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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.

 

 

Stages in a Replant: Harvesting

What Comes Next?

Looking back at your time in ministry, if you’ve worked through the 4 stages of a Replant, here are some things that you’ve been doing.

  1. You’ve plowed the ground by continual prayer and preaching of the gospel. 
  2. You’ve planted gospel seeds by infusing the gospel into every ministry, every sermon/teaching, every member you have.
  3. You’ve watered those seeds by focusing on intentional discipleship in your congregation and the growth of your people.
  4. You’ve witnessed how God is working through growth: whether that be through the spiritual growth of your congregation or the physical growth of new people coming through community engagement.

This is it. You’re doing the work of ministry. It’s effective. But while there are many moving pieces included with all of this work, there is one thing that we should be careful not to forget: just as disciples should be making disciples, leaders should be developing leaders.

The Necessity of Leadership Development

Our team has developed a 5th stage of a Replant due to how crucial it is for the future of your church: Harvesting. What is Harvesting? In Episode 167 of the podcast, we said that harvesting is the process of identifying, training, and utilizing leaders from your congregation to assist and carry on the work of the ministry. As spiritual growth occurs, leaders are actively engaged in intentionally discipling and raising up new leaders. The term “Harvesting” could be compared to gathering the crop together and putting it to use right away.

As leaders ourselves, we cannot neglect the work of developing new leaders to carry on the work of the ministry. I’m sure you’ve heard the statement: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” John Maxwell says, “When you raise up and train leaders, you impact yourself, your organization (church), the people you develop, and all the people their lives touch.” If we put that statement in the setting of a local church, here’s what we would say:

When you, as a pastor, raise up leaders in your congregation, you impact yourself, your church structure, your congregants, and all the people who your congregants will encounter. 

Many Problems Stem from Lack of Leadership

One of the most common requests for pastors and leaders is their need for more leaders, more workers, more servants, more helpers. As a Replant or Revitalization Pastor, you may do everything you can possibly do alone, but you’ll fall apart in the process. You need people to pick up the baton when you need a break or when you leave. You also need people in the everyday work of ministry who can lead in your weak areas. Leaders are not perfect and we are not superman. We need others who can lead alongside us.

Here are some scenarios: You fall ill. You move on to the next assignment the Lord has for you. You pass away. You take a leave of absence. Whatever the case is, think about this: what happens to all the plowing, planting, watering, and growing that has happened? If leaders are not in place to continue that work, the church can fall back into the same place they were. Our ultimate goal is not to build our own kingdom, but God’s kingdom. That’s why we must develop leaders from the congregation. If we aren’t identifying and raising up leaders to carry on, we are missing the joy of a multiplying congregation and the blessing of obedience.

Practical Ways to Identify and Develop Leaders: 

  1. Keep your eyes always open — watch and see how people interact with you and with others. Who are the people that your church members talk about on a regular basis? Who do people go to for advice and biblical questions? Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame football coach, once said, “You’ve got to have good athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is.” Our work looks a little bit differently than recruiting college football athletes, but we must also keep our eyes open to see who could be developed as a leader. A leader is not always an extrovert. Many personality traits are helpful for different situations. While I can’t give an exhaustive list here, see the last paragraph for a list of resources and articles on the character traits of a leader.
  2. Spend time personally with those individuals. Provide opportunities where you can watch and see how they lead. Though some people have natural leadership abilities, they may need some training and oversight. 
  3. Show them the way you do ministry and model an example for them to follow. Deliver knowledge and coaching to them. Use a resource to work through with them. Provide them with the space to ask questions and be intentional in the process. The three ways that leaders are developed are through experience, knowledge, and coaching (not necessarily in that order).
  4. Delegate responsibility to them with oversight. Watch them lead – with a caveat. Bob recommended in the recent podcast to wait until you have a disagreement or conflict resolution with the person. If you are unable to come to a resolution with someone you are trying to develop, it may be time to slow down and give some more training.

The Biblical Rationale:

  • Apollos

To use the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord. He already had some background being trained as a leader…but Apollos’ theology was not complete. He was well studied in the scriptures, but he only knew the Baptism of John. Apollos was probably teaching people how to repent and turn from their sin, but he was missing the other side of repentance: faith in Christ Jesus. But when Priscilla and Aquilla met Apollos, they identified him as a leader, and taught him more accurately. Here are some ways he was a natural leader, and some traits we need to seek out in identifying leaders.

Competent in the Scriptures: Spoke and Taught accurately (v. 24-25)

Fervent in Spirit: speaking boldly (v. 25-26)

Greatly Useful to Ministry: (v. 27)

  • Jesus’ Inner Circle

Next, we could look at the life of Jesus. Jesus chose 12 disciples to follow him and spent every day with them for three years, discipling and pouring into them. But Jesus intentionally discipled Peter, James and John out of that twelve. The following scriptures show Jesus pulling aside Peter, James, and John to minister to others, to reveal himself to them, and to teach them to do the work of ministry:

Healing of Peter’s mother in law: Mark 1:29-31

Healing of Jairus’ daughter: Mark 5:21-43

Mount of Transfiguration: Mark 9:2

Garden of Gethsemane: Mark 14:32-33

When you read the book of Acts, the only disciples mentioned by name out of the original twelve are Peter, James, and John. They took leadership responsibility. Peter preaches, Peter and John heal a lame beggar, Peter and John are brought before the council, Peter and John were sent to the Samaritans, James – pastor of the church in Jerusalem, is martyred for his faith. 

  •  Paul’s development of leaders 

Next we could look at the example of Paul, who sought to develop leaders like Titus and Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Titus 1:5 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”

There are numerous examples in scripture of leaders being developed, but these are just a few that give us the necessity as it relates to the local church.

Final Thoughts:

In his book called, “Designed to Lead,” Eric Geiger argues that the church is the most important place that leadership development can happen. He says:

“Notice that we are NOT saying that the locus of the Church is leadership development, but that the locus of leadership development is the church. Please do not miss the difference. The locus of the Church is and must be Jesus and His finished work for us…The center of the Church is the gospel, but the center of leadership development must be the Church – meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church.. These leaders carry with them, into all spheres of life and culture, the conviction of people who…have been brought from death to life through Jesus. These leaders are designed to serve others, because they have been first served by Christ. God has designed his people to lead.”

If we truly believe that the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel to the world as an assembly of called-out believers, how can we do so if we are not developing leaders within? 

For more information, see the following resources on leadership and leadership development: Designed to Lead, Building your Leadership Resume, The 360 Degree Leader, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, and the Character of Leadership. 

 

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*

Stages in a Replant: Growing

THIS BLOG POST IS PART 4 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor. 3:5-7)

The Beautiful Tale of Two Churches

What makes a church grow? Is it our clever tactics and ideas? Is it our sheer willpower and dedication? How about that new Revitalization book you picked up? While all these components are helpful, none of these actually cause growth in a church.

It’s best if we give credit where it is due. We may never realize how God is working behind the scenes in people’s lives, and how he uses the church to accomplish his purposes on Earth. But one thing is for certain: God causes the growth.

Two churches in our association have seen unexpected, beautiful growth. When I started as an AMS about a year ago, one of our churches was very close to shutting down. They could only afford to pay their pastor a meager salary of less than $50 a week, their numbers had shrunk to less than 10, and they were in danger of closing. When I heard their pastor left, I knew this church had to have some attention and encouragement.

I got sucked into work very quickly and for my first month, I wasn’t able to go visit them or meet with their leadership. That is, until one day, one of their congregants came to see me. Here’s how the conversation went. (I’ll blank out the name of the person and church).

“Hi, Caleb. I’m ________ and I’m from __________ Baptist Church. I’m sure you’ve heard what’s been going on by now.”

“Yessir. I have heard. I have to apologize. I’m new here and I haven’t got around to visiting yet. I’m so saddened to hear about the church and I want to let you know that I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

“Help? I mean we would love for you to visit, but I don’t think we need help at this point. I just wanted to come by and meet you.”

I looked at him, confused. “Sir, I thought your church was in danger of closing.”

He continued: “We were nervous a few weeks ago, but I think we’re okay now. There’s a young man from a neighboring church who has felt a call to ministry. He came to fill in a few weeks ago for us, and we love him! Several of our members have come back, and he’s started a new kids and youth program. Last Wednesday, we had 15 kids! That’s more than we’ve had in a long time!” 

I was stunned, relieved, excited, and hopeful for the future, all at the same time. And guess what? I didn’t lift a finger. There was nothing I could feel pride in with my own work, because I did nothing. But I boast in Christ. I know he cares about his church, and if He wants to cause its growth, He will.

Church number 2 is another beautiful story that’s still in the works. One day, I had a phone call and an email from someone sending in their ministry resume. It was a retired pastor who moved down to the beach, and wanted to do an interim ministry close by his beach home. 

Shortly after I received his resume, another struggling church in our association lost a pastor. This is another church that has about 15 regular members. When the pastor left, I went to work and met with their chairman of deacons. I handed the resume for the retired pastor, and told him to give him a call. 

Three weeks later, the church had 54 on a Sunday morning!! I’m blown away at the gracious hand of God. His power, and His kindness are evident in this church. Was it something I did? Was it my amazing pass-off of that resume that did the trick? Was it my driving skills in the parking lot of their church??

How can we explain this?

Unexpected Growth often means God is at Work

Isn’t it just like our God to do the unthinkable, the unexpected, and the extraordinary? When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 3, we must realize the type of prolific apostle that Paul was. The apostle Paul was an apostle, a missionary, a preacher, a church planter, and a passionate minister for Christ. He was one of the most important and influential figures in the New Testament. If there is anyone who could have written books on church growth and church health, it was Paul. Other of Paul’s writings describe the work of ministry he did. It included evangelism, preaching, teaching, caring, and so many other roles. But Paul never took credit for the work of God in growing a congregation.

Even Paul would only call himself a planter, who planted seeds for God’s glory. Apollos was just a waterer. But the growth did not come from Paul or Apollos, but God and God alone. 

In Episode 166 of the podcast, Bob and Jimbo give us a good definition for the “growing stage.” Growing is when the fully developed seed of the gospel springs up and is evident in the life of those inside the church. It is marked by changed thinking and living, and is evidence of God’s work in the lives of the people – spiritual growth.

So, What Do We Do?

If God causes growth, and sometimes it is unexpected, why should we do anything? Why should we continue to labor and strive in a very difficult ministry? Because God uses his people to accomplish his purposes. He uses his gospel to motivate us to obedience. He uses his people, sharing His word and preaching His truth, and seeking his face in prayer,  to bring new life to a dying congregation.

Our role is in the grueling work of planting, watering, planting, and watering. Sometimes, the seeds will sprout up, build strong roots, and grow. In Mark 4, Jesus gives a parable about a sower who goes out and scatters the seeds. Some of the seeds don’t take root, and they wither and die. Some of them grow up, but get choked out by the world. And others take root and grow into a strong plant. The sower must first cast the seed for anything to happen with the seed. If we sit back and do nothing, rest assured that no growth will happen.

Even if we use my example of Church 1, God was working in a young man’s heart, calling him to ministry while he was being mentored by his personal pastor, and he was sent out to get “pulpit experience,” in this neighboring church. If God wasn’t in that, who was? Growth happens in the church when God chooses to respond to two things: our cry for help and our faithfulness in sowing and watering the seeds.

Don’t Be Discouraged, Pastor

“Okay. What gives? You said that God causes growth. Well my church isn’t growing, and I’ve been at this work for a while now. What now? Is it me? Is there something spiritually wrong happening?”

I’m not sure any of us can answer those questions. We can’t be sure of reasons why you haven’t seen the growth you desire. But here are a few encouraging words to keep in mind as you keep working in this ministry:

  1. Be Patient. Remember the missionary Adoniram Judson. Judson was in Burma for 6 years before seeing a single convert. It took 12 years to see 18 converts. Judson served in Burma for 34 years. Afterwards, a survey in Burma reported over 200,000 Burmese were Christians. God may never show you the results of your labor in this lifetime. But if you get to see growth in your tenure, know that it is a blessing from God. 
  2. Be Faithful. Be faithful to plant gospel seeds. Be faithful to water those seeds with discipleship. Love people, care for your congregation, preach the word in season and out of season, keep on running the engine, and take breaks when you can. God will honor your faithfulness to this work.
  3. Look to Christ daily. If you look to your own efforts, you will be prone to be discouraged or prideful. Discouragement comes when you don’t see growth. Pride emerges when you do see growth, but you are taking the credit for your work. Look to Christ, acknowledging that only he can keep you both encouraged and humble.
  4. Address spiritual concerns regularly. If growth is a work of God, it would make sense to make everything we do a matter of spiritual significance. Address conflict and sin in the church. Lead your church to pray. Teach on church health. Regularly talk about being a Kingdom-minded Christian. Teach how the gospel applies to life. Let your congregation see the God of the Bible. When you do this, even your congregation will see that this growth really does come from God alone.

A tremendous resource on these topics would be Johnathan Leeman’s A Word Centered Church. Also see Gary Macintosh in Biblical Church Growth. I’ve always been intrigued reading John Piper’s responses to questions on Desiring God, so here is a great article on this topic. 

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

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.

Stages in a Replant: Watering

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 3 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

Replanters and Revitalizers Must Water Seeds Faithfully

In our series, we have looked at 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 each week. This week, we will focus on the work of Apollos in verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” What was the work of Apollos? What did it mean that he watered? Let’s see what the scriptures tell us about Apollos in Acts 18:24-28:

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in (the) spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus… he greatly helped those who through grace had believed,  for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Apollos’ work was primarily in the work of discipleship. He was learned in the scriptures as he had been instructed in the ways of the Lord. Simply put, he had been discipled. This created a passion in him to also disciple others, as the word says he “helped” those who believed. Apollos proclaimed the gospel and was empowered by the Spirit for the help and edification of believers and the defense of the faith to skeptics and doubters. He performed that role intentionally – watering the gospel seeds that had been planted.

If a church is not watering these gospel seeds, the church will remain at surface level, with no real growth or movement. And just like a seed that has taken root, if not nourished, the seed  will eventually die. Both in Bob’s article and in Ep. 165 of the podcast, Replant Bootcamp talks about some components that may be absent from a declining church: 

  • Consistent and clear communication of the gospel message
  • Exegetical teaching from God’s word
  • Spirit empowered preaching
  • Practical application of God’s truth to everyday life
  • A powerful apologetic for Jesus in the culture

If we truly want to see growth in our work of ministry, we will have to commit to long-term, continual watering.

We have to be committed to the following: 

  • Sermon preparation and evaluation
  • The centrality of the Gospel in their teaching
  • The devotion to and reliance upon The Spirit in all of the processes involved in preaching (Prayer, Planning, Preparation and Proclamation)
  • Equipping and challenging the congregation to respond in obedience in everyday life

Commitment and Consistency

Replanting and Revitalizing churches is not for quitters or “greener grass syndrome.” Once you start, you truly do have to be committed for the long-haul. 

It takes the average person 7 times hearing the gospel before a conversion. It takes the average church replant

5-7 years to be self-sustaining. It takes explaining a vision for ministry again, and again, and again before a church finally sees what you see. Replants must have consistent leaders who will be faithful to the calling on their lives.

When farmers plant their seeds, it takes long, consistent work for the fields to bring a harvest. Sometimes there are cycles – years when crops produce and years where they don’t. You can’t let the difficult seasons turn you away quickly. There is a sense in which replanters and revitalization must have “thick skin” and bear the complaints of some to endure and produce a harvest for later.

The Grueling, Dirty, but Necessary Work of Discipleship

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to finally lead a friend to Christ. We had an encounter months ago that was a divine appointment from God. It began a friendship over several months that resulted in him making a profession of faith and getting baptized alongside his partner. We had spent so much time together and I was witnessing a dramatic change in this young man’s life. And then, life got busy.

 

Life got busy for both of us, and everytime we tried to find time to hang out, we struggled to connect. After a while, I started noticing that our friendship was drifting, and he was falling out of regular fellowship with the church. But in God’s own time and in his own way, he’s brought us together again. When I had the chance to lead him to Christ, I told myself, “My life is committed to this brother. And the calling God’s given me is to disciple him.”

Where did this discipleship-mentality come from? It came from an elderly man named Cleo. During my freshman year of college, I began visiting a church. Cleo decided that for a year, he would pour his life and soul into me, and teach me how to obey Christ. Cleo helped me understand that discipleship was woven into the fabric of scripture. He taught me what Christ meant when he said, “Follow me,” and, “…teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded.” The impact he made in my life has been an eternal impact. Because of him, I want to pour my life and soul into others.

Disciple-Making 101

In the past decade, there has been a major uptick in the work of disciple-making. In a previous generation of Christian living, much of the emphasis on Christian responsibility has been in the world of evangelism. But these two worlds should never have been disconnected, for in the Great Commission, Jesus explains how a disciple is made.

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)

Most scholars will agree that the main focus of this passage is on the Greek word mattetuous or make disciples. If this is true, we should find in the text an answer to this question: How is a disciple made? Jesus explains that it is by going, baptizing, and teaching. Going is related to Evangelism, and teaching all things is related to the word Discipleship. 

Simply put, here’s how a disciple is made: Go to them with the gospel. When they convert, baptize them as a public declaration of their new identity. Then, start the hard work of teaching them to obey Christ. Therefore, the work of making disciples includes both evangelism and discipleship, not one without the other. 

Let’s say you and your spouse have news of pregnancy. You might “prepare the ground” by getting ready to have a child: you buy a bassinet, decorate a bedroom, and purchase diapers and wipes. Then, that child comes into the world. When you bring the baby back home, what happens next? Do you leave it alone, hoping it will find its way in this world? In the words of Paul, “God forbid!” You would take care of that child by nurturing, caring, feeding, giving it safety, as he or she grows and matures year after year.

Even then, we never finish the process. In his book Multiply, Francis Chan says, “It’s much like raising a child: though there comes a day when she is ready to be on her own, the relationship doesn’t end. The friendship continues, and there will always be times when guidance and encouragement are still needed. In addition to that, God continually brings new people into our path, giving us fresh opportunities to start discipleship all over again.”

Water is Needed for Survival

Human beings cannot survive 3 days without water. Plants can shrivel up and die if they aren’t given enough water. And just like seeds have to be cultivated with water to grow, so do we. Except our spiritual nourishment does not come from Dasani or Aquafina. Our spiritual nourishment comes from continually feeding and drinking in the word of God as others teach and share with us. 

When we are connected to the written word, we are connected to the Living Word. In the words of Jesus, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)


If you’re looking for the perfect model of watering seeds in discipleship, look no further than the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus spent nearly three years with his followers, teaching them, feeding them the word, explaining to them, being patient with them, and leading them. It was a difficult work. The disciples often fell into pride and sin, but Jesus did not give up on them. And we cannot give up on watering seeds and investing into the lives of others around us. If God uses his church as a vehicle to reach the lost, he uses his followers to disciple others in the faith. 

For more information on watering seeds, discipleship, and growth in the faith, check out the following resources: Multiply, Growing Up, Rediscovering Discipleship, Discipleship Essentials, Transforming Discipleship, and The Master Plan of Discipleship. Among the plethora of others, The Navigators have great discipleship resources, as well as TGC.

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.

Stages in a Replant: Planting

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 2 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

Fellow Workers in God’s Field

Have you ever planted a seed? Maybe you are active in gardening every spring and cultivate your own seeds. Maybe you have only planted in an Agricultural class as a student in High School. But if you have ever carefully placed that seed in fertile soil, you know the experience of placing hope

You may be burying that seed in 2 inches of dirt, but once you place it there, it is outside your control. Sure, you may water that seed, or place a pot in the sunshine. But the forces of nature that cause it to grow are completely outside of your control. 

When we sow seeds in the lives of others, we are placing hope in God: that He will give growth to our efforts. The passage of scripture we looked at last week gives the premise for the four stages of a Replant. Again, it’s found in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

Last week we focused on plowing: which is primarily the work of God as we are seeking Him in prayer and preaching the word. But this week, we are looking at the work of planting seeds.

What Kind of Seeds are These?

When we talk about planting seeds, we are talking about sowing the Gospel into the lives of others. In Episode 164 of the podcast, Bob said, “The planting stage is the work of the pastors and leaders to faithfully cast or sow the seed of the gospel into the lives of the people and the culture of your church.”

This does not simply mean articulating the gospel behind the pulpit every Sunday, although that is extremely important. It means that every ministry, every meeting, every service, team, and event is saturated by the gospel. Many think the gospel stops at message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and this message doesn’t carry into our daily lives. But while the gospel message is simple, its implications for daily life are profound.  The gospel even impacts the way we manage our ministry on an operational level.

Seeing Things Through the Lens of the Gospel

For example, churches can get caught in routine, continuing programs and functions for the wrong reasons. They think if they stop that program or function, they’ll feel guilty for stopping what once brought success in the past. However, the gospel frees us from trying to please God with our works. Christ has accomplished the work for us. Instead, we are now motivated to serve the Lord with gladness. Not out of obligation, but out of gratitude. 

In Creature of the Word, Geiger, Chandler and Patterson offer this helpful insight on how the gospel impacts even programming:

“Because church programs communicate, we must consciously bring the gospel to bear on them. Perhaps in analyzing your programs, you’ll discover that you schedule activities or programs because of guilty obligation. The gospel, on the other hand, frees us from feverish attempts to appease God with religious activities. The gospel frees us to say no and to rest from our work because we trust His finished work.”

God’s people will find so much more joy in their service when they recognize that it’s the gospel that compels them to joyful obedience.

Daily Application of the Gospel Transforms Us

Our whole hope is in the gospel, and our dependence is in its power for our lives and the life of our church.

Consider this quote from Thune and Walker’s book The Gospel Centered Life:

Many Christians live with a truncated view of the gospel…(the gospel) is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation. It is not simply the deliverance from sin’s penalty, but the release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification).”

There could be many reasons behind a church’s decline. It can be multi-layered and complex. But most decline comes as a result of a lack of understanding and growth in the gospel. We must do the hard work of planting the gospel seeds in every member, process, program and policy of the church.

In Jerry Bridge’s book The Discipline of Grace, he provides commentary on Romans 3:19-26, and then gives us his conclusion: we must daily preach the gospel to ourselves. In a Replant situation, leaders must teach and equip their congregation to do this very thing. He says this:

“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

The gospel is not just a message that saves us, it’s a message that continues to work in us.

Practical Gospel Orientation

We must look at Gospel orientation as a filter. If you read any business or leadership books, they talk about how a vision statement must filter and guide everything you do, every decision you make. In a church, the gospel is the filter by which we do everything.

The gospel impacts the way we do children’s ministry, youth ministry, disciple-making, and even the financial team! If the gospel is our lens through which we view giving, we recognize that we can demonstrate the same type of outrageous generosity that God has shown us in our giving.

One rule of thumb would be to ask the question: How would Jesus do this, if we led this ministry? If he led this part of our church? Do our programs and events demonstrate that the gospel has the power to save? Or do they conclude that we are trusting in something else?

Our ingenuity and cleverness is not enough to make an impact and initiate change. We need the gospel to give life to the things we do, dedicating time and energy to personal relationships. This is  sowing the gospel into lives of others.

What Does This Look Like?

  1. Faithfully proclaiming the gospel from God’s word. According to Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of salvation. We must be intentional if we are preaching God’s word to tie things back in with the gospel. God’s story of redemption is woven through all of scripture, so let it speak for itself and never forget to tie your sermon back into the accomplished work of Christ for us. 
  2. Dedicating time and energy to disciple-making via personal relationships. The gospel changes the way we maintain relationships. We should be practicing the discipline of helping others grow in the gospel that they have received. This is what Jesus said when he says, “…and teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
  3. Examining and evaluating all aspects of church life in light of the gospel. Are programs duty-based or grace-based? Is your ministry focused on simply showing kindness to people, or proclaiming the truth of the gospel to them?
  4. Extending the gospel message beyond the walls of the church through empowering its members to love and serve their community by demonstrating and declaring the hope we have in Christ. 

Leader, Pastor, Replanter: do not ever underestimate the power of the gospel in your church. Remember, you are a fellow worker with God as you are casting seeds of the gospel in everything you do. “and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 164 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. See some of my favorite books on Gospel Integration in your church: What is the Gospel?, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, and the Explicit Gospel. Next on my list is Darryl Dash’s book, How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to Everyday Life

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Stages in a Replant: Plowing

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 1 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT. 

Potential Change on the Horizon

There is something to be said for churches who have chosen the Replant option. For churches who are ready to change, it requires boldness and energy mixed with a soft and willing heart. 

Replanting has a high risk, but a high reward. It requires patience, stability, regularity, prolonged unity, and a leadership team that is “all in.” While there exists the possibility of conflict, frustration, and spiritual warfare, the end result of a replant can be a new, vibrant church that is focused on discipleship, mission, and community. 

There are surface changes we may do in Replant, but there are some underlying, primary things that give a structure to Replanting. In his work with NAMB, Bob has done a great job in developing the four stages of a Replant. The focus on this blog is the first stage: Plowing.

Who Will Give the Growth?

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul gives an agricultural illustration of the result of a fruitful ministry: 

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to this labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

When it comes to the work of ministry, we may do all we can to implement strategies, ideas, and plant seeds. We may have others that come along with us and help water those seeds. But at the end of the day, God is the one who causes the growth. If this is threatening rather than reassuring, you may need to pause for a moment and reflect. See if there is any pride in you. The growth of a church does not depend on your clever tactics. It depends on God. This should be a comforting thought, as we realize that God alone can bring new life.

Fellow Workers, Plowing in God’s Field

Paul still recognizes that even though this is God’s field, we are his fellow workers. We still have a part to play! But our role is primarily in preparing and creating space for God to work. In the first stage of Replanting, we find ourselves Plowing. In order for new Gospel seeds to take root—the hard ground must be plowed, broken up and turned over.

Plowing is the work of God in preparing the ground through prayer and preaching. When we pray, we are expressing our dependence on God. When God’s people pray, God moves! When we preach the Gospel with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, God works in the hearts of His people. During this first stage, we are mainly focusing our church spiritually by prayer and  faithful preaching of the word.

There are also some practical ways that we can “prepare the ground” and create space for God to move. Outside of regular prayer and preaching, what does the work of “plowing” look like in a Church Replant?

  • The Cessation of the “Well Worn”: Plowing breaks up what was in order to do what’s next. Sometimes this takes place by rethinking a favorite program, a music style, a favorite fellowship, or a message on the sign outside. In seeking to find what’s next—the congregation, Pastor and leaders must pray and plan together, relying on God to lead the way.
  • Disruptive Force: as a plow breaks into the ground it cuts, separates, lifts and turns over. Hard ground is transformed more and more into soft earth as the steel edge of the plow repetitively breaks into the ground. God’s word regularly and rightly proclaimed while empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the disruptive force that breaks into the hearts of people. The Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Spirit will serve to disrupt and dislodge the hard ground covering fertile soil.
  • Persistent Plodding: The hard places won’t be softened with one message, one prayer, or one strategic action list. Plowing is the regular, constant work of prayer and preaching. It takes faithfulness and consistency, because it takes time for hearts to be softened.
  • A Christ Centered Commitment: Jesus admonished his followers by saying that anyone who put their hand to the plow and then quit—is not worthy of his kingdom. Revitalization and Replanting Pastors know that turnarounds are never short—many experts believe it takes between 5-7 years for a once in decline or nearly dead church to come back to life.

John and the 70

The work of plowing takes selfless individuals who are passionate about the gospel. When I think of a Biblical Example of “Plowing,” I can’t help but think of John the Baptist. When John was born of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Zechariah prophesied, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sin…” (Luke 1:76-77).

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and preparing the way of the Lord, by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” (Luke 3:3). He was doing the work of plowing. Through years of silence and awaiting the promised Messiah, the ground had become hard and difficult. So much so, that many were unwilling to believe that Christ was the Messiah. But many hearts were prepared and ready to follow Jesus due to John’s work in ministry.

Lastly, the work of plowing takes a team. In Luke 10:1-3, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. He appoints 70 of his followers (or 72 depending on translation) to go into every town and village where he is about to go. Their message was to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near,” (v. 9, 11). The 70 appointed followers were sent out by Christ to plow the ground, to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Before they were sent out to all the towns and villages, he made a statement that gives life to our agricultural illustration: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

I truly believe that the work of Replanting involves a right understanding of our mission field. Do we believe that the harvest is plentiful around us? What God wants us to do in this work is to create opportunities for Him to work on people’s hearts. In doing so, we will be preparing the way of the Lord.

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 163 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. While resources on prayer and preaching are abundant, here are a few of my personal favorites: Faithful Preaching, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Preaching by the Book, Preaching for God’s Glory, Power Through Prayer, Prayer, and Prayer

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Spiritually and Organizationally Healthy

What Measures a Healthy Church?

When someone says, “We have a pretty healthy church,” what do they mean? For some, this could mean they have an increasing average attendance in their weekly worship. For others, their finances are in pretty good shape and they have plenty of money to remain open. But if we think much deeper, and we look to the word of God, we will find that attendance and giving are not the only rubrics for church health.

And while attendance, finances, and facilities are important, we cannot use them alone to identify a healthy church. A church can have great attendance and wonderful giving, but be spiritually filled with sinful behavior, disunity, and immaturity. How, then, do we gauge what a healthy church looks like?

Spiritual Health vs. Organizational Health

In many of Paul’s epistles, he does not give advice on numerical change, suggest input on budget outflow, or concern himself with a church’s number of events and ministries. Although these things are important, Paul is much more concerned with the overall spiritual health of their congregation. In 2 Corinthians 13:11, Paul concludes his letter by saying, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 

Again in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul says this: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

These scriptures, among several others, teach us that the spiritual markers of a church’s health are Love, Unity, and Maturity. Read the following passages of scripture, and evaluate their context: Romans 12:9-13, 1 Cor. 16:13, Galatians 6:1-5, Ephesians 4:1-7, 1 Thess. 4:9-12, Colossians 2:12-17. In these passages, Paul was not addressing one certain individual, but he was addressing the church as a whole. When writing his epistles to Corinth, Philippi, Colossae, or Ephesus, Paul wanted the church to be unified, loving, mature, and living holy lives for God’s glory. 

If we evaluate Paul’s epistles, Jesus’ interaction with the Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-16) or Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelation 1-3, we find a common theme: Jesus cares deeply about the health of His church, and his concerns are primarily spiritual.

Should we just forget about attendance and giving?

While health concerns of a church are primarily spiritual, that does not mean that other factors are unhelpful to observe. Spiritual Health is of first importance, but Organizational Health is also helpful and necessary. 

Organizational factors are unavoidable. If you are in a building, if you draw a salary, then you are in an institutional church. And if you want that organization to be healthy, there are different markers to help gauge that just like there are to the people of God inside the church. A church will have difficulty succeeding if they have troubles with their finances, attendance, or facilities.

Markers of Organizational Health

In Ep. 144 of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob talked about three major ways we can understand a church’s organizational health:

Decentralized Leadership means that the responsibility of leadership does not all rest on one person. The importance of team leadership is invaluable in a church setting. When leadership is done by a team, better accountability exists. Ideas are more thought-out and sustainable when working together to understand the best models for ministry. God can use different experiences, personalities, and leadership styles to move a church forward together.

Next, a church needs Dependable Resources. Having dependable resources means finances are reliable, vital staff members are paid well, facilities are dependable, and church policies and processes ensure that ministry runs effectively. In Revitalization, many churches get hung up on this particular topic. But, if spiritual health is the primary concern, the outflow will contribute to these factors as well. For example, if a church talks about the heart of giving, sacrifice, and ministry, they will contribute more to the kingdom of God. Or if a church captures the heart of evangelism and disciple-making, higher attendance is a result.

Lastly, a church needs De-Personified Alignment. This means that the mission, vision, and ministry philosophy does not all come from one person. When the whole church gets behind their mission, and they are unified in their ministry, they are much more likely to be about the work of the ministry. However, personality conflict with one leader can derail a church’s mission. They must be all together. 

Both Trellis and Vine

When we talk about the health of a church, we have to ask the right questions: are we talking about the organization? Or are we talking about the body of believers? In organizational health, we must recognize some common concerns when the church is in decline. We have fewer in attendance, fewer people giving, and our facilities are falling apart. Some people might say, “Let’s just not worry about numbers.” Saying that would ignore very important aspects of organizational health. Why are we declining in attendance? This question must be asked.

The organization is only the scaffolding or trellis for the vine. While they are both important, spiritual health should drive organizational health, not vice versa. In a book called The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall says, 

“…most churches are a mixture of trellis and vine. The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing, and tending the vine. However…Christian ministries also need some structure and support. All christian churches, fellowships or ministries have some kind of trellis that gives shape and support to the work of the ministry. Management, finances, infrastructure, organization, and governance all become more important and more complex as the vine grows.”

Putting it All Together

We are responsible to steward well what we have been given. We can’t focus on one aspect of this to the neglect of the other. If we just focus on organizational health, the body will be there just to serve and sustain the organization. Unfortunately, that’s the attitude of a lot of dying churches. Their major concerns are those things. We also can not neglect organizational health and only focus on spiritual health. If we do this, we will have no structure, there will be confusion and chaos. Being a health and balanced church means that we are focused on both spiritual health and organizational health.

For more information on church health, see the following resources: Ep. 144 and Ep. 136 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. 12 Healthy Characteristics of a Healthy Church, a resource developed by Brian Nall in Pensacola Bay Baptist Association. Pick up Mark Dever’s well-known book on church health, or Bill Henard’s helpful book on understanding why churches decline. If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

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