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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

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

The missing piece?  Friendship.

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

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

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

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

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

one friend gives another friend a fist bump

WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

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

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

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

THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR

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

Absolutely, unequivocally, YES.

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

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


These blessings are listed in Pastoral Friendship as: 

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

two male friends

YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

 

Growing From Seed to Soil- Proclamation and Explanation

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

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

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

PLATFORM MINISTRY- PLANTING THE SEED

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

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

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

TABLE MINISTRY- CULTIVATING THE SEED planting a seed

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

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

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

EITHER/OR or BOTH/AND?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Windows of Revitalization, Explained

Is it ever too late to Revitalize or Replant a church? For churches facing imminent closure, it may be possible that they’ve missed the opportunity to see church renewal. When finances are scarce, laborers are few, and ministry opportunities are thin, the options begin to narrow. But if those windows are acknowledged, a church can pause, ask the right questions, and determine a roadmap for church renewal.

Life Cycles in a Church

When we met with our first church to explore why they had lost 100 members in 20 years, we tried to find out what were the factors of their decline. Was there a major split? Deacons fighting in the parking lot? Did one bad pastor drive everyone out? No, it was none of those things. When we looked at their church’s trends over the past 20 years, we found that the decline had been a slow and gradual one.

The factors of decline involved spiritual warfare, arguing about secondary theological matters, and multiple changes in leadership. The pastor explained it as a slow, gradual loss. It wasn’t a church split that caused members to leave, it was gradual loss of mission and a disconnection from their community ministry. For twenty years, the church had been doing, “business as usual,” without asking the question: “Why are we declining?” 

Fortunately, this church has a high receptivity to change. They have now begun to address those declining factors and started a Revitalization process. They have a great mission field ahead of them, and are seeking out ways they can bless their community while they refocus their church spiritually. 

Churches experiencing decline have windows of opportunity in which they can address decline and see a turnaround. If they fail to address the underlying issues of decline, they could miss the window and head toward irreversible decline and eventual closure. As Bob and Jimbo mentioned in Ep. 161 of the podcast, there are predictive patterns and life cycles in Churches with predictable success or failure.

Seasons of growth, plateau, and decline are present in almost every church at some point in its history. For some churches, a season of decline can lead to eventual closure. The task of every church is to be keenly aware of where it is presently and what steps toward its future it must take.

Asking the Right Questions

When you go to the doctor, you may tell them all of your symptoms. A wise doctor will not ask the question, “How can we treat your symptoms?” unless they first ask, “What sickness do you have?” Once the sickness is identified, the appropriate course of treatment can be prescribed. A foolish doctor might simply give you Tylenol and send you on your way, instead of treating your sickness at its root.

One of the most critical issues facing the church is a failure to ask the right questions. Churches that are facing imminent closure often ask, “What can we do?” Instead, they should be asking, “Why are we declining?” This type of question gets to the root of a church’s decline, whereas the first question deals more with the symptoms than the actual cause. 

A growing church asks, “What must we do?” A plateaued church asks, “How are we doing?” And a declining church must ask, “Why are we not growing?” Every church should evaluate their present condition, take the time to ask the right questions, discern the answers, and once they have gained insight and wisdom from God and others,  chart a course in a new direction. 

Understanding the Windows

No example is perfect, but we’ve found the Windows of Revitalization very helpful in identifying where a church is in their life cycle. For a detailed explanation of each window, see Bob Bickford’s work here.

Revitalization Window 1 – Plateau stage or onset decline (change required)

During this stage, you begin to see symptoms of decline in your church. Some families begin to leave, you see a few less people in youth or children. Giving is down by 5-10%. During this first window, change is needed. There is a small difference, but it’s not very noticeable. 

You then need to begin a prayerful effort and ask what are the changes that need to be looked at. We often miss it because we aren’t looking close enough. During this stage, the missional and ministry efforts of a church begin to wane, leadership becomes exhausted, and conflicts in the church go unresolved. If those things are left unchecked, it can result in a quick change of your church atmosphere. While the issues may not seem urgent, they can grow quickly.

Revitalization Window 2 – Persistent / continued decline (significant change required)

During this window, issues and conflict persist. The loss of missional vitality becomes evident, and the church begins losing touch with their community. They may seek to blame their decline by saying, “The community is changing,” or “We just need a new pastor.” There is a growing number of losses, and at the end of the second window there is an exodus of key members and mission leaders. 

At this point, full time staff may become part time staff or giving starts to drop drastically. The church may adopt a “play it safe mentality” – most people resist significant change, because significant change could lead to loss. People become increasingly more opinionated about how they like church, and they become more selfish with their giving. 

When a church fails to pause and ask critical questions to address concerns, these windows begin closing. And while Revitalization is possible, it’s not always probable. The longer the decline, the more radical changes are necessary to reverse the church’s trajectory.

The Replant Window – Late / critical / significant decline (radical change required)

In the last window, a church desperately needs outside help and perspective. The options to see the church thriving again is very narrow and improbable. The church can no longer do it by themselves as they’ve missed the time of change when renewal was likely. A church facing this stage is likely facing imminent closure within the next 1-3 years, and radical change is necessary. 

Think of a frozen computer screen. It’s sitting there, not producing any work or being used for any good reason. You’ve tried different methods like hitting “escape.” You’ve tried ctrl+alt+delete. But, it still stays frozen on that same screen. You may have to do a whole system reboot to get the computer up and running again. 

A church facing imminent closure has likely disconnected entirely from their community and work of ministry. Leadership is scarce, finances are slim, and hope is wearing out. The church is in survival mode, and are not concerned with reaching lost people for Christ. They may be aged, unable, or unwilling to engage the unchurched in the community.

Thankfully, in Replanting, there are different ways to address these issues. A partnership replant is a helpful option for churches facing possible closure. This can look like a merge/marriage, church fostering, family network churches, or other partnership replants. Replanting from within is also an option if there is still a healthy leadership team that exists.  

Hope for the Future

All of these changes require hard work. And that is why outside help is needed. While a Replant can occur from within, It is often a difficult road. But with the grace of God, we are seeing more and more congregations go through replants and revitalizations for God’s glory and seeing their churches turnaround.

Jesus cares deeply about the health of His local church. When a church recognizes where it needs to change, and begins to seek the face of God, it’s amazing how God can turn a situation around for His glory. We must remember that the church does not belong to us, it belongs to Christ. And He alone can bring renewal if we are seeking Him. How are you stewarding the time God has given you at your church? Are there concerns that need to be addressed?

For more info about the life cycles of a church, see Bill Henard’s book, ReClaimed Church, or Mark Hallock’s book, “God’s Not Done with Your Church.” 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.

Should we Revitalize or Replant?

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to helping a dying church gain new life again? Or an instant formula that works every time? Unfortunately, no book you read on these topics will give you a predictable outcome for every situation. There are simply too many variables for a church’s factors of decline. And no two Revitalizations or Replants will be identical.

Conflict arises, culture changes, bad leadership exists, and churches sometimes fall out of touch with their community. Every church has glory days and difficult days. But if you’re reading this right now, it’s probable that you might be considering options for your church, or curious on what might be the best approach.

The Need for Church Renewal

When I first started working with dying or plateaued churches, I was overwhelmed at how many resources there were. In the past few decades, the need has become increasingly great for revitalization, because of the multitude of churches closing their doors.

The need for church renewal is urgent, and perhaps that’s why so many have turned to outside help for keeping their church alive. But there can be confusion on the language of so many books, programs, and resources. While revitalization is sometimes helpful, it’s not likely to work in every situation. 

With a huge stack of books on my desk, I started getting overwhelmed. I am still new to Associational work and needed some training on what to do with some of our churches who were facing closure and looking for answers. So, I attended a Replant training by NAMB earlier this year. Now, in a very rural setting with only 15 churches in our association, we have one church in Revitalization, one church in a Partnership Replant, and one church seeking to plant a church that died almost 10 years ago. 

There’s been confusion on the difference between Replanting and Revitalization. While there is some overlap, they are two different processes. Replanting is a form of Revitalization, but not every Revitalization is a Replant. So, what’s the difference?

Revitalization Defined

Church Revitalization is a deliberate, dedicated and protracted effort to reverse the decline or death of an existing church. Revitalization uses an existing church, with existing leadership, structures and history, but gives a renewed effort by addressing critical issues. 

Many choose this approach because it requires less change up front, and seems to be less invasive than other options. When church members are not ready for drastic change, they opt for this approach (if they opt for any at all). It can use an existing pastor and the pace of change is normally slow.

But there is some caution to Church Revitalizations. They’re less likely to lead to lasting change and more likely to be a continuation of the same, and for churches who are facing imminent closure, success is slim to none. In this situation, Revitalization may be possible, but it’s not probable.

However, God is more than able to do anything with any church for his glory. Some churches have experienced great success with Revitalization. 

How Revitalization Plays Out

After some conversations within a church, a church leader may either seek to be revitalized using their own congregation by suggesting a number of changes over a period of time to regain missional vitality and growth. The Church may address symptoms of the issues, but not causes. Sometimes, churches use outside help like a local Association or another ministry leader or team. 

In a traditional church, those suggestions normally go through teams or committees and need to be agreed on by the majority of the congregation. More organizational approaches see timelines and financial costs involved. A church leader may try a new methodology to doing ministry, but it sometimes gets pushback. 

According to a study by Thom Rainer, the estimated success rate of this type of revitalization is only 2%. But if there is a spiritually-binding covenant of agreement involved, its success rate is much higher. For churches facing closure, a more drastic approach may be needed to survive. As Bob mentioned in Ep. 1 of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, some churches have gone so far, they need a whole system reboot.

RePlanting

Replanting is a decision to close an existing church and re-launch as a new church, with new leadership (pastor), new name, new identity, new governance, new ministry approach and overall new philosophy of ministry. In some cases, it is not necessary to adopt a new name but simply to adjust it.

Replanting builds on the history of the previous church, but requires new leadership. A new identity can create enthusiasm and interest in the surrounding community. So a church that needs to Replant is one that does not have the time, energy, or resources to continue as their same church. 

Under this umbrella term, a RePlant can be done a few different ways: 

  • Replant Within: A Replant team is chosen out of the congregation under a Replant Pastor, and that team works together to relaunch as a new church.
  • Assisted Replant: Another healthy church partners with a dying church to provide leadership, accountability, and structure to Replant a Church.

Example

Thirty years ago, (Name) Baptist Church used to have about 200 in average worship attendance. They had an active Brotherhood, a WMU, children and youth programs, and lively worship. As they began to outgrow their facility, they decided to use their budget to begin building a larger sanctuary.

Through multiple conflicts involving prominent families and infighting about theological disputes, a group inside the church felt that their ministry staff wasn’t leading well. A large group of them wanted to separate and join another church. Others wanted to start a church of their own in a different location.

A large split happened. As a result, thirty years later a group of older members had done all they could to keep their church surviving. But without the giving they once had, their finances were quickly dwindling, and nothing they tried could reach a younger audience. Their reputation in the community was broken.

They grew tired of ministering, serving, and sharing the gospel after working so hard for so long. To make it worse, they couldn’t afford to pay a pastor anymore, so he eventually left. A long-time deacon went to the local association for help and their leader helped them consider some options.

All Things New

Another church closer to town wanted to help the church by restarting a new church in that location. Seeing that there was no way to remain open, the congregants decided to close as (Name) Baptist Church. They worked with another church’s leadership as they watched the church they once knew relaunch as a new church. 

During that time of closure, a new worship team and Replant pastor were introduced, a new mission and vision for ministry was birthed, new documents involving governance and membership were printed, and a new direction for the church on the horizon. 

Now, (New) Baptist Church has a different mission field. As they began to grow, baptisms and giving have increased, and they have plenty of space to meet in their sanctuary.  Their reputation in the community is restored, and their identity has changed.

Similarities in Need

This may sound like an awesome example. But it’s just that, an example. While many churches have experienced new growth and success with Replanting, it can’t always be guaranteed. But whether your church decides on Revitalization or Replanting, both have similar needs:

  • Both require time, energy, and effort
  • Both require a renewed spiritual commitment
  • Both require a high receptivity of change

As a final word of encouragement, Remember that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20). We need that confident assurance during this type of work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local Association, Convention, or NAMB for help with leadership, advice, counsel and care. Doing the task of Replanting or Revitalizing alone can be a lonely road. But Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church.

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.

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

Three dangers to avoid when defining ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So You Want To Be A Replanter

How might God be calling you to serve a dying church as a Replanter?

“What about a dying church brings glory to God?” Wrestling with this question is what led Mark Clifton to shift his focus from planting churches to replanting dying churches.

For a long time the prevailing wisdom was to avoid investing resources into the black hole of dying churches. It’s been common to run away from them, avoid them and let them die. Over the last decade, however, there has been a continual increase in awareness and effort given towards dying churches in North America. How might God be calling you to serve a dying church?

God is calling more people to the gritty and glorious work of replanting dying churches. How does a called and qualified replanter find a replant? Replanting is messy. It is often challenging, from finding a church ready and willing to be replanted to providing financially for a replanter and his family.

Replanting requires a commitment to radical dependence on the Lord. You aren’t smart enough, strategic enough, or dynamic enough to replant a dying church. But this is precisely why God is calling people to this work. Replanters are like Gideon’s army; we get to be co-laborers with Christ to serve his bride.

Like discerning God’s will for any area of our lives, pursuing replanting must start with prayer. Bob Bickford and Mark Hallock wrote a book called “Am I a Replanter.” Use this resource as a guide to praying through this calling for 30 days.

Pursue confirmation in your calling through guided conversation with a trusted ministry coach or mentor. The North American Mission Board offers a free Replanter and Revitalizer Characteristic Survey that is a self-assessment tool based on research.

The free report provides discussion questions and resources to help you learn more about yourself and replanting. Take time to wrestle with and confirm this call with the Lord, with your family, and with wise counsel.

Finding where God has called you to replant is more complicated than finding a place to plant or even finding a normal pastorate. Connecting with local planters who are already working with these churches can help you become aware of their need, and let them know of your calling. Leaning into your Baptist and association network can open these opportunities. Grab a meal together, and ask questions about churches in their area.

Bob Bickford and I dive into how to find a church to replant in Episode #48 of our podcast. Bob goes deeper into this discussion at the Replant Blog as well in this article.

Further Exploration

Once you have taken the survey listen to Episode #46 of our podcast for guidance from our podcast hosts on further exploration:

  • SURVEY SCORES
    • The free survey will give you a self-assessment score on each of the 13 characteristics. Do you think they are accurate? Did anything surprise you?
  • SELF-REFLECTION
    • At the end of the online survey, you will have an opportunity to download a free report. Work through the self-reflection questions on your own first to get a better self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. If you are married you will want to follow up your own reflection by discussing some of the reflection questions with your spouse.
  • SIT WITH A COACH
    • The scores you receive may not tell you as much as you want. The real value of this process comes when you sit down with a trusted ministry mentor or coach and work through the reflection questions with them. You have already explored them in the self-reflection process but as Proverbs 20:5 says, “Counsel in a person’s heart is deep water; but a person of understanding draws it out.”
  • SELECTED STUDY
    • The downloadable report will have several links to resources for further exploration. Take advantage of these to strengthen your weaker areas and maximize your strengths.

Replanting takes time. Leverage this season of waiting to prepare for the work ahead.

If you think your church may be in need of replanting or revitalization, you can find out by taking a quick, free online assessment.