Tag: church replant

Dealing with Forced Termination

“Here’s Your Envelope”

Recently, a Pastor was called up to the front of the church the week before Christmas Day. It had been a difficult four years in the church, and while there was no promise of any raise, at least he knew he would get a Christmas Bonus. The deacons made that clear when he first started. 

As he walked to the front, he felt a little bit of appreciation for the hard work he had done over the past year, and was grateful to receive anything extra the church could give for his family. After receiving an envelope as a Christmas Bonus, the church dismissed and he went home with his family.

“How much did they give you?” His wife asked once they got home.

As the pastor opened up the envelope, he stood there, frozen. It was an empty envelope. Thinking maybe there had been a mistake, he called the church treasurer. “Hey _____, I just got home and we opened up the envelope I was given as a Christmas bonus and…” 

“Pastor,” she replied, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” Click

With thoughts racing, he began calling some of his deacons. Time and time again, he was met with the same response. The deacons couldn’t meet until the first of the year. They kept pushing him off. Knowing that something was very off, Pastor decided to reach out to his Associational Director of Missions and schedule a meeting with all of the deacons.

At the beginning of the year, he met with the deacons with his DOM present. They began telling the pastor a list of grievances they had collected over his tenure. It was a list of petty complaints and differences. It was just what the pastor feared: the empty envelope was a ruse to see if he would leave. As a result of the mediation that took place, some deacons decided to leave, and others stayed. But the pastor had to deal with this ugly reality:

The church had tried to forcefully terminate him.

Been there?

In Ep. 174 of the podcast, we were reminded that ministry is not for the faint of heart. We have all heard the horror stories, and perhaps you may have experienced forced termination yourself. Sometimes it happens with secret meetings, met after church hours in a Sunday School classroom. Forced termination can come from a small group of people who have had it out for the pastor as soon as he arrived. We’ve heard it with a letter on the office desk, changing the locks on the doors, or a knock on the door in the middle of the night by a church member. Some may have heard the words, “We had a vote of no confidence…”

I recently was working with a church Revitalization project. When I visited a Wednesday night service, I noticed the pastor’s wife crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she pulled out an anonymous letter she had received in the mailbox. It was from a former member that had left during the current pastor’s tenure. The letter read, “For the sake of this church and God, please take you and your family and leave our church.”

People can sometimes be cruel and hurtful.

A study recently conducted that of all pastors, 23-41% will experience a forced termination once in their career.  Four out of 10 pastors will be forced out of their church either by firing or by some sort of pressure that leads to their departure.

Effects on the Church

If you’ve ever been fired from a church, no matter the circumstance, it is deeply painful. We tend to find identity in our vocation, and when being “let go” we start to feel like there is something wrong with us. It is no surprise that many pastors either walk away from the ministry or at least take a leave of absence from the ministry itself after a situation like this. 

But there are many effects of forced termination on a church as well. David Myers, a retired Director of Missions from Chattanooga, wrote in an article:

What forced termination does to the soul of the congregation is significant in and of itself, but the practical, logistical impact is also significant. The church may lose members who are unhappy with what has occurred or how it was done. The loss of financial support may result from membership decline or withholding money. The name and reputation of the church is marred in the community and beyond. Hesitant, reserved or negative recommendations of the church are given to prospective new ministers for that church. Many ministers are reluctant to consider relocation to a church that terminated its previous minister.

Evidence in Declining Churches?

Since this website deals mainly with Church Replants and Revitalizations, we need to address a specific angle of forced termination. What does it mean if the church you are working with has a history of firing pastors?

It may not be written in the business meeting minutes, but you can often find out by asking several long-tenured members of the church what happened to pastors in the past. There is something wrong with a church that historically has found ways to “let go” of their pastors. For example, many churches have used the word “incompetence” as reason to fire a pastor. But when “incompetence” is defined by decisions a pastor has made that some disagree with, that is not incompetence. When infrastructure and preference take priority over the leadership of your pastor, these are dangerous signs of a declining, unhealthy church. 

A church like this has some foundational issues. They are rejecting the biblical teaching of obedience to spiritual authority. When a Pastor has violated any code of conduct, shown evidence of sinful patterns, or put the people of God at risk of danger from false teaching or lack of care, these are real issues that should be addressed under the right structure. A church should be able to rely on their constitution and bylaws to go through the right process, and address any significant issues in the church.

And there are ways that we can prevent this from happening. It’s important that a pastor has a leadership team or a board to filter significant decisions through. But this comes with the understanding that a pastor must lead the way that God is calling him to lead, as long as it lines up with biblical teaching.

What can we do to help a church change their ways of the past?

  1. Go back and address the wrongs of past leaders against them and their families. There is nothing more scarring to a pastor and his family. This pain for the former pastor’s families should be addressed in the church and dealt with in a graceful way. 
  2. Remove those who have instigated or been involved with unfounded and unreasonable terminations from leadership positions within the church. Or at least have a hard conversation with them. If a church has some bullies, or a few who like to stir up the pot and be involved in “behind-the-scenes” campaigns, you cannot allow them to persist in places of leadership. 
  3. Address informal campaigns to force a pastor out through biblically based, by-law supported church discipline. Church discipline is one of the most neglected practices in the church today. But you would think that a church practice that is distinctly and specifically biblical would be practiced to pursue church health. Every healthy document of church constitution and bylaws should have a member conduct clause and a church discipline clause. 
  4. Make careful note of the redemptive actions taken above (repentance, reconciliation, peacemaking, and church discipline), and commit as a church to not let this happen in the future. 

If you’ve been a pastor who has been hurt by forceful termination, we know how painful this is. For encouragement and help, check out this article. And this helpful article from the Pastor’s Hope Network. For encouragement, help, and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here at the Replant Bootcamp. 

road sign reads change ahead

The Emotional Cycle of Change

“A pastor goes into it thinking he’s going to change the world… He gets fired for changing the bulletin.” Yikes…  That is one of those tough sayings that rings true for far too many pastors that I know.  They had high hopes of replanting a struggling church but realized quickly that change is hard.  

But here’s some good news: change follows a fairly predictable pattern. And if you can exercise tactical patience, you really CAN change the world– or, at least, your church.

Stage One: Uninformed Optimism

Oh man.  This stage is absolutely great… while it lasts.  Unfortunately, that’s not very long.  At this stage, everyone is excited about the change.  They’re “ready for change,” they’re “eager for a new direction” and “looking forward to some new ideas.” The optimism is contagious, and there’s a good wave of momentum.  This is the stage when a pastor starts planning out some necessary changes and begins talking about them with key people who are mostly supportive.

On the Replant Bootcamp podcast, the guys compared this stage to the Israelites coming out of Egypt.  There was joy as they celebrated the First Passover and began to follow God’s direction.  They were led by God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and they were ready to take hold of the Promised Land God had pledged to them (Exodus 13).  

But just like Moses, pastors will discover that after the initial excitement wears off, the congregation will start into the negative Stage Two.

curvy road sign

Stage Two: Informed Pessimism

One of the most important things a pastor can do when implementing changes is to communicate.  You can’t over-communicate when you are making changes.  Your congregation needs to know the what, when, how, and especially why changes are being made. There is a temptation here for most pastors, because once change is communicated, then the protests start.  “We’ve done it this way for years– why change now?” “That sounds expensive and like a lot of work.  We don’t have the resources for that.”  “We don’t want to do something new.  We like it this way.”

In this stage, the benefits of change don’t feel immediate and sometimes the wait can make them seem unimportant. You might forget why you felt so strongly about the changes you were called to make.  The cost associated with the change becomes apparent, and the grumbling starts to wear you down.

Again, we can look to the Israelites and see the parallel.  In Exodus 14, as the Egyptians are racing toward them, the Israelites look at Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11) Funny isn’t it? The same Israelites who were just a chapter before praising God for His deliverance have abandoned the idea at the first sign of trouble!  Suddenly they don’t remember the horror of Egypt, they would rather go backward than to face their fear, which leads directly to stage three.

image from the Princess Bride- the pit of despair

Stage Three: The Valley of Despair

The costs have been counted, and the people are grumbling.  Benefits for change seem far away and your people are struggling to support a change they don’t feel is necessary.  You’ve tried to communicate the reasons why, and you’ve fought the good fight.  But in stage three, even you will start to question your decisions for change.  You will start wondering if this is even worth it.  

At this stage, no one is happy.  You aren’t happy, your congregation isn’t happy.  Heck, even your dog is unhappy at this point.  You will look for a way out of this hard struggle.  And the easiest way to get out of it? Just go back to the way it was. After all, you rationalize, it wasn’t so bad before.  It’s the same feeling the Israelites had when they told Moses, “Just take us back to Egypt!”

Many pastors quit at this point.  And it’s definitely tempting to walk away.  But beware– this is a watershed moment.  If you can stand firm and exercise patience in this stage, you can make it to stage four!

Stage Four: Informed Optimism 

Yay!  We’re back to an optimistic point! Finally, you are seeing some fruits of your labor.  The benefits you knew would come are tangible and people are feeling momentum.  At this stage, there is support for the vision and excitement is building.  Your congregation has not only embraced the change, they now see the tangible difference it made and are inspired by it! 

For the Israelites, this looks like crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).  They have wandered for 40 years as a punishment for their disobedience and their obstinance.  But in crossing the Jordan, they are making a break with their old life and entering into their new life with God in the land promised to them.  (We certainly hope you don’t have to wander for 40 years in the desert of indecision, but you should know that most of the time you won’t reach this stage until year 4 or 5 of a replant.)  They are ready to take on the task of fulfilling God’s covenantal promise to them.

Stage Five: Success and Fulfillment

The final stage of the emotional cycle of change is success and fulfillment.  You are not only seeing your changes and your goals come to fruition, you are creating a whole new culture.  This is no longer about small changes, this is about the larger attitude of the church.  The church is changing from a “me first” mindset to a church that makes disciples that makes disciples that make the community noticeably better– one with a healthy culture of disciple-making and missional involvement. It’s not change for the next year or two, or even for your time as a pastor there, it is a multi-generational change that lasts long past your tenure.

Looking at our parallel with the Israelites, this is the Battle of Jericho moment.  This is complete trust in God and complete success in the mission of God.  

How do we get there from here?

Many of you are stuck in those early stages.  Can I take a moment to encourage you?  Typically, it takes 4-5 years in a replant to see the latter stages of informed optimism and success and fulfillment.  During that time, you will feel the temptation to give up.  Many pastors give up around year three, when they feel stuck in that valley of despair. But we need you to stick it out, pastor.  Your church needs you.  Your family needs you. There are battles to be fought and hard times to go through, and we need you to know that there are better days ahead.  God has not lost sight of you, and like the Israelites, you will soon see a victory.  Keep at it, pastors.  God has not abandoned your church– or you.

 

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

Small Church vs. Mega Church

In a largely populated area only  5 miles across stands two churches. Church A sits just outside the city. Started in 1936, the church is worn and tattered, and has seen many pastors, leaders, and members come throughout the years. The church can hold up to 75, and there are stories of the past where the church could barely hold all of the people. 

Some great heroes of the faith have gone through that church, and have been  pillars in the community for years. If you were to ask anyone in the city, they have likely driven past the church a time or two. 

But throughout the years, attendance has declined. The worship style was outdated, and the church did not grow with the community. However, out of a concern with attendance, the church began a revitalizing work using outside help. They have struggled to maintain attendance, but their church has had a different mindset on church health. Worship, fellowship, biblical preaching, prayer, and missions are current highlights of the church, and they are doing all they can to be faithful to the Lord. While  they  struggle in seeing numerical growth , the church is in a much better place spiritually, and they’re dedicated to continuing the effort.

Church B was planted 5 years ago in the city. A small group of people started meeting in the living room, and began casting a vision for a new church. It created some enthusiasm in the community and at their first launch date they had over 50 people. The past couple of years have shown a tremendous increase in growth, and their church is gaining national recognition. The speaker is popular, the worship band is modern, and the church began a discipleship program a few years ago that emphasizes small groups that meet  outside of the church. Last year, they celebrated 40 baptisms and stood amazed at over 300 people on the first Sunday morning service of the new year. 

One day, a member of Church A and a member of Church B were talking in a coffee shop. After asking why they chose to go to one church over another, one commented on a larger church preference because he wanted his kids to be very involved and enjoy fellowship with other kids their age. The other said that he enjoyed a smaller, traditional worship setting where the pastor knew him by name. So, he chose that church instead.

As we think about these two very different churches, you may likely think of some in your own community that are similar. Let’s ask a few probing questions based on these two churches. 

Which church would be better to attend? 

Which church seems to have a better future?

Which church would make you more spiritually healthy?

Correcting Old Methodology

If you’ve  answered either one of the churches for the previous questions, your theology may be based off of your church methodology, and not vice versa. The truth is, depending on your family situation, your preferences, and your desires for ministry and spiritual growth, it could be equally advantageous to join either church. We may never know which church would have a better future. We also do not know which church would be a better setting for spiritual health.

Depending on your upbringing, you may have different biases about small churches, or large churches. But it’s time  we face the music and deal with our old methodology, and possibly reassess how we think of the “church size” language.

As a millennial, I have grown up in the “church growth movement.” Even at 28 years old,  I have been able to recognize both the advantages and the pitfalls of having a large, growing church. Growing up in a small church, my heart leans towards serving in a church of similar size. 

Our younger generation has been heavily influenced by technology. Every time I open up a social media app, I normally run across a sermon clip of a mega church speaker with skinny jeans and Nike Air Force ones, giving some catchy slogans about a scripture in the Bible. The catchphrases are not always bad, and are sometimes very powerful. But growing up observing that environment made me think that this type of ministry was the pinnacle of leadership. 

I mean, if your church is large and growing, that must mean you’re doing something right? , But after reading about church health, I started getting in the “cage stage” of small church preference. I used to make statements like, “Real discipleship can only happen in a smaller setting.” Or, “Having a pastor that knows your name is not just practical, it’s biblical.” But are these statements true in and of themselves? 

For the past two years, I’ve been attending (what I call) a large church. We have between 500-600 in worship attendance. No, we aren’t perfect. But my mind has really shifted. My pastor knows my name. In fact, we are very close. We have active Connect Groups where we introduce new members to the church and plug them in to small settings. I have a small Discipleship group of 6 people that I meet with once a week for a year. We are active in mission and ministry. Maybe I was wrong about large churches!

I get magazines and publications at my office all the time. One came in that said, “The Top 100 Churches in America,” and proceeded to list them all out by size, giving tidbits of information about each one. There were numerous articles about church growth, marketing strategies, and GQ model photographs of these pastors. After looking through the magazine, I promptly asked my secretary if she could unsubscribe from the magazine. Do mega churches have good advice to offer? Yes, sometimes…

But my issue is when we treat large churches as the end-all, be-all of a perfect church. Growth does not always correlate to health. A church can be growing numerically but be stagnant in spiritual vitality. It’s time to correct our old methodology of rubric churches and get back to biblical basis. The correct question we should be asking is: “How can we lead our church to be healthy?” rather than, “How do we make our church grow?”

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

In the past few decades, there has been an emergence of revitalizing ministry, and rightfully so. In Ep. 173 of the podcast, Mark Clifton and Mark Hallock noted some notable changes. When I was in college, we didn’t have any classes on church revitalization, church growth, or church health. We had preaching classes, theology, worldview, missions, and a few other helpful subjects. Looking back, I wish I would have taken something additional, something more practical, in helping revitalize churches. What I wish I knew back then was that 80 to 90% of our churches have less than 200 people, and that most of the men I went to seminary with, will likely be serving in small churches, not mega churches.

Some of the best resources you can find on this topic are from Karl Vaters. He’s written much for small churches, including one familiar book called, The Grasshopper Myth. In this book, he helps us understand the danger of comparison, using the example of the spies who return back from Canaan and refer to themselves as “grasshoppers.”

More recently, Vaters published a book called, Small Church Essentials, in which he makes the following statement: 

The typical church in North America is small. Half of this continent’s approximately 320,000 Protestant churches run about 80 in weekly attendance. In addition, George writes that at the 100 mark in attendance, a church has become larger than 60 percent of its peer churches – at 140, 75 percent and at 200, 85 percent. So why are we teaching ministry students big-church skills, almost exclusively, when most of those skills may never apply to the majority of their ministry? Instead we pump small churches up with big-church principles and expectations, most of which apply in only a small percentage of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burned out and disillusioned, with damaged churches in their wake.”

When I started working at the association  I knew  I needed to understand revitalization better, due to  ministering to some of the dying churches in our community. I was overwhelmed with how many resources have been put out in the past 15 years or so. This is to help address the very real issue that we see in churches all across America today. Hundreds of churches close their doors every year and we weren’t doing anything about it for a long time.

But in my generation, I’ve seen that there has been a shift in methodology. There has been an emergence of resources, speakers, and initiatives that have helped encourage young pastors to go to the church revitalization route of ministry. I’m incredibly thankful for this, because I now understand church health much better than before.

What’s Biblical?

It is not wrong to have a large church. It is not wrong to have a growing church. The problem is when we use big churches as an example for how every church ought to be. I always thought that it was impractical to see magazines about worship technology come to our small rural church in south Georgia. Our worship consisted of a bass and a piano, and occasionally an organ. The people in my church service sang with something real in their hearts, the same as I’ve heard at a large conference with a worship band. 

On the flipside, it is not wrong to have a small church. Our communities are all different, and our people have different worship preferences. In the New Testament, believers did not have the privilege of choosing out of 20 churches to go to in their small towns. They normally had one church in those early days. So that’s where they gathered.

If we try to form our methodology based on some New Testament church growth strategies, I’m afraid we will come up empty-handed. However, what we do see in the New Testament is that Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church, no matter the size. Paul would come along and encourage those churches, giving them encouragement and instruction about how their church ought to be modeled, as one that would be honoring the Lord in all things. Paul and Apollos even acknowledge that while they planted and watered, God was the one that gave the growth.

What we see in the New Testament is an emphasis on prayer, evangelism, missions, heartfelt worship, fellowship, and other characteristics of a healthy church. Sometimes, God gives growth as a result of our healthy efforts. Other times, there could be some practical things that hinder a churches’ growth, such as their location in the community. Are we to blame God, thinking that his favor should coincide with our church’s numerical growth? I think not.

I’m thankful that we now live in a day where more young pastors are being encouraged to do the hard work of revitalizing churches, when this has not always been the case. There are now seminary classes, cohorts, training, available, and other resources to help address the need that there are dying churches in all of our communities. What are we doing about this?

As encouraging as this emergence is, we truly need more. We need more pastors being called to small churches, we need to emphasize the importance of following God’s call faithfully, instead of encouraging the “greener grass syndrome.” Am I going to be used by God? I will if I pursue a holy life, and seek his will in all things. However, God’s favor is not always measured by our church growth, and we should remember that.

On topic of Church Growth critiques, see Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, Five Views. If you’re interested in taking some classes in Church Revitalization, my alma mater, SEBTS, has an excellent M.A. program.  As always, please reach out to the Replant Team for any questions on these matters, we’re always here to encourage and help in any way we can.

Healthy Leadership in 2023

What does it mean to lead from a healthy place?

I am new to ministry leadership, but not to ministry itself. Growing up in the church, I served in a variety of ways. I was an offering usher, a role I may have taken a little too seriously. I stood with my pastor/dad in the front of the church and shook hands as people were leaving. When in youth group, I learned guitar and began leading worship. My youth pastor poured into me and discipled me, and God began calling me to the ministry.

While in college I  worked in youth ministry  while getting my feet wet and learning how to preach and share the gospel with others. In seminary I grew very involved in the church and was mentored by professors, pastors, and leaders, doing ministry alongside them. I saw some of the hardships they faced, but for the most part, it was pure excitement!

Fast forward three years later, and I am daily doing the work of ministry. As an AMS, my ministry is unique. I have the opportunity to work with wonderful churches in our area and help out in a variety of ways. While there are some differences, pastors and AMS leaders have a lot in common. We have partnerships, opportunities to serve, discipleship with those around us, involvement with other entities, sermon preparation, vision-casting, leadership development, and so much more.

We also both experience the crippling depression, anxiety, and fear that comes when we are overwhelmed, because we’ve put too much on our plate. In an effort to hold the fort down, please others, and prove ourselves, we took on too much. And from time to time, we have to take a step back and see if we are leading from a healthy place, or if we are operating in PANIC mode!

Rest to Work. Don’t Work to Rest.

Early on in ministry, I shared Paul’s passion when he wrote, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!” But I was wary to relate to him when he wrote, “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” As time went on, I’ve noticed the hardships of ministry in my own life. I learned from Brian Croft and others, that ministry is a slow and painful, yet joyful death. It’s the reality of ministry, and we are called by God to experience it at its fullness (in both joy and in pain).
  

In episode 172 of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob talked about a recent lecture given by Lance Witt, author of the book Replenish. I read this book about 6 months ago after talking about some hardships with my father. Some of the principles in this book were life-changing, and did more to help my leadership style than anything I had read before. But now, six months later, I must look back and remind myself of those principles, because the anxiety from an overwhelmed plate has crept up once again.

In a spoken commentary of Psalm 23, Lance Witt pulls out a few principles that are so helpful as we think together about leading from a healthy place in the year 2023.

Create Space and Time for Unhurried Time with God

It is consistent for our character as human beings, that even in our effort to please God by our works, we would miss out on actually spending time  with him. God does not want our busy and hurried ministry activities that are devoid of time with him. We can run ourselves through the mail with everything we want to do for God, and at the same time, we can fail to spend time with God. Jesus would often retreat, and spend time by himself with the father. He did not do this to make up for lost time after doing ministry. He did this so that he would be fueled and strengthened to do the work of ministry. We should do the same.

Pay Attention to what you are Paying Attention to

When we have too much on our plate, we tend to lose focus on the things that are important. As a result, we struggle to pay attention to the things that matter most. Ask yourself, “what pulls my attention away?” If work interferes and overwhelms you even when you’re around your family, it helps to try and let it go and put your full focus on your family. Sometimes this has to do with where our priorities lie. Healthy leaders will keep their focus strong and their priorities intact. Different distractions can get in the way of the focus right in front of us, such as our phone or social media. Thankfully, we have tools like Screen Time and Do Not Disturb that can help us unplug and focus.

Let Rest Restore You

One of the biggest struggle for ministry leaders is finding out how to rest well. Resting is not always sitting down and doing nothing. We are all created differently, and find rest in different things. For some, it’s a hobby or activity. For some others, it’s spending time with our family. If we operate in panic mode, always busy with the next project, we will find it difficult to rest, even if we have downtime. Finding rest is one of the most important things we can do as ministry leaders. You know that you are well-rested when you look forward to going back to work, but if you dread your ministry, you may not be rested enough.

Manage Your Calendar Well

We are very forgetful. If I don’t put things down in my calendar, I can quickly forget. Even if it’s important! One of the best tools you can use is Google calendar or something similar. Every time I create a task, I get reminders throughout the day, both through my phone and email. Not all pastors or leaders have the privilege of having a secretary that manages calendar dates. Make sure when you work with your calendar you schedule time to rest, and schedule time for people who are close to you. As ministry leaders, we should be excellent stewards of our time, so schedule out your calendar with wisdom and consistency.

Engage with Self-Care instead of Self-Medication

Self-care is different than self- medication. When we self-medicate, we look for joy and rest in things that will not satisfy. Self-medication is the reason for sin in our lives. Each and every one of us has stress in this life. We all have busy lives. But self- care means that we choose to find that rest and joy in healthy things. For some, self-care is opening up our Bible and journal and spending time in prayer. For others, self-care is going to the gym and getting a good workout in as a way to relieve stress. Self-medication is like covering up a wound with a Band-Aid, but not using any antibiotic ointment  to help heal the wound.  Self-care should lead us to a place where we are spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthier.

Have a Weekly Sabbath

When God rested on the seventh day, he set a pattern and a model for us to also rest. The principle that he is teaching is important: we should rest from our work.
If we aren’t taking a day to replenish and rest, we will become quickly exhausted, and wear out in this ministry. Taking a Sabbath means taking a day or a significant amount of time to restore your soul. And since God created rest and modeled rest, he will give us the strength to rest when we need.

Let your Time with God Embolden you with Courage

In Psalm 23, David says that he would fear no evil, for God’s rod and staff comforted him. When we are close to the Lord, he gives us great confidence and courage. It’s easy to fall into a habit of meeting with God without meeting with God. In other words, we sit down to do a quiet time or have some prayer time, but we are on auto-pilot. We may be talking to God, but God isn’t talking to us. Our time with God can begin to feel like a ritual. I pray that every day when I spend time with God, I would get up encouraged, strengthened, and emboldened with courage. If I get up from my time with God still worried, still angry, still fearful, then I most likely did not spend enough time with God.

Receive the Voice of God’s Blessing

At the end of psalm 23, David recognized that it was God‘s blessings that were being poured out on him. He acknowledged that his cup ran over, and he would look forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel like ministry cannot afford you any blessings from God? My friend, God is pleased with your efforts. If he chooses to bless you for the work you are doing, receive that blessing with joy and gladness. Thank him. And if someone else blesses you, receive it with joy and gladness. While you may feel undeserving, to someone else, that blessing may seem well deserved. Keep on serving, keep on working, and keep on putting your heart into this ministry.

I highly recommend Lance Witt’s book Replenish, and a newer book by Brian Croft called The Pastor’s Soul. If you need pastoral retreat, there are several different ministries. But if you live anywhere in the panhandle, I have some great friends of a ministry called Promised Land Retreat. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to our team at the Replant Bootcamp for encouragement and help as you minister for the glory of God.

Stewardship Matters

MINE!

Is sinful nature difficult to identify? Are we really born into sin? Perhaps if you grew up on an island completely shut off from the rest of society, you might be blind to the idea of a sinful nature. We tend to identify it in other people before seeing it in ourselves, because our pride keeps us from believing that we could possibly be full of sin (ironic). 

But anyone who’s had kids can identify this pretty quickly. I have a two year old toddler at home who is soaking in all the words right now. One that has become his favorite is “Mine!” When he first started shouting this word, I began to think: did I teach him this? Did his mom teach him this? We may have taught him the words “mine” and “yours,” but we certainly did not teach him that everything he touches is…”MINE!”

Sinful nature: we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose our own way over God’s. We inherited this sin nature from the first man and woman, and it makes us naturally rebellious to God. Consider Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” 

This sin nature was warned to us, and unfortunately given to us, as a fulfillment of what God told Adam in the garden: Genesis 2:17, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The sin of Adam caused spiritual, physical, and relational death to be brought into the world. 

The most prominent way this sinful nature presents itself is in the form of pride. “Everything is MINE,” the toddler says. But unfortunately, we don’t grow out of this thinking: we still think everything belongs to us.

YOURS!

The topic of Stewardship is extremely important to the Christian life. It’s meant to be a guiding principle to everything we do for God’s glory. But before we seek to steward anything, we must be reminded that everything we have belongs to God. I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 

The Bible clearly tells us that, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). James would tell us this: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16-17). 

Mike Ayers, in Stewardship, Not Ownership, says the following:

“When we believe that the things we possess are actually ours or exist because of us, they begin to control and define us rather than the other way around. Consequently, our security and identity becomes rooted in them. And then, we are unable to separate ourselves from them, or release them, or trust God with them because to do so would mean to lose ourselves. This was never God’s intention for the gifts He gives His creation.” 

We see stewardship all the way back into the creation account, where God gave Adam the responsibility to care for creation by working and tending to the garden (Gen. 2:15). We are called to steward what God has given us for his glory, knowing that everything we have is His.

Stewardship as a Ministry Leader

So many churches have struggles in decision-making, financial expenditures, and even accomplishing goals because they have an ownership culture, not a stewardship culture. For example, when re-thinking church renovations like furniture, paint, and carpet, it can be hard to let go, because we become attached to the things we spend our money on. We think it belongs to us. When re-evaluating a ministry event or class, it can be difficult to let go, because sister Susan started it; it belongs to her. But does it?

In order for us to change the thinking of our church members, we must be modeling it ourselves first. For example, if we are trying to encourage church members to think biblically about stewardship, but  we have a difficulty letting go of that special, antique pulpit, we likely won’t get anywhere. Being a leader means leading by example, especially when it comes to stewardship.

In Ep. 168 of the podcast, Jimbo used the biblical example of Matthew 25:14-30: The parable of the talents. In this story, each servant received a different amount of property. Two of the servants were grateful with what they were given, they went and did what they could for the Master and invested. However, one of the servants was ungrateful, having received only one talent. Out of fear of losing what belonged to the Master, he went out and hid it in a field. Afterwards, the servant was scolded for his unwillingness to do what was asked of him, with what he had been given.

The point that Jesus was driving home in this context, was that we need to be prepared for his return by being good stewards of what he’s entrusted to us. The story of the talents is a good reminder for us not to fall into the trap of comparison. Some were given a different measure of talents, they still had the same responsibility. It does not matter what size church you have, how many resources you have, or how many people are left on your membership roll, God wants you to steward it well for his glory.

Faith, Fear, or Frustration

The parable of the talents teaches us that the first two servants acted out of faith. They knew who their master was. They took joy in their small part of managing what had been given to them, so they sought to make much of it for his pleasure. However, the third servant acted out of fear and frustration. He was fearful for how his Master would react (showing that he really did not know his Master) and he was frustrated that he didn’t get as much as the other two. 

When we think about the resources we have to work with, are you doing the work of ministry out of fear or frustration? It’s so easy to get into a mindset of comparison where we don’t have as much as another larger church in town, but we must see the bigger picture. It takes every church working together to reach our communities for Christ.

This is why I love working at a Baptist Association; we encourage church partnerships. Would it be easy for our smaller churches to get jealous of the larger church in town? Yes, but we must realize that every church has its own DNA, and they all reach people for Christ in different ways. Therefore, we encourage church partnerships where we can for the glory of God.

It’s the same in a Replant or Revitalization. Never fail to thank God for the blessing of having the opportunity to do ministry. God knows what He is doing. His desire is not for you to take a prideful ownership of what he’s given you – He desires that you would be found faithful in the small things. We must realize that He’s given us this ministry to steward it and glorify Him above all things.

There are a plethora of resources on the topic of Stewardship, but here are a few I like: Kingdom Stewardship, Stewardship: A Christian Duty, and Stewardship: Discovering Godly Ambition for Your Life. If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Man raising hands in thankfulness

Thank you, God, for the Fleas

‘Tis the season for Thankfulness.

As I write this blog post, we have just finished the biggest meal of the year.  There are only six of us gathered around our table, but I cook like there will be 20. This year we had four appetizers, three meats, seven sides, and five desserts.  It will take several days to finish leftovers, and we will all gain several pounds trying to do so, and we will vow that we hate all of these foods and can’t stand to eat any more of them… until Christmas Day, when we do it all again.  

Before anyone is too impressed with me, I will come clean and tell you that I will save up all of my cooking skills for this one day and then turn them off again. For the record, I hate cooking.  It stresses me out– the timing of everything, things getting cold while heating up others.  Every year I forget the bread until everything else is ready and then have to hold the meal until it’s finished. I worry about having enough dishes and serving spoons, and the thought of DOING those dishes… Yuck. The anxiety is enough to make me go to Cracker Barrel and call it a day.  It’s only the lack of leftovers and my family’s protests of that plan that makes me get up at the crack of dawn and start cooking the massive meal. And don’t even get me started on going to someone else’s house– the one (and ONLY) time we did that, my son threw a football in their house and broke the hand painted family portrait hanging above their fireplace.  We were ushered out rather quickly after that.  

But I digress.

the word thankful surrounded by leaves

Several years ago, I tried to start a tradition of going around the table and having each person say what they were thankful for. I think I saw a good, Christian family post about it on Facebook and I figured we were a good, Christian family so we should do that, too. Unfortunately, my teenage children were in their peak-sarcasm years and it turned into a game of “See how quickly you can get mom to stop this.”  Let me put it this way– I didn’t post their responses on Facebook.

The truth is, sometimes when people start talking about thankfulness and gratitude, I find myself very much like my teenagers were that holiday– surly and sullen, filled with frustration at the things I don’t have and discontent with what I do have.  I find it difficult to say what I’m grateful for when I am filled with discouragement.

In last year’s Thanksgiving podcast, Jimbo discussed how a story from Corrie ten Boom’s time in a concentration camp helped to remind him why it’s important to be thankful in all circumstances. You can read the complete story here, but the summary is basically this:  Corrie and her sister Betsy discuss how on earth they could possibly live through their time in the concentration camp, a place filled with discouragement and hopelessness.  Betsy reminds Corrie that 1 Thessalonians 5:14-21 tells them how to live, especially verse 18: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”  So they begin to list the things they are thankful for, including their togetherness, their ability to have their Bible, their close proximity to the other prisoners who were also hearing the Gospel.  But then Betsy goes so far as to be thankful for the fleas that are tormenting them day and night.  Corrie protests, but Betsy reminds her that it is the fleas which keep the guards away and allow them to read and proclaim the Word of God.  Without them, the girls might be punished and separated.

Sometimes I feel like Corrie.  Surely God doesn’t expect me to be thankful for the fleas in my life– those tormenting people who seem to have nothing positive to say, that bill that came when the money didn’t, the lack of spiritual (or numerical) growth in our church, the leak in the baptistry that comes on the heels of the leak in the children’s area.  Surely when God says, “be thankful in all circumstances,” He doesn’t mean these circumstances.  I see people post about being “#blessed” but I find myself wondering why we’re only “blessed” when things are going right– what about those I see who are desperate and hurting– are they blessed?  How can we be blessed when everything around us seems to be going wrong?  How can I be grateful for the problems I face and the mounting discouragement?

Then the Holy Spirit prods me toward another Scripture: Philippians 4:11.  Sure, Philippians 4:13 gets all the glory, but why was Paul able to say that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him?  Because of verse 11.  He had learned to be content in all things, in whatever situation he faced.  His ability to be content in all things fostered his ability to do his ministry without the confines of frustration and discouragement.

Perhaps you have struggled this year with finding joy this season and feeling grateful for where God has placed you.  Pastor, can I encourage you?  Think of the “fleas” in your own life– the situations, people, or nagging problems that discourage you.  Instead of asking God to deliver you from them, ask God what He is trying to teach you through it. Instead of desiring to push “fast forward” through this time in your ministry, push “pause.” Sit with it for a moment and see where God is leading you to be content in the circumstance and then ask Him to show you how to be thankful for it.

And then, when you go around the table and say what you’re thankful for, maybe your responses will be worthy of a social media post.  At the very least, maybe your mom won’t write about it in a blog post several years later.

*On a personal note, I would just like to say that I am grateful to each of you for reading these blog posts.  I pray that they encourage and exhort you for your ministry.  I am also grateful to Bob, Jimbo, and everyone at NAMB for the opportunity to write and share my heart with each of you.  Thankful for the past and looking forward to the future!- Erin*

Stages in a Replant: Growing

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

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

The Beautiful Tale of Two Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we explain this?

Unexpected Growth often means God is at Work

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

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

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

So, What Do We Do?

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

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

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

Don’t Be Discouraged, Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

A man in a pew seeking to revitalize

3 Reasons Churches Don’t Revitalize- And 1 Thing You Can Do About It

When thinking about the reason our congregations are hesitant to revitalize, we often say, “They just don’t want to change.” And while that may be partly true, it isn’t the whole reason, nor is it the sole reason.

During year three of our church’s revitalization process, my husband received an email from a long-time church member.  This church member was very frustrated and disgruntled over a decision my husband made regarding small groups at our church.  Instead of calling our Sunday morning groups by their former name, “Sunday School,” he opted to encompass all of our small groups under the name, “Connect Groups.” Sunday morning, Sunday night, weekday nights, on-campus, or out of homes, they would all be under the banner of “Connect Groups.” Her email started with her main complaint, but unraveled midway through to combine all of her frustration at the changes made during the three years we had been ministering there.  For several paragraphs, this woman compared the way things had always been done against the way things were being done now.  For each change, she listed all the ways it was better before– ending the email with the statement, “I just think there’s no need to change anything. Everything needs to stay the same as it always has. There’s no reason to do things differently.”

My husband responded simply, “Thank you for your email.  I certainly enjoy being able to get quick, efficient communication from my congregation members.  Seeing as how change is so frustrating for you, I will respond via a handwritten letter.  You should receive it in several business days.”

I’m kidding, of course.

My husband has infinite patience and responded kindly and warmly and explained the necessity of the change.  Unfortunately, he did not win her over; the woman would correct anyone who used “connect group” to refer to a group that met on Sunday mornings at church until the day she left our church, still angry and frustrated.  This woman is no different than countless congregation members across all of our churches, and I’m sure each of you reading this could share your own file of “Monday Morning Uplifting” emails from sheep that bite.  So why are some churches, and some congregants, so unwilling to revitalize?

In Episode 99, Jimbo and Bob (I’m really trying to get the “Jimbob” moniker to stick but I digress) discuss three reasons why a church might not want to revitalize: a lack of self-awareness, a desire to control, and the fear of loss.

The Crack in the Ceiling

A crack in the ceiling

One of the main reasons a congregation resists revitalization is a lack of self-awareness.  The church just isn’t aware of just how bad the issues are, whether they be the facilities, the programming, or the church governance and polity. Have you ever seen the commercial for the room freshening spray where the advertiser refers to being “nose-blind” to smells?  That’s the picture of some congregations.  They don’t see the need for revitalization because things don’t seem that bad to them.  It takes an outside perspective to address the issue, because only an outsider can see it.  

A pastor I know began to look at remodeling his church’s sanctuary.  There was money in the budget to do it without going into debt, and the sanctuary’s aesthetic was dated and worn.  But more than the cosmetic reasons for the remodel, the church had serious structural issues that needed to be addressed.  There were cracks in the ceiling that were so large, swarms of wasps would swoop down from them during the service and dive-bomb members of the congregation.  The addition and subtraction of several instruments and sound equipment over the years had resulted in wires and speakers dangling precariously from the ceiling.  And yet, when faced with the decision to remodel, the church voted to refrain from doing any major remodeling.  One long time member stood up and said, “That crack in the ceiling has been there since I started here in 1960 and it’s not hurting anything!”  The pastor left the church shortly after, discouraged and demoralized by the church’s lack of awareness and vision.

Sometimes this lack of self-awareness even extends past the facilities and into the church’s reasons for decline.  “The community changed, they just aren’t the same as they used to be,” is a common refrain. “The doors are open, but they won’t come in!” These church members resent the community, and as Mark Clifton often says, “You can’t reach people you resent.”  Until your church loves their community, they will never feel the need to reach them– and reaching your community is not just a vital part of revitalization, but is also a commandment from your Creator. (Thom Rainer’s book, Anatomy of a Revived Church and Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory are both excellent resources to help your church see the connection between loving your community and reaching them with the Gospel.) Sometimes, churches will say, “The church down the street is to blame!” as though there aren’t enough lost people to go around.  Or, “The former pastor messed everything up!” But the key is the lack of awareness of their own part in the church’s decline.  There is a reluctance to admit the need to change their behavior or their surroundings.

Who is in Control Here?

Another reason churches are hesitant to revitalize is the loss of control.  Maybe a former pastor came in with a “dictator” mentality and ran people off with his authoritarian style of leadership.  Alternatively, maybe the former pastor was weak and ineffective and the church is now used to controlling its own fate and the idea of revitalizing and changing pushes against that.  

Occasionally, there are “power brokers” in a church.  These people, and sometimes whole families, have gone from being generous givers in the past to controlling congregants now.  Having a new pastor come in and give them advice to change something creates conflict between them and him.  They may even “talk” with their wallets, refusing to tithe until their demands are met.  

This struggle for control can cause pastors who deeply desire revitalization to give in and yield to those who cannot be convinced of the need to change course.  The church then continues in plateau or in a downward trajectory until it eventually dies.

Change is Scary– but Loss is the Real Fear 

A cartoon where a man protests change in church

This brings us to the third reason churches don’t revitalize: Fear.  Many pastors assume that their congregation is scared of change.  But that’s not entirely accurate.  I would imagine most of your congregation is riding around in cars with fuel injection systems and power steering, and some have even embraced such modern amenities as backup cameras, remote start, and keyless entry.  Likely, too, that they use washing machines, dishwashers, cell phones, and microwaves on occasion. Remember our friend from the introduction?  She used email, a relatively modern way to communicate, to express her disdain for change.  So it isn’t a fear of change that scares people– it’s a fear of loss.

Our culture has created a climate of comfort in all areas.  We seek, above all else, to be comfortable.  And when so much of the world changes so rapidly, sometimes our congregation just wants Sunday morning to be the one place where their friends, their pastor, their songs, and their pew stay the same.  They fear not so much the change, but the loss of that comfort zone and that feeling of safety that comes with it.  There is stability in staying the course, even if we’ve determined that the course isn’t working. 

A Spiritual Problem with a Scriptural Solution

The problem with all of these excuses against revitalization is a central one– a lack of faith in Jesus and what He can do for our churches.  This is a spiritual problem, one where the culture of a church is based around the congregation’s abilities, not the supernatural power of God.  The lack of awareness, desire for control, and the fear of loss of comfort, are all symptoms of a larger problem in which churches seek their own desires above the need to evangelize, adapt, and love the community they have been given.  

The culture of the church has to change before any revitalization strategy can ever be effective.  This is why pastors who enter into replants and revitalizations must practice holy patience.  They must be able to pray while they wait.  The pastor must be able to, as Bob says, “lead his people to understand who they are in Christ. He has to lead them to understand the mission of the church. And he asked to lead them to understand the power of Christ to accomplish that mission.”  

This is a scriptural solution to a spiritual problem.  Scripture should be our basis for revitalization, not current trends.  When we seek out what God has to say to us and to our churches, we are better able to guide our church toward Biblical Revitalization that reaches our community with the Gospel and that breathes Holy Spirit-filled life back into the dying church.

Stages in a Replant: Planting

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

Fellow Workers in God’s Field

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

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

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

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

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

What Kind of Seeds are These?

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

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

Seeing Things Through the Lens of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

Daily Application of the Gospel Transforms Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Gospel Orientation

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

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

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

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

What Does This Look Like?

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

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

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

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

Stages in a Replant: Plowing

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

Potential Change on the Horizon

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

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

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

Who Will Give the Growth?

 

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

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

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

Fellow Workers, Plowing in God’s Field

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

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

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

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

John and the 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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