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Every Generation Matters

Every Generation Matters

Do you genuinely love and have a deep, affectionate care towards every generation in your church? In a world of target groups, demographic information, and “projected growth rates,” it can be tempting to gear your ministry and activity towards a specific generation and fail to honor others.

In a Replant or Revitalization every generation matters and has a vital role in the local church’s life. Some have a tendency to adopt ministry approaches that are only geared toward the next generation of children, students, or young adults. The older generation starts to feel a bit…shoved out the door. On the opposite side is a tendency to only cater to the older generation for fear of your faithful few leaving and causing a stir after being long-time members. After all, they’ve contributed to the church much longer, right?

As a Replant leader, you must have an affinity for reaching multiple generations to connect with all age groups and ensure they are loved, valued, and heard. Multi-generational ministry is essential because that’s the picture of the gospel-centered community we see in Christ. And Jesus Christ said, “I will build MY church…” Salvation is not age-limited, and healthy churches should do all they can to focus on ministering to every age group of believers.

A Mosaic of God’s Grace

Multi-generational ministry shows a beautiful mosaic of God’s divine grace in the makeup of a local church. Some people come to Christ at eight years old, some in their twenties, and some in their late 80s. The drawing and convicting work of the Holy Spirit is no respecter of persons, and the salvation that God brings can come at any age in which someone repents and believes in Jesus Christ for salvation.(Thank God!!) 

In the biblical community, the local church comprises vast differences in age groups but with the same common denominator: The gospel. Paul didn’t preach differently towards differing people; he said, “We preach Christ and him crucified.” In Galatians 3:28, Paul explains that we are all one in Christ. This beautiful text shows that those who do not support multiple generations of focused ministry do not truly understand the gospel.

The gospel unites a church behind the banner of Christ regardless of age, ethnicity, socio-economic condition, or anything else. 

Holistic Discipleship and Biblical Instruction

In the epistles, age groups have different roles. In Titus 2:3-5, older women are taught to instruct and disciple younger women to care for their families and grow in their godliness and calling. In Titus 2:2, Older men are advised to be sober-minded, dignified in every way, and to lead in holiness. Younger men and women are taught to listen to and submit to their elders and are instructed to serve with passion and zeal. 

You see, if we want to express the biblical community modeled in the New Testament and taught in the Epistles, we must seek to reach every generation with the gospel and encourage them in different service areas of the church. If we want to do discipleship in the most holistic way possible, it takes every generation playing their part.

Build Bridges, Not Barriers

If you want to build bridges between different age groups, one of the worst things you can do is separate your people at every possible moment. That means having various worship services that target different age groups, having only age-specific discipleship groups, and misplacing expectations on specific age groups without considering the others.

Instead, we must seek out ways to build bridges between generations. Don’t focus on worship being too “young” or “old.” Just practice biblically sound worship. Look for ways to fellowship with one another outside of regular church practice. Create opportunities for younger men and women to be poured into by the older generation. 

Every generation has strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate and utilize their strengths instead of complaining about a group’s shortcomings. A good leader will look past the imperfections, celebrate spiritual gifts, and employ them when possible. It helps to eliminate preconceived notions about a specific generation and focus on ministering to them. As you pour into them, you’ll likely be surprised at their growth and openness.

Outdo One Another in Showing Honor

When you target preaching on inter-generational relationships, it can be a beautiful picture of discipleship. 

We often equate longevity to spiritual maturity. But this is not always the case. Are older generations  not receptive to change? No, we need to get rid of our preconceived notions. Some of the older generation have seen enough of the hardship in their church that they may be willing to try anything to see their church grow as it once did. 

Scripture commands us to outdo one another in showing honor. Scripture commands us to die to ourselves. Scripture commands us to humble ourselves. Scripture commands us to love one another. If you want to build relationships between generations, start with scripture. God’s word has an answer to everything pertaining to life and godliness.

In some encouraging words from Jimbo and Bob, they said, “Pastor the people God has called you to, not the one you want to pastor.” Multiple generations is a picture of gospel unity made possible by Christ. Don’t fear the generational gap. Embrace it for the glory of God.

Long-Tenured Pastors Can Still Lead in Church Renewal

Is it ever too late for a pastor to lead his congregation toward church renewal? 

In the replanting and revitalization world, there has been much discussion on the barriers to church renewal. One of those topics has been the tenure of the existing pastor. 

Replanting is usually described as the decision to close an existing church and re-launch it as a new church with new leadership, new name, new identity, new governance, new ministry approach and overall new philosophy of ministry. 

Although this is one of the ways to describe replanting, there are different variations of church renewal, such as church revitalization, fostering, and merging. 

Still, the question remains. If a church needs to enter into a renewed effort and process, does the existing, tenured pastor need to go?

In this week’s podcast, Jimbo and Bob discussed this vital topic and clarified where some may be confused. The answer is yes: a long-tenured pastor can certainly lead toward church renewal. But it takes some clear thought, a considerable commitment, and the power of God working through the Pastor and congregation.

To highlight some of the discussion, here are three things that must be stressed when a long-tenured pastor wants to lead a church toward church renewal.

A Renewed Pastor

Every faithful pastor who cares about his church is concerned about his church’s spiritual health. Pastors might implement different strategies and approaches to help their church engage their community, reconnect to their mission, and focus on discipleship. I’ve talked to older pastors who have commented: “Many of us have been doing ‘church revitalization’ before it became a system or a process.” That’s encouraging.

It tells us that a true pastor’s greatest desire is to lead his congregation in the best way that honors God and grows God’s kingdom. Those qualities should be applauded and celebrated.

But there is a difference between slowly implementing different methods vs. trying to enter into a new season of renewal for a church. Church Renewal often takes an intentional, set-apart initiative that is time-bound and goal-oriented. Sometimes, it can be easier for a church to “start from scratch” and get a new pastor. This can often result in forced termination. Do we think that a church can be renewed entirely by just switching leadership? Although this may help sometimes, it can speak even better testimony if a church engages in a new process with the same tenured leadership.

A long-tenured pastor may face the barrier of staleness and an inability for his congregation to follow him or try something new. But if a church is to be renewed, it must take a dedicated effort. A long-tenured pastor can lead this way, but they must focus first on their own renewal.

This can begin with a pastor taking a sabbatical and personally resting from the work of ministry to have somewhat of a “restart.” During that time, that pastor should do some prayerful personal evaluation and possibly reach out to others for training on church renewal. Pastors committed to the long haul must commit to seeing it through.

In a situation like this, a pastor must get some perspective and insight from others. As difficult as it may be, it helps to reach out to congregants and those outside the church to ask the questions:. How am I doing? How can I be a better pastor? What do you see from the outside that you think will help our church? These questions can sometimes be painful, but we all have blind spots we must be aware of.

Working with others, decide what your strengths and weaknesses are and how you can come back ready to lead your church in an intentional process toward renewal.

A Hungry Church

If a church is not hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness, a new pastor or a tenured pastor will change nothing. Church renewal occurs when God’s people draw near to him, ask him to reveal sin in their church, and seek his face daily through prayer. Church renewal happens when there is a revival of the church’s holiness and mission. 

If a church enters a renewal process, it must enter a season of prayer and anticipation. The leadership of a church communicates this through meetings and regular communication. It helps to set up a time-bound goal. At the first church we began serving towards Revitalization, we created a booklet called “90 Days of Prayer.” We challenged the church to enter into that season of seeking God together. This set up the stage for leading them to reconnect to their community and mission partners down the road.

We’ve talked before about creating a sense of “holy discontentment.” By conviction of leadership, help your church see that there’s something wrong. You’ll have to lead your church in some strong evaluation and rightly define reality. There are several different resources to do this. It can be tempting to jump from one Bible Study to another. But, a great leader will often go through a Bible study and then spend weeks leading his church in the application utilizing different functions and ministry. 

For example, most of you probably have read or at least heard of the classic Bible study book, “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. Thirteen weeks. What a great study! What great information! But how will you take this study and point to its application regularly? How will you help your church see where God is working and join him in that work? Let us not forget the words of Jesus: “Blessed is he who hears these words of mine…and does them.”

Church renewal cannot rise and fall on the pastor. If this happens, a church is not dependent on God. They are dependent on a man. If a church is hungry for a “new pastor” but they aren’t hungry for God, church renewal will never take place.

An Intentional Culture

Lastly, for church renewal to take place through a tenured pastor, the culture of a church must also change. “Business as normal” must be challenged and shaken up. 

When we began leading our first church in revitalization, one of the first changes we wanted to make was to start worshipping together in the old sanctuary, which was much smaller than the new. The new sanctuary sat about 300 people, but only 12-15 were regular attendees. Moving into the old sanctuary created a sense of authenticity and reminded us that we were one family gathering together.

A long-tenured pastor must intentionally lead the church in a defined, new direction. He must also be able to communicate it clearly and compellingly. That message must be amplified as much as possible.

It’s essential to cast a simple but compelling vision statement. Where do you want to see your church in five years? In ten years? When you have “wins,” celebrate them regularly and build momentum.

There are many resources to help in your efforts. But one of the best resources is right here on this website! Many blogs, podcasts, and resources are here for you to browse through how to lead your church in these efforts. If you’re a long-tenured pastor seeking to lead your church in renewal, consider these things and implement them. It may very well be that God is not finished with your season of ministry at this church.

The Local Association and the Local Pastor: Make it A Dynamic Duo

 

Batman and Robin

This past summer, my husband and I were on a mission trip to California.  We were speaking with a replant pastor there and were telling him how surprised we were that their local association listed churches for sale on their website.  We were heartbroken that these churches weren’t being replanted or revitalized.  Instead, the association was selling them for commercial property to the highest bidder.  “That doesn’t surprise me,” he said.  “We have spent the past five years trying to help with replanting and planting churches in this area, but the association hasn’t done anything.  They haven’t invested time, money, or resources.  It seems like the association doesn’t care.” 

We were stunned.

But as we talked about this at the base camp that night, we realized that we had heard those same sentiments over 15 years ago from a different pastor in a completely different context.  We started our ministry journey in 2007, and at that time, we asked the youth pastor at the church we served in what the local association did to assist pastors in the area.  “I couldn’t tell you,” he said.  “I’m not even sure who leads it. We haven’t heard from them since the last pastor left several years ago.” Again, we were stunned.  

These are extreme examples and are not the norm for most associations and pastors.  The vast majority of local associations have leaders who are working alongside the churches in their area and are committed to replanting and revitalizing dying churches.  But for some of our replant pastors, this extreme is the unfortunate, heartbreaking context in which they find themselves. How can we create a partnership that thrives and flourishes? What separates the associations and pastors who have an amazing partnership and those who, unfortunately, don’t?

This week on the podcast, JimBo and Bob discussed how associational leaders can be partners in the gritty and glorious work of replanting dying churches.  They identified the “Seven C’s” of church renewal for local AMS leaders (Associational Mission Strategist, formerly DOM, Director of Missions) and their pastors to navigate the complex oceans of church health.  

What Does Success Look Like?

The very first “C” is the most important.  Without it, everything else lacks clear direction.  Our first “C” is this: Correctly define success.

What does a “successful” church look like?  If your association is celebrating accomplishments and applauding “success,” what metric are they using?  Pastors and AMS leaders alike may be tempted to base success on numerical attendance.  But consider these statistics:

  • A “normative” size church is a church with less than 199 gathered in worship.
  • 91% of all SBC churches have less than 200 gathered in worship on any given Sunday, and 79% have less than 100.
  • Out of all the churches in the SBC today, less than 90 report an attendance of over 2,000.

Mark Clifton defines success at a church this way: A culture of making disciples that make disciples that in turn make the community noticeably better.  

When we base success on the number of attendees on Sunday morning, we are like the couple who goes on a long road trip without deciding who is navigating: We may get somewhere eventually, but we’re going to miss opportunities along the way and we may end up with some hurt feelings before we get there. 

If we aren’t correctly identifying what success looks like, we will miss the opportunity to celebrate God’s faithfulness in churches that are making disciples and positively impacting their communities.  We will look at the church running large numbers and assume that God is doing great work there but will fail to look at the small church that has increased their giving to missions and has built a discipleship program from scratch.

If we fail to define success correctly, we also run the risk of alienating our partnering churches by making them feel insignificant. Our churches will feel overlooked and unappreciated, and their pastors will feel unsupported and alone, a recipe for burnout and frustration.

An Association of Collaboration

Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros franchise

Our next three “Cs” all work together, and that’s fitting because they call us to… All work together!

As an AMS, the networking capabilities are practically built-in.  An AMS has access to one thing many pastors don’t have… Other pastors! Too often, pastors forget that we are all in this glorious calling together.  We get consumed with a spirit of competition between churches.  But the church down the street is not our competition– they are our colaborers in Christ!

While Southern Baptist churches are autonomous and make their own decisions, AMSs have the unique opportunity to encourage pastors to shift from a competitive mindset to a collaborative one by implementing three words: Cooperation, cohorts, and callings.

An AMS can connect a church with resources to one that is lacking them.  AMSs should be continually looking for opportunities to foster relationships between churches, not just pastors.  Is there a church with an exceptional Children’s Ministry? Parter their team with one that is just starting to grow their kid’s area.  Is there a church where discipleship is taking off and people are growing in their faith?  Pair someone from that church to teach the pathway to the church that is implementing a program.

When churches cooperate together, the church up the street stops being an enemy of growth and starts being a friend in health. When resources are shared between churches, each church learns to trust and rely on the other, resulting in a much easier transition if one begins to decline and needs to look at an adoption or fostering process.  One area where this is happening successfully is the Lexington Baptist Association in South Carolina, led by Johnny Rumbaugh.  Johnny has worked with many churches in his association and others by offering a collaborative process by using transitional pastors.  You can hear more about his work on this episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast.)

Cohorts are another great way for AMSs to facilitate collaboration between churches.  We often use the phrase, “Don’t pastor alone.” This phrase is a key component for First Coast Churches, an association of churches in Jacksonville, Florida where the partnership between pastors and the association is strong and vibrant.  We don’t use this phrase because we want every church to have multiple pastors on staff.  We use it because when the storms of life hit, and they will, you NEED other pastors.  

Cohorts are small groups in which pastors can get together in a safe environment to talk about their struggles, their burdens, and to celebrate their “wins” together.  As an AMS, facilitating those discussions and providing a space for them can make all the difference for pastors who are struggling and on the verge of quitting.  You can engineer a bridge that brings pastors together when the waters get deep.

Another way AMSs can help create a collaboration of pastors is to “call out the called,” by assisting churches to create residency programs.  Small churches are a great place for men who have been called to the ministry to begin serving in that capacity.  Not only are you preparing them for ministry in a normative church, but the church itself benefits by having someone share the work.

AMSs can build a pipeline of pastors who are willing and ready to train others, hopefully with a variety of different gifts. As JimBo stated on the podcast, exposure to pastors and leaders with different gifts allows you to expand your learning and your experience. By building a residency program that utilizes multiple churches and multiple pastors, the association has now not only bridged a gap between pastors but has also given young men the opportunity to serve and to lead in the local church, especially by using these young men for pulpit supply. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Bob Lowman, at the Metrolina Baptist Association has worked alongside pastors in his area to form the City Residency Project to train and equip pastors who are called into ministry. Bob says, “We’re better together. The more we can come together and make this kind of effort, the more I believe we’ll see multiplication happen instead of addition.”

An Association of Comfort

There are going to be times when an AMS will need to provide comfort to a church in their area.  Consulting and crisis intervention are the next two “Cs.”  When an AMS learns that a church in their area is struggling, he can often provide a powerful resource to help… He can provide himself! 

One of the hardest parts of church revitalization and replanting is that churches don’t often realize they’re sick until they’re dying.  Churches need to have someone who can help them accurately diagnose their condition and get them the right treatment.  When an AMS learns that a pastor is leaving his church, the AMS can offer consulting to that church on their pastor search committee, asking them good questions to help them get a clear picture of their health. Not every church will accept this help, but for those who do, the advice and expertise of their local AMS can be invaluable!

Some churches in an association will face a crisis (or many crises)– in those difficult times, having an AMS who can help them walk through their next steps is critical.  The AMS can provide comfort to the church AND the pastor as they navigate exhausting and complicated situations.  The role of the AMS and the association is one of encouragement and reassurance that God has not forgotten them.

two men shaking hands

Celebrating a Beautiful Partnership

I began by telling two stories of unsuccessful and discouraging partnerships between local associations and the pastors they led.  Those stories are heartbreaking because everyone in them is discouraged and is missing out on a “match made in Heaven.”

I don’t mean that lightly– truly the partnership between an AMS and a pastor can be God-ordained and God-sent.  I have seen it to be true in my own life. When we went through our biggest struggle in ministry– one that had us questioning the very call to pastoring and made us feel like quitting– it was our friends and partners in ministry who pulled us back from the ledge.  Our friends were fellow pastors we met through cohorts and collaborations that were created within our local association.  The partnership we had with the local AMS reminded us that we had a network of relationships that supported us and kept us from walking away.  And in that time, our replant truly began to flourish.  If we had walked away we would have missed out on something incredible.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 states, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

If you are an AMS, you likely have stories of great success where you have seen churches brought back to health through all of the efforts mentioned above.  When you have those stories, celebrate them!  Talk about cohorts that are developing leaders from leaders.  Talk about the pastoral pipeline that offered a struggling church new hope with a new pastor.  Bring pastors to your annual meeting to speak on a panel about the value of collaboration.  Have church members talk about the growth they experienced from joining another church in ministry.  These success stories are your testimony to the work that God is doing in and through your association and you!  As a ground-level partner in church health, your local knowledge and expertise are often the key to ensuring we all navigate these “Seven Cs” of church revitalization even in the most turbulent waters!

Resources:

One of the best resources for AMS leaders regarding replanting, renewal, and church health is the Annual AMS Lab in Atlanta.  This event will be held February 19th and 20th in Atlanta, Georgia.  We will update you with the speakers and registration as it opens!

We also have the Partnership Profile Tool and the Associational Replanting Guide as tools that you can use to assist you as you partner with replant churches in your area.  

And as always, the Replant Team is here to assist you! Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help you in this gritty and glorious work!

Church Leadership in the Election Season

Election season can be one of the most challenging seasons of your pastoral ministry. If you’ve been a church leader for the past ten years, I’m sure you can tell stories of discord, arguments, and conflicts in the church due to political tension. This tension can easily seep into your congregation and threaten the church’s unity and the mission that we Christians are called to uphold.

But this week on the Bootcamp episode 209, Jimbo and Bob gave us some helpful insight on navigating the upcoming election season. Here are some practical ways to handle the election season with unity and grace without sacrificing conviction.

Call Attention to Unity

The devil loves to attack church unity during a voting season. I remember when I was a seminary student during the 2020 election. Our family lived in Wake Forest, which was pretty conservative during that time. While the neighboring city, Raleigh, was much more liberal. Seeing the difference between the two cities while we lived there was surprising. 

We went to a very healthy church in that area that did a great job of emphasizing unity during that season. But on campus, there were many wide-ranging conversations on the political spectrum. While I grew up in South Georgia, close friends of mine grew up in more urban areas with different political leanings. You can imagine the heated dialogue and probably have had a few of those yourself.

One thing that has become clear to me in working with churches is that if we don’t intentionally pursue unity, it won’t happen on its own. While many scriptures point to this reality, one of my favorites is Romans 12:16-18. It says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If possible, as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

This is a scripture that teaches us that unity is something we must actively pursue with one another. Don’t neglect using the word to speak to the life of your congregation. Good leadership will allow you to counsel your flock in a way that teaches that we should give each other the benefit of the doubt. A church is filled with people who come from different backgrounds and experiences. While you preach on theological truth, Christian engagement can be met with differences, and that’s okay. 

There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Not everyone in your congregation will vote the same way, and not everyone will have the same views and opinions politically as everyone else. But as Christians, we know that even if we aren’t all the same, we still have a strong commonality in Jesus Christ that will cause us to live in harmony with one another, even if our flesh enjoys strife.

Think Slow, Think Wise

Another pursuit as a church leader during this season should be wisdom. I was listening to a preacher once who said, “Real Christians can only vote for one party.” He said this in a large church with a balanced mixture of ethnicities, generations, and backgrounds. While many agreed with his sentiment, there was an awkward shifting of glares in the room. 

Such a statement seemed derogatory and unnecessary, especially for those who didn’t share the same opinion. While attempting to unify the church on voting matters, it actually caused tension and stirred up quite a bit of conversation that distracted from the church’s mission.

When we put political rivalries in black-and-white statements, we create a complex conflict within the church body. The church is not a polling booth (though some churches are used as polling booths). We cannot put unrealistic expectations on church members who are diverse in their thought processes and hold specific values over others. 

Implementing wisdom also causes us to slow down on significant changes this season. If you are trying to change the ministries of your church or some other significant change during the political season, don’t be surprised when you get met with more pushback than average. Sometimes, stepping back and calculating your church culture before doing anything that might cause division is good.

During this season, use wisdom to help your church focus on biblical truth and Christian living. Don’t add something that can become fodder for unity. This includes things like social media. We have to be skilled as leaders in addressing polarizing issues from different angles. Social media throws context out of the water. When we say things on social media versus in person, it’s difficult to read and understand its meaning. Don’t use social media in a way that causes confusion or conflict.

Be a Well-Rounded Teacher

One of the most helpful things you can do is teach through several topics related to the political season. For example, when you teach on the connection between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, church members can rest in that while their candidate may not have won, they can still know that God is in control and has a plan.

When we teach our congregations about how Christians interact with the culture around us, your church recognizes that even in conversations with others, we should seek to be peaceful, winsome, and full of love towards the outside world. Amid rivalries, Christian speech should be seasoned with salt. There should be no unwholesome talk that comes out of our mouths. 

When we teach about the difference between God’s kingdom and man’s kingdom, we help our congregations live in a way that first and foremost honors God and doesn’t idolize political candidates. We should desire to equip our people not only to know but also to understand that our hope is not in elections or government leaders. 

A well-rounded leader will help their church understand that Christians are Christians in the polling booth and the church. While we shouldn’t use the pulpit as a political tool, there are undoubtedly biblical values to highlight and point to during this season. During this season, may we echo the words of Paul in our ministries:  for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 26:27).

Arresting Negative Thoughts

Three years ago, you started at Random Church. You were so excited! There was some traction at first, but one failed idea after another, you started meeting heavy resistance from the people. Now, you don’t even want to stay after church and talk to your members. You want to preach your sermon and go home. You start thinking, “This church wastes my time.” Or, “They need a better pastor; certainly not me.” 

The longer the labeling and negative thoughts continue, the further you step away from the church where God called you, for His glory. If we don’t step back and regularly have some self-awareness, and if we are not mindful of our current state of emotions, we can easily let negativity consume us and rob us of our calling. 

Mindfulness and Ministry

Mindfulness may be a secular term, but the implications of it are seen throughout the scriptures. Mindfulness means that you pay attention to the thoughts in your mind and discover if your thoughts are either being informed by truths or lies. Negative thinking can also drift into a place of darkness or discouragement.

Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says this

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”    

This scripture tells us that Christians have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to take every thought captive to obey Christ. Toxic negativity can drive our minds to madness where we feel there is no way out. But the reality is that sometimes we need to arrest those thoughts and remind ourselves of our identity in Christ and the validity of the situation we are in.

Arresting Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts can be a detriment to your ministry.

While we are redeemed people who have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the reality is that we are still living as physical beings with flesh. That means having a mind that can sometimes be distorted by sin. In this recent podcast series, we’ve been looking at the topic of mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being self-aware of our state of mind while serving in ministry. 

According to the Sage Neuroscience Center, negative thoughts can manifest as incorrect assumptions, unrealistic self-criticisms, and even the denial of reality itself. Here are a few ways that these negative thoughts can seem to overcrowd our minds and put us in a state of confusion:

  1. Black-or-white thinking: 

This type of thinking paints unrealistic expectations of decisions. Examples are “me vs. them” thinking, good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, and “If someone is not for me, they are against me.” This type of thinking doesn’t give grace towards people who share different opinions and make mistakes. It forces you to feel trapped in a decision and doesn’t give room for gray areas.

  1. Emotional Reasoning: 

This happens when we insist that something is true, but our only “facts” are our feelings. Emotions can cloud our judgment. In ministry, sometimes we confuse “discernment” with feelings, and let those drive us to make unnecessary and rash decisions.

  1. Overgeneralization: 

Someone may overly fixate on one negative detail and overgeneralize it to all of life. As an example, a pastor may say, “I preached an awful sermon Sunday. Maybe I shouldn’t even be the pastor here! Who would want a pastor like me?” Speaking of a church member, they might say, “That person always raises a question during business meeting! They are always against me.”

  1. Labeling: 

This means you are putting negative labels on yourself and people around you. It’s a type of negative-self talk that comes from a sense of shame. If you label yourself as a bad leader, father, husband, or pastor, you are labeling yourself. At the root of this in ministry is a failure to understand that your actions do not define you or your identity.

  1. And more:

There are several more ways that negative thoughts can manifest themselves, such as: jumping to conclusions, fortune-telling and mind-reading, catastrophizing, inability to be wrong, minimizing, and self-blame. 

In a Replant or Revitalization, tensions can become even higher and more emotional than ever. Think about it: you are working with historical landmarks, memories, control, power struggles, and so much more! But how can we get to a place where we can arrest our thoughts and think rationally, and not let negativity ruin our ministry?

Transform Your Negativity

Here is another scripture to consider: Romans 12:1-2

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When God saved you, he gave you a new heart, but your mind is something that has to be renewed over time! While God gives us new desires and we are a new creation, we have to discover what that means through a renewal process. The Bible calls it sanctification. So as my mind is being sanctified, what are some ways I can be mindful of negativity in my life?

Be a Worshiper

Based on that scripture, the first question we need to ask if we have negative thoughts is this: Am I regularly giving myself to God as a worshiper? There is undoubtedly a wrong way to worship. Jesus taught in John 4:24 that “God is spirit. And those who worship him worship in Spirit and Truth.” The downward spiral of negativity all begins with our belief in a lie. 

But when I regularly present myself to God as a living sacrifice, and I live a life in worship of him, I surround my thinking and my mind with truth—the truth about God, the truth about myself, and the truth about my situation. If your mind is starting to go in that direction, recognize that you have the opportunity to surrender it to the Lord. 

Don’t be Conformed to the World

In the same verses, Romans tells us not to be conformed to this world. One of the reasons we get caught up in negativity is because we listen to what the world says about issues we are facing instead of listening to God’s word. The world tells us that if we are overly negative, it’s because we are missing something. So we try to fill that void with everything the world offers. But God’s word tells us that we can cast all our anxiety on the Lord, for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The world tells us to cut out all the “toxic people” from our lives, but pastors have a responsibility to care for people’s souls! (Hebrews 13:17). We know that the gospel has the power to transform people…even “toxic” people. 

1 John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world.” If we listen to the world, and wordly solutions, our negativity is not being answered by God’s word. Let’s listen to him, instead.

Renew Your Mind

Renewing your mind takes an intentional effort to be aware of your emotions. Where are your thoughts coming from? Did they come from an experience that actually happened? Or did you draw conclusions from something that could have happened? 

Sometimes we need an outside perspective from others. Confide in a friend and ask someone to help you normalize your emotions and analyze what is actually going on. In the podcast, Jimbo mentioned “Anxiety is the disease of self-focus.” We can be so inside our thoughts and feelings, it may be challenging to see the truth. But when you pull yourself out to get perspective from others, they can remind you of what is happening around you.

Once we give these things to the Lord, make sure you spend time in the word each day (not for ministry, but for yourself). Apply scripture to the things that God reveals about where you are. You will find that when you open the word for the renewing of your mind, not others, God will meet you in that place.

Instead of listening to your negative thoughts, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and God’s word. That transforms our thinking and our mind. Don’t just identify negativity, but chase it out and get back to a healthy, vibrant mindset. Let God use the testimony of others to teach you how to renew your mind and put your hope in him again. And always be mindful…of your mind.

Making Sure Busy Doesn’t Equal Burnout

“You need a break.  We’re a little concerned that you’re stretching yourself too thin. You just seem really busy and stressed out.” My friend was concerned, and to be honest, I was, too.  I was going through our busiest season of ministry and I was so exhausted that I was snapping at my family regularly enough that my kids were walking on eggshells around me. I was mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually drained.

I agreed with my friend that I did absolutely need a break, and I was grateful that they at least acknowledged how hard I was working.  But then, in the very next breath, they said, “It would be great though if you could please counsel with my friend– I told her you’d be happy to call her and talk her through some emotional stuff she’s going through.”

Sigh.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t unique.  Pastors everywhere are facing jam-packed schedules and struggling under the weight of congregational expectations. Replant pastors are often their church’s pastor, discipleship leader, janitor, maintenance man, events coordinator, interior designer, and communications director. With all these jobs and more, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day!

In 2021, a study conducted by Soul Shepherding, a Christian leadership training ministry, found 75% of pastors reported feeling extreme stress, 90% reported feeling extreme fatigue, 90% were working an average of 55-75 hours per week, and 85% had never had the opportunity to take extended time off. 

With those statistics in mind, the latest episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast sought to give pastors some tips to prevent our busyness from leading to burnout. 

The Truth About Being Busy

a busy man with multiple arms and legs juggling a briefcase, clock, cell phone, and papers

We are wired to enjoy being needed– and as a pastor, you are definitely needed! Usually by everyone, all at once!  But there is a danger in finding your satisfaction in being needed: eventually, you make yourself so necessary that you can never take a break.

Here is a fun fact about work– our brains are also wired to find accomplishing tasks rewarding. Recent studies have proven that your brain releases dopamine when you achieve goals, and that checking off a “to-do” list can make you feel happier.  

There are two problems in this, as Bob pointed out. First, sometimes we allow ourselves to love the ministry that we have for Christ more than we are loving Christ. Second, as Jimbo says, ministry never ends– there is always another meeting, someone in the hospital, someone’s house you need to visit, some marriage that needs counseling, a committee that needs to be met with, or a contractor that has to be negotiated with for your AC or your copier lease. Then, of course, you always need to get a weekly sermon prepared. (Whew.) 

If the ministry is never “done,” then we never get that rush of dopamine from checking things off.  Instead, we just keep feeding the ministry beast– but it’s a monster that is never satisfied. And if you aren’t careful, you will feed your own ego, as well.

Another truth about our busy schedules is that we don’t always allow ourselves to have a proper “Rest Day.”  For us, Sunday is a work day.  It may be a “day of rest,” for many of our congregation members, but for us, it’s Game Day. It’s the day we show up early, stay late, and preach the Gospel in between. 

The command to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy wasn’t about making sure you went to church and then napped.  It is a command from our creator to rest– not because He needed it, but because we do. God knew we needed time to reset our minds and to refocus on Him. He knew this about us because He created this need in us!  When we get so busy that we neglect the Sabbath, we operate outside of God’s will and His power.

Too Busy or Too Distracted?

Here’s the thing– many times, when we’re busy, it isn’t because we are doing everything God has called us to do.  Some of us have lists of ministries, activities, and tasks that aren’t ours to do.  Either we have taken on someone else’s responsibilities or we have placed too much emphasis on our own abilities.

Take a look at your life– where are you feeling the most stress?  The most anxiety?  What task feels like it’s taking more time than you can possibly give?  Is this something that God called you to do?  Sometimes we forget that while, yes, God called us into ministry, He never asked us to do every part.  We forget that He said we are all one body, but different parts, and instead we try to take on every single role in the church.  This is a trap of Satan– if we get busy enough, we get stressed, then burnt out, and then distracted.  We take our eyes off the goal of loving God and loving people and start to focus on working for God and working for people.

Sometimes it’s not that it’s someone else’s responsibility, but their expectation.  Frequently, pastors are approached by people who really feel their church needs a specific ministry or a specific event. These are good projects, and pastors may agree they are needed.  But when asked about who will lead it, typically members will say, “Well, not me.  I just had the idea.  Can’t you lead it or head it up or find someone else to do it?”  Their expectation is that we have the time and energy to lead every single thing at the church.  In reality, God most likely called them to that ministry.  He gave them the vision and he impressed it upon their heart. 

When we take on someone else’s expectations of what we should be doing, we shortchange God’s work in their lives, while simultaneously creating unnecessary stress on our own. We feel this pressure to make sure they know we’re working hard.  We want our members to see that our car is always in the parking lot, that we are the first to arrive and the last to leave, and that we are always in the office (never mind the fact that so much of ministry happens outside of normal office hours). We feel like being present at every event and every meeting somehow secures our job and makes us seem like the hardest worker in the room.

But here is a hard truth:  You’re not God.  You aren’t omnipresent. You can’t be everywhere, all the time.  The faster you operate knowing that you aren’t capable of doing it all, and the quicker you remind other people of that, the better your schedule looks.

Before You Burn Out

a sloth hanging from a tree

Now that we’ve diagnosed why we’re busy, what can we do about it?  Should we just quit everything and become sloths?  Tempting, but no.

First, you need to set a sane work schedule.  Look at everything you do in a week– literally everything.  How much of your time is spent in sermon prep?  Bible study?  Personal time with God?  Kids sporting events?  Date night with your spouse?  Now start recognizing what is important versus what is urgent. A recent podcast and blog can help you identify those terms better to help you make that decision.

Next, focus your work according to your wiring.  You are naturally geared toward specific schedules and productivity times.  I am not a morning person– I don’t come alive until after the coffee is in my system and my body is sufficiently awake, usually around 10 am.  I am super productive until about 2 pm, then I eat lunch.  Typically I have an afternoon slump after lunch but pick back up around 4 and stay powered up until 9 pm.  If I schedule an intense meeting at 8:00 am and pencil in my bible study at 3 pm, it’s a recipe for disaster.  

Look at your rhythms of productivity and schedule accordingly. When are you most creative?  When is a good time for administration related tasks that require less brainpower?  When are you at your best physically for those tasks that require more physical strength?

I am also an introvert.  I know if I have “peopled” too much for too long, I will eventually run out of power in my social meter.  I have to remember to schedule myself appropriately and leave time for me to recharge so I don’t grow weary of socialization.

Now, delegate and elevate.  Those people who thought of a great ministry activity and expected you to lead it?  Empower them!  Allow them the grace to find their footing and lead it themselves.  They may make a mistake– that’s OK. You can train them and release them much easier that you can try to do everything yourself. Is there something you’re doing that falls under the description of a committee, elder, or deacon responsibility?  Delegate it.  They have a job God has called them to do; it’s time for them to do it.

And last, but certainly not least— remember to pencil in time with Jesus at the top of your list.  He calls us to come to Him and receive rest when we are weary (Matthew 11:28). Before you burn out completely, start making it a priority to come to Him.  Meditate on His words, not just for sermon preparation, but for your own personal time with Him.  Allow Him to show you areas of weakness and areas where your ego may be leading instead of Him.  Take time to talk to Him, but make sure you include time to listen, too.  Jesus longs to bring rest to your exhausted soul– let Him.

Resources for the Busy Pastor

a front copy of the book Redeeming Your Time by Jordan Raynor

Many of the applications we mentioned in this podcast and the accompanying blog are tips we’ve learned from our friend, Jordan Raynor.  Jordan’s book, Redeeming Your Time, has reshaped and changed our schedules for the better and we highly recommend it.

Right now, Jordan is offering Bootcamp listeners a discount for his online course where you will learn the principles Jordan teaches on how to make your work more productive and more meaningful. The course is normally $249, but Bootcamp listeners can sign up for only $49 using the discount code “JImbo.” Email us to connect with Jordan’s online course.

We also have the Replant Summit coming up in exactly one month.  If you haven’t registered for it, please do so now!  The theme this year is “Renew” and we are excited to meet each of you and spend time with one another.  

As always, if digital marketing is taking up too much of your time, our friends at 180 Digital are happy to help.  Contact them and see what resources they have to make your life a little easier!

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.

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.

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: