Tag: leadership

Dealing with Forced Termination

“Here’s Your Envelope”

Recently, a Pastor was called up to the front of the church the week before Christmas Day. It had been a difficult four years in the church, and while there was no promise of any raise, at least he knew he would get a Christmas Bonus. The deacons made that clear when he first started. 

As he walked to the front, he felt a little bit of appreciation for the hard work he had done over the past year, and was grateful to receive anything extra the church could give for his family. After receiving an envelope as a Christmas Bonus, the church dismissed and he went home with his family.

“How much did they give you?” His wife asked once they got home.

As the pastor opened up the envelope, he stood there, frozen. It was an empty envelope. Thinking maybe there had been a mistake, he called the church treasurer. “Hey _____, I just got home and we opened up the envelope I was given as a Christmas bonus and…” 

“Pastor,” she replied, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” Click

With thoughts racing, he began calling some of his deacons. Time and time again, he was met with the same response. The deacons couldn’t meet until the first of the year. They kept pushing him off. Knowing that something was very off, Pastor decided to reach out to his Associational Director of Missions and schedule a meeting with all of the deacons.

At the beginning of the year, he met with the deacons with his DOM present. They began telling the pastor a list of grievances they had collected over his tenure. It was a list of petty complaints and differences. It was just what the pastor feared: the empty envelope was a ruse to see if he would leave. As a result of the mediation that took place, some deacons decided to leave, and others stayed. But the pastor had to deal with this ugly reality:

The church had tried to forcefully terminate him.

Been there?

In Ep. 174 of the podcast, we were reminded that ministry is not for the faint of heart. We have all heard the horror stories, and perhaps you may have experienced forced termination yourself. Sometimes it happens with secret meetings, met after church hours in a Sunday School classroom. Forced termination can come from a small group of people who have had it out for the pastor as soon as he arrived. We’ve heard it with a letter on the office desk, changing the locks on the doors, or a knock on the door in the middle of the night by a church member. Some may have heard the words, “We had a vote of no confidence…”

I recently was working with a church Revitalization project. When I visited a Wednesday night service, I noticed the pastor’s wife crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she pulled out an anonymous letter she had received in the mailbox. It was from a former member that had left during the current pastor’s tenure. The letter read, “For the sake of this church and God, please take you and your family and leave our church.”

People can sometimes be cruel and hurtful.

A study recently conducted that of all pastors, 23-41% will experience a forced termination once in their career.  Four out of 10 pastors will be forced out of their church either by firing or by some sort of pressure that leads to their departure.

Effects on the Church

If you’ve ever been fired from a church, no matter the circumstance, it is deeply painful. We tend to find identity in our vocation, and when being “let go” we start to feel like there is something wrong with us. It is no surprise that many pastors either walk away from the ministry or at least take a leave of absence from the ministry itself after a situation like this. 

But there are many effects of forced termination on a church as well. David Myers, a retired Director of Missions from Chattanooga, wrote in an article:

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.

Evidence in Declining Churches?

Since this website deals mainly with Church Replants and Revitalizations, we need to address a specific angle of forced termination. What does it mean if the church you are working with has a history of firing pastors?

It may not be written in the business meeting minutes, but you can often find out by asking several long-tenured members of the church what happened to pastors in the past. There is something wrong with a church that historically has found ways to “let go” of their pastors. For example, many churches have used the word “incompetence” as reason to fire a pastor. But when “incompetence” is defined by decisions a pastor has made that some disagree with, that is not incompetence. When infrastructure and preference take priority over the leadership of your pastor, these are dangerous signs of a declining, unhealthy church. 

A church like this has some foundational issues. They are rejecting the biblical teaching of obedience to spiritual authority. When a Pastor has violated any code of conduct, shown evidence of sinful patterns, or put the people of God at risk of danger from false teaching or lack of care, these are real issues that should be addressed under the right structure. A church should be able to rely on their constitution and bylaws to go through the right process, and address any significant issues in the church.

And there are ways that we can prevent this from happening. It’s important that a pastor has a leadership team or a board to filter significant decisions through. But this comes with the understanding that a pastor must lead the way that God is calling him to lead, as long as it lines up with biblical teaching.

What can we do to help a church change their ways of the past?

  1. Go back and address the wrongs of past leaders against them and their families. There is nothing more scarring to a pastor and his family. This pain for the former pastor’s families should be addressed in the church and dealt with in a graceful way. 
  2. Remove those who have instigated or been involved with unfounded and unreasonable terminations from leadership positions within the church. Or at least have a hard conversation with them. If a church has some bullies, or a few who like to stir up the pot and be involved in “behind-the-scenes” campaigns, you cannot allow them to persist in places of leadership. 
  3. Address informal campaigns to force a pastor out through biblically based, by-law supported church discipline. Church discipline is one of the most neglected practices in the church today. But you would think that a church practice that is distinctly and specifically biblical would be practiced to pursue church health. Every healthy document of church constitution and bylaws should have a member conduct clause and a church discipline clause. 
  4. Make careful note of the redemptive actions taken above (repentance, reconciliation, peacemaking, and church discipline), and commit as a church to not let this happen in the future. 

If you’ve been a pastor who has been hurt by forceful termination, we know how painful this is. For encouragement and help, check out this article. And this helpful article from the Pastor’s Hope Network. For encouragement, help, and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here at the Replant Bootcamp. 

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.

 

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

Small Church vs. Mega Church

In a largely populated area only  5 miles across stands two churches. Church A sits just outside the city. Started in 1936, the church is worn and tattered, and has seen many pastors, leaders, and members come throughout the years. The church can hold up to 75, and there are stories of the past where the church could barely hold all of the people. 

Some great heroes of the faith have gone through that church, and have been  pillars in the community for years. If you were to ask anyone in the city, they have likely driven past the church a time or two. 

But throughout the years, attendance has declined. The worship style was outdated, and the church did not grow with the community. However, out of a concern with attendance, the church began a revitalizing work using outside help. They have struggled to maintain attendance, but their church has had a different mindset on church health. Worship, fellowship, biblical preaching, prayer, and missions are current highlights of the church, and they are doing all they can to be faithful to the Lord. While  they  struggle in seeing numerical growth , the church is in a much better place spiritually, and they’re dedicated to continuing the effort.

Church B was planted 5 years ago in the city. A small group of people started meeting in the living room, and began casting a vision for a new church. It created some enthusiasm in the community and at their first launch date they had over 50 people. The past couple of years have shown a tremendous increase in growth, and their church is gaining national recognition. The speaker is popular, the worship band is modern, and the church began a discipleship program a few years ago that emphasizes small groups that meet  outside of the church. Last year, they celebrated 40 baptisms and stood amazed at over 300 people on the first Sunday morning service of the new year. 

One day, a member of Church A and a member of Church B were talking in a coffee shop. After asking why they chose to go to one church over another, one commented on a larger church preference because he wanted his kids to be very involved and enjoy fellowship with other kids their age. The other said that he enjoyed a smaller, traditional worship setting where the pastor knew him by name. So, he chose that church instead.

As we think about these two very different churches, you may likely think of some in your own community that are similar. Let’s ask a few probing questions based on these two churches. 

Which church would be better to attend? 

Which church seems to have a better future?

Which church would make you more spiritually healthy?

Correcting Old Methodology

If you’ve  answered either one of the churches for the previous questions, your theology may be based off of your church methodology, and not vice versa. The truth is, depending on your family situation, your preferences, and your desires for ministry and spiritual growth, it could be equally advantageous to join either church. We may never know which church would have a better future. We also do not know which church would be a better setting for spiritual health.

Depending on your upbringing, you may have different biases about small churches, or large churches. But it’s time  we face the music and deal with our old methodology, and possibly reassess how we think of the “church size” language.

As a millennial, I have grown up in the “church growth movement.” Even at 28 years old,  I have been able to recognize both the advantages and the pitfalls of having a large, growing church. Growing up in a small church, my heart leans towards serving in a church of similar size. 

Our younger generation has been heavily influenced by technology. Every time I open up a social media app, I normally run across a sermon clip of a mega church speaker with skinny jeans and Nike Air Force ones, giving some catchy slogans about a scripture in the Bible. The catchphrases are not always bad, and are sometimes very powerful. But growing up observing that environment made me think that this type of ministry was the pinnacle of leadership. 

I mean, if your church is large and growing, that must mean you’re doing something right? , But after reading about church health, I started getting in the “cage stage” of small church preference. I used to make statements like, “Real discipleship can only happen in a smaller setting.” Or, “Having a pastor that knows your name is not just practical, it’s biblical.” But are these statements true in and of themselves? 

For the past two years, I’ve been attending (what I call) a large church. We have between 500-600 in worship attendance. No, we aren’t perfect. But my mind has really shifted. My pastor knows my name. In fact, we are very close. We have active Connect Groups where we introduce new members to the church and plug them in to small settings. I have a small Discipleship group of 6 people that I meet with once a week for a year. We are active in mission and ministry. Maybe I was wrong about large churches!

I get magazines and publications at my office all the time. One came in that said, “The Top 100 Churches in America,” and proceeded to list them all out by size, giving tidbits of information about each one. There were numerous articles about church growth, marketing strategies, and GQ model photographs of these pastors. After looking through the magazine, I promptly asked my secretary if she could unsubscribe from the magazine. Do mega churches have good advice to offer? Yes, sometimes…

But my issue is when we treat large churches as the end-all, be-all of a perfect church. Growth does not always correlate to health. A church can be growing numerically but be stagnant in spiritual vitality. It’s time to correct our old methodology of rubric churches and get back to biblical basis. The correct question we should be asking is: “How can we lead our church to be healthy?” rather than, “How do we make our church grow?”

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

In the past few decades, there has been an emergence of revitalizing ministry, and rightfully so. In Ep. 173 of the podcast, Mark Clifton and Mark Hallock noted some notable changes. When I was in college, we didn’t have any classes on church revitalization, church growth, or church health. We had preaching classes, theology, worldview, missions, and a few other helpful subjects. Looking back, I wish I would have taken something additional, something more practical, in helping revitalize churches. What I wish I knew back then was that 80 to 90% of our churches have less than 200 people, and that most of the men I went to seminary with, will likely be serving in small churches, not mega churches.

Some of the best resources you can find on this topic are from Karl Vaters. He’s written much for small churches, including one familiar book called, The Grasshopper Myth. In this book, he helps us understand the danger of comparison, using the example of the spies who return back from Canaan and refer to themselves as “grasshoppers.”

More recently, Vaters published a book called, Small Church Essentials, in which he makes the following statement: 

The typical church in North America is small. Half of this continent’s approximately 320,000 Protestant churches run about 80 in weekly attendance. In addition, George writes that at the 100 mark in attendance, a church has become larger than 60 percent of its peer churches – at 140, 75 percent and at 200, 85 percent. So why are we teaching ministry students big-church skills, almost exclusively, when most of those skills may never apply to the majority of their ministry? Instead we pump small churches up with big-church principles and expectations, most of which apply in only a small percentage of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burned out and disillusioned, with damaged churches in their wake.”

When I started working at the association  I knew  I needed to understand revitalization better, due to  ministering to some of the dying churches in our community. I was overwhelmed with how many resources have been put out in the past 15 years or so. This is to help address the very real issue that we see in churches all across America today. Hundreds of churches close their doors every year and we weren’t doing anything about it for a long time.

But in my generation, I’ve seen that there has been a shift in methodology. There has been an emergence of resources, speakers, and initiatives that have helped encourage young pastors to go to the church revitalization route of ministry. I’m incredibly thankful for this, because I now understand church health much better than before.

What’s Biblical?

It is not wrong to have a large church. It is not wrong to have a growing church. The problem is when we use big churches as an example for how every church ought to be. I always thought that it was impractical to see magazines about worship technology come to our small rural church in south Georgia. Our worship consisted of a bass and a piano, and occasionally an organ. The people in my church service sang with something real in their hearts, the same as I’ve heard at a large conference with a worship band. 

On the flipside, it is not wrong to have a small church. Our communities are all different, and our people have different worship preferences. In the New Testament, believers did not have the privilege of choosing out of 20 churches to go to in their small towns. They normally had one church in those early days. So that’s where they gathered.

If we try to form our methodology based on some New Testament church growth strategies, I’m afraid we will come up empty-handed. However, what we do see in the New Testament is that Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church, no matter the size. Paul would come along and encourage those churches, giving them encouragement and instruction about how their church ought to be modeled, as one that would be honoring the Lord in all things. Paul and Apollos even acknowledge that while they planted and watered, God was the one that gave the growth.

What we see in the New Testament is an emphasis on prayer, evangelism, missions, heartfelt worship, fellowship, and other characteristics of a healthy church. Sometimes, God gives growth as a result of our healthy efforts. Other times, there could be some practical things that hinder a churches’ growth, such as their location in the community. Are we to blame God, thinking that his favor should coincide with our church’s numerical growth? I think not.

I’m thankful that we now live in a day where more young pastors are being encouraged to do the hard work of revitalizing churches, when this has not always been the case. There are now seminary classes, cohorts, training, available, and other resources to help address the need that there are dying churches in all of our communities. What are we doing about this?

As encouraging as this emergence is, we truly need more. We need more pastors being called to small churches, we need to emphasize the importance of following God’s call faithfully, instead of encouraging the “greener grass syndrome.” Am I going to be used by God? I will if I pursue a holy life, and seek his will in all things. However, God’s favor is not always measured by our church growth, and we should remember that.

On topic of Church Growth critiques, see Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, Five Views. If you’re interested in taking some classes in Church Revitalization, my alma mater, SEBTS, has an excellent M.A. program.  As always, please reach out to the Replant Team for any questions on these matters, we’re always here to encourage and help in any way we can.

Healthy Leadership in 2023

What does it mean to lead from a healthy place?

I am new to ministry leadership, but not to ministry itself. Growing up in the church, I served in a variety of ways. I was an offering usher, a role I may have taken a little too seriously. I stood with my pastor/dad in the front of the church and shook hands as people were leaving. When in youth group, I learned guitar and began leading worship. My youth pastor poured into me and discipled me, and God began calling me to the ministry.

While in college I  worked in youth ministry  while getting my feet wet and learning how to preach and share the gospel with others. In seminary I grew very involved in the church and was mentored by professors, pastors, and leaders, doing ministry alongside them. I saw some of the hardships they faced, but for the most part, it was pure excitement!

Fast forward three years later, and I am daily doing the work of ministry. As an AMS, my ministry is unique. I have the opportunity to work with wonderful churches in our area and help out in a variety of ways. While there are some differences, pastors and AMS leaders have a lot in common. We have partnerships, opportunities to serve, discipleship with those around us, involvement with other entities, sermon preparation, vision-casting, leadership development, and so much more.

We also both experience the crippling depression, anxiety, and fear that comes when we are overwhelmed, because we’ve put too much on our plate. In an effort to hold the fort down, please others, and prove ourselves, we took on too much. And from time to time, we have to take a step back and see if we are leading from a healthy place, or if we are operating in PANIC mode!

Rest to Work. Don’t Work to Rest.

Early on in ministry, I shared Paul’s passion when he wrote, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!” But I was wary to relate to him when he wrote, “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” As time went on, I’ve noticed the hardships of ministry in my own life. I learned from Brian Croft and others, that ministry is a slow and painful, yet joyful death. It’s the reality of ministry, and we are called by God to experience it at its fullness (in both joy and in pain).
  

In episode 172 of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob talked about a recent lecture given by Lance Witt, author of the book Replenish. I read this book about 6 months ago after talking about some hardships with my father. Some of the principles in this book were life-changing, and did more to help my leadership style than anything I had read before. But now, six months later, I must look back and remind myself of those principles, because the anxiety from an overwhelmed plate has crept up once again.

In a spoken commentary of Psalm 23, Lance Witt pulls out a few principles that are so helpful as we think together about leading from a healthy place in the year 2023.

Create Space and Time for Unhurried Time with God

It is consistent for our character as human beings, that even in our effort to please God by our works, we would miss out on actually spending time  with him. God does not want our busy and hurried ministry activities that are devoid of time with him. We can run ourselves through the mail with everything we want to do for God, and at the same time, we can fail to spend time with God. Jesus would often retreat, and spend time by himself with the father. He did not do this to make up for lost time after doing ministry. He did this so that he would be fueled and strengthened to do the work of ministry. We should do the same.

Pay Attention to what you are Paying Attention to

When we have too much on our plate, we tend to lose focus on the things that are important. As a result, we struggle to pay attention to the things that matter most. Ask yourself, “what pulls my attention away?” If work interferes and overwhelms you even when you’re around your family, it helps to try and let it go and put your full focus on your family. Sometimes this has to do with where our priorities lie. Healthy leaders will keep their focus strong and their priorities intact. Different distractions can get in the way of the focus right in front of us, such as our phone or social media. Thankfully, we have tools like Screen Time and Do Not Disturb that can help us unplug and focus.

Let Rest Restore You

One of the biggest struggle for ministry leaders is finding out how to rest well. Resting is not always sitting down and doing nothing. We are all created differently, and find rest in different things. For some, it’s a hobby or activity. For some others, it’s spending time with our family. If we operate in panic mode, always busy with the next project, we will find it difficult to rest, even if we have downtime. Finding rest is one of the most important things we can do as ministry leaders. You know that you are well-rested when you look forward to going back to work, but if you dread your ministry, you may not be rested enough.

Manage Your Calendar Well

We are very forgetful. If I don’t put things down in my calendar, I can quickly forget. Even if it’s important! One of the best tools you can use is Google calendar or something similar. Every time I create a task, I get reminders throughout the day, both through my phone and email. Not all pastors or leaders have the privilege of having a secretary that manages calendar dates. Make sure when you work with your calendar you schedule time to rest, and schedule time for people who are close to you. As ministry leaders, we should be excellent stewards of our time, so schedule out your calendar with wisdom and consistency.

Engage with Self-Care instead of Self-Medication

Self-care is different than self- medication. When we self-medicate, we look for joy and rest in things that will not satisfy. Self-medication is the reason for sin in our lives. Each and every one of us has stress in this life. We all have busy lives. But self- care means that we choose to find that rest and joy in healthy things. For some, self-care is opening up our Bible and journal and spending time in prayer. For others, self-care is going to the gym and getting a good workout in as a way to relieve stress. Self-medication is like covering up a wound with a Band-Aid, but not using any antibiotic ointment  to help heal the wound.  Self-care should lead us to a place where we are spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthier.

Have a Weekly Sabbath

When God rested on the seventh day, he set a pattern and a model for us to also rest. The principle that he is teaching is important: we should rest from our work.
If we aren’t taking a day to replenish and rest, we will become quickly exhausted, and wear out in this ministry. Taking a Sabbath means taking a day or a significant amount of time to restore your soul. And since God created rest and modeled rest, he will give us the strength to rest when we need.

Let your Time with God Embolden you with Courage

In Psalm 23, David says that he would fear no evil, for God’s rod and staff comforted him. When we are close to the Lord, he gives us great confidence and courage. It’s easy to fall into a habit of meeting with God without meeting with God. In other words, we sit down to do a quiet time or have some prayer time, but we are on auto-pilot. We may be talking to God, but God isn’t talking to us. Our time with God can begin to feel like a ritual. I pray that every day when I spend time with God, I would get up encouraged, strengthened, and emboldened with courage. If I get up from my time with God still worried, still angry, still fearful, then I most likely did not spend enough time with God.

Receive the Voice of God’s Blessing

At the end of psalm 23, David recognized that it was God‘s blessings that were being poured out on him. He acknowledged that his cup ran over, and he would look forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel like ministry cannot afford you any blessings from God? My friend, God is pleased with your efforts. If he chooses to bless you for the work you are doing, receive that blessing with joy and gladness. Thank him. And if someone else blesses you, receive it with joy and gladness. While you may feel undeserving, to someone else, that blessing may seem well deserved. Keep on serving, keep on working, and keep on putting your heart into this ministry.

I highly recommend Lance Witt’s book Replenish, and a newer book by Brian Croft called The Pastor’s Soul. If you need pastoral retreat, there are several different ministries. But if you live anywhere in the panhandle, I have some great friends of a ministry called Promised Land Retreat. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to our team at the Replant Bootcamp for encouragement and help as you minister for the glory of God.

The Christmas Story Never Gets Old

Has Christmas Become Boring for you?

There is a certain creativity that many pastors and leaders have in their churches. God uses our skills and abilities to cultivate new life in our congregations. The desire for normalcy can sometimes be overshadowed by new and innovative ideas. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re trying to find something “new” and “creative” about the Christmas story as you prepare to preach Sunday, I have a word of encouragement for you: just preach the Christmas Story. 

No matter how long you’ve been in ministry, you’ve probably studied it sideways, gleaning new information each time. You’ve exegeted Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:1-14, the fulfillment of prophecies in Isaiah and Micah, and probably some others. You’ve preached it from the shepherd’s perspective, Mary’s perspective, the angel’s perspective, and maybe even the donkey’s perspective. You’ve focused on characters like Zechariah and Simeon. You’ve pulled out historical context, made parallels to the wise men’s gifts, and had several different titles over the years. You have preached on different biblical topics we find in the story: worship, promises, the gifts, etc. 

You may be tempted to think outside the box: “What can I preach this year that my congregation has NEVER heard before?” But the danger in our creativity is when we feel like the Christmas story has “gotten old.” Much of your congregation has been well versed in the Christmas story from scripture, hymns, and culture during this season. So, for fear of boredom, we might think, “I’m going to do something totally new this year.”

Here is my encouragement to you, dear friend. Don’t let your fear of boredom keep you from seeing the simple miracle of Christmas that never gets old: The Messiah was born of a virgin in a lowly manger in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of age-old prophecies, making salvation possible for all people. There are several aspects of the Christmas story that give fresh beauty to God’s word in light of the gospel.

The Miracle: A virgin carried Jesus to full term and gave birth to him.

This is simply incredible! Biology always fascinated me as a student in school. When we think about the way our bodies reproduce through sexual intercourse, and the miracle of life that develops for 9 months in a protective encasing in the mother’s womb, it all starts with the meeting of sperm and egg. Miraculously, this did not happen with Mary. Jesus truly was the son of God, and Mary was a pure vessel that God miraculously and graciously used to carry the Messiah.  

The virgin birth made possible the salvation of mankind. Without the virgin birth, Jesus would not have been sinless, he would have been born into a sinful nature like the rest of the world. Without Jesus’ being sinless, he could have never died a sacrificial death on the cross. Without his sacrificial death, he couldn’t have provided salvation to all who would trust in him. The virgin birth teaches us to trust in God, because it was no human initiative that brought Jesus. It was a work of God alone.

The Fulfillment of Prophecies: God is Forever Faithful.

There are hundreds of prophecies that point to the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of these are in relation to the Christmas story. Here are just a few that were fulfilled: the manner of his birth, the location of his birth, his name, the meaning of his name, the role of Mary, the blessing he would bring to Abraham’s descendants (and the earth), his genealogy and descendants, the role of John as a companion and messenger, and even allusions to Herod and the wise magi. 

The fulfillment of these prophecies hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth show us that God’s hand was guiding and leading this entire narrative for His great glory! It also proves to us that God is reliable, He is trustworthy, and He is faithful.

The Best Thing about Jesus’ Birth: God with Us.

Here is one of the most beautiful truths we find in scripture. God did not create us and then step back to watch creation unfold and the world disperse into chaos. At first, He partook in His creation by leading us, guiding us, speaking to us in shadows and images. But when the gospels open up, we find, in my opinion, the best thing about Jesus’ birth: God came to be with us. 

He did not speak to his people from a voice from heaven, but in the voice of a human. Jesus left heaven to enter our realm and dwell among us. He grew up, walked, and lived just as we did, yet without sin. Jesus was able to sympathize with our weaknesses by living life in the likeness of human flesh. The angel told Mary that one of the names of Jesus would be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” 

No other religion, no other “god,” or religious leader can say the same. The difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world is the deep love that God had for us, that He did not leave us alone to suffer, but He came and dwelt among us so that we could have a restored relationship with Him: not from any righteous works we perform, but by the one righteous act that Jesus performed.

If you are wondering what to preach, how to lead during this Christmas season, or trying to come up with something “new” and “exciting,” take a moment. Pause. Reflect on this truth: the Christmas Story NEVER gets old. Let’s not forget the wonder of this season and all that it means. 

 

Man balances on rock at sunset

The Balancing Act: How to Juggle Ministry and Family

Is it possible to balance the demands of our ministry and the needs of our family?  How can we walk the tightrope between being “on-call” for our congregation’s needs and getting rest to be able to meet those needs?  If we work 60+ hour weeks, what is left to give our family?

Bryan Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, once gave a commencement speech in which he made this analogy:

“Imagine life as a game in which you juggle some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that ‘work’ is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

In my own life, I have labeled the balls somewhat differently, but I certainly agree with and embrace the analogy.

Replant pastors are juggling so many balls, it may feel nearly impossible to label which ones are glass and which are rubber.  But those labels may reveal the difference between a successful juggling act and a floor full of broken glass.

man balances on tightrope

Struggling with Juggling

While identifying the balls can be helpful,  most can agree the hardest part of juggling isn’t knowing the type of balls in the air.  It’s keeping them all in the air.  While you can drop some of them, the show is certainly more successful if you can keep them going.

As pastors, there is often a feeling of immediacy to every demand– it can all feel like there is an emergency around every corner.  “I have to help this person, be at that hospital, take care of this facility need, get that bill paid, go to this event, get to that game…” The list is endless.  And that’s just it– there is always something else to do!

So how do pastors learn how to juggle?

man juggles balls in air

It’s All About the Timing

On Episode 116 of the podcast, JimBob discussed the answer to this very question and came up with eight ways to balance family and ministry. 

  1. Attend your children’s events.  No matter what your child is interested in, whether it be theater, a sporting event, or debate club, your attendance at their event is important to them.  You need to prioritize attending these events.  They will always remember looking in the stands or in the audience and seeing their biggest fan out there rooting for them.
  2. Keep dating your wife.  Date night doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a swanky steakhouse.  It can be just taking a drive to a local park for lunch while the kids are in school and having a picnic of McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  It can be breakfast at a local diner on a Saturday morning. If you have small kids, find friends who have kids at similar ages and trade weekends with each other.  They watch your kids one weekend, you return the favor the next.  The important thing isn’t where you go or what you do– it’s that you take time to do it.
  3. Speaking of your wife, remember that the church hired YOU.  Your wife is like any other church member.  She should be able to choose where to serve in the church that benefits her God-given talents and abilities.  Your wife is not called to be every ministry’s lead person.  Rest assured, if you push her to be involved in everything, you will have a burnt out support partner and you will both suffer because of it.
  4. Remember to keep a Sabbath– and it won’t be Sunday.  Sunday is a work day for pastors.  You have to be diligent about creating a Sabbath on another day of the week, a day where you are off duty and can truly find rest.
  5. Take a vacation!  You need a couple of weeks AT MINIMUM to recharge and reset from church life.  Trust that God has everything under control and allow your fellow ministry leaders to handle everything while you are gone.  Be diligent about setting a boundary for your time off with your family. 
  6. Have a rhythm to your time with your family.  Carve out specific times that are solely for your family.  Be very careful not to let anything interfere with that.  Your family will know that the specific family time is important to you and they will feel honored that you have set it aside for them.
  7. Find time to do something physical.  Much of the work of pastoring and shepherding is mental and emotional.  Your brain and your spirit are occupied in this work 100% of the time.  You need to balance that with physical activity that lets your brain rest while your hands work.  Some pastors find this time at the gym, others find home improvement projects helpful.  Anything that allows you to rest your mind but engage your physical body.
  8. Most importantly, be PRESENT.  Don’t just be “there,” be fully present and engaged when you are with your family.  If you need to turn off notifications for that time, or set your phone aside, do it.  There is a myth out there that we multitask.  We can’t.  Our brain actually has to stop and start each task, which takes MORE time, not less.  You cannot be present with your family and also present with your phone and your social media.  You need to choose one– and by this time, you should realize it should be your family.

Man balances many demands

Sometimes, You Gotta Drop the Ball

The truth is, there will be times in ministry when you have to drop the balls.  You aren’t Superman, but more than that, you aren’t God. You can’t juggle the needs of your entire congregation, your facility, your other job (if you have one), your community, and your family without occasionally needing to put down everything and focus on just carrying the very fragile, very important glass ball until you are ready to start juggling again.

Church will always take as much as you are willing to give.  Church work can be a ravenous beast, and you can never feed it “enough.”  There will always be work that needs to be done and ministry that needs to be led.  But there are very rarely true emergencies that require your immediate attention, even though it may feel like it. (Marriages don’t end at 11:30 pm when they finally call you for help– that marriage will last until tomorrow when you can get to them.) You must be willing to prioritize your time and set boundaries that allow you to keep your family- and your sanity- intact.

Stewardship Matters

MINE!

Is sinful nature difficult to identify? Are we really born into sin? Perhaps if you grew up on an island completely shut off from the rest of society, you might be blind to the idea of a sinful nature. We tend to identify it in other people before seeing it in ourselves, because our pride keeps us from believing that we could possibly be full of sin (ironic). 

But anyone who’s had kids can identify this pretty quickly. I have a two year old toddler at home who is soaking in all the words right now. One that has become his favorite is “Mine!” When he first started shouting this word, I began to think: did I teach him this? Did his mom teach him this? We may have taught him the words “mine” and “yours,” but we certainly did not teach him that everything he touches is…”MINE!”

Sinful nature: we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose our own way over God’s. We inherited this sin nature from the first man and woman, and it makes us naturally rebellious to God. Consider Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” 

This sin nature was warned to us, and unfortunately given to us, as a fulfillment of what God told Adam in the garden: Genesis 2:17, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The sin of Adam caused spiritual, physical, and relational death to be brought into the world. 

The most prominent way this sinful nature presents itself is in the form of pride. “Everything is MINE,” the toddler says. But unfortunately, we don’t grow out of this thinking: we still think everything belongs to us.

YOURS!

The topic of Stewardship is extremely important to the Christian life. It’s meant to be a guiding principle to everything we do for God’s glory. But before we seek to steward anything, we must be reminded that everything we have belongs to God. I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 

The Bible clearly tells us that, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). James would tell us this: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16-17). 

Mike Ayers, in Stewardship, Not Ownership, says the following:

“When we believe that the things we possess are actually ours or exist because of us, they begin to control and define us rather than the other way around. Consequently, our security and identity becomes rooted in them. And then, we are unable to separate ourselves from them, or release them, or trust God with them because to do so would mean to lose ourselves. This was never God’s intention for the gifts He gives His creation.” 

We see stewardship all the way back into the creation account, where God gave Adam the responsibility to care for creation by working and tending to the garden (Gen. 2:15). We are called to steward what God has given us for his glory, knowing that everything we have is His.

Stewardship as a Ministry Leader

So many churches have struggles in decision-making, financial expenditures, and even accomplishing goals because they have an ownership culture, not a stewardship culture. For example, when re-thinking church renovations like furniture, paint, and carpet, it can be hard to let go, because we become attached to the things we spend our money on. We think it belongs to us. When re-evaluating a ministry event or class, it can be difficult to let go, because sister Susan started it; it belongs to her. But does it?

In order for us to change the thinking of our church members, we must be modeling it ourselves first. For example, if we are trying to encourage church members to think biblically about stewardship, but  we have a difficulty letting go of that special, antique pulpit, we likely won’t get anywhere. Being a leader means leading by example, especially when it comes to stewardship.

In Ep. 168 of the podcast, Jimbo used the biblical example of Matthew 25:14-30: The parable of the talents. In this story, each servant received a different amount of property. Two of the servants were grateful with what they were given, they went and did what they could for the Master and invested. However, one of the servants was ungrateful, having received only one talent. Out of fear of losing what belonged to the Master, he went out and hid it in a field. Afterwards, the servant was scolded for his unwillingness to do what was asked of him, with what he had been given.

The point that Jesus was driving home in this context, was that we need to be prepared for his return by being good stewards of what he’s entrusted to us. The story of the talents is a good reminder for us not to fall into the trap of comparison. Some were given a different measure of talents, they still had the same responsibility. It does not matter what size church you have, how many resources you have, or how many people are left on your membership roll, God wants you to steward it well for his glory.

Faith, Fear, or Frustration

The parable of the talents teaches us that the first two servants acted out of faith. They knew who their master was. They took joy in their small part of managing what had been given to them, so they sought to make much of it for his pleasure. However, the third servant acted out of fear and frustration. He was fearful for how his Master would react (showing that he really did not know his Master) and he was frustrated that he didn’t get as much as the other two. 

When we think about the resources we have to work with, are you doing the work of ministry out of fear or frustration? It’s so easy to get into a mindset of comparison where we don’t have as much as another larger church in town, but we must see the bigger picture. It takes every church working together to reach our communities for Christ.

This is why I love working at a Baptist Association; we encourage church partnerships. Would it be easy for our smaller churches to get jealous of the larger church in town? Yes, but we must realize that every church has its own DNA, and they all reach people for Christ in different ways. Therefore, we encourage church partnerships where we can for the glory of God.

It’s the same in a Replant or Revitalization. Never fail to thank God for the blessing of having the opportunity to do ministry. God knows what He is doing. His desire is not for you to take a prideful ownership of what he’s given you – He desires that you would be found faithful in the small things. We must realize that He’s given us this ministry to steward it and glorify Him above all things.

There are a plethora of resources on the topic of Stewardship, but here are a few I like: Kingdom Stewardship, Stewardship: A Christian Duty, and Stewardship: Discovering Godly Ambition for Your Life. 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.

Stages in a Replant: Harvesting

What Comes Next?

Looking back at your time in ministry, if you’ve worked through the 4 stages of a Replant, here are some things that you’ve been doing.

  1. You’ve plowed the ground by continual prayer and preaching of the gospel. 
  2. You’ve planted gospel seeds by infusing the gospel into every ministry, every sermon/teaching, every member you have.
  3. You’ve watered those seeds by focusing on intentional discipleship in your congregation and the growth of your people.
  4. You’ve witnessed how God is working through growth: whether that be through the spiritual growth of your congregation or the physical growth of new people coming through community engagement.

This is it. You’re doing the work of ministry. It’s effective. But while there are many moving pieces included with all of this work, there is one thing that we should be careful not to forget: just as disciples should be making disciples, leaders should be developing leaders.

The Necessity of Leadership Development

Our team has developed a 5th stage of a Replant due to how crucial it is for the future of your church: Harvesting. What is Harvesting? In Episode 167 of the podcast, we said that harvesting is the process of identifying, training, and utilizing leaders from your congregation to assist and carry on the work of the ministry. As spiritual growth occurs, leaders are actively engaged in intentionally discipling and raising up new leaders. The term “Harvesting” could be compared to gathering the crop together and putting it to use right away.

As leaders ourselves, we cannot neglect the work of developing new leaders to carry on the work of the ministry. I’m sure you’ve heard the statement: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” John Maxwell says, “When you raise up and train leaders, you impact yourself, your organization (church), the people you develop, and all the people their lives touch.” If we put that statement in the setting of a local church, here’s what we would say:

When you, as a pastor, raise up leaders in your congregation, you impact yourself, your church structure, your congregants, and all the people who your congregants will encounter. 

Many Problems Stem from Lack of Leadership

One of the most common requests for pastors and leaders is their need for more leaders, more workers, more servants, more helpers. As a Replant or Revitalization Pastor, you may do everything you can possibly do alone, but you’ll fall apart in the process. You need people to pick up the baton when you need a break or when you leave. You also need people in the everyday work of ministry who can lead in your weak areas. Leaders are not perfect and we are not superman. We need others who can lead alongside us.

Here are some scenarios: You fall ill. You move on to the next assignment the Lord has for you. You pass away. You take a leave of absence. Whatever the case is, think about this: what happens to all the plowing, planting, watering, and growing that has happened? If leaders are not in place to continue that work, the church can fall back into the same place they were. Our ultimate goal is not to build our own kingdom, but God’s kingdom. That’s why we must develop leaders from the congregation. If we aren’t identifying and raising up leaders to carry on, we are missing the joy of a multiplying congregation and the blessing of obedience.

Practical Ways to Identify and Develop Leaders: 

  1. Keep your eyes always open — watch and see how people interact with you and with others. Who are the people that your church members talk about on a regular basis? Who do people go to for advice and biblical questions? Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame football coach, once said, “You’ve got to have good athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is.” Our work looks a little bit differently than recruiting college football athletes, but we must also keep our eyes open to see who could be developed as a leader. A leader is not always an extrovert. Many personality traits are helpful for different situations. While I can’t give an exhaustive list here, see the last paragraph for a list of resources and articles on the character traits of a leader.
  2. Spend time personally with those individuals. Provide opportunities where you can watch and see how they lead. Though some people have natural leadership abilities, they may need some training and oversight. 
  3. Show them the way you do ministry and model an example for them to follow. Deliver knowledge and coaching to them. Use a resource to work through with them. Provide them with the space to ask questions and be intentional in the process. The three ways that leaders are developed are through experience, knowledge, and coaching (not necessarily in that order).
  4. Delegate responsibility to them with oversight. Watch them lead – with a caveat. Bob recommended in the recent podcast to wait until you have a disagreement or conflict resolution with the person. If you are unable to come to a resolution with someone you are trying to develop, it may be time to slow down and give some more training.

The Biblical Rationale:

  • Apollos

To use the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord. He already had some background being trained as a leader…but Apollos’ theology was not complete. He was well studied in the scriptures, but he only knew the Baptism of John. Apollos was probably teaching people how to repent and turn from their sin, but he was missing the other side of repentance: faith in Christ Jesus. But when Priscilla and Aquilla met Apollos, they identified him as a leader, and taught him more accurately. Here are some ways he was a natural leader, and some traits we need to seek out in identifying leaders.

Competent in the Scriptures: Spoke and Taught accurately (v. 24-25)

Fervent in Spirit: speaking boldly (v. 25-26)

Greatly Useful to Ministry: (v. 27)

  • Jesus’ Inner Circle

Next, we could look at the life of Jesus. Jesus chose 12 disciples to follow him and spent every day with them for three years, discipling and pouring into them. But Jesus intentionally discipled Peter, James and John out of that twelve. The following scriptures show Jesus pulling aside Peter, James, and John to minister to others, to reveal himself to them, and to teach them to do the work of ministry:

Healing of Peter’s mother in law: Mark 1:29-31

Healing of Jairus’ daughter: Mark 5:21-43

Mount of Transfiguration: Mark 9:2

Garden of Gethsemane: Mark 14:32-33

When you read the book of Acts, the only disciples mentioned by name out of the original twelve are Peter, James, and John. They took leadership responsibility. Peter preaches, Peter and John heal a lame beggar, Peter and John are brought before the council, Peter and John were sent to the Samaritans, James – pastor of the church in Jerusalem, is martyred for his faith. 

  •  Paul’s development of leaders 

Next we could look at the example of Paul, who sought to develop leaders like Titus and Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Titus 1:5 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”

There are numerous examples in scripture of leaders being developed, but these are just a few that give us the necessity as it relates to the local church.

Final Thoughts:

In his book called, “Designed to Lead,” Eric Geiger argues that the church is the most important place that leadership development can happen. He says:

“Notice that we are NOT saying that the locus of the Church is leadership development, but that the locus of leadership development is the church. Please do not miss the difference. The locus of the Church is and must be Jesus and His finished work for us…The center of the Church is the gospel, but the center of leadership development must be the Church – meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church.. These leaders carry with them, into all spheres of life and culture, the conviction of people who…have been brought from death to life through Jesus. These leaders are designed to serve others, because they have been first served by Christ. God has designed his people to lead.”

If we truly believe that the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel to the world as an assembly of called-out believers, how can we do so if we are not developing leaders within? 

For more information, see the following resources on leadership and leadership development: Designed to Lead, Building your Leadership Resume, The 360 Degree Leader, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, and the Character of Leadership. 

 

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.

Stages in a Replant: Planting

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 2 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

Fellow Workers in God’s Field

Have you ever planted a seed? Maybe you are active in gardening every spring and cultivate your own seeds. Maybe you have only planted in an Agricultural class as a student in High School. But if you have ever carefully placed that seed in fertile soil, you know the experience of placing hope

You may be burying that seed in 2 inches of dirt, but once you place it there, it is outside your control. Sure, you may water that seed, or place a pot in the sunshine. But the forces of nature that cause it to grow are completely outside of your control. 

When we sow seeds in the lives of others, we are placing hope in God: that He will give growth to our efforts. The passage of scripture we looked at last week gives the premise for the four stages of a Replant. Again, it’s found in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

Last week we focused on plowing: which is primarily the work of God as we are seeking Him in prayer and preaching the word. But this week, we are looking at the work of planting seeds.

What Kind of Seeds are These?

When we talk about planting seeds, we are talking about sowing the Gospel into the lives of others. In Episode 164 of the podcast, Bob said, “The planting stage is the work of the pastors and leaders to faithfully cast or sow the seed of the gospel into the lives of the people and the culture of your church.”

This does not simply mean articulating the gospel behind the pulpit every Sunday, although that is extremely important. It means that every ministry, every meeting, every service, team, and event is saturated by the gospel. Many think the gospel stops at message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and this message doesn’t carry into our daily lives. But while the gospel message is simple, its implications for daily life are profound.  The gospel even impacts the way we manage our ministry on an operational level.

Seeing Things Through the Lens of the Gospel

For example, churches can get caught in routine, continuing programs and functions for the wrong reasons. They think if they stop that program or function, they’ll feel guilty for stopping what once brought success in the past. However, the gospel frees us from trying to please God with our works. Christ has accomplished the work for us. Instead, we are now motivated to serve the Lord with gladness. Not out of obligation, but out of gratitude. 

In Creature of the Word, Geiger, Chandler and Patterson offer this helpful insight on how the gospel impacts even programming:

“Because church programs communicate, we must consciously bring the gospel to bear on them. Perhaps in analyzing your programs, you’ll discover that you schedule activities or programs because of guilty obligation. The gospel, on the other hand, frees us from feverish attempts to appease God with religious activities. The gospel frees us to say no and to rest from our work because we trust His finished work.”

God’s people will find so much more joy in their service when they recognize that it’s the gospel that compels them to joyful obedience.

Daily Application of the Gospel Transforms Us

Our whole hope is in the gospel, and our dependence is in its power for our lives and the life of our church.

Consider this quote from Thune and Walker’s book The Gospel Centered Life:

Many Christians live with a truncated view of the gospel…(the gospel) is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation. It is not simply the deliverance from sin’s penalty, but the release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification).”

There could be many reasons behind a church’s decline. It can be multi-layered and complex. But most decline comes as a result of a lack of understanding and growth in the gospel. We must do the hard work of planting the gospel seeds in every member, process, program and policy of the church.

In Jerry Bridge’s book The Discipline of Grace, he provides commentary on Romans 3:19-26, and then gives us his conclusion: we must daily preach the gospel to ourselves. In a Replant situation, leaders must teach and equip their congregation to do this very thing. He says this:

“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

The gospel is not just a message that saves us, it’s a message that continues to work in us.

Practical Gospel Orientation

We must look at Gospel orientation as a filter. If you read any business or leadership books, they talk about how a vision statement must filter and guide everything you do, every decision you make. In a church, the gospel is the filter by which we do everything.

The gospel impacts the way we do children’s ministry, youth ministry, disciple-making, and even the financial team! If the gospel is our lens through which we view giving, we recognize that we can demonstrate the same type of outrageous generosity that God has shown us in our giving.

One rule of thumb would be to ask the question: How would Jesus do this, if we led this ministry? If he led this part of our church? Do our programs and events demonstrate that the gospel has the power to save? Or do they conclude that we are trusting in something else?

Our ingenuity and cleverness is not enough to make an impact and initiate change. We need the gospel to give life to the things we do, dedicating time and energy to personal relationships. This is  sowing the gospel into lives of others.

What Does This Look Like?

  1. Faithfully proclaiming the gospel from God’s word. According to Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of salvation. We must be intentional if we are preaching God’s word to tie things back in with the gospel. God’s story of redemption is woven through all of scripture, so let it speak for itself and never forget to tie your sermon back into the accomplished work of Christ for us. 
  2. Dedicating time and energy to disciple-making via personal relationships. The gospel changes the way we maintain relationships. We should be practicing the discipline of helping others grow in the gospel that they have received. This is what Jesus said when he says, “…and teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
  3. Examining and evaluating all aspects of church life in light of the gospel. Are programs duty-based or grace-based? Is your ministry focused on simply showing kindness to people, or proclaiming the truth of the gospel to them?
  4. Extending the gospel message beyond the walls of the church through empowering its members to love and serve their community by demonstrating and declaring the hope we have in Christ. 

Leader, Pastor, Replanter: do not ever underestimate the power of the gospel in your church. Remember, you are a fellow worker with God as you are casting seeds of the gospel in everything you do. “and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 164 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. See some of my favorite books on Gospel Integration in your church: What is the Gospel?, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, and the Explicit Gospel. Next on my list is Darryl Dash’s book, How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to Everyday Life

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.

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