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Don’t Miss the Role of Relationships in Ministry

During the start of our replant at Central, my husband was doing double duty as both the youth pastor and the senior pastor.  And while he was working hard and doing both jobs well, there were definitely times where he simply couldn’t be everywhere at once. One of those weeks was our yearly Vacation Bible School.  He needed to be with the kids and their families at VBS, but also needed to be able to lead the youth VBS.  A volunteer saw there was a need and stepped in to lead the youth, and a man who felt called to preach offered to give the messages each night. 

This man was a new Christian and a recent member of the church.  He had enthusiasm for preaching and for giving his testimony.  He was willing to call out and confront sin.  He was bold in his approach to teenagers and felt strongly about the necessity of preaching about Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately, he lacked one thing– he had zero relationship with those students. They didn’t know him or trust him, and he hadn’t listened to their stories enough to know them.  They listened to his preaching, but he couldn’t meaningfully connect to them on a personal level.

While he had a passion for preaching, he had failed to recognize the three key ingredients for ministry: Ministry is about relationships, relationships, and relationships. 

Without Relationships, There is No Ministry

a sanctuary sits empty

I have often heard the joke, “Ministry would be a lot easier if it wasn’t for all the people.” And it’s true– replanting a dying church might be easier without confronting sin, changing minds, or having difficult conversations about long-standing traditions. 

But without the people, what have you replanted? A church without people is just a beautiful, empty building.

In Episode 199, Jimbo and Bob discussed the danger of missing people while doing ministry. When we start seeing people as the problem and not the solution to the problem, we miss the most important factor of our ministry.  Relationships are the guiding factor of every ministry of the church.

Evangelism Must be Relational Evangelism

When we think of evangelism, we may initially think of the revival evangelist or the old gospel tracts that used to be given out in door to door evangelism. (I was once given a gospel tract under the stall in a gas station restroom– true story).

While those methods have their places, we have found that far more often, the unchurched world responds better to relational evangelism. In a study by LifeWay, 79% of unchurched people said they don’t mind a friend who really values their faith talking about it with them.

As pastors, there are going to be people who you cannot reach. They may be uncomfortable talking to a pastor, especially if they have experienced church hurt in the past. Many people still believe they have to act differently in front of a pastor or clean themselves up to have a conversation.

Fortunately, there are people in your congregation who have relationships with those people already. They are their co-workers, family, and friends. They have greater opportunity to share the gospel with those in their circle of influence than you ever will.

But if you haven’t cultivated relationships with those in your church, they will never feel comfortable bringing their unchurched family and friends into your presence.  

Cultivating relationships means we must be willing to listen to the people to whom we minister. Active listening is a crucial piece of relational evangelism. Hearing someone’s story gives you insight into why they act the way they act and into how they think about the world around them. Johnny Rumbough, DOM/AMS of the Lexington Baptist Association in South Carolina, asks three questions when he begins working with a church.  First, tell me your Jesus story– how did you come to know Christ?  Next, tell me your church story– how did you come to this church? And third, does anyone else know these stories? Those three questions give incredible insight into the people he is leading– where they are spiritually and emotionally.

Unfortunately, many of us fail to employ active listening skills. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to hear and slow to speak, but many times we are too caught up in telling our own stories, arguing our points, or simply waiting to move to the next thing on our agenda. We rush to speak, leaving others feeling unheard and unloved.

Evangelism is about relationships.  You have to know people to reach people.

Discipleship is Relational Discipleship

a group of people read their bibles together

As a replant pastor, one of your main goals is likely starting a new discipleship program or revamping an existing one.  In doing so, you may want to start addressing sinful behavior and stubborn attitudes immediately. But without relationships, you run the risk of resenting people and seeing them as the enemy instead of loving them and leading them well, and as Mark Clifton has said, you can’t reach what you resent.

Loving people is central to our calling not only as pastors, but as followers of Jesus.  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus answered that it was loving God first, then the second is like it- loving people! We cannot escape the command to love others.

Yes, loving someone can mean telling them the truth about their sin– but that truth must be surrounded by care for the person’s well-being.  We must recognize that without relationships with people, we have very little “buy-in” to speak truth into their lives.

When we are creating discipleship pathways and programs, we have to remember that people are at the center of it.  Real, flawed, broken people– and we are real, flawed, broken people leading them!  Our own selfish ambitions can push us to move too fast, go too far, or simply forget that people need to feel loved.

Relational Discipleship takes time and effort.  Sure, it would be far easier to just hand someone a list of behaviors and tell them to change. But we aren’t called to simply tolerate people or to force change on them.  We are in the unique and wonderful position of encouraging people toward spiritual growth and development!  It’s a greater blessing to see your congregation as friends and family who are growing in their faith!

Community is a central human need.  Hebrews 10 reminds us that we as believers need to encourage each other, all the more as the day of the Lord draws near. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3 that we must forgive each other, and bear with each other, but above all “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Loving people brings unity.  Do you have a divided church?  Build relationships with those on both sides of an issue and encourage them to find ways to show love to the other side– you’ll be surprised at how quickly division turns to unity.

Ministry is Relational Ministry

a strip of shorter grass is mowed from tall grass

Without relational ministry, you have no ministry.  It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult. Before you begin planning new programs, processes, and pathways, you must build relationships.  You cannot skip this step. You have to make the Lord your number one and people your number two. And all of your systems, programs, and processes have to serve those two things. 

There used to be a saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  I think that’s because God designed us that way.  When we feel cared for, loved, and safe, we are able to express our fears, desires, and needs more readily.

This is especially true if you are trying to meet the needs of the community around you– particularly if your church has been resentful or hurtful to the community around it in the past.  Before you offer to help someone, they need to know you care about them.

Let me give an example: There is a house beside your church with knee-high weeds and grass.  It’s obvious they aren’t going to cut it, and it’s an eyesore.  So one Saturday, you grab a group of volunteers and head over to cut the grass.  They call the police and accuse you of trespassing and the relationship with that family becomes a hostile and angry one.

Now, imagine if you went over, introduced yourself, and got to know the family.  You realize that it is a single mom with young children who is working two jobs to make ends meet.  Her lawnmower broke a few months ago, and she hasn’t had the money to replace it and even if she could, she doesn’t have time to cut the grass.  Her children are too young to help, and she’s doing all she can.  She confides that she would love a yard her children could play in and feel safe in.  You ask if it would be alright if you had some people come over and clean up the yard, making it a safe space for kids to play. She knows you care and want to help, so she is excited to have the church’s involvement in her life.

In both scenarios, you’ve done ministry in your community.  But in one, you’ve built a connection and cultivated trust.  In another, you’ve damaged the relationship, possibly irrevocably. 

People Need You, and You Need People

When you forget that your primary ministry is building relationships with your community and congregation, you will run people over in the name of progress. You will become a bulldozer instead of a builder. 

Ministry requires relationships with people.  To go back to the old joke, yes, ministry is easier without people– but that’s because without people, ministry fails to exist! 

 

3 Ways to Recover from Church Hurt

Every one of us has had painful experiences in our relationships with others. This is because when sinners do life together, we are bound to be selfish, say hurtful words, and do hurtful things. Relationship “hurt” is unfortunately inescapable, and if we’re honest, we have been the culprit at times. But what do you do when someone gets hurt by the Church? 

The term “church hurt” has become increasingly popular in modern culture, but the concept is nothing new. I’ve talked to many people through the years and often ask, “Do you have a church home somewhere?” When they say “No,” I will sometimes press a little further. “Why not?” Their answers are not usually a difference of beliefs or a lack of desire. Instead, one of the most common answers people give is, “I’ve been hurt by the church.” 

Church Hurt is Real

See if any of these similar answers are familiar to you:

“I didn’t feel welcome.”

“I don’t trust religious leaders.”

“The people were too judgemental.”

“They weren’t supportive during a time of need.”

“I’ve just had bad experiences at the church.” 

All of these responses are related to Church Hurt in some type of way. Worse, there are many who have suffered abuse, manipulation, and mistreatment within the church. We may be quick to dismiss their response as unfounded and insignificant. But the truth is  people have had real hurt from others, and we need to be careful in our reaction. We all can take part in helping people reconcile relationships, seek healing, and understand the gospel of forgiveness. 

Pastors Face Hurt, Too

Church Members aren’t the only ones who get hurt. Pastors can be victims of this as well, and sometimes more severely. Forced termination, secret meetings, harsh criticism, gossip, and lack of care are all examples of hurt that pastors experience. 

The pressure of ministry can sometimes feel insurmountable. In the podcast episode this week, Jimbo and Bob help us understand how to endure church hurt and bounce back from painful experiences. If you are reading this as a church member, a pastor, or a replanter, here are a few ways that you can recover from church hurt.

#1. Evaluate Your Experience with Self-Awareness

I cannot stress how important self-awareness is. Two psychologists came up with this definition: Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If that wasn’t clear enough, I’ll put it another way: step out of your emotions of the situation and internally think about what actually happened in your hurtful experience. 

We need to separate in our mind what feels true, versus what is true. 

Without diminishing the experience of church hurt, I fear that we are too quick to highly-sensationalize our hurt and project it on to other people, oftentimes using friends as a sounding board. 

If we were to step back and survey our experience of hurt, we could probably come back with some observations. We know all people are sinners. We know that sometimes people say hurtful things. We know that not all are as spiritually mature as others. And we know that sometimes, our feelings control our responses instead of rational thinking. As Bob mentioned in the podcast, “We’re not as great as we think we are, and we’re not as bad as we think we are.”

Should church hurt ruin your experience of church all together? Don’t let a few experiences destroy your ability to love the church as God’s bride that will one day be sanctified. We should face the rational truth that the “Church” doesn’t hurt people, and God doesn’t hurt people. Sinful people within the church hurt people. 

The church is universal. And if a relationship is unable to be reconciled, you may end up seeking a new church. But to drop out of church altogether shows that you think that all churches will hurt you in a similar fashion. This is simply not true. To learn the ability of self-awareness means that you know your identity. And you must be able to cut through the noise of your emotions and think about how to handle the situation to bring God the most glory.

#2. Seek Reconciliation with the Parties Involved

I wonder how many believers have gone through a hurtful experience and never sought reconciliation of any kind? The scriptures are clear on what we are to do if a brother sins against us:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

The problem is  we are so quick to ignore this command, and we don’t even try Step One. We go straight to the church (we begin to gossip and win people to “our side”) without first going to our brother or sister. If we were to obey this scripture that Jesus teaches, we would probably win over (or win back) our brother or sister without it ever going to the church and creating more of a mess than what it actually was. 

If our church hurt comes from a verbal exchange, it’s best to go to that church member and say, “My brother, I’m not sure you realized that when you said _________, I felt like you were saying ___________. This was hurtful to me.” I wonder how many times we would see the grace of reconciled relationships, if we simply tamed our tongues and went directly to the source of the conflict. 

If God sent his Son to die on a cross and save you of your sins, he can give you the power and ability to witness his grace and forgiveness between believers. Immaturity, hurtfulness, and selfishness can come from a church that is not eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. 

But we are called to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. There is a difference. Peacekeepers seek to drown out the noise, find some points of agreement, and bury the conflict. Peacemakers address sin, rebuke it, encourage repentance and reconciliation, and move on with grace and forgiveness. This promotes maturity in the church and a unified spirit, while peacekeeping shows a lack of care and hides sin beneath a rug.

By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we can seek reconciliation from church hurt and move on with one another in the work of ministry.

#3. Be Patient in Seeking Recovery

I admit and agree, not every hurtful experience ends with friendship and hugs between parties. Some of these experiences are real, damaging, and require some separation. It may be necessary for your health to separate from a relationship, especially if it’s a repeated pattern of painful experiences. While it may be true that time heals wounds, it only heals if there is intentionality in pursuing health throughout the experience. And the closer a person is to you, the more hurtful the experience is.

But the work of ministry and the expansion of God’s kingdom is bigger than our earthly relationships. There are some ways in which we can, “bear with one another in love,” to continue serving together in the same body of Christ, even after a painful experience.

One biblical example of this hurt would be between Paul and Barnabas. “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left . . .” (Acts 15:38). In Paul’s relationship with Barnabas, there needed to be some time they spent away from one another. After a “sharp disagreement,” they parted ways, but still continued on with the work of ministry. Interestingly, near the end of Paul’s life, he said this to Timothy: “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry,” 2 Timothy 4:11.

After a hurtful experience, we must begin leaning forward, and not get stuck. It’s easy to drown out in isolation and be alone. But healing takes more time when we are alone. My encouragement is this: surround yourselves with counsel and solid friends as you recover. If needed, seek professional help as well. Because the work of ministry must go on. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” If I need healing, I know I need close friends around me, praying for me.

While church hurt is real and painful, keep this in mind: we will only experience hurt on this side of Heaven. And we have a day to look forward to in which “pain will be no more.” While we are on this earth, let us not only seek God’s grace to recover from pain, but let us also extend that grace towards others around us. Painful experiences are a part of being human, but we can control how we handle it, to the glory of God.

The Sermonator: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Using AI Technology in Ministry

I have to be honest… I have been serving on a mission trip in Los Angeles for the past seven days, and I haven’t had time to write, edit, and create the blog post for this week. While I am leaving filled with purpose and with a vision for LA, I am also leaving exhausted. 

Wouldn’t in be nice in situations like this to have technology that could make life a little easier and take our jumbled up thoughts and make sense of them?

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). These new, innovative technologies are helping pastors transform their work and their preparation. 

On our newest episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob brought on board special guest Wesley Lewis, the Creative Director and Owner of 180 Digital, our digital branding partner. We asked him to explain AI, GPT, and answer our questions on some of the benefits and negatives of using the technology.

Is this SkyNet Technology?

the logo for Cyberdyne, a fictional technology company used in the Terminator movies

This technology was introduced as part of Resolution 3 at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, which brought it into the conversation of how pastors can use it effectively and with the Gospel in mind. You may have questions about what that means to your ministry, so Replant Bootcamp is here to try and make sense of it all.

One of the biggest differences between the AI you’ve seen take over the world in movies and today’s AI is today’s AI is “Generative AI.” How we use it determines how it affects us, not the other way around.  Instead of generating its own ideas, Chat GPT and AI respond to our prompts.  We can use it as a tool. Make no mistake, it IS being used, in everything from ads to scripts, emails, and social media.  There are programs to recognize when AI is being used so that you can know if an essay, review, or report has been written utilizing the technology.

You may be asking, is this manipulative?  Is it inauthentic to the Gospel to use technology to write sermons or marketing materials for the church?  As a branding and marketing director, Wesley gets this question a lot.  But part of utilizing this technology is recognizing our own limitations and knowing our audience.

First, Chat GPT can help you clearly convey your message by giving you more precise and effective language to do so.  While we may think we know everything about a specific subject, AI can help us find out new information that we didn’t previously know.  Utilizing AI when we search for information can provide more context, allowing us to understand our audience in a more comprehensive way.

The Sermon Has Not Been Written- Using Technology to Your Advantage

Now that we know the technology is out there, waiting on us to use it, how can we utilize it to our advantage?

For starters, Chat GPT can make life infinitely easier for pastors who have dyslexia or learning disabilities. While verbal communication can feel effortless, written communication like emails, blog posts, and texts can be difficult.  Chat GPT can make sense of the words and help formulate your thoughts so that you can clearly communicate without the struggle.  (An additional resource for dyslexic learners is Open Dyslexic, a font designed to be easier for dyslexics to read and comprehend.)

Likewise, programs like Speechify can read to you audibly if reading is a trial for you.  As an auditory learner, my husband is not a natural reader, but through audiobooks and AI technology, he is able to read several books a month. This allows him to be confident that he can accomplish educational goals and necessary theological reading that he needs for sermon preparation and church leadership.

AI can also assist in your church’s branding and messaging.  AI can help generate graphics and design that make your message more appealing and concise.  You may have the words to say, but adding a graphic to it can help make that message more memorable for your audience.

Many pastors are Bi-Vocational.  Sermon preparation and origination can take time, and time is in short supply for you.  Utilizing Chat GPT and AI can help you begin to formulate your thoughts and organize them into a more cohesive theme, freeing you up to write the sermon instead of trying to come up with a structure and outline.

Credibility is Irrelevant– I am a Machine

the face of a half man, half machine

With every advance in technology, while there is much good that can come from it, there is also the opportunity for negative consequences, as well.

While you can utilize AI and Chat GPT to assist with formulating a sermon, there is no replacing the study of God’s Word and applying God’s message to your specific audience, in YOUR voice. When we copy and paste an AI generated message, we run the risk of it sounding… Well, like a machine.  Your voice is the one your congregation knows.  Taking the time to write your message and convey it in your specific style and branding makes for a more tailored message that accounts for your specific congregation.

In addition, AI technology isn’t infallible. It is possible that the information it pulls may be incorrect, and without proper study (especially of God’s Word and the context of it), you may be conveying at best an incomplete message and at worse, an incorrect one.

Sometimes there is a temptation to allow AI to do the hard work for you.  I know this week I was certainly tempted to use it to write this blog.  In fact, I actually searched the blog topic and allowed Chat GPT to generate a blog post.  And while it was very good, it wasn’t mine. Authenticity comes from your own spiritual discernment and God’s message to you as you study His Word. When He speaks to us, He reveals Himself.  When we bypass that communication we miss His message to us.

I’ll be Back

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

If you or your church needs help understanding the new technologies available to you, or if you want help implementing them, contact Wesley at OneEighty Digital.  His company is happy to partner with churches to help them create content that is engaging and creative.  If you need help building a website or generating a more visible online presence, OneEighty is there as a resource that is available to you.

RESOLVED: Revitalization and Replanting

On Saturday, June 10th, I came home from a wedding and grabbed my duffel bag. As I began to pack for the annual SBC Convention, I had several things on my mind. For this Convention, I knew there would be some heavy decisions and business to attend. Just a couple of days earlier, I met with some of the pastors in our Association and went over the times  that important business would take place.

One of the questions I was asked was, “Why aren’t the resolutions already available before the convention?” Explaining some of our SBC Polity, I encouraged our pastors to be ready when the Bulletin gets sent out on Tuesday morning. As we drove to New Orleans on Sunday after church, we had great conversations in the car about what was going on in the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of those conversations carried over into meetings with old friends in between the Pastor’s Conference Speakers.

On Tuesday morning, I was expecting some resolutions spouted off based on Twitter fights that I had witnessed days before the Convention. But  when I opened up the morning bulletin and saw page 5, entitled, “Resolutions Presented to the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention,” I was deeply humbled. It reminded me of our Convention’s unified gospel mission, as I began reading over Resolution #1: “On the Importance of Revitalization and Replanting.”

When 12,000 Speak

While we know that not all of our listeners and readers are SBC, the vast majority are and could “resolve” with us that it was greatly encouraging to affirm this emphasis on helping churches. But even if you’re not a part of that affiliation, the intent of this resolution can be agreed on by all. 

Written by Luke Holmes, the Resolution that passed during the first day of the annual SBC was meant to highlight the important and necessary work of helping declining churches renew their efforts towards renewed vitality. I’m not sure exactly how many yellow ballots went up when we finally voted on Resolution 1, but I know that a sea of yellow flew up when it was time to vote. 

So, to highlight the importance of revitalizing and replanting work, here are a few takeaways from the resolution that was so well written, and what Southern Baptists should do to affirm its sentiment.

The Reality of Needed Church Renewal

Paragraph II of the Resolution states, “Whereas: Many local Southern Baptist churches face significant challenges, including declining attendance, conflict, lack of discipleship, and lack of community impact…” 

This reality is shared by churches all across America, regardless of denomination. According to Lifeway Research, the rate of church closures are outpacing the rate of churches planted each year in the U.S. Lifeway Research reports: “In 2019, approximately 3,000 Protestant churches were started in the U.S., but 4,500 Protestant churches closed.” The study included reports from over 34 denominations. One positive note is that most denominations, over the past decade, have given increased attention to the work of Revitalization, because there is a real, growing need for helping hurting churches. 

In a 2022 Report, the North American Mission Board said, “In an average year, hundreds of churches disappear from the SBC database. Many of those churches are closing their doors forever. Because of this, we have also prioritized our efforts to help existing churches become healthier, mission-focused and more evangelistic.” This is the reason that resources like Church Replanting exists through the NAMB Initiative. 

Diverse Approaches, Cohesive Efforts

Paragraphs 5 and 6 say this: 

“WHEREAS, Southern Baptists acknowledge the diverse approaches and models of church revitalization and replanting and recognize that effective strategies may vary depending on the unique circumstances and the needs of individual congregations;

and WHEREAS, Local associations, state conventions, and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) have committed time, resources, and manpower to strengthening churches through revitalization and replant initiatives…”

If you were to look for any “Church Renewal” resources over the past twenty years, you would be overwhelmed by the options, strategies, and plans for Church Revitalization. I was confused and a bit overloaded with information when I started as an Associational Mission Strategist. The more I began to read, study, and practice, the more I found some plans that worked the best for our churches in our context.

Revitalization styles will vary depending on location, leadership, and cultural surroundings. But the beauty of the Southern Baptist Convention is that we believe in partnership around the gospel. We believe that we truly are better together, and that we have one joint effort towards the mission. So while styles vary, we still join in the effort of church renewal together. 

I can testify that serving at the Association, on the State Board of Missions for the Florida Baptist Convention, and serving with the Replant Bootcamp, I have seen how churches are working together through various entities and organizations, all for the purpose of helping churches become healthy again.

More Work to be Done

Paragraphs 8-10 speak of the urgent need for SBC Churches to do all they can to help in the cooperative effort of Church Revitalization. Paragraph 9 says, “RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists are encouraged to continue providing robust resources, training opportunities, and support systems to assist churches in their revitalization and replanting efforts through NAMB and partnership with state conventions and local associations, including the development of relevant curriculum, conferences, mentorship programs, and partnerships with experienced practitioners in the field…”

As a reminder, almost 12,000 messengers were represented at the NOLA SBC this year. When this resolution was voted through, we affirmed as a collective body of almost 47,000 churches, that our desire was to help encourage, promote, and advance God’s kingdom mission through our work with local churches. As we recognized this effort, reality settled in for many of our churches to ask the question: what can we do to join in with the effort of Church Renewal?

If you want to get involved with NAMB’s Replant Initiative, visit this website and look through their resources. Even as a healthy church or supporting church, you can visit here to find ways to partner. Please reach out to our team at the Replant Bootcamp and we can help you connect through the right avenues to find ways to help. And if 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.

A spring flower comes up out of leaves signifying renewal and growth

The Importance of Spiritual Renewal

When we started our replant, we had all the tools to implement structural and administrative renewal in our congregation.  We read all the books, we listened to the podcasts, we went to all the conferences.  We were equipped to begin the hard work of changing culture and engaging our community.  We were prepared for conflict and criticism.

But we weren’t prepared for one thing– the need for our own spiritual renewal.  We worked tirelessly to patch holes in what many times felt like a sinking ship– all while feeling like we, ourselves, were drowning.

Perhaps you feel this way today.  Perhaps you are like the pastor Jimbo was counseling who, when Jimbo reminded him not to let a situation steal his joy, responded with, “What joy?”

I’ve been there.  If I’m being really transparent, I’m still there some days.

Thankfully, the fellas at Replant Bootcamp addressed this need and gave us some keys to living a renewed life: Joy, Prayer, Worship, and Resting in Christ.

A person trying to scoop water from a sinking ship with a small glass

Renewed by Joy

“Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12

Do you remember the “joy of your salvation?” The moment that you realized that Christ had forgiven you of your sins and you no longer carried the penalty of death and eternal separation? I do. There was such peace in that moment. I prayed at the altar and when I stood up, I felt completely different.  I was changed.  The fear and anxiety that I carried with me at all times seemed to fall off; it was like a heavy coat was removed from my shoulders.  I was happy and excited for the future, because I knew that from now on Jesus was in control.

When I think back to that day so many years ago, I remember that feeling of peace and joy.  I find myself praying with David that God would restore to me the joy of that day, just as David does in Psalm 51, verse 12.  

But we sometimes forget that verse 12 is one of 19 verses.  And that Psalm 51 is not merely David calling out to God for joy– it is David’s confession to sin and his shame. David’s request for restoration comes only after his repentance.

When I find myself lacking the joy of my salvation– that feeling of awe and wonder that God would forgive my sins– it’s often because I am struggling with those very same sins.  Before I can pray Psalm 51:12, I have to pray through Psalm 51:1-11, and especially verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

There is a temptation for us as Christians to fail to recognize our need for continued sanctification.  The sin of pride leads us to believe that we can live in the same way as the lost world and have no consequences. But in order to experience spiritual renewal, we must examine our lives and see if we have allowed sin to creep in.  

Ephesians 4:17-24 tells us that the lost world will act in a certain way– they will be callous, sexually immoral, greedy to practice impurity.  But in verse 20, Paul writes, “But that is not the way you learned Christ.” He calls us to something different, something new. He writes that we as Christians will experience a spiritually renewed mind when we remember to change out of our old selves and to put on our new self.  It is a picture of removing a filthy, smelly old coat and instead wearing a new, fresh, and clean one. Paul is saying that we are called to look, act, and be different than the lost world

When I find myself lacking joy, one of the hardest things to do is to admit that perhaps I am not feeling the joy of my salvation because I am not seeking the things of God as much as I did then.  Perhaps it is not that God feels distant, but that I have moved too far from Him.

Reminding myself to seek God and His purpose and plan brings me back into a restored relationship.  When I repent and acknowledge my sins, I am able to once again experience the joy of knowing that I am never too far from God’s grace and mercy.

Joy comes not only when I remember what Christ has done for me, but also what He continues to do.

a person stands with hands lifted high and arms spread in a sunset background

Renewed by Prayer and Worship

It seems clear, doesn’t it? When you need spiritual renewal, going to God in prayer and worshiping Him seem like obvious first steps. But I often unintentionally leave it as one of the last steps I take.

In our world as Replant pastors, there is a temptation for prayer and worship to be relegated to Sunday morning duties.  My own daily prayer time can get pushed aside as I strive to complete ministry related tasks.  As a Worship Leader at our church, listening to Worship music becomes less about tuning my heart toward God and more about listening for specific instruments and vocal parts.

When I feel a need for spiritual revival, I will often turn toward advice from others to help. I will talk to trusted Christian friends about it, read books about it, and even ask others to pray for me. When I’ve exhausted those options, I usually feel a little tug on my heart… God will remind me that I’ve talked to everyone but Him.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we seek God, He gives us the promise of His peace to protect our troubled minds.

Worshiping God with our lives and our actions results in spiritual renewal.  My aunt used to tell me all the time that the key to fighting discouragement was to find someone to help.  She’s onto something there– when I meet someone else’s needs, I am acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.  And this act of worship turns my heart and mind from anxiety and worry to a renewed sense of peace and purpose.  

Renewed by Rest

Man… If there’s one thing I know, it’s that there is so much work to do in a Replant.  I often tease my husband that he is incapable of just resting when a project is done.  He is always looking to the next thing, because there is a never ending list of things that need to be done.

Unfortunately, that is reality for many of us in this type of calling.  There is always something that demands our attention and time.  We could spend our days from here to eternity on the next building improvement or maintenance project, the next community outreach, the next evangelism training, the next new member’s class… (I could keep going, but I’m starting to exhaust myself!) And, if you’re in the early days of your replant, it’s likely all falling on you until you have more leaders equipped to help.

There are multiple problems with getting too little rest, from physical health risks to emotional and mental struggles.  But for us as Christians, one of our biggest issues with too little rest is that we often try to find our rest in the same place we find our worthour own selves.

When I try to find rest in myself, it can seem almost impossible.  Last week I told a friend that I was so mentally tired, even resting felt like a chore that needed to be penciled into my schedule. Trying to get enough sleep while also trying to do everything that needed to be done resulted in me being so anxious that I actually woke up at 3 am in a panic because I needed to do laundry (true story). I relied on my own strength to get it all done.

But spiritual renewal requires us to rest in the right place– we must rest in Christ and in His faithfulness.  When we are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, looking to the past can help us remember that Christ has been faithful and we can find true rest in knowing that just as Christ has met our needs in the past, He will continue to be faithful in the future. Think back on those times that God met your needs in the past.  Was everything done on your timetable?  Probably not.  But God used His timing to bring His plans to fruition.  He will continue to do so.

Our rest can be found in Christ.  Do you believe that Christ loves your church and your congregation? Do you believe that Christ loves you? Then we can trust that He is using your present circumstances for His glory.

NAMB Replant Summit 2023- a Time for Renewal

several people are gathered around a circular table at a conference in 2021.
Send Network

All of these thoughts come as we at Replant Bootcamp prepare for the Replant Summit in Atlanta on August 28-29. The theme this year is “Renew.” We will have multiple guest speakers and breakout sessions to help you (and your spouse) experience spiritual renewal.  It is an awesome time of refreshing words, songs, and fellowship with replant pastors and spouses from all over the U.S.  If you haven’t already registered, please do so!  You will not regret taking this time to refresh your spirit!

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 3)

Over the past couple of weeks, we have learned to measure success in a better way. Here’s a summary of what we have heard so far: 

  • Discerning and Adapting vs. Doubling Down
  • Leading Paradigmatic Change vs. Reinvigorating Old Programs
  • Equipping Others for Ministry vs. Exhausting Yourself in Ministry
  • Measuring Actions vs. Counting Outcomes
  • Multiple Financial Streams vs. Single Financial Streams

And this week, we focus on the last two of this series: 

  • Pursuing faithfulness vs. chasing fruitfulness
  • Committing to the long haul vs. considering another call when things get difficult

Take up your Cross

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In 18 words, Jesus helps his audience understand what it means to follow him in this world. Jesus would say that if you want to make much of yourself, exalt yourself, and live for yourself, you cannot follow Him.

We all have a cross to bear. For some, it means sacrificing a lavishing career, suffering through physical means, or struggling through a painful life. But ultimately, the cross we bear is worth bearing, because Jesus died and rose to life, so we can have life in his name. Ultimately, our “cross” is what the Bible calls a light, momentary affliction that is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

Whether you are a Replant Pastor or another ministry leader, each one of us has a cross to bear in ministry itself. Paul says, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). When Paul said this, he was helping the church in Corinth understand what it was like to do the work of ministry: painful, yet joyful. Every pastor should understand what scripture says about suffering, because many may have the wrong expectations of what ministry may look like.

Pursuing Faithfulness vs. Chasing Fruitfulness

Far too many pastors and leaders have been burned out in ministry, and quit altogether because of burnout, wrong expectations, and unexpected conflict. but there is certainly a better way to measure success, and it has little to do with the fruit that we produce in our work. It has more to do with our walking in obedience to our calling. We have a tendency to sometimes take matters into our own hands. Like Abraham and Sarah, we want to fulfill God’s promises ourselves. The problem is that our way normally results in dissension and destruction. God’s way is better.

In a normal career, our performance is evaluated by the work we are able to accomplish. When I was in the landscaping field, my work was evaluated on the efficiency and quality of my work. But ministry should be seen differently. That’s because in kingdom work, we are not the ones who give growth to the body, and the business does not belong to us. Our “company” has one founder and one CEO, Jesus Christ. He is the one that gives fruit and gets the glory for any fruit that is produced. Our job is simply to steward and care for what he has entrusted to us.

I was speaking to a friend of mine, who recently entered a new pastoral role. He very quickly told me about some of the stress that he’s already experienced in serving, and it had much to do with the attendance of those in that church setting. He already was experiencing the early signs of depression over a lack of attendance. “I’m working hard, studying hard to get up and deliver, and I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears, or hardly any ears at all,” he said. Do you feel the same way?

One thing that’s important to remember and understand is that we are limited in what we can do. The past twenty years have seen a plethora of church growth strategies and movements. Some of them, unfortunately, are void of the power of the Holy Spirit. Only God can bring life to a dying church. No one can or has risen from the dead apart from the work of God. So, we need Him to work in our dying churches again. Our role is simply to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives.

Committing to the Long Haul

Replant Pastors all over our nation are working hard, serving faithfully in their roles. Depending on the dynamic, some of them are still in a plowing stage, preparing the ground. Some of them are tilling the toil, and some are planting seeds. In my role at the Association, I have talked to a few of our pastors who are struggling with the difficulty of seeing little fruit. Some of them have considered being called elsewhere, or leaving the ministry altogether. 

But we cannot call ourselves somewhere else, and force God’s hand. Like Jonah, we may try to run in a different direction, but God will have his way. Like Jonah, God will either convict us of our disobedience, or remind us of our calling and place us where He wants us. Like Jonah, you may find yourself in a variety of situations, from the belly of a whale, to a seat under the hot sun because of a hungry caterpillar. We can choose to either remain under God’s calling and be content, or be miserable in our disobedience.

I want to encourage Replant Pastors to commit to the long haul. In conversations with pastors, some are frustrated in trying to enact change. But sometimes it takes difficult work and time to build trust. There is ebb and flow in a church’s willingness to get behind your leadership, so trust building is important. It does help to remember Paul’s words in Colossians 1:10. Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” 

“Wait, I thought you said not to focus on fruitfulness!” Notice what Paul is saying, because there is an important sequence of events. He is saying, “First, walk worthy of the Lord. Obey Him. Serve Him. As a result, you will bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God.”

Is the Grass Greener?

God may do something in you, on you, and around you before he does something through you. We should not be surprised when there are fiery trials, when there is persecution, when there is hardships. Any pastor who wants to bypass difficulty should reconsider the ministry. God often brings us through hardship to produce something in us. So I would encourage any pastor or leader to have a well-developed understanding of suffering, especially in the life of a minister.

When we read through the persecution of the early church and the hardships of Paul and his fellow workers, it gives us a calm assurance to make it through difficult business meetings and disputed financial decisions. While the thorn in your flesh may not be the building and grounds committee, one thing should be remembered: Hardship is natural for anyone in ministry. Rest assured, you’re not alone.

The grass may be greener on another side, but that grass withers as well. If things get tough, don’t begin looking at the job board so quickly. Instead, get on your knees before God and began seeking Him. If He called us, He will sustain us. Let us look to Him.

For resources listed in this week’s podcast, see the following: The Insanity of God, The Insanity of Obedience, The Cost of Discipleship, This, Too Shall Last. See our other blogs here. Please reach out to us for any feedback, and let us know how we can help.

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 2)

I feel like there are two kinds of people in the world.  One type is wired to love English/History. They most likely enjoyed these classes in school and did well in them.  They love that a sentence can mean different things when read in different ways.  They enjoy words and stories. The other type of person is geared toward Math/Science. They performed well and liked those subjects in school.  Ambiguity is frustrating to them.  They enjoy numbers, measuring things, and equations.

My husband is this type of person. He is a numbers guy.  Give him a spreadsheet and some formulas, and he will “Excel” at putting it all together. (As you may have guessed by that horrible pun, I am the other type. Words are awesome and I use a lot of them–the punnier the better.) This skill as a numbers person worked really well for him when his career was in Logistics and Warehousing.  But as a Replant Pastor, playing the numbers game can be discouraging and frustrating.

Ministry Maxims

In the most recent episodes of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob have been discussing some new “Ministry Maxims.” These truths, when applied to replanting, can shift our mindset and help create new practices that allow replant pastors to see and celebrate the successes instead of focusing on the setbacks.

In the first episode  of the series and in last week’s blog, we focused on the first three Maxims:

  1. Discerning and Adapting 
  2. Leading Paradigmatic Change
  3. Empowering and Equipping Others

In this week’s episode, we added two more:

      4. Actions over Results

      5. The Importance of Multi-stream Revenue

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Success

If you are a numbers guy, like my husband, your metric for success in your church might be attendance, baptisms, and discipleship program participation.  But in the Summer, when we experience a “Summer Slump,” those numbers may seem a bit skewed.  And truthfully, those numbers might not be giving you a full picture the rest of the year, either. 

Instead of looking at those results, shift your mindset to a new Ministry Maxim– measuring actions, not results. When we measure results, we are often looking at the end point of a journey that actually  had several successes along the way.  An increase in attendance is hopefully a result of successfully reaching your community.  Increased baptisms is a result of successfully discipling your congregation to recognize that important step of public obedience.  And an increase in discipleship  participation is certainly a result of equipping and empowering your congregation to make disciples and to take their faith to the next step. Each of those seemingly small steps is a chance to celebrate success!

In my church, as in many others, we have a display that gives us a visual reminder that every success is important.  We refer to it as the “Who’s Your One” board.  There are five colored ping pong balls, and we drop them in whenever we successfully complete a step in our gospel process.  The first ball is white– we write a person’s name on it as our “One.” This person is someone we have identified as a person in our sphere of influence to whom we are making the commitment to pray for daily and to engage with the Gospel.  The next ball is red.  We drop those in when we have listened to and heard our “One’s” story. Next, we have the orange ping pong ball.  These are used when we share a meal with our “One.” The next ball is blue, and it represents meeting a need for our “One” in a tangible and practical way.  And the final ball is green, and it represents the moment when we are able to share a gospel conversation with our “One.”

A board displays ping pong balls with colors representing steps in a church discipleship process

Each of these balls has a story and represents not just a small step, but a consistent and committed effort to reach someone who is far from God with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We know that each of these steps are worth celebrating– not only for the potential result of a new life in Christ, but for our members who are growing in their faithful obedience to God’s call to share their faith.

Our decision to celebrate these small steps was strategic: first, we identified the measurements that were important to us as a church.  We weren’t looking to be the biggest church in town, and we didn’t want to grow from membership transfers.  We wanted to reach people who were far from God with the Gospel, and we wanted our members to take ownership in that process. So our metric went from “Are you inviting people to church?” to “Are you sharing your life with someone who needs the Gospel?” Once we identified the actions that represented that goal, then we communicated them to our people and built a visual reminder of them.  And lastly, we celebrate each time a ball is dropped in that display.

What are the actions your church is taking toward reaching your community?  Are your members meeting the needs around them?  Celebrate it! Are they engaging in conversations with others?  Celebrate it! These are important victories that are going to lead to bigger results. Every Sunday, take time to recognize the successes and remind your congregation that each step is vital, not just the end goal.

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Revenue

As Bob pointed out in the podcast, we are entering into a season where resourcing mission and ministry will require more than just tithes and offerings.  While there is a biblical mandate for the congregation to support the ministry with those gifts, replant pastors would benefit from shifting their thinking from a sole source of revenue to multiple avenues to generate income for their church.

Often, replant churches have a lack of money and manpower. But what they do have, sometimes in abundance, is property and buildings. Those unused classrooms and parcels of land that have sat empty can be used as income-generating revenue for your church that you can use to move the ministry and missions of your church forward.

Our church had an empty 4 acre corner lot at the edge of our property.  Because of the way it was positioned, the church could never use it for any specific purpose.  Much of it had overhead power lines that would prevent us from being able to build, and it was too far from the current sanctuary to be beneficial for us.  

After much prayer and discussion, we opted to sell the property.  We were specific in what we were looking for.  We wanted a buyer who would develop the 4 acres into new, affordable housing for our community.  The property sold within a few weeks, and now there are newly constructed homes on ½ acre lots waiting for new families to settle in.

But the income we generated in that sale didn’t just sit in a savings account to gather interest.  We used it to repave and paint our parking lot, which was dangerously uneven and had grown into a weed-filled eyesore. The new layout of the parking lot not only gave us a better first impression to visitors and to our community, but it also provided several new parking spots in the repainting.  The ministry and the mission of our church was funded through the sale of a parcel of land we would never use.

a close up of a parking lot with drainage problems and broken pavement

Another church in our association had an excess of space in their building.  They recognized that unused classrooms and hallways were not functioning as the best use of their church.  Instead of shutting them down and leaving them empty, the church partnered with a local Christian school and leased the space to them.  Through the week, this Christian school meets in those once-empty classrooms and uses the space.  What was once an empty hallway is now a thriving school.  This partnership generates income for the church while meeting the need for Christian education availability in the community. The mission and ministry of the church is funded by utilizing an otherwise unused resource.

Maximizing the Maxims

In my family, we will often talk about needing a “win,” or a success.  Sometimes it’s a good grade on a test, an unexpected check in the mail, or a presentation at work going better than I expected. But when we’re feeling like we’re taking loss after loss and we’re discouraged and banged up, our wins can be small things: finding a close to the door parking space in the rain, realizing we have money on a gift card for lunch, or an uplifting word from a friend. Celebrating these small wins helps me focus on the positive things in my life.

Likewise, when we utilize these Ministry Maxims, we shift our mindset from focusing on setbacks to looking at successes. Instead of being discouraged and frustrated by places we think we’ve failed, we recognize the places where God is still working and moving in our congregations.  And when we get excited about that, so do our members!

Which ministry maxim are you most interested to implement?  Let us know in the comments or connect with us on social media!

 

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 1)

My father has been in the ministry for almost 34 years. In many conversations, he has commented on the summer season of church life during those few hot months in between school sessions. In talking with him this week, he said, “Many families are gone over the summer, but we don’t slow down very much. However, the dynamics of our ministry change.” Instead of continuing with the same caliber of ministry activities, they place their focus on summer events for the community and missional engagements such as VBS and Mission Trips. They also use summer months to focus on their teams and committees, even having a short retreat for their staff.

Summer presents a unique challenge to the life of our churches, and depending on the DNA of your Sunday gatherings, missing out entirely for a few months seems like a normal practice for young families. Of course, people need vacation time and rest to spend with their families. But when several core families are missing for a fourth of the year, the effects can seem devastating and confusing. 

During these summer months, many pastors even take sabbatical time themselves. Or, they will use the opportunity to restructure and rethink their ministries and calendars. Continuing with the same momentum in June and July, versus the rest of the year can seem like a daunting task. To avoid burnout, there are several ideas presented on this week’s podcast episode, and last week’s blog, that will help you think about the upcoming months in the life of your church.

Discern and Adapt

Some leaders want to double down and get into a deep study during the summer. But it can help to take a step back and use less-attended church services to focus on your core people and discern a ministry plan for the rest of the year. In Romans 12:2, Paul says to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The type of mind-renewal Paul is talking about takes time. 

But if you’re anything like me, there are some seasons that you are running so fast, and so chaotically busy, that you have no time to think. And when you don’t have time to think, it’s difficult to discern the will of God for you and for your church. Summer should be a time of reflection and focus. This is why many pastors take a season of rest during the summer while continuing to maintain the regular services and ministries of the church.

This time of discernment and adaptation takes place by:

1. Immersing yourself in the Word of God

In John 15:8, Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified. That you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Did you catch that? Did you know that it is possible for God to be glorified by you simply abiding in Christ and bearing fruit? Sometimes we forget that in the busy-ness of ministry, God is not solely pleased by our righteous deeds. He is also glorified when we simply rest in Him. Sometimes we need to talk less and listen more to the voice of God to discern what the next steps are. 

2. Reflecting on culture, the world, and the church

What’s going on in the world today? This question will affect the way you do ministry and the elements you highlight, even in preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, but the world around us constantly does. How can you be a faithful pastor that speaks directly to what your congregants are facing? I’ve talked to some leaders who are completely unaware of what is going on in the culture. Yes, we are called to “not love the world or the things of the world.” But the way we can love others is by speaking the truth of the gospel to the current situations our world is facing. God can and does use cultural affairs around us to open up gospel conversations! Spend significant time reflecting on the surrounding culture, and it will make you a more direct and pertinent leader.

3. Exercising good decision-making by utilizing your teams and leaders

No one is expecting you to do ministry alone. Summer can be the perfect time to identify leaders, equip them for the next season of church life, and deploy them to help serve and minister. Ephesians 4:12 tells us the purpose of church leadership: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry and for edifying the body of Christ.” When you dialogue with your deacons, elders, or members of a leadership team, their unique viewpoints of church life can help you determine how to engage with church members in the upcoming season. Every pastor has to learn the tools of delegation and equipping.

Lead Paradigmatic Change

Summer can also feel like a time to re-invigorate old programs that have no value. But if there is one thing that the COVID years taught us, it’s that some programs have not resurfaced, and they don’t need to. Summer presents a time to simplify, evaluate the functions of your church and determine whether or not any change is necessary.

In the podcast, Bob talks about the difference between a leader and a manager. A leader asks questions about how the ministry you’re doing affects the Kingdom of God. But a manager simply seeks to maintain the same strategy without asking any questions. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And if a leader is unwilling to determine where change is needed, then they should not expect the church to change in any positive direction.

Empower and Equip the Body

Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of no return. A good leader is one who recognizes leadership around them, identify and develop them, and then deploy them to the work of ministry. There is a reason God gave us deacons and gifted church members! To use for the work of ministry, in ways that a Pastor is unable due to time restraints and exhaustion. 

There is a sense in which we need to “deconstruct” the Pastor-only mentality. Recently, our Church Development team was looking through an Job Description to help a Pastor Search committee at one of our local churches. In the job description, we changed a lot of language because the language seemed to elevate the Pastor’s responsibilities to…everything, while reducing the member’s responsibilities to nothing. One of the duties was, “The Pastor will plan and conduct all worship services on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights.” Is this the Pastor’s role in the church, or can it be delegated to other members?

Pastors can easily burn themselves out with too much ministry related programs and activities. But in many ways, a man can only do what a man can do. Summer gives us an opportunity to identify and develop members around us, using their gifts and abilities, to carry on the work of ministry themselves. 

Be intentional this summer. At the beginning of it, set some goals for yourself, your ministry, and the church. Then, put some of these tools in place. God wants to use you this summer for His glory in the most effective way possible.

Keeping a Missional Mindset During the Summer Slump

When we first started ministry, we didn’t know about the “Summer Slump.” (We also didn’t know about being missional– we had a lot to learn!) We had a fairly good attendance on Mother’s Day, but would slowly start to see our attendance wane in the following weeks. We wondered what had happened– nothing had changed in our services, we were still preaching the Gospel and loving our community. We were holding Vacation Bible School and sending kids to youth camp.  But every Sunday, we were missing several families. Some were on vacation, some were visiting family, and some were just enjoying decompressing from a busy school year. And then, sometime in August, our attendance would slowly begin to creep back up, and by Labor Day, it would become consistent again.

Typically, the average church experiences a 20% decrease in attendance between Mother’s Day and the new school year. Many churches shut down children’s activities and small group discipleship during this time, because attendance can be so sporadic during the summer months. Giving and tithing typically decrease, as well (although online giving may pick up due to “auto-draft” ).

This decrease can leave you feeling discouraged– but it doesn’t have to. On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, JimBob discussed the importance of maintaining a missional mindset as you navigate the Summer Slump.

Every Member a Missionary

When we started replanting Central Baptist, one of the first things we developed was a strategy to reach those in and around our neighborhood with the Gospel and to meet their needs. One of our members is the owner of a local dance studio, so we started there.  We allowed them to use our facilities for recital practices and parent showcases while serving refreshments and assisting with whatever they needed.  The dancers got to know our church, and their parents got to know our people.  Julie, the owner, was equipped through our discipleship program to host Bible studies in the studio and disciple others. Church members attended dance competitions and recitals, and got to know the teachers and students.  Eventually, many of the families whose children danced at the studio also became members of Central.

One unfortunate consequence of reaching a dance studio that we didn’t realize is that, like many dance studios, Julie’s groups perform in statewide competitions throughout the Spring and early Summer. Having so many of our families involved in dance means that on any given Sunday in the Spring, as much as 40% of our congregation is gone to a dance competition out of town.  Our church can sometimes feel almost vacant on those Sundays!  

We had two choices– we could mourn the loss and be intimidated by the depressed attendance, OR we could engage them in a new way while they were out of town.

We chose to recognize that every member at Central Baptist is a missionary.  Therefore, the dance studio became a “missions outpost” for Central Baptist.  When they are at competitions out of town, they gather together in hotel rooms or in offstage classrooms to watch our livestream at 10 am on Sunday morning and join in worship with our congregation. When they have competitions close by, we will go and visit on Saturdays so that they are still connected with us. Their dance team prays together for our service, and we are praying for them.

Julie’s dance studio is more than just a local business to us.  It is our church’s mission field, and those dancers are our family.

You have the same opportunities in your congregation. There is a mission field directly in and around your church, within the radius of your physical location.  You can equip those “Julies” whose influence and community involvement can help you meet people that are never going to come to church otherwise.  Members who are outside of the physical proximity of the church and “drive-in” to the community can be empowered to be missionaries within their own neighborhoods.  

Embracing a missional mindset in the midst of a summer slump only requires a few key steps.

Be Missional as You Listen to Your Community

A neighbor is missional by sharing a plant with his neighbor next door

Sometimes we think we aren’t sure how to meet the needs of our community because we don’t know what they are… But our communities are telling us every day what they need. We can read it in the newspaper, on community websites, and at city and county council meetings.  One of the most overlooked resources to discover the needs of your community is social media.  Apps like Next Door allow our neighbors to share their physical needs, like a yard that needs to be mowed, or a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Apps like Facebook allow them to share their emotional needs and spiritual questions among their friends. 

The average American adult spends an average of 2 1/2 hours a day on social media. We can hear exactly what our communities need when we are listen for the clues.  Is your community struggling with disunity between groups?  Your church can be the bridge for them.  Your members can be the peacemakers within their community for the good of the city and show what it looks like to truly love your neighbors. 

Do you have a mechanic that can help with car repair, or a contractor that can build a wheelchair ramp?  Maybe your younger members could help a senior adult with house work or meals.  Do you have women in your church with adult children?  Perhaps they could offer their wisdom to a struggling young mom with toddlers. Having a missional mindset means being intentional about listening to the needs of your community and having a plan of action to meet them.  Remind your members to listen for the clues that their neighbor may need Gospel-centered guidance or help. 

Be Missional as You Pray for Your Community

a magnet with Love thy Neighborhood at the top and three lines for neighbors names

Your church’s address is not a mistake. You have a specific calling to reach those within a local reach of your church building. Praying for your church’s neighbors by name is a simple way to let them know you care and you’re there for them.  You can send them a simple prayer card that says, “Hi!  We’re in your neighborhood– we are praying for you!  Is there anything specific that we can pray for?” Put a QR code on it that links them to a form on your website or simply mail it with a stamped return envelope.  When you get a request, invite your church to pray corporately on Sunday morning for those requests.

Your congregation can also be praying for their own specific neighbors. Just as your church’s address is not an accident, neither is theirs! Encourage your church members to pray for their neighbors by name. We had refrigerator magnets made that have three blank spaces for the names of our neighbors and gave them to the families in our church. It’s a daily reminder to pray for our neighbors.

Be Missional as You Engage Your Community

A backyard cookout grill with vegetables and hot dogs

The summertime offers so many opportunities for you church to engage their community. Here just a few ideas for you to pass on to your congregation:

  • If you have kids, try hosting a water balloon or water gun fight. Your kids and their friends can enjoy cooling off while the parents relax. Or, if you’re like me, save the biggest Super Soaker for yourself and show those kids how it’s done.
  • There are lots of opportunities for live music in the summertime. If you’re attending an outdoor concert or live music at a local venue, invite friends who don’t go to church and friends who do– forming that connection can help going to church feel less intimidating.
  • Combine your church with another church in the area and sponsor a block party and invite the community to join. Grill out some hot dogs and serve some homemade ice cream.
  • Bring popsicles to the local recreational ball field or park and give them away.  (But make sure you aren’t infringing on any existing concession rules.)

When we equip every member to think of themselves as missionaries, we engage our congregations in a missional mindset.  Instead of mourning the Summer Slump, we can begin to embrace the unique opportunities it gives us for impacting our community with the Gospel.

 

Leadership Capital

Through college and seminary, my wife and I jumped from rental to rental, often finding the cheapest, most functional places we could. We knew our stay was temporary, so we tried to find rentals with a 6-month lease. Until we finished up our degrees, we lived in a variety of homes. But after moving back to Florida and temporarily staying with family, we began to search for a home to purchase and live long-term.

The language of mortgage loans was frustrating for me, and I felt ill-equipped to understand it all. Underwriters and Realtors were helpful, but I wish I had more economical knowledge before running into barrier after barrier. I didn’t understand why it was difficult and time-consuming to be approved for a mortgage loan, until my underwriter explained it to me in a way I finally understood: “Caleb, this process is all about trust.” 

In order to be approved to pay back a loan, the bank has to establish trust with you, by evaluating your proof of income, history, employment, family, and other factors. At some point, they’re willing to approve your request, because you’ve had time to build that valuable trust with them. 

And in the same way a bank might approve your request after adequate time, you have to build trust with your church before making any major decision.

Trust-Building Takes Time

Whether you are a Replanter or Revitalization Pastor, every leader must learn how to build “Leadership Capital.” Think of Leadership Capital as stored influence you acquire over time, that you can access when you need to make leadership decisions. A tendency among new leaders is to come in, shake things up, and move quickly. You may desire to make “big changes,” to prove yourself as a leader or visionary. However, trust-building takes time, and leaders need to learn the art of building Leadership Capital. Leadership decisions must be made in great wisdom.

If you think of this illustration in financial terms, capital isn’t earned overnight. It is built over time. The rate of growth is equivalent to the time spent in earning. As a church leader, you would be hard-pressed to find a church whose members will do everything you desire the first time you ask, with no question. Church members want to know if the pitfalls, the possibilities, and the opportunities around them are worth the risk. A healthy leader will build trust with them first, before enacting major changes.

Some leadership decisions have to be done quickly. But decisions require capital, and time builds trust. Leaders normally start out with zero trust. Or, you may be building back trust that has been lost by former leadership. If a former pastor overspent their capital, it could have left the church in burnout with trust issues, and confused about how to trust a future leader. 

Important and Urgent

As a church leader, you must understand the importance of discerning between things that are important and things are urgent. John Ortberg says that leadership is, “Disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.” Most leadership decisions will be met with feedback, pushback, and accountability. So before making too many decisions at once, consider Eisenhower’s Matrix:

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, once said, “The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This matrix has been a helpful resource for many leaders. It helps you schedule your time, manage your resources, delegate others, and get rid of the things that are wasting time. Tools like this are helpful for church leaders.

Often, I will be working on several projects simultaneously, and need to write out everything on a big white board. Then, I have to list out several priorities, and delegate whenever I possibly can. And yes, there are some things that I have to look at and take an eraser to, because they are not urgent, not important, and way too time-consuming. 

The main point of using a tool like this is to make leadership choices in wisdom and lead your people with effectiveness. Leaders will often experience a pace of change that is slower than what is expected. 

The Value of Trust

It is so easy to get frustrated with certain groups of church members because they aren’t moving as quickly as you want. However, each time you are eating a meal with a family, sitting in a classroom, praying with someone, or even giving some counsel about a mundane decision in someone’s life, you are building valuable trust with them. Finally, when you say, “Let’s start a new ministry to our community,” they will listen to the leader who has spent adequate time with them.

A helpful recognition is our lack of capital that we have to begin with, and how quickly it runs out. It takes time to demonstrate competency, character, and display commitment and consistency with people. It also takes time to build connections with people emotionally, so that your leadership will go a longer way and yield better results.

Don’t forget that once you decide to “use” some of your capital by making a big decision, you are responsible for organizing it in such a way that you establish healthy credibility with those around you. If you delegate, delegate with the right people, and make it the best you can. Plans made like this go a much longer way than we think.

When you love people well, listen well, pastor well, and establish credibility, you are building your capital, and you can feel a greater freedom to spend it when the timing is right. Some questions to ask yourself when making a decision is: “Which of these decisions will help our church move together more holistically towards church health? Are there any of these that are barriers to church health?”

For more information on leadership decisions, check out some of our previous podcasts on this topic: