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Bivocational Ministry

Bivocational Ministry

In our past two episodes

of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob have been discussing Bivocational Ministry.

Three years of ministry at a local Baptist Association taught me much about what ministry looks like daily. When I began, I started getting to know our pastors. We have young pastors, more “seasoned” pastors, pastors with families, and pastors without. We have pastors with 30 years of experience and some with two years of experience. Only a quarter of our pastors are full-time, vocational, whereas the rest are bi-vocational. 

As common as it is nowadays to meet pastors in full-time, vocational positions, it was rare 100 years ago. Usually, pastors have been marketplace workers, having a ministry on the side while they worked. Due to a lack of finances and people, working a part-time or full-time job on the side of ministry has been the standard practice. Of course, there is no such thing as part-time ministry.

Bivocational or Covocational ministers can sometimes feel overlooked and underappreciated, knowing that full-time ministers are doing similar work for better pay. There will always be a need for bivocational ministers, and some studies have suggested that bivocational is a renewed, everyday occurrence for a pastor trying to make ends meet and help their church succeed.

But before we use this blog to write about some realities of bivocational ministry, let us first consider the definitions of these words since there is no one-size-fits-all position for pastoral ministry.

According to NAMB: 

Vocational: Vocational ministry is a full-time position solely focusing on ministry, generally including salary and benefits.

Bivocational: Bivocational ministry is when a pastor has other employment that helps supplement the salary a church provides.

Covocational: Covocational ministry involves intentionally working in a secular setting to provide oneself the opportunity to minister in that setting. A Covocational pastor is committed to the workplace as a missionary endeavor. While all work is a ministry in some sense, a pastor may do this intentionally for more evangelistic opportunities.

In Acts 20:33-35, the apostle Paul communicated why he worked with his hands to help support the work of ministry. He said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” 

This serves as an excellent summary of what bivocational ministry is.

The Realities

Last year, I attended a leadership retreat highlighting Karl Vaters as a keynote speaker. Vaters has written resources about small churches – one of his books being The Grasshopper Myth. Naturally, many of his writings include the topic of bivocational ministry. Writing for Christianity Today, Vaters says, “If I could only teach one vocational principle to young pastors-to-be, it would probably be this: Learn how to pay the bills outside your pastoral salary. You’ll probably need it.”

Some think bivocational ministry is a stepping stone to vocational ministry or that bivocational pastors are “half-pastors.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is usual for pastors to work bivocationally. It is even more common for a church to provide supplemental income, while a full-time job offers the primary income for a pastor and his family. 

Some recent studies show that bivocational ministry is on an upward trend, and it is becoming a more common practice, especially in churches that cannot afford a full-time salary. Bivocational ministry is not a “less-than” ministry but requires double the sacrifice. Bivocational pastors should be honored for their service, just like any other pastor should.

The Blessings

Just like any other ministry, there are blessings and hardships. The blessings result from hard work, a sacrifice of time, and the unique opportunity to work in the marketplace while serving a church. Bivocational pastors get to see the blessing of working alongside their church members, interacting with their community, and seeing ministry opportunities all around them.

If there is one thing that full-time vocational pastors don’t get to see very much, it’s a regular interaction with lostness all around them. Pastors working in the marketplace can minister to people who will never interact with them. Further, bivocational pastors can set an example for their church members on what it looks like to live on a mission daily in their community.

Perhaps another blessing hidden in disguise is the relief of a financial burden laid upon the churches where they serve. While some churches are doing everything they can to make ends meet to support a full-time salary for a pastor, bivocational pastors can relieve that burden by working jobs for their primary income that helps supplement what a church can provide.

The Hardships

Still, this type of ministry is challenging. Most hardships center around a lack of time. If you factor in a part-time or full-time job, this puts a strain on time in many different areas, whether that be a strain for time with your family, your rest, or even time for sermon preparation.

In an article on churchleaders.com, Dr. James Scott discusses some of these hardships. He speaks about how bivocational ministry often causes emotional duress and spiritual depression. While the same could be said about vocational ministry, it is more likely in a vocational setting due to increased stress or a lack of time.

Leaders must decide whether or not the blessings outweigh the hardships. Whether or not you are in this ministry, know that you are not alone; you are doing great work, and resources and help are available.

No matter where you are or what kind of ministry you do, there is always joy in our calling. Consider these verses from Paul in Philippians 1:3-6: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

For more information about bi-vocational ministry, check out these resources:

Helping Small Churches Thrive – https://karlvaters.com/

Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network – https://www.bscln.net/

The Grasshopper Mythhttps://www.amazon.com/Grasshopper-Myth-Churches-Thinking-Divides/dp/0988443902

Small Church Essentialshttps://www.amazon.com/Small-Church-Essentials-audiobook/dp/B07DKFLCQY/ref=sr_1_1?crid=M604BT2T8SM5&keywords=small+church+essentials&qid=1707750533&s=books&sprefix=small+church+essentials%2Cstripbooks%2C154&sr=1-1

 

What is Working Genius and How Does it Work for You?

Over the past eighteen months, our church has been revising and rewriting the church bylaws.  This has been an arduous, complicated process that took much longer than anyone expected.  The team that took on the project was coed and economically and generationally diverse. We expected to have disparate opinions and different ways of looking at many of the same issues.  We expected to have different strengths and weaknesses as we worked through this important project.

But there was one thing we didn’t expect– some of us felt excited during the same phases that left others feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. For several of us, the project’s initial phase was the most exciting– we loved asking questions and defining what needed to happen.  The possibility of creating a new document for our church that would be used for years to come was so inspiring! The lack of structure and organization during this time felt time-consuming and unproductive for others.  Likewise, some of us felt energized toward the end of the project as we saw all of the hard work come together, and we began to encourage our church about some new directions and ideas.  Others were ready to move on to the next project and wished we could move quicker to the next thing.

Did these differences mean that our team was unsuccessful?  Not at all. These differences are necessary and beneficial!  On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob walked listeners through a new tool called “Working Genius” by Patrick Lencioni.  Though the premise may sound similar to other personality tests and quizzes, the “genius” behind Working Genius is finding out where your team’s skills lie and which parts of a project line up with those specific gifts.

six types of working genius

The Good News: We’re All Geniuses!

One of the best aspects of Working Genius?  We are all geniuses!  It’s true– we all have an area of uniquely talented gifting.  We are more fulfilled and happier when we can work within what we are naturally good at.  In addition to seeing what our skills and gifts say about us, we can also find out where we fit within our team and project phases.  

The Six Types of Working Genius

According to Lencioni, the six types of Working Genius are:

  • The genius of wonder: The natural gift of pondering the greater potential and opportunity in any situation.  People gifted in this area love asking questions and feel creative in ambiguity.
  • The genius of invention: The natural gift of creating original and novel ideas and solutions. People gifted with this genius find joy in taking the challenges and generating solutions. They enjoy innovating from scratch and love a blank whiteboard piece of paper with which they can brainstorm.
  • The genius of discernment: The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations.  People gifted in this area are good curators of what’s going on around them and can recognize patterns. They know how to connect the dots and give people good feedback across a broad range of topics.
  • The genius of galvanizing: The natural gift of rallying, inspiring, and organizing others to take action.  People with this genius love to get things moving. They’re great at pushing people out of their comfort zones, inspiring them to get started, and moving them in the right direction.
  • The genius of enablement: The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project.  This genius is people-oriented– they want to help realize a vision and provide the support needed to move.
  • The genius of tenacity: The natural gift of pushing projects or tasks to completion to achieve results. People gifted in this genius are task-oriented.  They love to take things across the finish line, and they ensure that a project is going to have the impact it’s supposed to have.

Project Stages

Every project has a workflow structure that follows a specific pattern.  The initial stage, where we are asking questions and answering with possible solutions, is called “ideation.”  This is the stage where people with the workplace geniuses of Wonder or Invention will feel energized, focused, and most productive.

In the next stage, we have answered our questions and have decided on a possible course of action.  But we are still getting ready for the next step.  We need people whose workplace genius is Discernment or Galvanizing to help us move into activation.  They will help us create “buy-in” for the ideas and ensure we move in the right direction.  The people with these geniuses will be excited to engage others in the work and cooperate with every team member.

Finally, after we ask and answer all the questions, cohesively move toward solutions, and ensure we are heading in the right direction, we are ready for the final stage of the project: Implementation.  In this stage, people with the working genius of Enablement or Tenacity will find joy in checking off boxes, encouraging others in their work, and getting the project to completion.

The Bad News: We’re Not Always Geniuses!

A name tag that reads "Hello I am a Genius"

Lencioni states that each person has two geniuses that fit them well– these strengths allow them to feel the most joy while at work on a project. Each person also has two Working Competencies.  These are the areas where we can perform the work, and we may even find satisfaction in it.  While we might be somewhat gifted in these areas, they do not bring us joy.  We also have two areas that are working frustrations.  These areas bring us– you guessed it– frustration.  These are the areas where we just really don’t enjoy this aspect of a project.  

Unfortunately, we are not always able to avoid those Working Frustrations.  As Replant Pastors, we are often called to work on a project from start to finish, regardless of which stage of the project brings us joy. So, how do we work within those moments of frustration without getting… frustrated?

Finding Einstein

A picture of Albert Einstein

There is this temptation, especially as a Replant Pastor with limited resources and limited people, to believe that you have to do it all.  Everything rests on you.  Each project is for you to accomplish from start to finish, whether rewriting bylaws or redoing the children’s classrooms.

Pastor, here is some truth: You can’t do it all.  If you thought you could, you would quickly discover that road leads to exhaustion, discouragement, and burnout.  (See last week’s podcast episode and blog for some tips to avoid burnout.)  You need other people.  You specifically need other people who aren’t just like you.  You need other geniuses in the room!

I can tell you from experience it isn’t easy to work with someone with a different genius.  If you have the genius of Wonder, you’re going to frustrate someone with the genius of Tenacity.  While you’re asking all the questions, they’ll just want to push forward to the part where they can start doing something.  If you have the genius of Invention, you may feel unsupported by someone with the genius of Discernment who doesn’t think your idea is a perfect one.

But we must recognize that those differences, however frustrating they may be, allow us to work better. Romans 12:3-8 reminds us that God, in His grace, gives us different gifts– but just as important, it reminds us that we aren’t to think more highly of ourselves because of our specific gifts.  We cannot envy someone else’s unique gifts or judge their gifts as somehow less than ours.

I recently attended a symphony concert with my daughter.  As we listened to the incredible music, I never thought, “Man, I wish this was just 150 trumpets all doing the same thing.” As much as I might love to hear the trumpet, the music was beautiful because every instrument was playing its part at the perfect time and volume.  The trumpet player wasn’t jealous of the violinist because it took both of them to create the symphonic sound.  Likewise, the trumpet player didn’t look down on the harpist because a trumpet couldn’t make that sound, which was necessary for the piece. 

Find the other Einsteins in your congregation with a genius that is different than yours– and then work with them on projects to make sure you’re all playing your part cohesively and beautifully for the Gospel.

If you want to take the Working Genius test or purchase it for your team, you can find more information here: https://www.workinggenius.com/about. And if you’re interested in other resources for team building and team strategies, check out our podcast episodes on Leadership Judo by searching the term or by looking at Les McKeown’s work on Predictable Success.

EP 220 SHARED LEADERSHIP

Replant Bootcamp
Replant Bootcamp
EP 220 SHARED LEADERSHIP
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We hope you are well Bootcampers! Jimbo has been released from his quarantine and Bob is feeling a little under the weather, but do not fear loyal Bootcamper we held forth and produced another EP for you that is an important listen.

Leadership is often lonely and challenging, that’s why it is vitally important to learn how to share the burdens and blessings of leading the local church. In this EP we remind ourselves of Ezra and Nehemiah and how they each played an important role in leading God’s people.

Ezra is a pastor/priest who seeks to get others to take the Bible seriously, and live faithfully. Nehemiah is essentially a visionary who sees the need for the rebuilding of the ancient walls of Jerusalem.  Tim Mackie 

This restoration required, first of all, the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of ceremonial worship. The two accomplished a lot, both had frustrations with those they led, some success and some failure – a real story of the reality of leadership.

Leaders, keep this in mind:

God uses Pastors and Civic Leaders

Both are needed for Kingdom work

Both are valued by God 

Each has an important task, a divine gift set, and a specific calling

Working together for Kingdom purposes

  1. Value each other’s gifting, call
  2. Collaborate and Compliment rather than compete
  3. Lead and follow – the best leaders are also great followers
  4. Recognize that absolute success is often measured in many cycles of victory and setbacks
  5. Keep the big picture in mind – Your God-given assignment is faithfully fulfilling the assignment God has given, success is being faithful.

Get the help you need for your website and branding by calling one of the industry leaders, One Eighty Digital. They do great work dear Bootcamper, call them and let them know you are a good Bootcamp listner.

 

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Every Generation Matters

Every Generation Matters

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

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

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

A Mosaic of God’s Grace

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

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

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

Holistic Discipleship and Biblical Instruction

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

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

Build Bridges, Not Barriers

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

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

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

Outdo One Another in Showing Honor

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

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

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

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

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

 

Batman and Robin

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

We were stunned.

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

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

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

What Does Success Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Association of Collaboration

Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros franchise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Association of Comfort

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

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

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

two men shaking hands

Celebrating a Beautiful Partnership

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

Transforming your Ministry: The Power of Congregational Education

Pastor, are you exhausted from trying to craft three or more sermons per week?  Are you overwhelmed with preaching on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights?  What if I told you there is a way to simplify your life while also providing your congregation with multiple spiritual benefits?  The answer is not more sermons, it’s more congregational education.

As a pastor, your time is at a premium. You are busy– I probably don’t need to tell you that!  But imagine if you could align your Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday nights in a way that allowed you to spend less time preparing sermons and more time engaging with the Word. Instead of three separate sermons, you could focus your energy on the theological application your church needs.

For many of the people in our congregations, there is a belief that because they have listened to countless sermons in their lives, they are theologically educated.  However, if individuals engage with theology solely through sermons, their spiritual growth might be constrained.  Sermons, by nature, are limited.  There is a time limit (the average attention span is not everlasting), and there is a limit to how much wisdom we can impart through monologue (lecture-style teaching) versus dialogue (discussion-based learning).

In this week’s podcast, Bob and Jimbo discussed the numerous benefits of congregational theological education and how to implement theological training among your congregation.

The Benefits of Congregational Education

two men studying their bible together

Congregational education is not just about aligning your workload to be more effective. There are multiple benefits for your congregation, as well.  

  • A deeper faith: Theological education deepens our understanding of our faith, equipping us to navigate the complexities of life and engage in meaningful dialogue with others.  
  • A more unified faith: Biblical unity is inherently theological.  When a congregation studies theology together, they experience greater unity because they share a common understanding of their faith.  
  • A more mature faith: As your congregation studies the Word, they grow in understanding of it.  They become better disciple-makers and better leaders.
  • An empowered faith: A well-educated congregation is mission-oriented.  They understand the need for evangelism and they engage in their faith in a new way.
  • A transformed faith: When members learn to actively engage with God’s word instead of just passively reading it, the Word comes alive to them.  It stops being words on a page and becomes a lamp unto their feet, and like honey to their mouth. (Psalm 119)

How Do I Provide Congregational Education?

multiple people around a table with their bibles open for study

OK, I hear you saying it– you understand the benefits of congregational education, and you recognize the need for it… But how do you provide it without being overwhelmed with a new task on your already long to-do list? By aligning it with your Discipleship program, Sunday morning sermon, and your leadership pathways. 

At our church, our discipleship pathway encompasses Sunday morning worship, small group bible study, one-on-one discipleship, and leadership development. This is not radical or new, nor was it our invention.  It’s simply aligning all congregational education under one umbrella. As our members grow in their faith, they move into deeper theological understanding, culminating in making new leaders who are equipped to be sent out to assist other churches.  We do this by providing multiple educational resources.

At your church, in your setting, this may look different than it does at ours.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to educating your members.  For you, it can look like any of the following:

  • Structured Biblical Training: Offer training on each book of the Bible.  Provide the context, intended audience, and theme of each book, from Genesis to Revelation.  Encourage the members to read the book together, and to discuss specific verses in small groups or discipleship relationships.
  • Collaborative Biblical Training: Utilize the resources you have within your local association.  When you go to conferences, bring some lay members with you.  Connect with other churches and use guest speakers to conduct workshops that would provide theological education for all members.
  • Online Biblical Training:  The Replant Hub from NAMB has countless resources on apologetics, evangelism, replanting and revitalization, and biblical education. Utilizing these online resources for your small groups to study might allow you to recognize possible conflicts before they arise. Right Now Media provides tools for your church as well, from the smallest members to the more “seasoned.”
  • Engage with Other Faiths: Explore other religions and their beliefs.  We did a Sunday Night study on other religions that included their backgrounds and beliefs, but also allowed us to educate our members on apologetics and how to share their faith with people of that religious affiliation.
  • Dissect the Creeds and Confessions of Our Faith: If your church is Southern Baptist, dig into the Baptist Faith and Message and help them understand why we believe what we believe. If your church is of a different denomination, look at your creeds and go through those step by step with your members.
  • Daily or Weekly Prompted Self-Study: Utilize your church’s app or email and have members sign up to receive a daily or weekly prompt that gives them a chapter or verse to study on their own and to write down their thoughts.  Use this as a starting point for small group or discipleship discussions.

Recommended Resources for Beginning Congregational Education

an open bible with a blue highlighter for studying and making notes

No Silver Bullets by Daniel Im: This book underscores the importance of studying, not just reading, God’s word. It reveals how in-depth Bible study can be the most impactful spiritual discipline, positively affecting all other aspects of faith.

99 Essential Doctrines: A comprehensive resource to explore the core doctrines of Christianity.

The NAMB Replant Resouce Hub: This site has many blogs, podcasts, and books for replanters to “dig in” with their congregations.  Incorporating your church into the vision builds unity and is a hallmark of leading change effectively.

When we teach our congregations to truly study the Word, and not just read the Word, we engage them in Bible Study with us.  You can preach a sermon series on Sunday morning that aligns with the Scripture you want to study on Sunday Night, then allow the small groups to dig even deeper on Wednesday night.  You can break down the Word in each space, allowing for discussion and engagement with the Scripture that fosters a greater understanding of it.

We know it can be difficult to plan ahead when you can only see what is required in front of you. However, being intentional about your church’s educational growth is a way to help deepen their faith for the future stability of your church’s discipleship plan.

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.