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How Christians Engage with the Public Square

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia: the fear of public places. 

This term is normally used when someone is afraid to go into public due to an anxiety disorder. But the word, “Agoraphobia” is associated with ancient Greek culture due to its origin. “Agora” translates to “gathering place” or “assembly.” Every Greek city-state had an Agora where there was a public gathering of citizens who discussed politics, philosophy, and heard reports from governing authorities.

It’s also where we get our word for the “Public Square.” Over time, the Agora became a place for commerce, justice, and religion. It was the focal point for community life in the Greek city-state. But today, the Public Square can be found in any nation, any city. Wherever there is a general location for discussion, from small tribes in Africa to the busy streets of New York.

In today’s digital culture, most “public square” conversations are held online, through social media and other online forums. Since Christians are represented in the “Agora,” and if Christians are commanded to make disciples and live missionally, we must not have a fear of the public square. So, how should Christians engage it with the gospel? Should Christians engage with political and social action, or should they disengage entirely to “keep peace?”

For Leaders

Last week on the podcast, we hosted Brent Leatherwood with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to discuss how Christians engage with the Public Square. If you’re reading this, you are probably a Christian leader who wants to steward your opportunity well.

First, leaders should first recognize the importance of helping Christians think biblically about political and social matters. Some Christians completely shy away from any political discussions. Either they get too overwhelmed, or they feel like they should separate from any and all worldly discussions in an attempt to “love not the world or the things of the world.”

But the Christian life is inherently cultural and contextual. Living on mission means we must understand our mission field, and that means being informed about the matters that affect our lives in the social sphere. The biblical examples are too many to count – Christians have always utilized their station in life to be the light of Christ in a dark world, and more often than not, that Christian living affects the public square in which they live.

Second, leaders must leverage the tools in front of them to disciple their congregations. God has lended the pulpit to pastors to preach the word. Pastors should carefully steward their time on Sunday mornings to help Christians exerise wisdom in their context. This does not mean telling your congregation who to vote for and dictating political responsibilities. But it does mean allowing God’s word to speak to contextual Christian living. As leaders, we cannot weaponize our opportunity, but leverage it in a Godly and peaceful way.

On the other side, we must not shy away from all discussion and ignore the issues surrounding us. Faithful preaching will simply preach the word, but make application of the word to the congregation.  If your church is a voting poll, or a gathering place during the week for city meetings, utilize your people and place to show the love of Christ to the community. For example, this can be done by handing out snacks and water bottles, and praying over people as they walk out. We must lead by example, helping our people see the need of living on Mission for Jesus Christ.

For Churches

The ERLC is re-launching a wonderful resource that helps Christian engage the public square. You can find the link here: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement. Please utilize this resource and apply it to your context.

Biblically informed, God-honoring engagement from Church Members is not just helpful. It’s needed. We need wise Christians to be an influence in every area of life, including politics, for the Glory of God. Here are three ways that Christians can engage with the public square.

Public Theology

E. Harold Brietenberg, in defining Public Theology, wrote a helpful article in 2003 called “To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Public Theology Please Stand Up?” In it, he defined Public Theology as, “Theologically informed public discourse about public issues, addressed to the church…as well as the larger public or publics, argued in ways that can be evaluated and judged by publicly available warrants and criteria.”

Public Theology can bring light and clarity to many cultural issues. In his podcast

Thinking in Public and The Briefing, Al Mohler explains the theological connections and issues associated with Cancel Culture, Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Abortion, and Transgenderism. As much as the culture exhibits a polarity of opinions related to this variety of topics, Christians should be able to articulate what they believe and why—a precedent set by 1 Peter 3:15.

Public Ministry

Mark Clifton says that Replanted churches must focus on “making disciples who make disciples who make the community noticeable better.” This said, churches in revitalization should place effort towards ministry in their community. Like Public Theology, Public Ministry is a form of political activism because it concerns itself with having activity in the affairs of the public square. Using the term “Public Ministry” is related to social action, but helps dispel the negative connotations associated with the Social Gospel Movement which helped give rise to the religious left today.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by announcing his personal fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Luke 4:18-19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When we minister in the name of Jesus, we are continuing the ministry that Jesus left to his disciples when he ascended into heaven, and we will continue ministering until he returns. 

Christians today involving themselves with any sort of public ministry should recapture the original intent of Christ’s ministry—to demonstrate his supremacy and restoration of sin, in all areas of life. Due to the complexity of cultural facets today complicated by time, sin, and population, Christians have many options for various public ministries such as pro-life ministries, sex trafficking ministries, justice ministries, medical ministries, and financial ministries. God places distinct burdens, gifts, abilities, and desires in each of us, and desires that we would be faithful in whatever calling He has on our lives. We need only to obey and magnify his Lordship while doing whatever task he has given us.

Public Office

 Finally, another great way Christians can practice political activism is by running for public office. This effort involves those who are especially skilled in leadership, but Christians in political office can have a great impact on society. Each Christian should consider their own vocation and calling on their life and consult their abilities and skills as well as support from friends and family before considering running for office. While Scripture does not specifically tell Christians to try and run for political office, it does contain numerous examples of characters who were types of governing officials and in positions of influence.

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Paul says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Paul’s greatest desire is that he would be known for the way he obeyed his Lord and the way he handled the truth of the gospel in all areas of life. May this ethical and evangelistic mindset be the every Christian who desires to actively engage their culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information, please see my thesis on this topic from SEBTS: Transformative Cultural Engagement in Political Activism. I hope it’s helpful. 

EP 239 – Hitting the Healthy Church Target with Brandon Moore

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EP 239 - Hitting the Healthy Church Target with Brandon Moore
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In this episode of the Replant Bootcamp, we reconnect with Brandon, a former guest and a recent addition to the Replant team, who shares his journey from working with the Missouri Baptist Convention to joining the Replant team and moving towards replanting a church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Brandon discusses his experience and insights on church revitalization and replanting in Missouri, emphasizing the strategic role of associational leaders and state convention leaders in catalyzing church movement within their states.

He highlights the critical need for strong leadership and healthy church structures, focusing on the three identities of the church (worshipers of God, family in Christ, and missionaries to the world), foundational elements (Gospel, Scripture, and Prayer), and structural aspects (leadership, membership, and discipleship) essential for church health.

CLICK HERE FOR THE RENEW AND RESOUND PRAYER GUIDE

00:00 Welcome Back to the Bootcamp!
00:54 Introducing Brandon: A Journey from Missouri to Replant Team
01:11 Brandon’s Personal and Professional Shifts
02:10 The Mission in Knoxville: Replanting with a Vision
05:25 The Importance of Church Health and Identity
11:28 Defining Church Health: Identities, Foundations, and Structures
23:53 Practical Steps for Church Revitalization and Replanting
27:35 Closing Prayer for Healthy, God-Glorifying Churches

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The Power of Partnership

A few weeks ago, my husband Will and I attended the AMS Lab from NAMB in Atlanta, Georgia.  Hundreds of pastors and AMS leaders from across the country gathered together to learn more about partnerships and collaboration in revitalizing dying churches.  We listened to several leaders discuss ways their associations and churches had worked cohesively for the spread of the Gospel and each other’s benefit.  We heard testimonies of how these collaborations bore the fruit of faithfulness, health, repentance, and revival. The message was clear: There is power in partnership.

In Genesis 2:18, we read that God formed Man and then came to an important realization: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now, we know that God then formed Woman and declared it “very good.” But the main idea was not merely for man and woman to be in partnership together– the main thought is that it is not good for man to be alone.  Over and over in God’s Word, He reminds us that collaboration is better than alienation

We often remind our congregations that God has formed our church like a body, quoting from 1 Corinthians and Ephesians.  We tell them that we all need each other, we all have different gifts, and that we all benefit from our unity.  And yet when it comes to churches partnering with other churches, many pastors neglect to foster and encourage partnership in their ministries.

On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, Jimbo talked with Mark Hallock, author and Lead Pastor of the Calvary Family of Churches in Colorado, and Brandon Moore, Replant Specialist at NAMB, about the benefits of radical collaboration.  When we partner together, ministries flourish, churches come back from the dead, and pastors are strengthened.  On His way to the cross, Jesus prayed that the church’s unity and partnership would display God’s plan and His love for the world to see (John 17:23). 

God’s Command to Partner

Here is the truth of the matter.  Pastors who neglect to partner with other churches are working against God’s plan for the Gospel.  You might not realize it, but God desires us to be in close collaboration with other churches– not competition.  Too often, we get wrapped up in the human desire to grow our personal kingdom and not God’s.  

Of course, that’s not the language we use.  Pastors would never say they desire their kingdom to grow over God’s.  But when we hoard our resources for our gain, when we disparage the church across town (especially from the pulpit), and when we isolate ourselves from other pastors, we’ve created a “my church, my growth” mindset instead of a “God’s church, His kingdom” mindset.

God commands us to work in unity with other churches.  Our passion must be for God’s Kingdom to grow, because His plan is to reach the lost world through people– not only your church but mine, too.  His plan is for all of us to cooperate so that His name is magnified throughout the nations.

Where do I start?

At the AMS Lab, one of the phrases we heard from pastors and AMS Leaders was, “Partnership sounds great, but we don’t have that mindset in our association.  No one seems to want to share or to cooperate.” What a missed opportunity!

When pastors alienate themselves and build walls around their ministry, it typically signifies an area of personal weakness.  Maybe they’ve been hurt by other pastors in the past and they are hesitant to be vulnerable again.  Perhaps they are afraid to be transparent or admit that something isn’t working.  Or maybe it’s just good, old-fashioned pride that makes them feel like they don’t have anything to learn from someone else.  Regardless of the root issue, a pastor who “Lone Rangers” his ministry may need to evaluate his behavior and repent.

Often, one of the first steps toward collaboration is one of embracing humility. It’s one thing to agree we need pastoral friendships for encouragement, but it’s quite another to be willing to share resources like money, time, and leadership with fellow pastors.  It’s one thing to say, “I’m willing to help the church down the street,” but it’s different to say, “I don’t care who gets the credit, I just want to see God’s Kingdom grow.”  Humility offers us a chance to let go of our ego and step out of the picture, and it allows God to step in and do radically transformative work in both our congregation and in the other church.  Laying down our pride for the Gospel reaps fruit we can’t even begin to imagine.

Once we’ve embraced the command to partner with fellow pastors and churches, and we’ve repented of any pride or fear standing in our way, it’s time to lean in and pursue partnership.  Now I wish this was as easy as simply passing a note to another pastor at the next Association meeting that says, “Do you want to partner with me in ministry? Check yes or no.”  Unfortunately, radical collaboration takes a little more time and effort! 

To start with, you need to actually attend association meetings.  Those meetings aren’t merely to give you information and discuss everyone’s budget and church attendance numbers.  Those meetings are opportunities for networking with other pastors and for encouraging each other! You have something to learn from them.  The Holy Spirit indwells them just as He indwells you!  God has given them unique perspectives, experiences, and giftings that can benefit you, even if they are different than yours. 

Being a good partner in ministry means being a good friend.  When you’re at the meetings, ask good questions of your fellow pastors.  Pray over their churches.  Have someone from your church send them a card to encourage them.  Some of our best partnerships have come from having close friends in ministry.  Last year when we were gone on a mission trip, we needed help with our worship service– we were short a pastor and a worship leader.  We were able to call our best friends in ministry and ask for their help– and they sent a worship team over to lead our service, even though it meant their church struggled a little that morning.  Why?  Because we aren’t in competition, we’re in cooperation.

Maybe not everyone will understand your desire for partnership.  That’s ok. Start with a few guys who do.  Plan a night of worship and combine your campuses. Look for ways your church can help with their VBS (or vice versa).  Do you have a couple of talented musicians while their church struggles to have live music? Ask one of your people to serve there a couple of weeks a month. Not because you don’t love your church and your people, but because you’ve taught your church to love other churches. And before you know it, a funny thing happens when other people see radical partnership thriving… they’ll want to join, too.  That’s where you see the culture change.  That’s where the goal of “church growth” becomes “Kingdom growth.”

The Superpower of Partnership

Hopefully, by now you’ve realized that we need to partner with fellow churches for one very good reason: God commands us to!  But partnership isn’t merely a rule to follow.  Radical collaboration is a superpower.  Once we tap into it, the benefits to our ministry and our personal walk with Jesus are huge!

One of the main benefits of partnership?  We are better together! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”  There will always be times when ministry is a struggle.  I have a friend who swears her husband quits ministry every Monday morning.  Discouragement, disappointment, and feelings of frustration with church members or church politics can feel overwhelming.  But partnerships with other churches mean your problems aren’t just your own to solve.  You have helpers to pick you up and raise your arms, as Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17).

Another benefit?  Faithfulness in the ministry. A recent Barna study found that 65% of pastors reported feeling isolated or alone in 2022… that’s up from only 42% feeling that way in 2015. It seems many pastors are feeling like Johnny Cash when he sang, “I’ve got no one to tell my troubles to, no one to care to call my own. It seems that I must always be alone.” And when pastors feel isolated, they are more susceptible to temptation, hip-shot decisions, and leaving the ministry altogether. When you partner with other pastors, you have built-in encouragement, but you also have built-in accountability.  Your partners are also pastors who can tell you, in humility and love, where you might be going off-track.

Lastly, there is the benefit of having a cohort to help you navigate the complexities in the culture and society we face today.  We are dealing with aspects of culture that society has not wrestled with before and in our digital and technologically advanced society, these complex questions do not stop at the church’s front door.  Increasingly, these cultural issues are encouraging pastors to take a new look at their by-laws, their polity, and even their own personal beliefs. Having other pastors beside you as you walk through these decisions gives you a plurality of educated leaders that you may not yet have access to within your own congregation.

The Superhero of Partnership

 

I hope that you now see the superpower of partnership and the ways collaboration benefits your ministry.  Now, allow me to introduce a superhero who can help you in your quest for partnership– your local AMS.  

Hopefully, the local AMS at your association has been there long enough to have the one gift you need– the power of connection.  The AMS has an acute knowledge of not only the churches in his association, but of each pastor, and each congregation.  When you need ministry partners, there is no better place to start than your AMS.  Have a music/worship need?  He knows of a local cohort of worship leaders you can join.  He also knows which churches have large choirs and an abundance of musicians who may be able to join you for a while.  Have a question about polity?  He knows which church recently rewrote their bylaws, and what roadblocks they ran into, and he knows who you need to call at the state level for assistance.  Need help with VBS?  He knows the church doing theirs weeks before yours, and he’s happy to put you in touch with them so you can borrow their decorations when they’re done.

If you’re interested in hearing more ways your AMS and your local association can assist you in radical collaboration, the Replant Bootcamp has a podcast and blog on the partnership between pastors and Associations.  

Opportunities to Partner with Us

When we talk about partnerships between pastors and associations, there is no better place to explore that than at the Replant Bootcamp events.  We have several coming up, from two Am I a Replanter labs in April, the Revive Summit in May and September, and of course, through our website and archives.  

Don’t forget to let us know how much your ministry partners have helped you by suggesting them as future guests using the “Suggest a Guest” button!  We would love to hear your stories!

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!

EP 213 – Developing a Discipleship Pathway

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EP 213 - Developing a Discipleship Pathway
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Bob has officially passed the Associate Director torch to JimBo.

On this weeks episode of the BootCamp we are discussing some things to consider when developing a discipleship pathway.

Things to consider

The Goal of Discipleship:

  • Spiritual Transformation 
    • In the context of community
    • Confidentiality cultivates a community where we can be honest
    • Through accountability 
    • Reproducibility 
  • The Tasks of discipleship
    • Scripture is consumed in context and in community
    • Sin is confessed in mutual accountability 
    • Skills are developed 
    • Souls are prayed for

 

RESOURCES

Lost art of making disciples-Leroy Eims

Master’s plan for evangelism-Robert Coleman

Dangerous Calling-Paul Trip

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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.

EP 210 Congregational Theological Education

Replant Bootcamp
Replant Bootcamp
EP 210 Congregational Theological Education
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Well Bootcampers, the Battle of the Boot is over, Jimbo and his LSU Tigers win again. Bob will wear the pajama top in Oklahoma. In this week’s EP the guys get down to the important business of discussion facilitating theological education for the church.  Here are the highlights

Introduction

  • Spiritual maturity does not always correlate to age – the young can be spiritually mature, the seasoned immature.
  • We are often theologically educated beyond our level of obedience.

STUDYING God’s Word makes a major impact – more so than just reading it – but we need to teach our people how to STUDY God’s Word

Strategies for providing theological education (it is not a one size fits all scenario and there are multiple ways to layer this into the culture of your congregation):

  • Sermon series
  • Sunday School or small group series
  • Sunday night seminars
  • Guest speakers and workshops
  • Online resources like right now media, replant hub etc.
  • Utilize denominational confessions and creeds

What stood out to you?  We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line and let us know what you think

Resources:

Get equipped to connect with your community, our great sponsor, One Eighty Digital, can get you headed in the right direction. Call them today and let them know you are a bootcamper.

 

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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! 

 

Measuring Success in Ministry (Part 2)

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

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

Ministry Maxims

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

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

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

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

      4. Actions over Results

      5. The Importance of Multi-stream Revenue

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the Metrics for Measuring Revenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximizing the Maxims

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

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

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

 

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

The Life Cycle of Ephesus

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

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

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

Birth, Growth, and Maturity

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

Evangelism

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

Ministry

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

Public Theology

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

Leadership Development

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

Intentional Discipleship

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

Confidence in his Ministry

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

Plateau

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

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

A Plea for Love

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

Striving for Unity

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

Pressing on to Maturity

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

Putting Sin to Death

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

Getting Busy Again

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

Decline, Potential Death

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

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

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

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

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

Discipleship Has to be the Focus

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

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

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