Tag: Jimbo Stewart

EP 175 – 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU INTERVIEW WITH A CHURCH

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EP 175 - 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU INTERVIEW WITH A CHURCH
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The guys are back with another “Dome” edition of the Bootcamp from their time teaching the Dmin seminar at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, SWBTS.  Last EP they spoke about the impact of forced terminations on the church and pastor and this week they pivot by suggesting a list of questions for a potential Pastor to ask of a search committee who is inviting you to candidate with their congregation.

  1. What are your expectations for me (as your pastor) and my family?
  2. What do you believe are the marks of a healthy church? And this follow up: how healthy is this church?
  3. Why did the previous pastor (or pastors) leave? Consider contacting the previous pastors.
  4. What is the community like around the church? How many members of this church live in this community?
  5. What are the greatest joys and frustrations here at the church?
  6. How is the Pastor’s wife viewed?
  7. If I am being successful as your Pastor what am I doing?
  8. How much will I be paid? How will increases be handled?
  9. If you have concerns with me, my leadership, preaching etc. how will you let me know?
  10. What do you expect your former pastors will tell me when I contact them about their time with you here?

Resource: the Fourfold Panorama EP with Keelan Cook and Resource Document

Do you have a funny interview story? Did you get asked a strange question? We’d love to hear from you-drop us a line, leave a comment or voicemail on the Bootcamp hotline. And remember, leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

 

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EP 174 – THE IMPACT OF FORCED TERMINATION

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EP 174 - THE IMPACT OF FORCED TERMINATION
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Greetings Bootcampers!  The boys were living large in Texas while teaching a DMin Cohort at Southwestern Seminary. Today’s topic is an important one; The Impact of Forced Terminations on a Church. Check out the references in the show notes to learn more.  And leave your comments on the blog, email or the Bootcamp hotline.

Forced termination of a Pastor is defined as an involuntary dismissal from service, due to no fault or moral failure, or dereliction of duties on the part of a Pastor, brought about by a few within the local church.

  • Of all pastors, 23-41% will experience a forced termination at least once in their career
  • In 2012, a Lifeway survey, in partnership with Baptist State Convention leaders, a panel identified 452 pastors and staff members who succumbed to a non-voluntary or non-self-initiated separation from the church they served.
  • It is estimated that over the years of their vocational service, four out of ten pastors will be forced out of their church by firing or some sort of pressure that leads to their eventual resignation.

When a Pastor is terminated without cause, it is often a prediction point in the history of a church, it is the place where steep, prolonged, and sustained decline begins. It is the marker under which many dysfunctions are buried.

  • Where Pastors were forced out, 34-45% of those congregations had simmering divisions and internal conflict that predated the Pastor’s arrival.
  • 23% of the congregations who forced terminated a pastor had done the same with previous pastors.
  • 2/3 of the congregations who forced termed a Pastor did so within the first five years of his tenure.
  • The top reasons cited for conflict leading to a forced separation: Conflict for control among groups in the church 68%, congregational stress 43%, values/directional conflict between Pastor and some people in the church 27%

We often think of how a forced termination impacts the Pastor and his family. We may not think deeply enough about the impact of these actions on the local church.

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

What can be done for the church caught in this act or pattern?

  • Address the wrongs committed to Pastors and their families who were undeserving of a forced termination. Repent and publicly apologize and make restitution where appropriate.
  • Remove those who were involved in or instigated unfounded and unreasonable forced terminations from leadership positions within the church.
  • Address informal campaigns to force a pastor out through biblically based and bylaw-supported church discipline.
  • Make careful note of the actions taken above in the minutes of a Church business meeting so that the record may show these actions will not meet with approval.

Check out these resources on forced termination:

  [1] https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/pastoral-termination-common-but-oftern-avoidable-experts-say/

[2] Musical Pulpits, Baker Publishing Group, 1992. Rodney J. Crowell pg.25, 66

[3] https://ministeringtoministers.org/2017/12/forced-termination-affects-churches-too/

[4] https://www.sbc.net/resource-library/resolutions/resolution-on-the-forced-termination-of-ministers/

 

 

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road sign reads change ahead

The Emotional Cycle of Change

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

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

Stage One: Uninformed Optimism

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

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

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

curvy road sign

Stage Two: Informed Pessimism

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

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

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

image from the Princess Bride- the pit of despair

Stage Three: The Valley of Despair

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

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

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

Stage Four: Informed Optimism 

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

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

Stage Five: Success and Fulfillment

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

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

How do we get there from here?

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

 

EP 172 – NEW YEAR, NEW FOCUS

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EP 172 - NEW YEAR, NEW FOCUS
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Hey there Bootcampers! We’re back from our Holiday break, we’re jumping right in and getting down to business and discussing the important awareness of how you live your life as a leader. Our good friends at First Coast Churches hosted an annual meeting where Lance Witt presented some great info on how Pastors can move beyond the grind.

Every leader lives on two stages:

  • The front stage-everyone sees
  • The backstage-clutter, curtains, chaos not many ever see this

The challenge many Pastors face is staying connected to and loving Jesus, the Shepherd, more than the sheep business. How do you do that? Witt, provides some helpful framework for us from Psalm 23

  • Create space and time for unhurried time with God
  • Pay attention to what you are paying attention to
  • Let rest – restore you
  • Grab your calendar by the throat-don’t let life or ministry plan you-proactively plan with the Lord’s guidance.
  • Engage good self-care rather than self-medication
  • Practice a Sabbath (you need a day off)
  • Let your time with God give embolden you with courage
  • Receive the voice of God’s blessing

There’s a whole lot more packed into this EP, check it out!

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EP 171 – LOOK BACK AND LOOK FORWARD

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EP 171 - LOOK BACK AND LOOK FORWARD
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Welcome back Bootcampers. As we’re heading toward the new year we wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the importance of looking back (reflecting upon the past year) and then looking ahead the the new year which is approaching. We’re finding the twin disciplines of reflection and futuring extremely helpful in life, leadership and serving the local church.  Our good friend, Bob Bumgarner developed a helpful sheet to guide this practice.

Here are some questions to guide this process:

  • What were you attempting for Jesus in 2022?
  • What progress did you make?
  • What were some of the highlights or turning points?
  • What will you carry over (actions steps) into the coming year?
  • What challenges did you face?  How did the Lord see you through?

We would love to hear from you Bootcamper! Is there something that made a difference for you? Have some wisdom to share or a question to ask?  Drop us a line, voicemail-we would love to hear from you.

 

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EP 170 – CHRISTMAS IS RUINED (not really)

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EP 170 - CHRISTMAS IS RUINED (not really)
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Merry Christmas Bootcampers!  We know that this time of year can a huge challenge for Pastors/Planters/Replanters-and we want to encourage you, amidst all the hustle to connect with the truth behind our celebrations at Christmas time.

  • Jesus’ birth reminds us of God’s great love
  • The most simple story is also the most profound-Jesus came into the world to save sinners
  • Don’t feel the pressure to be unique-just be clear, the biblical account stands on its own

In all seriousness, we pray you have an incredible Christmas.  We’re thankful for you, Bootcamp listener.

 

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Man raising hands in thankfulness

Thank you, God, for the Fleas

‘Tis the season for Thankfulness.

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

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

But I digress.

the word thankful surrounded by leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

man with discouragement

Plagued by Discouragement? I Know the Cure.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about all of the struggles and concerns she was facing.  Her job was going through a stressful transition, her parent’s health was declining, she had financial issues that resulted in much anxiety for her future, and her children were experiencing separate crises of their own.  At one point in her conversation she sighed and buried her head in her hands and said, “I’m just so tired.”

But here’s the thing– despite all of her anxieties, she was getting plenty of sleep.  She wasn’t physically tired.  She was disheartened and dispirited.  She was discouraged.  She was working hard and she was taking care of so many people, and she was feeling overwhelmed by her circumstances that she felt exhausted in her soul.

I am sure that many readers can see themselves in this person.  Pastors in general can feel discouragement from a variety of sources– the Monday morning inbox with a complaint about the sermon, the member who decides to go elsewhere with seemingly no real reason, the stress of his family living in a “fishbowl,” the burden of caring for everyone else.  But replant pastors are susceptible to an even greater level of discouragement.  For a replant pastor, the lack of resources can be a huge discouragement.  A lack of funds, people, time, and materials can make changes go slow but frustrations run high.  Many pastors are plagued by discouragement.

It’s an Epidemic

This plague of discouragement is not new.  In the first century, Augustine of Hippo wrote a passage on how to overcome discouragement to his fellow colleagues in the faith. And yet, here we are, 2000 years later, and a Barna study recently revealed that the number of pastors who have seriously considered giving up their ministry sits at 42%, an increase of almost 15% in just the last year. Even among the pastors who haven’t considered quitting, a large percentage are facing burnout, stress, and isolation (see a separate post on pastoral friendships on why isolation is dangerous to your ministry).  If almost 50% of pastors are so discouraged they are thinking of leaving the ministry, it’s not a small issue.  It’s an epidemic.

In my own life, I have seen countless pastors, specifically replant pastors, face battles with depression and discouragement.  Pastors who entered their replant bursting with ideas and excitement, ready to breathe life into their congregation and into their church.  Within a couple of years, many of these same men (and their families) are feeling beat down and beat up.  They don’t feel effective in their ministry, they are exhausted, and they are working as hard as possible not to drown under the weight of expectations.

What is the cure?

scripture of 1 Thess. 5:11 aside men helping each other

I have good news.  

There is a cure for discouragement.  It’s actually almost in the very word discouragement.  Can you guess?  The cure for discouragement is… encouragement.  That’s right, the cure for the feelings of despair, frustration, and exhaustion, is to feel hope, to have support, and to inspire confidence.

But how?  How can we get from one to the other?  

Way back in episode 11, Jimbo and Bob (JIMBOB) helped us to answer that question with their most encouraging friend, Mark Hallock. Mark is one of the most encouraging people on the planet.  If you’ve met him in person, you already know this, because you’ve probably experienced the “Hallock Hug.” There is a reason he’s referred to as “Happy Huggy Hallock.”

In the episode, the fellas discuss encouragement as it relates to Mark’s book, The Relentless Encourager. Mark points out that many of us have encouraging thoughts, but we don’t allow them to become words.  So instead of our encouragement blessing another person, it’s just another thought, no more or less than what to buy at the grocery store later. We are often guilty of forgetting to encourage others, especially as we are feeling discouraged and frustrated.  We are not intentional about making sure our encouraging thoughts become words and actions.  We may even feel some insecurity or pride that won’t allow us to admit when someone else is doing a job well.  But that attitude costs us.

The added supplement

scrabble letters spell out thank you

Encouragement for others is like a glass of cold water to a parched soul– and not only to theirs, but to ours, as well.  Telling someone about the difference they make in your life and lifting them up creates in us another powerful combatant to discouragement: Gratitude.

Have you ever seen a photo negative?  It is the same picture, but it is distorted because the focus is on the wrong thing.  We experience this when we are so discouraged we only see the negative.  When there is a lack of resources, the discouraged heart sees only what it lacks.  But the encouraging heart looks for those doing much with little, and in encouraging them, the encouraging heart becomes the grateful heart.  

Perhaps you are wondering how you can possibly encourage someone else when you are feeling discouraged yourself.  Maybe you’re even wondering why you should, since no one seems to be intent on encouraging you. (I won’t judge you for that!  I’ve had that same feeling!) But the truth is, we are never more like Christ than when we see people as God sees them and we encourage them in their walk.  Even as Jesus was discouraged to the point of sweating drops of blood in the garden, He prayed for his disciples’ encouragement (John 17). When we look for the ways we can express encouragement to others, we are looking for the positive in them.  We are loving our neighbor and our enemy better when we seek to encourage them, and this, in turn, makes us thankful for them.

This thankfulness and gratitude cultivates an environment of encouragement to the church.  Can you imagine the difference your church could make in the community if you became known as the church where people are encouraging and thankful?  If you were known as a place people could come out of the darkness and experience light and hope?  How can we facilitate that attitude in our churches if we don’t have it ourselves?

A replant pastor needs to breed thankfulness in his congregation.  To do that, he must first be grateful.  Instead of focusing on the frustrations and the negatives, he must look at what God is doing in the church.  God is not done with your church, nor with you!  Look at all you can be thankful for:

  • God has called you to raise dying churches and to reach the faithful– what an incredible calling!  What an incredible opportunity to see growth and change!
  • You can be thankful you are preaching faithfully– you are doing your part, and you know you serve a faithful God who will do His!
  • You get to reach people with the Gospel– I am always in awe that God uses such a flawed vessel for His Kingdom purposes!  So blessed to have been even a small part in someone’s journey toward redemption and grace!

Think about your church.  The struggles, yes, but I bet there have been successes, too!  I am sure that while there may be some “grumpies,” there are probably more faith-filled believers who stand excited and ready to see their church thrive again.  Yes, there is probably a lack of money– but God can do much with little and you are learning to trust Him in that process!

Now, think of the people who are standing with you.  The friends, family members, church members, fellow pastors– have you thanked them?  Have you encouraged them?  Have you sought to tell them the difference it makes in your life to have them stand with you in your struggles?

This is how we defeat discouragement.

We look for the positive in others and encourage them, and then we cultivate a heart of thankfulness and gratitude for them.

Go seek someone to encourage today.

A man in a pew seeking to revitalize

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

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

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

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

I’m kidding, of course.

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

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

The Crack in the Ceiling

A crack in the ceiling

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

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

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

Who is in Control Here?

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

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

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

Change is Scary– but Loss is the Real Fear 

A cartoon where a man protests change in church

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

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

A Spiritual Problem with a Scriptural Solution

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

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

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

Dying plant

Growing From Seed to Soil- Proclamation and Explanation

I am the world’s worst plant person.  Whatever the opposite of a “green thumb” is, I have two of those.  In fact, I may have two whole hands of them. I once won a prize at a women’s event where each woman got an arrangement of various sizes based on a game we played.  I won the game, but my prize was this absolutely gorgeous potted plant.  The look on my friend’s face was sheer terror.  “I can’t let you take that home,” she said. “You have to let me take it to my house for you.” I said, “No way!  I won it!”  “Suit yourself,” she said.  Then as I walked outside with the big plant in my arms, she walked behind me and yelled, “Dead plant walking!  Dead plant walking!” the whole way to the car, like my plant had been condemned to die on death row.

She wasn’t wrong. I could lie to you and tell you I tried to keep it alive; that I watered it, tended the soil, gave it plant food, sang to it, and called it by name. But the truth is, the plant died within a few weeks due to nothing less than complete neglect on my part.  And that’s how it goes with every plant I bring home, filled with hopes and dreams of a lovely plant sanctuary or an awesome vegetable garden.  Within a few weeks, the seeds have dried up and my plants have withered because I failed to take them any further in their growth process.

Often, pastors can fall into the same struggle. While they have no problem spreading the seeds of the Word, they sometimes fail to cultivate that seed into something deeper.

PLATFORM MINISTRY- PLANTING THE SEED

For pastors, the place they generally plant a seed is the pulpit, whether it be sharing the Gospel or sharing vision for the congregation. From there, the church may also post on social media or a website, and perhaps put up signage around their building.  This is referred to as, “platform ministry.”  In some seminaries, this is thought of as “proclamation.” We use this avenue to proclaim “big-picture” ideas, exegete scripture, and broadcast  powerful messages from the Word of God.  

The pastor who is skilled at platform ministry will most likely be a gifted communicator.  He will succeed at carving out time for his sermon preparation, and the church’s website will not only be up to date with the newest technology, but will also be consistently updated with new events and new ministries. 

In the most extreme version of someone gifted in platform ministry, the pastor will be an influencer of his congregation and may operate more like a CEO than a shepherd.  The church will have multiple events, always attempting to do better than the time before. The pastor may  isolate himself for study and will not get to know the people he is leading.  He may  lack authentic relationships within his church, and his congregation will see him as inaccessible or  inauthentic.

TABLE MINISTRY- CULTIVATING THE SEED planting a seed

Churches also have what’s referred to as a “table ministry.”  While this can mean a literal table, it doesn’t always.  These are deep, connective conversations that happen within fellowship with one another.  The table ministries of a church are where the seeds of life transformation germinate and are cultivated into deep-rooted life change. Churches may call these types of ministries connect groups, family groups, D-Groups, or one-one-one discipleship. In table ministry, the congregation will learn to “do life” together– bearing one another’s burdens and struggles. When seminaries teach this subject, it’s thought of as “explanation” (as opposed to proclamation). In this area, we take the message from the platform and break it up into smaller pieces so it’s easier to understand.  

A pastor who is skilled at table ministry is typically excellent at hospital visits, praying for his congregation, counseling people, and looking at the details of people’s lives.  He will be a shepherd to his flock, ensuring that they don’t stray away and discerning their spiritual health.

Unfortunately, in the extreme, this pastor is not without faults.  Because he fails to cast vision, his people are more likely to be tossed by every new wind of doctrine that comes along. His desire to appease everyone will cause him to be conflict-averse. Because he has not taken the role of a leader,  he will become simply the “marry and bury chaplain,” instead of the pastor he needs and is called to be. watering a plant

EITHER/OR or BOTH/AND?

When we look at platform versus table ministry, we might be tempted to compare the two and decide one is more important than the other.  We may wonder which is better– the preacher who can communicate change effectively, orr the pastor who ministers to the families in his congregation?

But do we have to choose?  Of course not.  One is not more important than the other.  We must have the catalyst for life change, but we must also cultivate that into lasting transformation. Doctrinal teaching is biblical, and important.  But so is relational disciple-making.  

So how do we succeed at both platform and table ministry?  How do pastors cast a vision and see the large picture while also knowing each of their congregation members well enough to know the details of their lives? 

The answer is the role of what Jimbo Stewart calls the “Visionary Shepherd.” A visionary shepherd is one who effectively communicates the God-given vision for his people while also loving his congregation and caring for them.  The best example of this Visionary Shepherd? Jesus. (Sometimes the “Sunday school answer” is also the right answer!)  Look at the Great Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

Jesus reminds pastors that loving Him with everything is the greatest thing you can do as a pastor. But He also says loving people is just as important.  Preaching the gospel AND living the gospel, both, at the same time. Always.  (No one said being a pastor was easy.  If they did, they aren’t a pastor and have never been one.  Stop listening to them for advice on pastoring.)

Churches can, and should, have both a successful platform ministry and a successful table ministry.  Before you can cultivate a garden, you must have a seed.  But a seed will dry up without proper care and maintenance.  Even I know that.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sing to the dead fern in the corner.  I know it won’t bring him back, but at least I can pretend I tried.

Do you need help with your platform ministry?  Get in touch with our partner, One Eighty Digital at https://oneeighty.digital/. They can help you optimize your online presence to be the best it can be! 

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