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Navigating Consensus Decision-Making: Identifying Challenges and Opportunities

In a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Bob and Jimbo walked us through what it looks like to weigh big decisions.  In that episode (and accompanying blog linked here), we discussed seven steps we can take when making difficult decisions as a replant pastor or leader.  These decisions can be made unilaterally, allowing the pastor to think through his choice and move forward. But many decisions require more than just the pastor thinking through them– they require a consensus of thought from many different voices and viewpoints.  

Consensus is defined as, “a general agreement, [or] to arrive at an agreement about a matter, thing, or initiative.”  And this process of collaborative consensus has real benefit when it comes to unity and support within the church, but it is not without challenges.  Thankfully, Bob and Jimbo are here to guide us.  Let’s dive into episode 216 and look at the challenges and correctives in consensus decision-making.

Obstacle One: 100% Agreement Might Be 100% Impossible

10 Ways To Keep Team Agreements Alive - Hanna Cooper

As I write this, Thanksgiving is two weeks away.  That means it’s time to send the annual “What does everyone want for Thanksgiving Dinner”  family group text.  You might think Turkey Day has a standard menu of Turkey, Dressing (or Stuffing, depending on your regional preference), cranberry sauce, etc.  And in most families, you’d be right.  But not in mine.

I have one kid who hates turkey.  He always requests a small ham.  I have another family member who doesn’t care for mashed potatoes but will eat sweet potatoes.  I have one child who despises green bean casserole and two who can finish the entire casserole dish themselves. I have one person who prefers pumpkin pie and one who prefers pecan.  One who wants corn casserole and one who wants macaroni and cheese. Only one person will eat cranberry sauce.

I am only feeding between 5 and 10 people any given Thanksgiving, but getting all 5 to 10 people to agree on a menu for that day is nearly impossible because everyone has their own preferences. If I wait for everyone to agree on a menu I run the risk of Christmas being here before we can eat.

Church decisions are often like this. One faction wants one thing, while another would prefer something else. If we wait for everyone to agree, we may never reach the place of decision.  

Our challenge is often in seeking 100% agreement in the outcome.  Instead, we need to look for 100% support for the outcome.

Bob Bumgarner, the Lead Missional Strategist for First Coast Churches in Jacksonville, Florida, sees it this way: Maybe we can’t get 100% of the people to agree on 100% of the decision, but can we have 100% of the people agree to 80% of the decision? In other words, can we all agree on the fundamentals so we can support the decision and stand by it without disunity and disharmony? Can we give up our preference for one stroke of the painting to allow for a decision that provides the best portrait?

Consensus decision-making requires us to acknowledge that we may not achieve a unanimous decision, but we can agree on the essentials enough to move forward. 

The First Opportunity Found in Consensus

When we go into a decision knowing 100% agreement might be 100% impossible, we might run the risk of feeling somewhat discouraged.  But there is an opportunity here in this obstacle.  While we can’t guarantee a unanimous decision, we can seek to love each person at the table in mutual submission and grace.  

Ephesians 5:21 states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  I can push my personal preferences aside when I remember that it’s not about me. We must honor each other as we sit around a table and seek wise counsel. 

In any collaborative decision-making process, there will be opportunities for discussion and perhaps even debate.  In those moments, it is crucial that we remind our people to truly listen to each other.  When we actively listen to someone else’s position, we aren’t looking for new ways to convince them toward our side.  We are instead serving them and honoring them by seeking to understand them better.  

Mutual submission allows each person to not only feel heard and validated, it also acknowledges a very powerful truth: We do not have all the answers.  Spoiler alert: We do not know everything! In hearing someone else’s opinion and truly listening for deeper understanding, we are humbly recognizing that we don’t know it all.

We may not be able to agree on everything, but we can all agree that honoring each person at the table is more important than anything.

Obstacle Two: Desperate Times Make for Desperate Decisions

Have you ever been in a meeting that just… wouldn’t… end…?  I was once in a staff meeting where 15 different staff members were all trying to decide on a solution to a very frustrating situation.  Every person had a valid opinion and every person felt that they were correct. No one seemed to know how to fix the problem.  After 3 hours of back-and-forth discussion, do you know what was finally decided?  Absolutely nothing.  The decision was tabled until the next month’s staff meeting.  

There was just one problem… That situation still needed a solution.  In desperation and frustration, management made a unilateral decision that angered everyone and threatened to induce a mass walkout.  

Their desperation to make a decision, ANY decision, led them to make one that really didn’t solve the problem and instead led to newer, far more serious, problems.  Churches can experience that desperation, too. In our rashness for ANY decision to be made, we can jump into the wrong one.  We can allow the conversation of our preferences, our desires, and our thoughts to become the standard for decision-making.

I know what you’re thinking… But Erin, you JUST SAID we needed to humbly listen to everyone! You’re right.  But there’s one more person we must listen to over everyone in the room: The Holy Spirit.  

If the only standard we use for decision-making is our own flawed human logic, we are bound to fall into desperate decisions that aren’t Kingdom-minded.

The Second Opportunity Found in Consensus

The best decisions we can make are those that honor God: His Word, His Work, and His Way. Our logic, preferences, and opinions all take a back seat to the wisdom that is only found in the Holy Spirit.   

As leaders in the room where it happens, we have a unique opportunity to guide our people toward listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  When we remember to rely on God’s timing and God’s provision, we are less likely to jump into desperate decision-making that leaves Him behind.  

When we encourage our members to pray for upcoming decisions, we are reminding them to look for God’s leadership and not just ours.  When we guide our members to search the Scriptures for verses specific to the topic, we are reinforcing our mutual belief that God’s Word is alive and active, even for our “modern-day” decisions.  When we shepherd our members to wait for God’s timing, we are motivating them to remember that He is faithful even in the waiting.

We are strengthened as a community when we remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit’s voice should be the strongest in the room.

Obstacle Three: “I Never Liked It From the Start”

Hindsight bias: the knew-it-all-along phenomenon - Ness Labs

You know the expression, “Hindsight is 20/20?” I know a woman whose hindsight is not only crystal clear, but she will also be happy to remind you that her foresight was, too.  “I was never on board,” she boasts. “I knew this was a bad idea from the beginning.” The problem is, she never says anything in the beginning!  It’s only after a decision has been made and then found to be less than ideal that she finds this voice.  

You might imagine that consensus decision-making would discourage this because there is ample opportunity to speak up and collaborate on decisions.  But instead, sometimes the opposite is true.  In a consensus where everyone is part of the process, there is a challenge for everyone to not only agree with the decision but support it, as well.  

As we said in the first obstacle, we may not all agree on the entirety, but we hope to agree enough on the fundamentals to come to a decision.  But even if we don’t agree with it all, we MUST support it all.  It is imperative that every person involved in a decision-making process leaves the room ready to champion the final option.

We must remember that those of us making decisions will occasionally make a decision that doesn’t turn out exactly how we imagined.  In that moment, we must be able to acknowledge the reasons why and move forward without finger-pointing and murmuring against each other.  The full support of each person in the consensus is necessary for unity and accountability.

The Third Opportunity In Consensus

In Galatians 5, Paul reminds the Galatians to live ”by the Spirit.” He tells them that the works of the flesh are evident.  The first few refer to sexual impurities, but then he mentions, “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy.”  Paul’s reminder is fitting for us, as well, as we think through collaborative decisions. When we walk in the flesh, we are prone to backbiting and dissension.  We allow rivalries to build up and bitterness toward our fellow members to grow roots in our hearts.  We make decisions not out of a spirit of love, but out of pettiness and jealousy.

But when we are led by the Spirit, Paul writes, we bear the fruit of the Spirit, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Imagine being in a room where decisions were made in that kind of generosity of Spirit.  Imagine collaborating with fellow Christians who all listened to each other with those fruits evident in their interactions.  

Now imagine that the decision didn’t work out for some reason, and imagine seeing those same people respond to each other with grace and mercy, the fruit of the Spirit on display as they support each other and encourage each other.

Consensus decision-making can be challenging, but when we meet those challenges with biblical community, we honor God and testify to His Spirit in us.  We see our members grow in grace, love, and unity with each other, and that overflow informs our decision-making process.  We make better decisions with better support and we see a transformation as we do so.

Long-Tenured Pastors Can Still Lead in Church Renewal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Renewed Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hungry Church

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

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

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

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

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

An Intentional Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Batman and Robin

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

We were stunned.

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

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

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

What Does Success Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Association of Collaboration

Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros franchise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Association of Comfort

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

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

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

two men shaking hands

Celebrating a Beautiful Partnership

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

How to Say Hello–3 Practical Ways to Greet Your Guests

welcome sign for front door

I recently revamped the front entrance to our home. I bought a new doormat and new pillows for the bench, and spruced up a wreath for the door.  Then I did something I’ve never done before… I hung up a sign to greet visitors with large letters that say, “WELCOME.”  (As an introvert, it should more accurately say, “Welcome… unless my people meter is low.  Then, not so much.” But that wouldn’t fit on a sign.)

It’s easy for guests at my home to know the way in.  There is a clearly marked driveway for parking, an easily accessible front door (which is also the only entrance), and chances are, I will be there to show them our foyer with a visible bathroom just to their left. If you are visiting my house for the first time, you will have no problems knowing where to go.

Wouldn’t it be great if visitors to our churches could have that same experience? In this week’s episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo and Bob tackle the unique challenges (and advantages!) normative size churches face when implementing a hospitality team.

Greeting Starts at the Door– But Which One?

multiple doors

When we started at Central Baptist, one of the first things we noticed was how many different ways there are to get into the building.  We have a front entrance that faces the road– but that’s not the “typical” entrance, because using it would actually place you coming into the back of the church.  That entrance made sense when everyone walked to church and there was only one part of the building– the sanctuary and classrooms underneath.  But an addition long ago placed parking behind the church and made a new, single-door entrance.  This entrance would take you through our old classrooms which were no longer in use and up a set of narrow stairs to the sanctuary, where you come in to the side of the platform.  A third addition in the 90s added a fellowship hall and wing which created a new, double door entrance that allowed access to the nursery and childrens’ areas and stairwell access to the upper level and the sanctuary.

It was a maze to navigate– and that was AFTER you’d made it through the dilapidated, weed-infested parking lot with the faded white lines which made it impossible to know exactly where you should park.

We had a few guests that actually left before ever getting inside because they just found the whole building impossible to navigate.  When we hosted events at the church, people would genuinely get lost inside the corridors, hallways, and stairwells. Guests coming to the church were likely to wind up in an old, dusty flower closet wearing a choir robe from 1972 only to be found during a church clean up day several weeks later.

Ok, not really… But we  realized we had a problem, and it was one of the first steps toward revitalization that we needed to take:  We needed a clearly identified entrance.

The first thing we did was redo the church’s signage.  We purchased a large banner for the road-facing entrance of the church.  It can be changed out seasonally and can highlight special events like Vacation Bible School or Christmas and Easter services. We also purchased signage to show where visitors can park, and repaved the parking lot to make it simpler. Then we put up a large sandwich board style sign that welcomed everyone toward the double door entrance.

Once inside, we used clearly identifying signs to funnel people toward children’s areas, the sanctuary, and the restrooms, as needed. We made coming to our church as easy to navigate as coming to our house.

Unfortunately, great signage and great directions don’t always equal a successful greeter experience. To make people feel welcome, you can’t just show them the way in– you have to have people who make them feel at home.

We needed a greeter ministry or hospitality team to guide people to the right place once inside.  Fortunately, our smaller church had an advantage in this area: First, it was easy to identify who was new.  One look across our congregation could inform us of any new faces.  Second, in a smaller church, everyone is a greeter!

Develop a Friendly Greeter Ministry

In the podcast, Bob stated, “People want to be welcomed and wanted, but not watched.” When we are thinking about the experience of a first time guest at our church, we need to ask ourselves this question from Jimbo: What does our church communicate about who we are and what we believe is important? From the parking lot, to the welcome desk or area, to the service itself, we are communicating a message to a first time guest.  It needs to be a good one!

In the first few minutes of our service we typically go over our welcome and announcements. In those first few moments, first-time guests are mentally deciding whether or not they’ll return for a second visit. Are your announcements about upcoming committee meetings?  Community outreach projects?  Future children’s events?  Adult Bible Study and Discipleship opportunities?  What does your first few moments of service tell a first-time guest about what your church thinks is important? 

What about the rest of the service?  Are you joyful in worship?  Is there excitement about being in the house of God?  We know that corporate worship is integral to the discipleship and growth of the believer, and we know that there is great benefit to joining other believers in weekly fellowship. So how are we communicating that importance to our members and our guests?  

Some churches feel passionately about an order of worship and a bulletin.  Others have done away with them completely.  The truth is, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for whether or not your church should or shouldn’t have them.  One thing is clear–for a visitor, there is so much value and security in knowing what’s coming next.  

I recently visited a church where my daughter serves while she is away at college.  This church is a very large church of a different denomination than what I currently attend.  The opportunity to be a “first-time guest” allowed me to really experience for myself the discomfort of unfamiliar places and faces.  One thing they did well was to have a QR code for me to scan for the order of worship.  I was able to quietly look at a bulletin and know when we would be reading scripture, what songs we would sing, when children were dismissed, and they even designated when to stand and when to sit for each part with a small asterisk. It made the experience so much easier.

One thing they also did well was their time of “fellowship.” This was a time to look around and greet unfamiliar faces and also to catch up with each other.  As I mentioned above, I am an introvert– I want to go in my shell and peep out when I’m comfortable.  This time can be really hard for me, especially in the middle of a service where I am already feeling very awkward. But instead of a meet and greet in the middle of the service, they offered for any guests to step into a small room off from the lobby and meet the pastor and his wife at the end of service if they chose to. They offered beverages and small snacks, and several friendly members stayed as well and said hello.

This church had clearly taken time to develop a culture of hospitality, and it made a difference in my experience as a guest. What efforts have you made to cultivate an environment where the guests to your church leave feeling cared for and considered?

Greeting that Goes Further than the Front Door

a word wall with welcome, hello, hi, etc greetings

Every first-time guest is not just a visitor–they are a potential family member.  We view our church as our family, so each person who visits is someone who we hope will eventually become a sister or brother in this family of believers we call Central Baptist.  The gospel gives everyone a place to belong.

In order for your greeting to extend past the front door, you must be willing to invest time and energy into the follow-up for every single guest.  In order to be known for hospitality, you must first learn to be hospitable. (Go figure.)  It isn’t enough to just hand someone a first-time guest gift and say “Hello.” You need to take some time to get to know them.

Many pastors will run themselves to the ground in an effort to follow up with everyone and to engage every guest.  But if you cultivate a culture of hospitality, you can expect your members to help you greet, engage, and follow-up with each visitor.  One way to do this is to encourage your members to share a meal with someone they don’t know or have never shared a meal with–that can be a visitor, but it can also be another member they just don’t know that well.  

Not everyone is gifted in the area of hospitality, but that’s why we “practice” hospitality.  We can always get better at it.  Pair up those people who are naturally gifted at making others feel comfortable with those who aren’t–show them how to engage with others.

Another way to cultivate a culture of hospitality is to give first time guests small gift cards to local eateries or coffee shops. Let them know that you would really like to sit down with them and have a conversation about the church and answer any questions they may have, or they can use it on their own, the choice is theirs.  I’m willing to bet that they will take you up on the offer to sit down and chat! If your church does fellowship dinners for a small fee, offer guests a “free” coupon so that they feel comfortable coming back and being a part of that ministry.

The easiest and perhaps most used way to cultivate hospitality among your members is the card or phone call follow-up.  Handwritten cards are always a nice gesture and feel so much more sincere than a formatted letter.  (Jimbo recommends the Felt App for this purpose.) Do you have some members for whom a shared meal would be difficult?  They would be great assets to use for card writing or simple follow up phone calls to welcome guests!

In order to be a church where guests turn into members, you must take the time to reflect on what message your church sends to each visitor that comes through your (well-marked, easily identifiable!) door.

Next Steps

Hopefully you now see the importance of starting a new (or adjusting your existing) greeter ministry.  Some easy, practical next steps to take are:

  1. Ask an outsider to perform a “mystery shop”– this can be a friend, coworker, or neighbor whose opinion you respect.  Ask them to assess what it’s like to be a first time guest at your church.  What are their first impressions?  What message did they leave with?  Did they notice anything out of place or confusing?  It can be easy to overlook our own flaws, that’s why we need an outside perspective on them.
  2. Take some time to polish your welcome and announcements time.  Find a way to communicate an invitation for everyone and an orientation for guests. Make sure you’re giving your congregation guidance on the importance of Sunday morning worship and also what comes next. If something is different on a specific Sunday that will change the normal order or worship, explain that and give people the security to know what comes next.
  3. Find your greeters and your hospitality people– you’ll know them.  These members always know who’s having surgery, who’s child is heading to college, who recently experienced a job change, who has moved.  They know these things because they know people.  They are excited to spend time with people and they enjoy meeting new people.
  4. Come to the Replant Summit to get ideas from others!  If you want practical tips for people who have been where you are, you NEED to register and attend the Replant Summit in Atlanta August 28-29.  There is no better opportunity to meet fellow replanters who are in the trenches with you.  This is the retreat and refresh your ministry needs!

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 3)

Over the past couple of weeks, we have learned to measure success in a better way. Here’s a summary of what we have heard so far: 

  • Discerning and Adapting vs. Doubling Down
  • Leading Paradigmatic Change vs. Reinvigorating Old Programs
  • Equipping Others for Ministry vs. Exhausting Yourself in Ministry
  • Measuring Actions vs. Counting Outcomes
  • Multiple Financial Streams vs. Single Financial Streams

And this week, we focus on the last two of this series: 

  • Pursuing faithfulness vs. chasing fruitfulness
  • Committing to the long haul vs. considering another call when things get difficult

Take up your Cross

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In 18 words, Jesus helps his audience understand what it means to follow him in this world. Jesus would say that if you want to make much of yourself, exalt yourself, and live for yourself, you cannot follow Him.

We all have a cross to bear. For some, it means sacrificing a lavishing career, suffering through physical means, or struggling through a painful life. But ultimately, the cross we bear is worth bearing, because Jesus died and rose to life, so we can have life in his name. Ultimately, our “cross” is what the Bible calls a light, momentary affliction that is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

Whether you are a Replant Pastor or another ministry leader, each one of us has a cross to bear in ministry itself. Paul says, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). When Paul said this, he was helping the church in Corinth understand what it was like to do the work of ministry: painful, yet joyful. Every pastor should understand what scripture says about suffering, because many may have the wrong expectations of what ministry may look like.

Pursuing Faithfulness vs. Chasing Fruitfulness

Far too many pastors and leaders have been burned out in ministry, and quit altogether because of burnout, wrong expectations, and unexpected conflict. but there is certainly a better way to measure success, and it has little to do with the fruit that we produce in our work. It has more to do with our walking in obedience to our calling. We have a tendency to sometimes take matters into our own hands. Like Abraham and Sarah, we want to fulfill God’s promises ourselves. The problem is that our way normally results in dissension and destruction. God’s way is better.

In a normal career, our performance is evaluated by the work we are able to accomplish. When I was in the landscaping field, my work was evaluated on the efficiency and quality of my work. But ministry should be seen differently. That’s because in kingdom work, we are not the ones who give growth to the body, and the business does not belong to us. Our “company” has one founder and one CEO, Jesus Christ. He is the one that gives fruit and gets the glory for any fruit that is produced. Our job is simply to steward and care for what he has entrusted to us.

I was speaking to a friend of mine, who recently entered a new pastoral role. He very quickly told me about some of the stress that he’s already experienced in serving, and it had much to do with the attendance of those in that church setting. He already was experiencing the early signs of depression over a lack of attendance. “I’m working hard, studying hard to get up and deliver, and I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears, or hardly any ears at all,” he said. Do you feel the same way?

One thing that’s important to remember and understand is that we are limited in what we can do. The past twenty years have seen a plethora of church growth strategies and movements. Some of them, unfortunately, are void of the power of the Holy Spirit. Only God can bring life to a dying church. No one can or has risen from the dead apart from the work of God. So, we need Him to work in our dying churches again. Our role is simply to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives.

Committing to the Long Haul

Replant Pastors all over our nation are working hard, serving faithfully in their roles. Depending on the dynamic, some of them are still in a plowing stage, preparing the ground. Some of them are tilling the toil, and some are planting seeds. In my role at the Association, I have talked to a few of our pastors who are struggling with the difficulty of seeing little fruit. Some of them have considered being called elsewhere, or leaving the ministry altogether. 

But we cannot call ourselves somewhere else, and force God’s hand. Like Jonah, we may try to run in a different direction, but God will have his way. Like Jonah, God will either convict us of our disobedience, or remind us of our calling and place us where He wants us. Like Jonah, you may find yourself in a variety of situations, from the belly of a whale, to a seat under the hot sun because of a hungry caterpillar. We can choose to either remain under God’s calling and be content, or be miserable in our disobedience.

I want to encourage Replant Pastors to commit to the long haul. In conversations with pastors, some are frustrated in trying to enact change. But sometimes it takes difficult work and time to build trust. There is ebb and flow in a church’s willingness to get behind your leadership, so trust building is important. It does help to remember Paul’s words in Colossians 1:10. Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” 

“Wait, I thought you said not to focus on fruitfulness!” Notice what Paul is saying, because there is an important sequence of events. He is saying, “First, walk worthy of the Lord. Obey Him. Serve Him. As a result, you will bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God.”

Is the Grass Greener?

God may do something in you, on you, and around you before he does something through you. We should not be surprised when there are fiery trials, when there is persecution, when there is hardships. Any pastor who wants to bypass difficulty should reconsider the ministry. God often brings us through hardship to produce something in us. So I would encourage any pastor or leader to have a well-developed understanding of suffering, especially in the life of a minister.

When we read through the persecution of the early church and the hardships of Paul and his fellow workers, it gives us a calm assurance to make it through difficult business meetings and disputed financial decisions. While the thorn in your flesh may not be the building and grounds committee, one thing should be remembered: Hardship is natural for anyone in ministry. Rest assured, you’re not alone.

The grass may be greener on another side, but that grass withers as well. If things get tough, don’t begin looking at the job board so quickly. Instead, get on your knees before God and began seeking Him. If He called us, He will sustain us. Let us look to Him.

For resources listed in this week’s podcast, see the following: The Insanity of God, The Insanity of Obedience, The Cost of Discipleship, This, Too Shall Last. See our other blogs here. Please reach out to us for any feedback, and let us know how we can help.

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 2)

I feel like there are two kinds of people in the world.  One type is wired to love English/History. They most likely enjoyed these classes in school and did well in them.  They love that a sentence can mean different things when read in different ways.  They enjoy words and stories. The other type of person is geared toward Math/Science. They performed well and liked those subjects in school.  Ambiguity is frustrating to them.  They enjoy numbers, measuring things, and equations.

My husband is this type of person. He is a numbers guy.  Give him a spreadsheet and some formulas, and he will “Excel” at putting it all together. (As you may have guessed by that horrible pun, I am the other type. Words are awesome and I use a lot of them–the punnier the better.) This skill as a numbers person worked really well for him when his career was in Logistics and Warehousing.  But as a Replant Pastor, playing the numbers game can be discouraging and frustrating.

Ministry Maxims

In the most recent episodes of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob have been discussing some new “Ministry Maxims.” These truths, when applied to replanting, can shift our mindset and help create new practices that allow replant pastors to see and celebrate the successes instead of focusing on the setbacks.

In the first episode  of the series and in last week’s blog, we focused on the first three Maxims:

  1. Discerning and Adapting 
  2. Leading Paradigmatic Change
  3. Empowering and Equipping Others

In this week’s episode, we added two more:

      4. Actions over Results

      5. The Importance of Multi-stream Revenue

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Success

If you are a numbers guy, like my husband, your metric for success in your church might be attendance, baptisms, and discipleship program participation.  But in the Summer, when we experience a “Summer Slump,” those numbers may seem a bit skewed.  And truthfully, those numbers might not be giving you a full picture the rest of the year, either. 

Instead of looking at those results, shift your mindset to a new Ministry Maxim– measuring actions, not results. When we measure results, we are often looking at the end point of a journey that actually  had several successes along the way.  An increase in attendance is hopefully a result of successfully reaching your community.  Increased baptisms is a result of successfully discipling your congregation to recognize that important step of public obedience.  And an increase in discipleship  participation is certainly a result of equipping and empowering your congregation to make disciples and to take their faith to the next step. Each of those seemingly small steps is a chance to celebrate success!

In my church, as in many others, we have a display that gives us a visual reminder that every success is important.  We refer to it as the “Who’s Your One” board.  There are five colored ping pong balls, and we drop them in whenever we successfully complete a step in our gospel process.  The first ball is white– we write a person’s name on it as our “One.” This person is someone we have identified as a person in our sphere of influence to whom we are making the commitment to pray for daily and to engage with the Gospel.  The next ball is red.  We drop those in when we have listened to and heard our “One’s” story. Next, we have the orange ping pong ball.  These are used when we share a meal with our “One.” The next ball is blue, and it represents meeting a need for our “One” in a tangible and practical way.  And the final ball is green, and it represents the moment when we are able to share a gospel conversation with our “One.”

A board displays ping pong balls with colors representing steps in a church discipleship process

Each of these balls has a story and represents not just a small step, but a consistent and committed effort to reach someone who is far from God with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We know that each of these steps are worth celebrating– not only for the potential result of a new life in Christ, but for our members who are growing in their faithful obedience to God’s call to share their faith.

Our decision to celebrate these small steps was strategic: first, we identified the measurements that were important to us as a church.  We weren’t looking to be the biggest church in town, and we didn’t want to grow from membership transfers.  We wanted to reach people who were far from God with the Gospel, and we wanted our members to take ownership in that process. So our metric went from “Are you inviting people to church?” to “Are you sharing your life with someone who needs the Gospel?” Once we identified the actions that represented that goal, then we communicated them to our people and built a visual reminder of them.  And lastly, we celebrate each time a ball is dropped in that display.

What are the actions your church is taking toward reaching your community?  Are your members meeting the needs around them?  Celebrate it! Are they engaging in conversations with others?  Celebrate it! These are important victories that are going to lead to bigger results. Every Sunday, take time to recognize the successes and remind your congregation that each step is vital, not just the end goal.

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Revenue

As Bob pointed out in the podcast, we are entering into a season where resourcing mission and ministry will require more than just tithes and offerings.  While there is a biblical mandate for the congregation to support the ministry with those gifts, replant pastors would benefit from shifting their thinking from a sole source of revenue to multiple avenues to generate income for their church.

Often, replant churches have a lack of money and manpower. But what they do have, sometimes in abundance, is property and buildings. Those unused classrooms and parcels of land that have sat empty can be used as income-generating revenue for your church that you can use to move the ministry and missions of your church forward.

Our church had an empty 4 acre corner lot at the edge of our property.  Because of the way it was positioned, the church could never use it for any specific purpose.  Much of it had overhead power lines that would prevent us from being able to build, and it was too far from the current sanctuary to be beneficial for us.  

After much prayer and discussion, we opted to sell the property.  We were specific in what we were looking for.  We wanted a buyer who would develop the 4 acres into new, affordable housing for our community.  The property sold within a few weeks, and now there are newly constructed homes on ½ acre lots waiting for new families to settle in.

But the income we generated in that sale didn’t just sit in a savings account to gather interest.  We used it to repave and paint our parking lot, which was dangerously uneven and had grown into a weed-filled eyesore. The new layout of the parking lot not only gave us a better first impression to visitors and to our community, but it also provided several new parking spots in the repainting.  The ministry and the mission of our church was funded through the sale of a parcel of land we would never use.

a close up of a parking lot with drainage problems and broken pavement

Another church in our association had an excess of space in their building.  They recognized that unused classrooms and hallways were not functioning as the best use of their church.  Instead of shutting them down and leaving them empty, the church partnered with a local Christian school and leased the space to them.  Through the week, this Christian school meets in those once-empty classrooms and uses the space.  What was once an empty hallway is now a thriving school.  This partnership generates income for the church while meeting the need for Christian education availability in the community. The mission and ministry of the church is funded by utilizing an otherwise unused resource.

Maximizing the Maxims

In my family, we will often talk about needing a “win,” or a success.  Sometimes it’s a good grade on a test, an unexpected check in the mail, or a presentation at work going better than I expected. But when we’re feeling like we’re taking loss after loss and we’re discouraged and banged up, our wins can be small things: finding a close to the door parking space in the rain, realizing we have money on a gift card for lunch, or an uplifting word from a friend. Celebrating these small wins helps me focus on the positive things in my life.

Likewise, when we utilize these Ministry Maxims, we shift our mindset from focusing on setbacks to looking at successes. Instead of being discouraged and frustrated by places we think we’ve failed, we recognize the places where God is still working and moving in our congregations.  And when we get excited about that, so do our members!

Which ministry maxim are you most interested to implement?  Let us know in the comments or connect with us on social media!

 

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 1)

My father has been in the ministry for almost 34 years. In many conversations, he has commented on the summer season of church life during those few hot months in between school sessions. In talking with him this week, he said, “Many families are gone over the summer, but we don’t slow down very much. However, the dynamics of our ministry change.” Instead of continuing with the same caliber of ministry activities, they place their focus on summer events for the community and missional engagements such as VBS and Mission Trips. They also use summer months to focus on their teams and committees, even having a short retreat for their staff.

Summer presents a unique challenge to the life of our churches, and depending on the DNA of your Sunday gatherings, missing out entirely for a few months seems like a normal practice for young families. Of course, people need vacation time and rest to spend with their families. But when several core families are missing for a fourth of the year, the effects can seem devastating and confusing. 

During these summer months, many pastors even take sabbatical time themselves. Or, they will use the opportunity to restructure and rethink their ministries and calendars. Continuing with the same momentum in June and July, versus the rest of the year can seem like a daunting task. To avoid burnout, there are several ideas presented on this week’s podcast episode, and last week’s blog, that will help you think about the upcoming months in the life of your church.

Discern and Adapt

Some leaders want to double down and get into a deep study during the summer. But it can help to take a step back and use less-attended church services to focus on your core people and discern a ministry plan for the rest of the year. In Romans 12:2, Paul says to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The type of mind-renewal Paul is talking about takes time. 

But if you’re anything like me, there are some seasons that you are running so fast, and so chaotically busy, that you have no time to think. And when you don’t have time to think, it’s difficult to discern the will of God for you and for your church. Summer should be a time of reflection and focus. This is why many pastors take a season of rest during the summer while continuing to maintain the regular services and ministries of the church.

This time of discernment and adaptation takes place by:

1. Immersing yourself in the Word of God

In John 15:8, Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified. That you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Did you catch that? Did you know that it is possible for God to be glorified by you simply abiding in Christ and bearing fruit? Sometimes we forget that in the busy-ness of ministry, God is not solely pleased by our righteous deeds. He is also glorified when we simply rest in Him. Sometimes we need to talk less and listen more to the voice of God to discern what the next steps are. 

2. Reflecting on culture, the world, and the church

What’s going on in the world today? This question will affect the way you do ministry and the elements you highlight, even in preaching. The gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, but the world around us constantly does. How can you be a faithful pastor that speaks directly to what your congregants are facing? I’ve talked to some leaders who are completely unaware of what is going on in the culture. Yes, we are called to “not love the world or the things of the world.” But the way we can love others is by speaking the truth of the gospel to the current situations our world is facing. God can and does use cultural affairs around us to open up gospel conversations! Spend significant time reflecting on the surrounding culture, and it will make you a more direct and pertinent leader.

3. Exercising good decision-making by utilizing your teams and leaders

No one is expecting you to do ministry alone. Summer can be the perfect time to identify leaders, equip them for the next season of church life, and deploy them to help serve and minister. Ephesians 4:12 tells us the purpose of church leadership: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry and for edifying the body of Christ.” When you dialogue with your deacons, elders, or members of a leadership team, their unique viewpoints of church life can help you determine how to engage with church members in the upcoming season. Every pastor has to learn the tools of delegation and equipping.

Lead Paradigmatic Change

Summer can also feel like a time to re-invigorate old programs that have no value. But if there is one thing that the COVID years taught us, it’s that some programs have not resurfaced, and they don’t need to. Summer presents a time to simplify, evaluate the functions of your church and determine whether or not any change is necessary.

In the podcast, Bob talks about the difference between a leader and a manager. A leader asks questions about how the ministry you’re doing affects the Kingdom of God. But a manager simply seeks to maintain the same strategy without asking any questions. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And if a leader is unwilling to determine where change is needed, then they should not expect the church to change in any positive direction.

Empower and Equip the Body

Don’t exhaust yourself to the point of no return. A good leader is one who recognizes leadership around them, identify and develop them, and then deploy them to the work of ministry. There is a reason God gave us deacons and gifted church members! To use for the work of ministry, in ways that a Pastor is unable due to time restraints and exhaustion. 

There is a sense in which we need to “deconstruct” the Pastor-only mentality. Recently, our Church Development team was looking through an Job Description to help a Pastor Search committee at one of our local churches. In the job description, we changed a lot of language because the language seemed to elevate the Pastor’s responsibilities to…everything, while reducing the member’s responsibilities to nothing. One of the duties was, “The Pastor will plan and conduct all worship services on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights.” Is this the Pastor’s role in the church, or can it be delegated to other members?

Pastors can easily burn themselves out with too much ministry related programs and activities. But in many ways, a man can only do what a man can do. Summer gives us an opportunity to identify and develop members around us, using their gifts and abilities, to carry on the work of ministry themselves. 

Be intentional this summer. At the beginning of it, set some goals for yourself, your ministry, and the church. Then, put some of these tools in place. God wants to use you this summer for His glory in the most effective way possible.

Street sign with discouragement and encourage at opposite posts

Lessons for Seasons of Discouragement

Man discouraged by bitter tasting coffee

Have you ever had one of those days where it seemed like nothing you did worked out the way you thought it would? Last week, I woke up late because I fell back to sleep after my alarm went off. The set of scrubs I planned to wear had an unknown stain on them, so I had to grab another pair–  which is when I realized I hadn’t taken them out of the washer the night before. I made coffee then realized we were out of coffee creamer.  I resigned myself to a cup of bitter, black coffee, only to burn my mouth on it. On my way to work, my car reminded me that I had forgotten to get gas the day before and when I finally got to work, my first patient of the day was a “spicy” cat who scratched and bit me. Nothing I touched seemed to go according to plan.

By 9 am, I needed a do-over.

I think we’ve all had days like that. But what happens when those days seem to turn into weeks…or even months? When, like the Rembrandts sang, “it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year?”

In replant ministry there can be times where nothing seems to go right. What do we do when we’re in a season of discouragement?

On a recent episode of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob pointed us toward 2 Corinthians 1:10. Paul’s words to the Corinthian church give us a guide for our own seasons of frustration.

Paul’s Affliction in Asia

In Paul’s opening words to the Corinthian church, he tells them of all he has suffered since his last letter. In verse 8 he alludes to an affliction he suffered in Asia, which was so great that he “despaired of life itself.” Paul was to the point of thinking death might be the only outcome for his struggle– or at least preferable to it!

Paul could be referring to any number of trials. In Ephesus, Paul faced an angry mob, imprisonment, beatings, and general suffering. He could perhaps be referring to his “thorn in his flesh” that he discusses later in the same letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know exactly which specific affliction Paul is referring to, but we know it was bad enough for him to think death was more appealing. 

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the same way at some points in our replant journey.  I’m sure you have, too.

But Paul doesn’t give up. He tells the Corinthians that his suffering led him not to death, but instead to God, the giver of life. He was forced to rely on God and not his own power through those trials.  Then Paul tells them that he was able to find peace in his suffering by looking to his past, present, and future in Christ. This instruction helps us, too.

street signs with past present and future all meeting

Past Victories

Paul opens verse 10 with a look at his past. “He [has] delivered us from such a deadly peril.”  Paul focused on the fact that God had delivered him before.

When we go through seasons of discouragement, one of the best reminders for us is to look back at our past victories in Christ.  One of my favorite sayings is, “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days.” It’s a good reminder that I’ve had other victories.  There have been times where I didn’t think I could stand, but I did, and I’m still standing.

Bob used another phrase from a pastor he once knew: “If Jesus can take care of your salvation, there ain’t nothing he can’t take care of.” Christ forgave your sins.  All of the trials of this world are nothing compared to Christ removing the debt of sin in our lives.  But not only has He forgiven us of our sins– His death also satisfied the wrath of God so that we now have peace with God.  

God has delivered you from sin. And because of this truth, we can trust in God.  This moment in your ministry is not  something that will stop God from moving on your behalf. After all you’ve seen God do in your life, don’t you think He’s big enough to handle your current crisis?

Present Assurance

 

Paul next says, “and He will deliver us.” (emphasis mine) Paul was assured that his affliction was not the end of God’s work in his life.  He was able to look at his present circumstances and know that God was still working within them.  He was still experiencing struggles and trials, but he saw God’s hand in them.

One of the things we forget as we struggle is that whatever we are going through is not a surprise to Jesus.  There wasn’t an emergency session in the Trinity with hand-wringing and frantic scrambling to find a crisis-management plan.  Your circumstances were not unforeseen by God. And since He knew what was going to happen, you can be assured that in this present moment, God has given you all that you need to get through it. 

God’s deliverance doesn’t always look like we think it will.  As Bob pointed out, “If God operated how we wanted him to operate, he wouldn’t be God… And we would be.” Sometimes, God’s deliverance is painful.  Sometimes, it’s frightening.  Sometimes, it doesn’t come as quickly as we wish.  But rest assured, God will deliver.

Future Hope 

In the next line of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul is now looking toward the future, knowing God will deliver him again.  Paul knows that struggles are not a one-time event.  We are not free from struggles just because we’ve gone through one. But Paul specifically says that his hope is not in himself. His hope is in Jesus.

When we hope in our circumstances, we are engaging in a futile exercise.  Our circumstances are always changing– just because today was great doesn’t mean tomorrow will be.  In a world of unknown elements, Christ is our only firm foundation, the only hope we have for deliverance.

Romans 8:28 promises us that God is working all things toward good.  Our suffering is not worthless.  It is leading toward God’s good and sovereign plan.   This is for God’s good, and for His glory. Our future seasons of discouragement are not without benefit.  He will use it to sanctify and purify us.  He will burn off the idolatry of self-reliance and self-centeredness.  Depending on Him allows us to see His glory in our trials.

One Last Thing

four seasons of tree

In those moments where everything is going wrong, it’s easy to feel like we will never see victory again.  I am sure that Paul wondered in Ephesus if he would ever be able to see the believers in Corinth or go to Rome as he had planned.  But one of the things we must remember about seasons of discouragement and frustration is that they are seasons, not a lifetime. 

When we are in the middle of struggles and trials, we have to think of it like Winter.  Is it cold and dark and even sometimes bitter?  Yes.  But in that season, deep in our souls, God is planting seeds of victory.  Soon, it will be Spring and we will experience new growth.  Some day, we will be in Summer and we will feel the joy and warmth of God’s presence as our ministry grows and flourishes.  And one day we will see a Harvest.  

Inevitably, we will experience Winter again.  And that is when the season we are going through now will be a past victory that brings us hope.

He has delivered.  He will deliver.  He will deliver us again.

Practical Stewardship Helps

In another blog, I wrote on the “why,” behind healthy stewardship. But this week on the podcast, we learned the “how” of Stewardship with Rick Wheeler from Stewardship Simplified (Florida Baptist Financial Services). On the podcast, Rick helped us understand how a Replanter or Revitalizer who has few resources can take practical steps to manage a church well for the glory of God.

Prioritizing Our Roles

When it comes to understanding the roles and titles that many of us carry, it helps to create a distinction between our job descriptions and our role as Christ followers. Before I am an Associational Mission Strategist, and before you are a pastor, \ leader, or  bi-vocational worker, you are first and foremost a follower of Christ. 

As  followers of Jesus Christ, we carry roles that take predominance over our job titles. For example, Paul tells us in Colossians  the primary roles of those who have “been raised with Christ” (3:1-14).

I reference this because as  Christ-followers, we must understand what it means to be a steward, even before we seek to become the best pastors, leaders, and teachers that we can be. The title of “Steward,” has biblically been given to you as a follower of Christ, before becoming a pastor. I can say this with certainty simply due to the qualifications that Paul gives to Timothy and Titus in 1 Timothy 3:4-5. Paul addresses the topic of stewardship when he says, “He must manage (steward) his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

This is why the topic of stewardship is so important for us to understand. Before Paul gives Timothy “Instructions for the Church,” (1 Timothy 5:1-25) he gives the “Qualifications for Overseers” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

Insights for Practical Stewardship

Stewardship is not simply money management. As Rick said, stewardship is not about fund-raising, but Jesus following. Stewardship is the God-honoring management of resources as an obedient and a faithful disciple of Jesus. The Bible talks about stewardship and  money in almost 2,350 verses, and in 11 parables, Jesus deals with money in some way or fashion. However, as biblically important as this topic is, many people know so little about it.

Preach and Teach Regularly on Stewardship

I personally know some pastors who joke around about having a “tithing sermon” once a year where they talk about giving. But if the Bible talks about it so much, shouldn’t we? The reason why this topic is so important is because stewardship is related to the first commands that God gave to humanity. He told Adam and Eve to “Fill the earth and have dominion over it…” (Gen. 1:28). God wanted Man and Woman not to just multiply and fill the earth, but to have some type of control or management over what He was giving to them. 

This act of love from God theologically sparks my interest because from this one command flows the rest of creation’s responsibilities. Even when they were banished from the garden, their role remained. Yet, it was now marred with sin and broken. Only through Christ can we recognize the best way to steward: for God’s glory. Preach and teach regularly on the topic of stewardship, because we have a short life on Earth and we are called to manage it, and all our resources well. If we do this, we will make the conversation normative in our churches.

Ensure Appropriate Control and Accountability 

If you trace back a church’s factors of decline and look into their history, you’ll find that most churches have had arguments related to finances. Churches in our community have had major church splits due to preference on managing finances. Often, these conflicts occur because there was inappropriate control over those finances. Dual control means that any time finances are being handled or dealt with, you have at least two sets of eyes on it. Checks have two signatures, and all the way through the financial process there are multiple eyes on the movement of money.

A team at our Association had to look into a church that had closed down several years ago and what we found in its history and in interviews from former members was uncanny. The church had two CD’s (Certificate of Deposits) worth about $20,000. The church badly needed a new A/C system throughout the church, but at that time, the secretary was forcibly removed (through a secret church vote) due to a manipulating church member. Then, when someone else stepped into the role ofa secretary, she and her husband decided to use that $20,000 to buy a new tractor to keep on the church property. WOW! Yes, this is a true story. And yes, this could have been avoided if there was dual control, with multiple eyes on the movement of money.

Bring in an Outside Voice 

Another thing that can help is to bring in an outside voice to help work with your church and provide some training and resources. Thankfully, there are people who do this type of work professionally, and have a lot to bring to the table. As a pastor, you are also the handler of a 501(c)(3). This doesn’t have to be complicated, if you’re willing to bring in some help. These outside voices can help assist your church in setting policies and practices, and some can even analyze your budget and provide recommendations. I’ll list some financial resources at the bottom of this page for more information.

Communicate Structure to your Congregation

As a leader, one way to help communicate with your congregation is by setting some time in place where they can hear about these structures. When I was a member at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, we would have monthly Member’s Meetings. During these Sunday-afternoon meetings, we would welcome new members, celebrate ministries in the church, do any business related to church discipline, and also have a financial report. The way the financial report was communicated was exciting, because the pastors brought a lot of zeal to our meeting. This is a great way to regularly communicate with your church.

Another way to do that is in a New Member’ class at your church. For new church members to understand the function and mission of the church, they also need to understand how their church functions not just as a ministry, but as an organization. Take significant time in your New Members’ class to go over your financial structure.

Understand Your Budget

The last way you can apply practical stewardship in your church is by helping members understand the function of a budget. So many have misconceptions about the budget. According to Rick, your budget should be a goal, a guess, and a guide. A goal: your budget is something you are leaning toward. We have to intentionally make our budget faith-oriented, and know that our largest expenditures are ministry-related. A guess: your budget should not be set in stone to the point where flexibility is impossible. There should be some leeway in your policies for the budget to be adjusted as needs come available. Lastly, a guide. The budget helps you know your boundaries and it serves as a guide. But overall, your budget should not be a god. Don’t make an idol out of your budget, but use it to benefit the ministry of the church.

For more information on this topic and to check out Stewardship Simplified, click here. For years, Dave Ramsey has been a leading voice on finances not only for regular Christian living, but for church assistance. See this page for information on solutions for a church with a lower budget. There are a myriad of financial resources online, but my encouragement would be to touch base with your Associational Director, or connect with NAMB resources for help and ideas.

Traits to Change

Cycles of Personal Growth

“I’m working on myself,” is a common phrase people say when they want to start improving something about their physical appearance, their emotional state, or their daily activity. The personal goals we make for ourselves change over time, and we all personally go through phases of decline, plateau, and growth (sound familiar?). Like the Life Cycles of a Church, our goals also have life cycles.

Last year, I made it my goal to lose some weight. I started a diet at the beginning of the year and had some great success with it for about two months! Then, I started getting busy…very busy. I lost the energy and motivation to continue because the progress I had made was adequate. So, I started reintroducing foods/drinks that I had previously been abstaining from. By the end of the year I was facing some depression and lost some motivation to continue, and even gained some of that weight back. The last phase is when we recognize that we need to “jump back on it,” and the cycle starts over.

In ministry, church leaders ought to be looking for ways they can improve their leadership. In another podcast we learned about some traits of a godly leader. Our life navigates us through learning, growing, and improving. This is not only our desire, but it is God’s desire through the Holy Spirit at work in us. The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a gift, to lead and guide us, to convict us of sin, and to give us boldness to be a witness for Christ. It is through the Holy Spirit that God wants to sanctify us.

Sanctification – In Every Christian Life

The word “Sanctification” is related to our growth in conformity of Christ. God uses people, places, and the Holy Spirit to move us towards being set apart or holy. The Bible says, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). 

  In the book How Does Sanctification Work? David Powilson says this: “The Christian Life typically lurches forward rather than marching uniformly in a straight line.” We were meant to grow.  No matter what your goals are for self-improvement, we all need to recognize that change is coming – and we should be prepared for it. God’s sanctification will guarantee us that change will either happen with our willingness or without it. 

I cannot tell you how many times in my life that I have suffered through a situation and questioned God, only to look back years later and realize how it produced a Godly trait in me.We are fortunate to know that we can learn from men and women in the Bible who sought some of the traits we will talk about in this blog. Speaking of biblical examples, Powilson also says, “I am convinced that our understanding of the process of the Christian life is greatly enriched by considering multiple mundane examples, both in Scripture and in our lives.” 

Case Study: Paul’s Maturation

One of the ways we see this is in the life of Paul. Paul was not a perfect man. When Christ encountered him on the road to Damascus, it changed his life forever. But there was still some “renewing of the mind” that had to take place. When we meet him in Acts, he had been changed by Christ and started pursuing the apostolic call on his life. However, clearly Paul struggled with sin. 

In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul said, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them all.” He also explained his wrestle with his fleshly desires vs. the desire he had to serve God (Romans 7:13-25). But we also see his growth and maturation in his writing. Paul seemed to much more gracious and calm in the progression of his letters to the churches.

Galatians was likely Paul’s first epistle. And you can clearly tell the difference between his first epistle and his last epistle. See if you can tell the difference:

1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Compared to his last letter: 2 Timothy 1:

3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Now, I’m not saying that the Galatians didn’t deserve Paul’s rebuke. But if you do a deep case study on the writings of Paul, you will see that as he progressed and wrote these epistles, he became more graceful, more patient, and more sympathetic over time. A great resource on studying this is N.T. Wright’s Paul: A Biography. 

Traits to Change

No matter what you do for your own self-improvement, you will encounter hardships. But Jimbo and Bob have done a great job identifying the 5 traits that are necessary if you hope to change anything about yourself. Most attempts of self-improvement will fail, if you do not possess the following characteristics. Here they are, with a brief description of each:

Humility

Humility means acknowledging that you have room to grow and that others have something to offer. We can see the importance of humility in biblical passages such as Ephesians 4:2, James 4:10, and 1 Peter 5:5, which all emphasize the importance of humility. Bob notes that humility is the first touchstone for personal development and that being humble doesn’t mean thinking less of oneself, but rather thinking of oneself less. He warns against assuming that one’s presence alone will fix everything and emphasizes the importance of recognizing one’s weaknesses and inexperience.

Teachability

Teachability involves being open to learning from others, even those who may not have as much experience as you. The second ingredient for personal growth in replanting and revitalizing a church is teachability, which is built upon humility. Teachability involves being willing to receive feedback, instruction, and correction, even if it is painful. Proverbs 13:18 and Proverbs 9 emphasize the importance of heeding reproof and instruction in order to become wiser and more skilled. Without teachability, growth is impossible.

Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness requires honest assessment (Romans 12) of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your goals and motivations. Having a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as an understanding of how others perceive you, can help you make more informed decisions and pursue growth opportunities that align with your abilities and interests.

Integrity

Integrity is about being honest with yourself and others, avoiding excuses, and owning up to mistakes. It’s important to be honest with ourselves and others about our progress and performance, and not make excuses for our shortcomings. When we take ownership of our mistakes and take responsibility for our actions, we demonstrate integrity and earn the trust and respect of others. This is especially important for leaders, who are expected to set an example and inspire others to grow and improve. By being honest and owning our mistakes, we can become better versions of ourselves and gain the support and trust of those around us.

Check out Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck for more on self-control.

Initiative

Finally, initiative is the willingness to put in the work required to grow, taking action rather than waiting for others to prod you into it. If you want to grow, these ingredients are essential, and there are many resources available to help you develop them.

Personal development and growth require a combination of these five ingredients: humility, teachability, self-awareness, integrity, and initiative. It’s important to be honest with yourself and others about your progress and to take responsibility for your actions. And ultimately, growth requires initiative and hard work, putting in the necessary effort to achieve your goals. There are many resources available to help with personal development and developing good habits, but ultimately, it’s up to you to take the first step and put in the work.

For more information, check out the Godly Leadership series on our podcast, and read Eric Cofield’s excellent blogs on the 5 Traits of Godly Leaders.