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Tag: church replanting

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!

Don’t Miss the Role of Relationships in Ministry

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

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

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

Without Relationships, There is No Ministry

a sanctuary sits empty

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

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

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

Evangelism Must be Relational Evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discipleship is Relational Discipleship

a group of people read their bibles together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ministry is Relational Ministry

a strip of shorter grass is mowed from tall grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

People Need You, and You Need People

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

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

 

RESOLVED: Revitalization and Replanting

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

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

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

When 12,000 Speak

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

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

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

The Reality of Needed Church Renewal

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

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

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

Diverse Approaches, Cohesive Efforts

Paragraphs 5 and 6 say this: 

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

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

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

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

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

More Work to be Done

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

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

If you want to get involved with NAMB’s Replant Initiative, visit this website and look through their resources. Even as a healthy church or supporting church, you can visit here to find ways to partner. Please reach out to our team at the Replant Bootcamp and we can help you connect through the right avenues to find ways to help. And if your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

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

The Importance of Spiritual Renewal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewed by Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewed by Prayer and Worship

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

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

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

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

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

Renewed by Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAMB Replant Summit 2023- a Time for Renewal

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

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

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 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!

 

The Works You Did At First (The Rise and Fall of Ephesus)

The Life Cycle of Ephesus

In the podcast this week, our team had the opportunity to have Kyle Bueermann as a guest. His thoughts on Discipleship in a Replant were helpful, and caused me to think about examples of some churches in the New Testament who neglected this important topic.

There are many churches mentioned in the New Testament that we don’t know much about. Even in Revelation, Jesus speaks directly to some churches that haven’t been introduced in Acts, and certainly don’t have their own epistles from Paul. Churches like Pergamum are noted in Revelation for holding fast to the name of Jesus and being faithful to the gospel, but we’re not sure of their history.

However, there is one Church in particular where we can see a majority of their life cycle. We know when the church was born, when they plateaued, and we can even see the church when it nears death. That church is Ephesus.

Birth, Growth, and Maturity

In AD 52, the Ephesian church was born. The first place we read about Ephesus is in Acts 18:19, where Paul begins planting gospel seeds in the synagogue and reasoning with the Jews. With the discipleship of Apollos and 12 new believers in Acts 19:1-7, this early church was born. Here are some characteristics of its first two years:

Evangelism

The birth and rapid growth of this church is nothing short of Spirit-led. The apostle spent three months persuading those in the synagogue about the Kingdom of God, and some of his disciples spent intentional time sharing the gospel in the hall of Tyrannus. And for two years, this church was responsible for spreading the gospel throughout most of Asia.

Ministry

The Holy Spirit was using Paul to heal the sick and cast out demons. His ministry was a public ministry, one in which people saw and recognized the hand of God. Because of this expulsion of darkness, Jesus’ name was extolled, evil practices were halted and repented of, and the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily  (Acts 19:17-20).

Public Theology

In the public square, the city of Ephesus was home to the great Artemis. But Paul was committed to the truth of God. A silversmith, Demetrius, admitted, “…in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” What a testimony of reputation to the surrounding culture! Paul’s ministry of the word had caused quite the stir, and possibly potential persecution for the church. However, he held fast to the truth and did not waver. 

Leadership Development

Paul was also intentional in developing leaders. In his return through Macedonia, it lists a number of men who accompanied him: Sopater, Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus. Paul regularly identified leaders, trained them, and appointed them to positions within the church.

Intentional Discipleship

In more quiet and intimate times, Paul spoke to church members with words of encouragement and care. He spent intentional time with them, studying the word of God, conversing with them, and bidding them a long farewell.

Confidence in his Ministry

One of the last things we see about the growth and maturity stage of this church plant were the tender words Paul spoke to the elders of the Ephesian church during his departure. He notes that he served the Lord with all humility, tears, and trials. He did not shrink from declaring anything to them from teaching in public or from house to house. After giving an encouraging word to the pastors, he admonishes them to help the weak and to give sacrificially.

Plateau

Ten years later, Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians. When it first started, the church in Ephesus was a vibrant, growing church focused on the ministry of the word and bold evangelism. But now, in AD 62, Paul needed to remind them of the gospel truth they believed, and he also needed to call out some potential warning signs.

Paul knew that if he did not make them aware of the potential pitfalls, it was possible that their church could decline and become unhealthy. During this letter, there is no clear indication that the Ephesian church was in any kind of serious trouble, but Paul felt the need to remind them of their peripateo seven times. He was reminding them to look carefully at their conduct in life.

A Plea for Love

We first see these warning signs when Paul “urges” them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they have been called. The way they must do this is by genuinely loving one another. This type of love must be shown through humility, gentleness, and patience. Bearing with one another meant that love must be the focus of this ten year-old church to stay in relation to one another. 

Striving for Unity

Paul also desires that they would not simply maintain, but that they would be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. He reminded them that there was one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. Paul knew that if this church was not eager to be unified, they would very quickly be vulnerable to the enemy.

Pressing on to Maturity

Another warning sign that Paul gives is the most clear indication of healthy discipleship: maturity. God’s people are supposed to grow, and Paul wants this church to remember that they are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). If this church did not press on towards maturity, they would forget the reason for their work of ministry: discipleship. Their growth in the faith had to be something they continually longed for as a church body.

Putting Sin to Death

In chapter 4:17-32, Paul gives them a list of sins to flee from. Were these indicative in the early church? We aren’t sure to what extent, but Paul found it necessary to address these particular sins: sensuality, greed, falsehood, sins of the tongue, bitterness, wrath, anger, and sexual immorality. 

Getting Busy Again

Another point of responsibility for Paul to address is the issue of idleness. In other books, Paul warns against being lazy or idle in the Lord’s work. And in 5:15-17 he reminds the church of making the best use of their time. Alongside instructions to the family design, and cautioning them against spiritual warfare, Paul gives many general instructions or reminders to this church to remind them of what they should focus on in their present age.

Decline, Potential Death

Outside of a few other letters, the next time we really read about the Ephesian church is not from Luke, nor from Paul, but Jesus Christ himself in Revelation. Before the apostle John was taken up on a cloud of glory and shown glimpses of the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus had some words he wanted to share with seven churches. The first one mentioned is Ephesus.

This is 30 years later: potentially AD 95. At this point, the church is 50-60 years old, and much has happened in between Paul’s letter and Jesus’ letter. Apparently this church is commended because they are working hard, enduring until the return of Christ. They are even commended for their commitment to doctrinal purity. However, they’ve forgotten one major thing: they’ve forgotten their first love. 

The church that was the powerhouse for the word of God in the AD 50s had stopped loving Jesus. They cared more about doctrine than they did the object of that doctrine. And Jesus’ rebuke is solemn: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

When Jesus said, “do the works you did at first,” what did he mean? Jesus was encouraging them to do the ministry they were doing when they first became a church. They needed a renewed zeal. They couldn’t forget the reason why they first were preaching the gospel with such boldness: because they had been saved by Jesus. 

When a church forgets the basic, simple truths of the gospel, all the doctrinal purity in the world has lost its purpose. The point of theology is doxology. The reason we study is not simply to show ourselves approved, but to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). And this is why discipleship is so necessary to any type of Revitalizing work. 

Discipleship Has to be the Focus

In the podcast this week, Kyle Bueermann shared with the Replant Bootcamp about the necessity of discipleship in a Replant. If the Ephesian church was a church we started working with at the Association, they would be a church that had missed the first two windows of Revitalization. Even Jesus was close to removing the lampstand of the church. The lights would go off and the doors would close, because they were trying to do ministry void of a genuine love for Jesus.

We must not forget loving, growing, and maturing towards our relationship with Christ. If you are a church that is in danger of closing, my first encouragement to you would be this: start loving Jesus again. When that becomes the focus of the church, you begin to be more passionate about the gospel, and you start falling in love with your community again. But none of this is possible without an intentional focus of discipleship in your church. 

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

EP 188 DISCIPLESHIP IN A REPLANT w/ KYLE BUEERMANN

Replant Bootcamp
Replant Bootcamp
EP 188 DISCIPLESHIP IN A REPLANT w/ KYLE BUEERMANN
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Welcome back Bootcampers! The guys were in the Big D (Dallas TX) for an event and had the opportunity to visit with the one and only, Dr. Kyle Bueermann from some other podcast. He dropped by to discuss some key thoughts from his book, And They Devoted, on discipleship. Listen in and be encouraged.

Here are some key points in the podcast

  • Discipleship is often assumed in the church-you have to develop intentionality and strategy
  • Focus on the basics: Scripture, Fellowship, Worship, Prayer, Evangelism
  • Start by discipling a few others, then releasing them to disciple others
  • Every discipleship process has to be reproducible-it can’t depend upon you
  • This is not a fast process it takes time (think years)

Keep listening for more great insights from Kyle and comments form Jimbo and Bob.

Mentioned in the show notes:

 

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Transform your Worship Service

If you were asked to define worship in only a few words, what would you say?

Is it a time set aside on Sunday morning or does it happen on other days or at other times?  Is it the act of singing songs of praise to God or does it involve more than just singing?  Does it happen corporately only or also privately??  While I would hope that we would describe worship by something other than a specific time, place, or song, I know that the phrase “worship” can be difficult to define.

Many of us have been on the frontlines of the “Worship Wars,” and have seen the damage an incorrect definition of worship can inflict in a church. We’ve been in churches that would rather have two separate services than attempt to put their preferences aside and worship together.  We can probably identify churches in our circle that split over the use of hymnals versus screens. (We’d love to think that this is a recent development, but the truth is, people have been arguing about the relationship between worship and music since music began. The organ was originally marked as a tool of Satan, and setting the Psalms to music was considered blasphemy).

Some people define worship as a musical genre of songs that we sing on Sunday morning. But defining worship as a musical genre has two major flaws.  The first is that musical taste variable. What’s fashionable in music today isn’t what was popular 50 years ago and won’t be what is popular 50 years from now. The second is that musical taste is subjective, so what I like might not be what you like. And when worship becomes about my personal tastes and preferences, we’ve lost the true meaning of worship and turned toward idolatry of self.

Some people identify worship as a specific time and place.  By their definition, “worship” occurs only in church, and only on Sunday mornings between 10 and 12 am. For them, this time is set apart– there is a special dress code, a set of rules to follow, and possibly even a strict schedule.  This definition, too, has a flaw: If worship can only happen in that time and place, then the meaning of worship is limited to physical and earthly circumstances, and there is no room for the supernatural presence of God.

What we need is a better definition of worship.

Worship is a Response

On the latest episode of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob spoke with Dr. Joe Crider, the Dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth Texas.  

When asked to define “worship,” Dr. Crider gave this very succinct, but very convicting, response: “Worship is a response to our self-revealing God. God reveals, his people respond.” Worship was never meant to be held together by a musical thread– God would never call us to gather around something that changes so frequently with culture, or that would be so specifically tailored to individual tastes. Instead, Dr. Crider said, the unifying thread that holds worship together is the Word of God. The Word is unchanging.  It transcends generations, cultures, and time.

As a worship leader myself, I was convicted by this definition, and it truly changed the way I approach our corporate worship service, and my own personal times of worship.

A silhouette of a singer with her right hand raised in worship

Worship and the Word

Often when I think about how to create our corporate worship service, I think about how to create the response I’m looking for.  I want to have a service that is engaging, relevant, and that gives our congregation space to seek God.  I might look for songs that focus on a specific theme or idea, or that evoke an emotional reaction.

But if the Word of God isn’t the focus of our worship planning, then what exactly have people been responding to

If they’ve responded to anything other than the Word, then there’s a glaringly obvious issue with the worship service… It didn’t worship God. Instead, my congregation was led to worship musicians,  lyricists, well-spoken transitions, or worst of all… Me.  

None of that has eternal benefit.  

My words on Sunday? They disappear within a few days.  The song we sang?  Sometimes people can’t remember the words to it the following week.  The beats per minute that helped motivate us to move past our Sunday morning sleepies or brought us into quiet reflection before the Pastor speaks?  Not one person even knew how that’s carefully crafted.

But the Word of God stands for eternity.

When I base the service around the Word of God, I can trust in the authority and the power of the Word through the Holy Spirit.  Everything the Word says has an everlasting impact. The Bible promises me that the Word of God doesn’t return void, and that every word of it is God-breathed and inspired.

As Worship Leaders, we are tasked with a holy calling.  We have the beautiful gift each Sunday to introduce people to God so they can engage with Him and respond to Him.  When we cultivate a worship service, we are called not to be song-driven, but to be Scripture-driven. Only then can we be sure that they are responding to God as He reveals Himself to them.

When I put this into practice, it changes my perspective and transforms my planning.

A bible sits open with the pages turning

Applying Scripture to Worship 

Dr. Crider suggests using the Psalms (the song book of the Bible), to guide your worship planning.  In the podcast, he broke down Psalm 34 into sections and discussed the ways that we can use each of those to choose songs of praise, reflection, or even to introduce the Lord’s Supper or baptism. He also suggested using the Gospel as a guide, following the concepts of the Gospel: Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

I utilized this structure as I chose songs for our next service.  I looked at several Psalms and felt led toward Psalm 136.  It begins with verses 1-9 praising and thanking God for His creation. The Psalmist also repeats this line after every single verse: for his steadfast love endures forever. We opened baptism and praised God for the creation of a new life with Him.  We then sang praises for God’s grace and His work in our lives.  

Moving on to verses 10-16, the Psalmist thanks God for His rescue of the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.  This led us to singing about God’s provision in the desert places of our lives and for giving us what we need. When we moved into the final verses of the Psalm, 11-26, we said the repeated phrase together as a response to God’s redemption of us as slaves to sin. To hear our entire congregation saying together, “His steadfast love endures forever,” and then to sing of the sacrifice and love of Jesus through “Jesus Paid it All,” was beautiful.

Applying this structure had many more benefits, as well. Instead of worrying about transitions between songs and making sure I was saying the “right” thing, I could just read the Scripture and let God speak for Himself. Instead of trying to evoke an emotion, I could trust the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of our people. Instead of leaving service wondering if people “truly worshiped,” I could know that they were given an opportunity to respond to God’s revelation of Himself because His word was made clear and known. Instead of thinking I needed more musicians or a bigger band, I could know that Scripture will not return void and I could lean back and let God do the heavy lifting. 

In addition to planning corporate worship service, I also began to utilize Scripture-guided worship as part of my personal worship, as well. Instead of starting with a song to get me in the right frame of mind, I sat down with my Bible and opened to the Psalms and quieted my brain for a while. When I allowed scripture to talk to me instead of lyrics to a song, the reverse happened. Scripture began to bring songs to my mind whose lyrics matched what I was reading. I was able to make Scripture-based connections to old and new hymns that I hadn’t recognized before.

Changing from music-based planning for our worship to scripture-guided worship is a work in progress.  Pastors, I would encourage you to guide your worship leaders through this episode and work together on continuing this week by week.  Remember to help your team by letting them know where you are going to be in Scripture each week, and communicate your vision for the service and for the congregation.  It will transform the worship service and their own private worship.

Dr. Crider’s book, Scripture-Guided Worship: A Call to Pastors and Worship Leaders, breaks this concept down even further for pastors and worship leaders and is an invaluable resource.  Dr. Crider also has resources available through SWBTS and can be reached through their contact information.

 

What is Self Care and Why do you Need It?

a gas gauge on empty

“Exactly how long has this light been on in your car?” The text came shortly after my husband had pulled out of the driveway to run to the grocery store. “Which one?” I replied.  

While he was referring to the low fuel light (long enough that I would need to get gas soon but recent enough that the grocery trip should be fine), he might have just as easily been referring to my check engine light or my tire pressure light, both of which had come on that morning.

Thankfully, my husband is much better at recognizing a potential hazard and got the engine tested (nothing serious) and put some air in my tires…while he was also filling the tank.

While I like to think of myself as a fairly practical person, it turns out when it comes to my car, I live in a fantasy world where lights mean nothing and give no reason for alarm. But those lights are warnings, letting me know that if something doesn’t change, I’m headed for an unexpected pit stop.

Many of us are living life with warning lights going off every morning as well– they usually sound like, “I can’t study right now, I’m too busy.” “I’m too swamped to take a break.” “I’ll just grab whatever fast food I can eat quickly while I head to the next thing.” “Hobbies? I don’t even know how to get Sunday’s service ready, never mind taking time to do something fun!” 

The truth is, our warning lights are blaring and if we don’t recognize the need for a change, we may end up watching our ministry break down, along with our relationships.

On a recent episode of the podcast, Jimbob spoke with our good friend, Frank Lewis, about self care for the Replant Pastor.  Frank brought up some great points about the benefits of keeping our spiritual, physical, and mental health a priority doing the gritty and glorious work of replanting churches. 

When we think of “self care,” we may be tempted to think that it is selfish or self-indulgent.  But self care is actually defined by the World Health Organization as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.” Essentially, self care is anything we do so that we can be healthy, do our jobs, help and care for others, and do all the things we need to and want to accomplish in a day.

Types of Self Care

stones stacked on top of each other reading mind, body, and soul with the sun setting behind them

When we picture self care, we tend to limit it to spa treatments or solo activities, like reading or journaling.  But there are countless ways to practice self care, and each of them can have benefits far beyond a 60 minute massage.  

Physical Self Care

When we practice physical self care, we include eating healthier, exercising, and better sleeping habits.  Perhaps the best reason for physical health is the need to be physically ready for the challenges replanters face each day.  Many of you are bi-vocational, working two full-time jobs. Without discipline, it is easy to fall into a lifestyle of fast food and fatigue.  Have you ever said, “I’m too tired to even go to sleep!” You may have stayed up later than you needed to, resulting in you feeling even worse the next day– and that lack of sleep will catch up to you, resulting in exhaustion and possibly even serious health effects. Eating well and taking care of your body enables you to keep giving your best in all facets of your ministry.

I recently started going to the gym on my lunch break four times per week.  It isn’t much, just 30 minutes of cardio activity, but I feel better on the days I do it.  I am better prepared for the tasks I need to accomplish.  It also keeps me away from fast food and sitting in my car on my lunch break, which usually leaves me feeling sluggish for the rest of the day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a profound impact on your overall health and well being.

Spiritual Self Care

We must also seek spiritual self care.  The need for us to be spiritually healthy cannot be overstated.  We are in a battle for people’s souls.  To neglect our spiritual health can have eternal consequences.  So often, pastors will study scripture for their sermon preparation and for their congregation’s needs, but they will fail to practice spiritual self care.  Reading devotions, meditating on scripture, and praying to God are necessary disciplines to care for your own soul as you do for the souls of others.

In the book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney lays out some other disciplines that we often fail to incorporate into our lives. For example, when was the last time you practiced solitude? Remember when Jesus was ministering to communities and healing people, he would often retreat to be by himself for a while and simply pray. Jesus needed this time to gain energy and focus on his mission by spending time with the Father. Don’t neglect important tools like this in your personal life. 

Emotional Self-Care

Another self care tool we need is emotional self care.  Our emotions are like a gas tank– without constant refilling, we will eventually run out.  As an old saying goes, “you can’t fill from an empty cup.” When we run on empty, we have nothing left for those who need us. 

I distinctly remember one season of ministry where I was just emotionally drained.  Unfortunately, I had given so much to others that when my own child came to me with a very real emotional need, I was too depleted to empathize or help. Emotional self care is just as important as physical and spiritual self care.  Caring for your emotions can include both social and individual care.  Spending time with friends who lift you up and support you can refill your tank in much the same way taking time away for a vacation or sabbatical can.

Mental Self-Care

In addition to your physical body, your spiritual soul, and your emotions, your brain needs care, too.  Mental self care is so important to a pastor.  When you spend so much time in study and cerebral activities, exercising your brain in new ways helps to keep it stimulated and engaged.  Mental self care can include artistic endeavors like writing poetry or music, or working with your physical hands in woodworking or other hands-on hobbies. Self care for your brain can even mean learning a new activity or a new language.

I’ve often heard that if you work with your hands a lot, take a break by resting with your mind (like reading). Or if you work with your mind a lot, take a break by resting with your hands (working on a project). These small steps help more than we realize.

a man at a desk with hands reaching out with obligations and no time for self care

Barriers to Self Care

Often, when we talk about self care, we can see the benefit, and we understand the need.  Unfortunately, we still can’t seem to find the time for it.  “I’m too busy for another thing on my schedule, even self care!” Might I offer this truth?  

We can’t afford NOT to practice self care. In fact, self care may need to be penciled into the calendar FIRST.

Let’s go back to my car– if I had continued to allow my car to run without gas, on tires that were going flat, with an engine light that was alerting me to a specific issue, how much longer could my car run?  How long until I was on the side of the road, experiencing a breakdown?

Now think of yourself.  How long can you go without self care before you experience a breakdown? I’m guessing it’s far less time than you think.  Often the symptoms of a breakdown show up before we actually come to a complete stop.  Symptoms that look like arguments with your spouse, impatience with your coworkers, irritation with your children, physical illness… You need to practice self care before you self-destruct.

The quickest way to make self care a priority is to pencil it in.  Literally, pencil self care into your calendar.  Make it a habit in your life that you refuse to break.  I have a friend who takes a pottery class every Tuesday night.  That night is as important to her as Sunday morning.  She refuses to miss it.  She recognizes the importance it has to her and the difference it makes in her life. In the same way, you must pencil in time with God, your friends, your family, and yourself.  

A book we have used already in other blogs is Replenish by Lance Witt. In the book, Witt has a well-known quote that sums this topic up quite well. He says, “Never lose sight of the fact that the box (your ministry) is not as valuable as the gift (Jesus). And the only reason the box exists is to deliver the gift. You have dedicated your life to the gift, not to the box.”