were, they felt hopeful about where they could go. They left the conversation excited to get back to their churches and see what God would do. Richard described his father as a “raging optimist,” and that quality was contagious for those who spoke with him.

Dr. Blackaby also took time to remind pastors that replanting and revitalizing their churches wasn’t all their responsibility. Yes, He called them to that church.  But it was God who would do the work of revitalization, not them.  He reminded pastors that their role was one of a willing servant. Richard stated that men who were feeling overwhelmed and inadequate would leave a conversation with his dad with the reminder that they didn’t have to solve every problem themselves. Instead, they could rest in the knowledge that God has never been scared or overwhelmed by the church’s problems. All they had to do was follow God’s leading in obedience.

A Legacy of Faithfulness

The Henry Blackaby family

When asked what lessons Richard had taken from his father’s life, he shared that he wanted to follow the ancient paths his dad had walked.  Henry, he said, walked in deep fellowship with God.  He didn’t sway, didn’t falter, didn’t lose sight of God’s leading.  Richard expressed a desire to follow that same pattern of faithfulness and to depend on God the way his dad had.

Richard also said that he learned to never treat any moment with someone as “ordinary.” If God is present, he said, nothing about that moment is ordinary.  That quote really sat with me this week.  When we look at that in light of Matthew 18:20, we realize any time two or more followers of Christ are present, He is in their midst. And if the Almighty author of the universe is present, that moment has an extraordinary, supernatural quality to it.  Whether I am in the car with my children, sharing a coffee with a friend, or just quietly sitting with someone who is struggling, that moment is holy and has the potential for God to move and do something incredible with it.  

Another lesson Richard learned from his father was to keep your family as your most important ministry.  Sometimes in replanting a church, we get so focused on rebuilding that congregation that we neglect to realize our own home is breaking down.  The truth is, you may not always pastor that church.  But you will always be your child’s father. 

I have seen this to be true in so many ways. Pastors who were gifted at leading and who built wonderful congregations have pushed their families to the side while they do the work of the Lord. Instead of looking at their family as a part of their ministry, they sometimes saw them as a hindrance to it.  And when you put your family behind the church, you run the risk of losing both.

An Ordinary Man and an Extraordinary God

As Richard points out on his blog, his dad “didn’t write a book or become famous until he was 55 years old. For most of his life, he served faithfully in relative anonymity.” Henry Blackaby wasn’t a famous pastor because he had a mega-church.  His church membership never grew over 250 at most.  He wasn’t famous because he was perfect.  He had frailties and faults like everyone.  He wasn’t extraordinary on his own.  He was extraordinary with God by his side.

When we look at our legacy– at the things we will leave behind– we must remember that the books we’ve written and the sermons we preach will fade. The degrees we worked so hard to earn will no longer hang on the walls of our offices.  The churches we’ve poured our lives into will be under someone else’s leadership.  What will last are the people we invested in.  The relationships we built.  The time that we took to speak life into others.  

We are just ordinary people.  But as Henry Blackaby taught us, our extraordinary God can do a lot with ordinary people.

Lessons from “Effective Interim Pastors”

In a church’s transitional stages, there is a big difference between an interim who simply fills the pulpit and an interim who is intentional in his ministry during that transition. I have seen interims who are there to simply “fill a hole” during the preaching hour, but I have also seen interims who are effectively leading change in a church that desperately needs it.

Every life stage in a church can be a pivotal moment. The transitional stage between pastors is one of the most unnoticed critical moments in the life stage of a church. Biblically speaking, there are many “waiting stages.” We must not forget that oftentimes that’s when God is up to something. We are told to “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

While a church is waiting on the next Pastor that God has called to their church, it is critical to have an intentional interim pastor in lieu. Even though this podcast is for Replanters, there are some important lessons we can learn from the tenure of an effectual interim. So, this week on the podcast, we spent some time with Scott Catoe, a Replant Pastor in South Carolina. As a result of his doctoral work, Scott has written a great resource on Effective Interim Pastors. 

Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

Relative Principles for Church Leaders

The goal of an interim pastor is to shepherd effectively while helping a church be equipped for its future. While some people think the goal of an interim is to “not ruffle any feathers or change anything,” Scott recommends a more gospel-centered way. In the book Effective Interim Pastors, he lists 8 principles to focus attention. This list is helpful as it relates to the work of a Replant Pastor: 

  1. Fear God more than man.
  2. Prepare God’s people for a hopeful future. 
  3. Settle crisis-level conflicts
  4. Teach the church to glorify Christ through decision-making
  5. Put in order what remains
  6. Lead the church to pray fervently
  7. Be directed by the word
  8. Equip the saints to fulfill the great commission

We encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Because while the position of an interim may not apply to you, the principles most certainly do.

Being Intentional

Sometimes, the phrase “being intentional” is thrown out a little too much. But the word couldn’t carry more weight than in the context of a church’s transitional stage. In the book, Catoe says, “When we fail to address sin, conflicts, disagreements, and brokenness in our churches, it does not simply disappear over time, rather it gradually embeds itself into the culture of the church becoming a part of the fundamental identity of the congregation.”

The need for change is urgent. But there is a balance in moving steadily, at a moderate pace. Don’t encourage complacency by failing to act, and don’t move too quickly that you fail to see the land mines around you. He says, “When sinful habits are reinforced over time they become strong points of contention early in the ministry of the church’s new pastor.” Interim Pastors (and Replant Pastors) may be tempted to run quickly towards your vision, but you must not fail to see the land mines that can blow up along the way.

Beware of “Hero Syndrome”

Sometimes, church leaders have “Hero Syndrome.” Hero Syndrome is the idea that its our responsibility to “save” the church and receive the glory for doing so. Such an idea can only come from a prideful and misunderstood heart. Remember that God alone can give the growth. We are planters and stewards. 

If we desire to receive the glory, we’ve missed the point. The cry of commitment from Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, not to us! But to your name give glory.” Let us point to the true hero: Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can change the heart of a person, so only Jesus can change the heart of a church.

Essentially the work of interim pastors is focused on making disciples. In the podcast, Catoe said, “The work of making disciples is a growing affection of Christ and a holy hatred of sin.” That’s what our focus should be. 

Scott says, “When we fear God more than we fear men, we are freed by the power of the gospel to love our church members they way God has commanded us. This means we can call them to repentance, show them the serious nature of sin, and point them to Jesus who will freely forgive according to his word, when we fear the Lord more than we fear men, we will understand that sin isn’t just an inconvenience. It is death, it brings death. It leads to death. The reality of the matter is that many declining churches and a great number of churches in transition have unrepentant sin that must be dealt with for them to see positive change.”

The Power of Partnership

A few weeks ago, my husband Will and I attended the AMS Lab from NAMB in Atlanta, Georgia.  Hundreds of pastors and AMS leaders from across the country gathered together to learn more about partnerships and collaboration in revitalizing dying churches.  We listened to several leaders discuss ways their associations and churches had worked cohesively for the spread of the Gospel and each other’s benefit.  We heard testimonies of how these collaborations bore the fruit of faithfulness, health, repentance, and revival. The message was clear: There is power in partnership.

In Genesis 2:18, we read that God formed Man and then came to an important realization: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now, we know that God then formed Woman and declared it “very good.” But the main idea was not merely for man and woman to be in partnership together– the main thought is that it is not good for man to be alone.  Over and over in God’s Word, He reminds us that collaboration is better than alienation

We often remind our congregations that God has formed our church like a body, quoting from 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.  We tell them that we all need each other, we all have different gifts, and that we all benefit from our unity.  And yet when it comes to churches partnering with other churches, many pastors neglect to foster and encourage partnership in their ministries.

On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo talked with Mark Hallock, author and Lead Pastor of the Calvary Family of Churches in Colorado, and Brandon Moore, Replant Specialist at NAMB, about the benefits of radical collaboration.  When we partner together, ministries flourish, churches come back from the dead, and pastors are strengthened.  On His way to the cross, Jesus prayed that the church’s unity and partnership would display God’s plan and His love for the world to see (John 17:23). 

God’s Command to Partner

Here is the truth of the matter.  Pastors who neglect to partner with other churches are working against God’s plan for the Gospel.  You might not realize it, but God desires us to be in close collaboration with other churches– not competition.  Too often, we get wrapped up in the human desire to grow our personal kingdom and not God’s.  

Of course, that’s not the language we use.  Pastors would never say they desire their kingdom to grow over God’s.  But when we hoard our resources for our gain, when we disparage the church across town (especially from the pulpit), and when we isolate ourselves from other pastors, we’ve created a “my church, my growth” mindset instead of a “God’s church, His kingdom” mindset.

God commands us to work in unity with other churches.  Our passion must be for God’s Kingdom to grow, because His plan is to reach the lost world through people– not only your church but mine, too.  His plan is for all of us to cooperate so that His name is magnified throughout the nations.

Where do I start?

At the AMS Lab, one of the phrases we heard from pastors and AMS Leaders was, “Partnership sounds great, but we don’t have that mindset in our association.  No one seems to want to share or to cooperate.” What a missed opportunity!

When pastors alienate themselves and build walls around their ministry, it typically signifies an area of personal weakness.  Maybe they’ve been hurt by other pastors in the past and they are hesitant to be vulnerable again.  Perhaps they are afraid to be transparent or admit that something isn’t working.  Or maybe it’s just good, old-fashioned pride that makes them feel like they don’t have anything to learn from someone else.  Regardless of the root issue, a pastor who “Lone Rangers” his ministry may need to evaluate his behavior and repent.

Often, one of the first steps toward collaboration is one of embracing humility. It’s one thing to agree we need pastoral friendships for encouragement, but it’s quite another to be willing to share resources like money, time, and leadership with fellow pastors.  It’s one thing to say, “I’m willing to help the church down the street,” but it’s different to say, “I don’t care who gets the credit, I just want to see God’s Kingdom grow.”  Humility offers us a chance to let go of our ego and step out of the picture, and it allows God to step in and do radically transformative work in both our congregation and in the other church.  Laying down our pride for the Gospel reaps fruit we can’t even begin to imagine.

Once we’ve embraced the command to partner with fellow pastors and churches, and we’ve repented of any pride or fear standing in our way, it’s time to lean in and pursue partnership.  Now I wish this was as easy as simply passing a note to another pastor at the next Association meeting that says, “Do you want to partner with me in ministry? Check yes or no.”  Unfortunately, radical collaboration takes a little more time and effort! 

To start with, you need to actually attend association meetings.  Those meetings aren’t merely to give you information and discuss everyone’s budget and church attendance numbers.  Those meetings are opportunities for networking with other pastors and for encouraging each other! You have something to learn from them.  The Holy Spirit indwells them just as He indwells you!  God has given them unique perspectives, experiences, and giftings that can benefit you, even if they are different than yours. 

Being a good partner in ministry means being a good friend.  When you’re at the meetings, ask good questions of your fellow pastors.  Pray over their churches.  Have someone from your church send them a card to encourage them.  Some of our best partnerships have come from having close friends in ministry.  Last year when we were gone on a mission trip, we needed help with our worship service– we were short a pastor and a worship leader.  We were able to call our best friends in ministry and ask for their help– and they sent a worship team over to lead our service, even though it meant their church struggled a little that morning.  Why?  Because we aren’t in competition, we’re in cooperation.

Maybe not everyone will understand your desire for partnership.  That’s ok. Start with a few guys who do.  Plan a night of worship and combine your campuses. Look for ways your church can help with their VBS (or vice versa).  Do you have a couple of talented musicians while their church struggles to have live music? Ask one of your people to serve there a couple of weeks a month. Not because you don’t love your church and your people, but because you’ve taught your church to love other churches. And before you know it, a funny thing happens when other people see radical partnership thriving… they’ll want to join, too.  That’s where you see the culture change.  That’s where the goal of “church growth” becomes “Kingdom growth.”

The Superpower of Partnership

Hopefully, by now you’ve realized that we need to partner with fellow churches for one very good reason: God commands us to!  But partnership isn’t merely a rule to follow.  Radical collaboration is a superpower.  Once we tap into it, the benefits to our ministry and our personal walk with Jesus are huge!

One of the main benefits of partnership?  We are better together! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”  There will always be times when ministry is a struggle.  I have a friend who swears her husband quits ministry every Monday morning.  Discouragement, disappointment, and feelings of frustration with church members or church politics can feel overwhelming.  But partnerships with other churches mean your problems aren’t just your own to solve.  You have helpers to pick you up and raise your arms, as Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17).

Another benefit?  Faithfulness in the ministry. A recent Barna study found that 65% of pastors reported feeling isolated or alone in 2022… that’s up from only 42% feeling that way in 2015. It seems many pastors are feeling like Johnny Cash when he sang, “I’ve got no one to tell my troubles to, no one to care to call my own. It seems that I must always be alone.” And when pastors feel isolated, they are more susceptible to temptation, hip-shot decisions, and leaving the ministry altogether. When you partner with other pastors, you have built-in encouragement, but you also have built-in accountability.  Your partners are also pastors who can tell you, in humility and love, where you might be going off-track.

Lastly, there is the benefit of having a cohort to help you navigate the complexities in the culture and society we face today.  We are dealing with aspects of culture that society has not wrestled with before and in our digital and technologically advanced society, these complex questions do not stop at the church’s front door.  Increasingly, these cultural issues are encouraging pastors to take a new look at their by-laws, their polity, and even their own personal beliefs. Having other pastors beside you as you walk through these decisions gives you a plurality of educated leaders that you may not yet have access to within your own congregation.

The Superhero of Partnership


I hope that you now see the superpower of partnership and the ways collaboration benefits your ministry.  Now, allow me to introduce a superhero who can help you in your quest for partnership– your local AMS.  

Hopefully, the local AMS at your association has been there long enough to have the one gift you need– the power of connection.  The AMS has an acute knowledge of not only the churches in his association, but of each pastor, and each congregation.  When you need ministry partners, there is no better place to start than your AMS.  Have a music/worship need?  He knows of a local cohort of worship leaders you can join.  He also knows which churches have large choirs and an abundance of musicians who may be able to join you for a while.  Have a question about polity?  He knows which church recently rewrote their bylaws, and what roadblocks they ran into, and he knows who you need to call at the state level for assistance.  Need help with VBS?  He knows the church doing theirs weeks before yours, and he’s happy to put you in touch with them so you can borrow their decorations when they’re done.

If you’re interested in hearing more ways your AMS and your local association can assist you in radical collaboration, the Replant Bootcamp has a podcast and blog on the partnership between pastors and Associations.  

Opportunities to Partner with Us

When we talk about partnerships between pastors and associations, there is no better place to explore that than at the Replant Bootcamp events.  We have several coming up, from two Am I a Replanter labs in April, the Revive Summit in May and September, and of course, through our website and archives.  

Don’t forget to let us know how much your ministry partners have helped you by suggesting them as future guests using the “Suggest a Guest” button!  We would love to hear your stories!

Know Your Context

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker.

You may be able to rightly divide the word of God. You may lead people, teams, and organizations. You may care well for those in your congregation. However, without understanding your surrounding context, it will be difficult for you to connect with your people.

Bob Bumgarner, guest on the Replant Bootcamp podcast this week, said, “Listening to the field will lead you to the future.” This statement emphasizes the importance of cultural exegesis. Cultural exegesis is paying close attention to the surrounding culture around you and being able to use that to minister wherever God has placed you. 

If you are involved in a Replant or Revitalization of any kind, cultural exegesis will be critical to consider, and there are several tools to help you in that effort.

Here are a few ways to be more intentional about your surrounding context, ranked from least to most important.

Study your demographic

In episodes 86 and 89 of the podcast, Josh Dryer helped us understand demographics’ vital role in your ministry. When I began working with churches at our association, we used a resource called Mission Insite to provide a detailed report of demographics in our area. Using those reports, I created customized demographics for all our churches and began speaking on Sunday evening services, doing a presentation called “Who’s My Neighbor?” 

While “demographics” sounds boring to some people, this presentation helped our churches understand what the most significant ministry needs in their area. Part of cultural exegesis involves thinking missiologically. If you use demographics to pull income information, average age, ethnicity, and family structures, ask yourself, “Does my church look like my community?” Demographics paint a picture with broad strokes to help us recognize how God wants to use our churches most effectively.

Be in your community.

Another way to “Listen to the Field” is by being active in your community. As a Replant or Revitalization pastor, you will do yourself a favor by being as active in the community as possible. Some of the most helpful conversations I have been in have been at the coffee shop, a football game, or a city council meeting. 

Please forgive me for quoting a Johnny Cash song instead of a theological book. Still, in the song “No Earthly Good,” Johnny says, “The gospel ain’t gospel until it is spread, but how can you share it where you’ve got your head; There are hands that reach out for a hand if you would, so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.” In the podcast, Bob said, “You can’t exegete your community from your desk.” Don’t forget that as a shepherd, you need to smell like the sheep. Be where your people are, and use your insight from the surrounding community to help you minister to their needs.

Listen to your people.

The best way to learn about your community and surrounding culture is to listen to your people. 

What do they fear? What do they value? What is essential for your church in this community?

After doing a “Who’s My Neighbor” presentation, one of our churches recognized the need to focus outwardly on their low-income neighborhoods. So, they consulted an agency to do food drop-offs and started doing a bi-monthly food giveaway. On the second Saturday of those months, I drive through their town and see cars lined up for miles. With each bag of food, they give away tracts and invitations for people to visit their church. It all started with a pastor asking his congregation, “What do you think are major needs in our community?”

Don’t forget that those congregation members have likely been in your town longer than you and will be there long after you are gone. As they listen to you preach the word, listen to their needs and let them lead their engagement in the community.

Be led by the Holy Spirit.

Mentioned in this episode was Henry Blackaby’s classic work Experiencing God. In the book, Blackaby suggests that we should look around, see where God is at work, and then join him in that work. Blackaby would say that we need to be led by the Spirit if we are seeking to engage our communities where we are. 

The Holy Spirit’s work involves prompting, convicting, and leading. If we are walking by the Spirit, expect to think of prompted ways you can understand and minister to your context. Karl Bart once said we should “Have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in another.” Use scripture to exegete your culture. One example given was in Acts 6, where there was a need that arose among the apostles. The widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. The word of God continued to spread when the apostles addressed the need, listened to the people, and met the community’s needs (Acts 6:1-7).

My encouragement to church leaders is that we would not be tone-deaf to the culture but would instead be good students of the culture. While the gospel’s message never changes, ministry opportunities sometimes change around us. If we study the people and listen to them while we are in the community, the Holy Spirit will lead us to minister effectively for the glory of God.

Creating a Rhythm of Rest and Renewal

“It’s just a busy season.” 

“I just need to find a better balance.”

“Once we’re through this, things will slow down.”

“I just need to get back to a normal rhythm.”

If I had a dollar for every time my husband or I have said one of those phrases in the past twenty years of ministry… Well, let’s just say we wouldn’t need to have five jobs between us! 

I’m sure you can relate.  Pastors and their families often feel overworked, overburdened, and overstimulated.  We look at the December calendar, take a deep breath, and plow through the busy holiday season of multiple services, Christmas dinners, small group get-togethers, end-of-year meetings, children’s plays, and family time only to flip the page and realize January is full, too.  Easter sneaks up on us before we can blink, and then BAM– we’re in the center of summer with VBS, youth camps, the SBC convention, weddings to perform, and maybe we can squeeze in a family vacation before school starts.  Before we know it, the year has gone and we’re back at Thanksgiving, looking ahead to the Christmas chaos again.

And if we’re honest– we don’t even have the energy to plan the following year’s calendar because if it looks like this year… we aren’t sure we’ll make it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Andy Addis, a friend of the Bootcamp and fellow Replant laborer, talked to Jimbo recently about his new book, Rhythms.  Andy explained why we need rhythms, how to establish rhythms, and most importantly, what God says about rhythms in our lives.

The Rhythm God Established

When we read Genesis 2:2-3, we see God do something interesting.  The creator of the universe stops, pauses, and rests. Why does He do this?  Is He tired?  Is He worn out from all the creating and designing?  Does He need to rest?  Absolutely not.  God does not need human rest. But God knew we would!

God didn’t rest for His sake, He rested for ours.  God established this pattern of rest after work for our benefit, so we would see the importance of a set apart, intentional time of rest.  But we ignored that pattern and stayed overworked and overburdened. In fact, by Exodus 20, God commanded that we honor the Sabbath.  Instead of a mere pattern to follow, we now had a command from the Lord.

We know that this is something God desires for us to do and a law He wants us to follow.  As Andy pointed out on the podcast, “pastors will be disqualified for breaking commandments [murder, adultery, or lying]. But do you realize that the fourth commandment is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?”  It’s not a small thing to break one of God’s commandments. But so many pastors I know break this one every week.

The Rhythm You Need

Why is it so important that we honor the Sabbath and establish a rhythm of rest in our lives?  Because a pastor who is overworked and out of rhythm is most likely also a husband and father who is out of rhythm.  And that busyness without rest leads to a phrase we’re hearing more and more lately: Burnout.  If you crash and burn in ministry, you will likely find another type of job.  But if you experience burnout in your family… you lose everything.  

The truth is, churches and ministries in general will take everything you have to give.  They aren’t the bad guys, they just won’t draw the boundaries for you.  It’s up to you to draw those lines in the sand and say, “I have to institute some pauses for my health and for my family’s well-being.” No one else will do this for you.  

As pastors, we often don’t have the luxury of having every week go according to plan.  While we might look at a calendar on Sunday and map out our week, a congregation member’s death on Monday and the ensuing funeral on Thursday will have us completely out of step.  We might think we have built-in margins in our schedule but throw in an unexpected need for pastoral counseling and a few hospital visits and those margins evaporate.

The Rhythms of Renewal (and Rest)

Rhythm is not just about rest, although that’s certainly part of it.  We need rest, yes.  But we also need renewal– we need time to reflect on God’s Word, refresh our souls, and replenish our energy tanks.  This is no mere vacation– because let’s face it, most of us need a vacation from our vacation, especially if there are small children involved!  Instead, we must establish regular times of renewal.

I offer the following recommendations on rhythms of renewal with the following two caveats:

  1. This is a broad overview.  Andy’s book goes deeper into each of these rhythms and has a workbook on how to implement each of them.
  2. We do not recommend attempting to implement all of these rhythms at once.  Instead, work on one at a time, and go from ones within your control to those that need further input or require structural change.

The Annual Rhythm

The first rhythm Andy suggests is an annual sabbatical break. Ideally, pastors should take three weeks off: one for a vacation to spend intentional time with their family, one for time to study something new, and one to plan. 

Now when we talk about a week of study, we don’t mean a week to do some heavy theological lifting.  This is “restful studying.”  It is studying with purpose, of something that you want to learn.  Maybe it’s a new hobby, a new interest, or a new language.  Maybe it’s baking the perfect loaf of sourdough bread, or attending a writer’s conference, or apprenticing for a week as a pyrotechnician.  You’ll need to dream a little to discover what would feel both reenergizing and restful to you.

When we talk about a week to plan, this is not “back in the office, back to normal.”  This is time to spend with God reworking discipleship pathways or revamping the church calendar.  This is an intentional time to focus on leading the church well.

This annual rhythm of renewal ensures that pastors are not just surviving but thriving in their roles. This is particularly important if you are a longer-tenured pastor as we have discussed before.

The Regular Rhythm

Another crucial rhythm is a regular break every six to eight weekends.  This break allows you as a pastor to be out of the pulpit at least every other month.  This intentional break creates time for personal spiritual growth and for family time.  Your church can hear from another perspective and your family gets to have you in a normal role of father and husband instead of pastor.

I can speak to this rhythm personally.  My husband has used the past year to establish a theological training program for men in our church and surrounding churches who are called to preach. Not only has this provided them with valuable knowledge and theological education, but it has also established a pipeline of men who are qualified and equipped to fill the pulpit.  On those weeks when they preach, my husband can focus on something other than sermon preparation. That is hours he wouldn’t have otherwise.  

The Bootcamp dove a little deeper into this subject on a recent podcast, where we shared helpful tools for establishing a similar pipeline at your church and within your context.

The Weekly Rhythm

Another rhythm to implement is the weekly rhythm.  This involves designating one day a week as a true Sabbath day of rest.  For most pastors, this will NOT be Sunday.  Sunday for pastors is just like gameday for an athlete.  You aren’t resting this day– you get up early, preparing and planning, and you are most likely up late, closing up the church after evening activities.  This is a work day for you, and you won’t likely find “soul” rest on this day– even if you’re fortunate enough to get in a Sunday afternoon nap.

When we decided to establish this rhythm, we chose Friday as our day of rest. My husband and I are both fortunate enough to have the same day off since we both work in ministry. You may have to find a different day or use a different time frame (maybe Friday night to Saturday morning). For us, Friday is sacred. Nothing goes on the calendar on Fridays.  We try not to set an alarm or have specific plans unless those things are set aside for an activity that we find engaging in our lives and spirits. Now– it isn’t perfect.  There are Fridays when a hospital visit must be done or someone needs us to be at an event of some sort.  In those cases, we try to carve out Saturday if we can.  But the goal here is progress, not perfection.

The Daily Rhythm

Finally, we have the last rhythm of renewal, the Daily Rhythm.  In this rhythm, Andy encourages pastors to choose two out of three parts of the day (morning, afternoon, or evening) for work and leave the other one for family time.  This intentional approach ensures that the family gets dedicated time and attention, preventing the exhaustion that comes with working non-stop. By planning family activities during specific day parts, pastors can create a healthy balance between ministry responsibilities and personal life.

For example, the pastoral training class my husband leads is every other Thursday night.  Since he will be working on those specific Thursday nights, he takes time for rest that morning.  Or he may take the afternoon to go for a motorcycle ride through the backroads.  When our children were younger, he might grab lunch with them at school on a day he knew he would miss dinner.   

Dividing your day into three parts and leaving one open for rest and renewal allows you to be present with your children and your spouse while still recognizing that there are unavoidable church responsibilities that fall under your leadership and role.

Get Rhythm

Johnny Cash once sang, “Get rhythm when you get the blues.” But here’s a greater truth– get rhythm and maybe you can avoid the blues! Start small and gradually incorporate these practices into your life. The goal is to move from the trap of constant busyness to a sustainable ministry that allows for rest, family time, and personal growth. By embracing intentional rhythms, pastors can model a balanced life for their congregations and lead by example in navigating the demands of ministry. 

If you want more information on pastoral self-care, establishing boundaries, and leading without burnout, be sure to sign up for The Replant Summit in 2024.  You can also check out our blogs and podcasts on these subjects by searching for those topics on our website and browsing the resources listed on NAMB.