Tag: ministry

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 The worship style was outdated, and the church did not grow with the community.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.

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.

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. 

 

Stages in a Replant: Plowing

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 1 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT. 

Potential Change on the Horizon

There is something to be said for churches who have chosen the Replant option. For churches who are ready to change, it requires boldness and energy mixed with a soft and willing heart. 

Replanting has a high risk, but a high reward. It requires patience, stability, regularity, prolonged unity, and a leadership team that is “all in.” While there exists the possibility of conflict, frustration, and spiritual warfare, the end result of a replant can be a new, vibrant church that is focused on discipleship, mission, and community. 

There are surface changes we may do in Replant, but there are some underlying, primary things that give a structure to Replanting. In his work with NAMB, Bob has done a great job in developing the four stages of a Replant. The focus on this blog is the first stage: Plowing.

Who Will Give the Growth?

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul gives an agricultural illustration of the result of a fruitful ministry: 

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 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 this labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

When it comes to the work of ministry, we may do all we can to implement strategies, ideas, and plant seeds. We may have others that come along with us and help water those seeds. But at the end of the day, God is the one who causes the growth. If this is threatening rather than reassuring, you may need to pause for a moment and reflect. See if there is any pride in you. The growth of a church does not depend on your clever tactics. It depends on God. This should be a comforting thought, as we realize that God alone can bring new life.

Fellow Workers, Plowing in God’s Field

Paul still recognizes that even though this is God’s field, we are his fellow workers. We still have a part to play! But our role is primarily in preparing and creating space for God to work. In the first stage of Replanting, we find ourselves Plowing. In order for new Gospel seeds to take root—the hard ground must be plowed, broken up and turned over.

Plowing is the work of God in preparing the ground through prayer and preaching. When we pray, we are expressing our dependence on God. When God’s people pray, God moves! When we preach the Gospel with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, God works in the hearts of His people. During this first stage, we are mainly focusing our church spiritually by prayer and  faithful preaching of the word.

There are also some practical ways that we can “prepare the ground” and create space for God to move. Outside of regular prayer and preaching, what does the work of “plowing” look like in a Church Replant?

  • The Cessation of the “Well Worn”: Plowing breaks up what was in order to do what’s next. Sometimes this takes place by rethinking a favorite program, a music style, a favorite fellowship, or a message on the sign outside. In seeking to find what’s next—the congregation, Pastor and leaders must pray and plan together, relying on God to lead the way.
  • Disruptive Force: as a plow breaks into the ground it cuts, separates, lifts and turns over. Hard ground is transformed more and more into soft earth as the steel edge of the plow repetitively breaks into the ground. God’s word regularly and rightly proclaimed while empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the disruptive force that breaks into the hearts of people. The Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Spirit will serve to disrupt and dislodge the hard ground covering fertile soil.
  • Persistent Plodding: The hard places won’t be softened with one message, one prayer, or one strategic action list. Plowing is the regular, constant work of prayer and preaching. It takes faithfulness and consistency, because it takes time for hearts to be softened.
  • A Christ Centered Commitment: Jesus admonished his followers by saying that anyone who put their hand to the plow and then quit—is not worthy of his kingdom. Revitalization and Replanting Pastors know that turnarounds are never short—many experts believe it takes between 5-7 years for a once in decline or nearly dead church to come back to life.

John and the 70

The work of plowing takes selfless individuals who are passionate about the gospel. When I think of a Biblical Example of “Plowing,” I can’t help but think of John the Baptist. When John was born of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Zechariah prophesied, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sin…” (Luke 1:76-77).

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and preparing the way of the Lord, by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” (Luke 3:3). He was doing the work of plowing. Through years of silence and awaiting the promised Messiah, the ground had become hard and difficult. So much so, that many were unwilling to believe that Christ was the Messiah. But many hearts were prepared and ready to follow Jesus due to John’s work in ministry.

Lastly, the work of plowing takes a team. In Luke 10:1-3, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. He appoints 70 of his followers (or 72 depending on translation) to go into every town and village where he is about to go. Their message was to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near,” (v. 9, 11). The 70 appointed followers were sent out by Christ to plow the ground, to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Before they were sent out to all the towns and villages, he made a statement that gives life to our agricultural illustration: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

I truly believe that the work of Replanting involves a right understanding of our mission field. Do we believe that the harvest is plentiful around us? What God wants us to do in this work is to create opportunities for Him to work on people’s hearts. In doing so, we will be preparing the way of the Lord.

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 163 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. While resources on prayer and preaching are abundant, here are a few of my personal favorites: Faithful Preaching, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Preaching by the Book, Preaching for God’s Glory, Power Through Prayer, Prayer, and Prayer

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.

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! 

Defining Who You Are By What You Do– And Why it Matters

Three dangers to avoid when defining ourselves

One of my least favorite questions is, “What do you do?”  I never know how to answer it– because what I do is so very little of who I am.  Defining myself by my profession as a veterinary technician feels so inadequate.  I am also a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, worship leader, and writer.  For my husband, a pastor, the question of “What do you do?” can be even more complicated.  

While on vacation a few years ago, we shared a dinner table with a great couple from Colorado.  Our conversation ranged from our favorite places to vacation (cruising) to recent world events (unsettling as much then as now)  to the joys and challenges of raising children (theirs were small, ours were grown).  We were having a wonderful time and were really enjoying the company.  Then at one point, the husband said, “Man, it’s so nice to be seated with some ‘normal’ people– the last time we sat with someone who was a pastor and they were so weird!  So what do you guys do?” (Talk about awkward– my husband said, “Um, I’m a revitalization specialist.” A fancy way of saying Replant Pastor, I suppose– though there is a difference.  We eventually told them he was a pastor once they realized we were super weird regardless of his profession.)

As leaders in our churches, we are highly aware of what we “do.”  Ministry is our job– even as some of us hold down other jobs as bi-vocational leaders. So often, we are tasked with thinking of our profession as separate from who we are.  But there is a danger in separating who we are from what we do– just as there is a danger in overlapping the two.  While they are related, they are not interchangeable.

In chapter 10 of his book, Wisdom in Leadership- the How and Why of Leading the People you Serve, author Craig Hamilton gives us three main dangers of seeing what we do as who we are, or dismissing the two as completely and totally different. “At either extreme,” he writes, “we risk damaging both our ministries and our hearts.”

  • Danger #1: Trying to separate the two can lead to thinking that who God wants you to be has no impact on what God wants you to do

This danger typically shows up when we think of our ministry as “just a job.” When you forget that you are called to shepherd your people and to serve them and instead view them as employees, or worse, obstacles to “getting the job done,” you’ve begun to think of pastoring as what you do.  You preach, minister, counsel, and organize, but the heart is missing from it.  Sometimes this happens because you’ve been hurt in your ministry.  There is a temptation to protect your heart by cutting it off and doing ministry in a vacuum.  

But there is a problem with that approach– without your heart attached to your ministry, you are at risk of moral failure. Your heart becomes numb to the potential pitfalls around you, and “you begin to think that moral failings and secret sins don’t matter and won’t affect what God wants you to do in ministry.” A long term separation of your calling and your heart will result in your ministry being taken away because of your own moral failure or because your ministry is simply ineffective. A practical step to ensure you don’t fall into this danger is to have an accountability partner.  We are all fallible and we live in a fallen world.  When our heart is at risk, we need to have someone who can speak a Word to us and protect us from falling.  This isn’t just a friend– this is someone who you can be your authentic self around AND who can give you Godly, spirit-filled advice that you accept and receive.

  • Danger #2: Trying to separate the two can also lead to thinking that what God wants you to do is more important than who God wants you to be.

Just as thinking of ministry as “business” is dangerous, so too, is treating ministry as “busy-ness.” Often pastors are so busy trying to do it all, they begin to struggle to pastor themselves.  Hamilton writes, “when what God wants you to do becomes more important than who God wants you to be, one of the first things to drop off the radar is your relationship with God.” It is so easy for a pastor to have his bible open every day planning sermons, bible studies, small group materials, and counseling others, only to realize that he hasn’t opened it for his own nourishment in weeks.  This results in an atrophied heart with a weariness that leads to burnout.  “I’ve got to get this job done,” becomes the mantra.  People feel like burdens, not disciples.  Ministry feels like duty, not joy.  Long term, this separation will result in you walking away from God’s calling, overworked and overburdened. Preventing this danger requires time and care be taken for your own spiritual health.  Sometimes that means a sabbatical, perhaps getting away from it all for a season so that you can come back refreshed and re-energized for the work ahead. The Shepherd’s House may be available to you for this time, or you may be able to find time at a local retreat.  If you can’t afford a sabbatical, perhaps making sure you have a day of rest built into your schedule will give you the rest you need.  Spend time with God outside of your normal schedule and your normal study.  

  • Danger #3: When you see who you are and what you do as completely overlapping, you can begin to think that what God has called you to do is who God has called you to be.

This danger appears when we begin to see our value and worth tied up in what we do.  The success, or failure, of our ministry overlaps into how we see ourselves.  If our ministry is thriving, we feel Successful, which often leads to pride and arrogance.  On the flip side, if our ministry is struggling, we feel like we have failed, often leading to despair.  Instead of defining ourselves in terms of what God has done,  we define our worth in terms of our own abilities.  

Long term, this danger results in manic swings of highs and lows based on the measurable results of our work. But so much of what we do is immeasurable. Can we count the number of lives touched by our ministries the way we can count people in pews?  Certainly not.  We never know where we are in someone’s spiritual journey (1 Cor 3:6-8). We also never know how God will use our church to reach our community in the future.  Basing our success (or our failure) on the number of people in the sanctuary or the number of views our livestream has will always make us more dependent on our own power than on God working through us.  

We are easily susceptible to this danger when we do not have reminders of our worth in Jesus Christ.  When we see ourselves as the world sees us, we are missing a key component of our relationship with God.  He isn’t defining our ministry by our metrics. He is defining us as loved, adopted sons and daughters and heirs not only to His kingdom, but also to His suffering. As chosen disciples who are filled with his Spirit and are able to do more than we can possibly imagine through Him.  Take time to read these and other specific scriptures that define your value according to God. Write them out and memorize them. When you feel the burden of failure or the joy of success, remember to draw back to God’s definition of who you are in Him.  

When we confuse what we do with who we are, we run into dangerous territory and our ministry suffers.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 10:19-20 that we should not rejoice in what we can do, but instead what He can do through us. What we do flows out of who we are– God has already redeemed us.  We are beloved children of God, heirs to His kingdom.  He doesn’t need us, but He chooses to use us to fulfill His purpose, that all should know Him. When we feel like our ministry is “just a job,” or we get so busy doing ministry that we forget to check in with God, or when we define ourselves by the success or failure of our ministry, we fail to remember that God is doing something around us. In your ministry right now, are you dealing with a situation where you aren’t sure what God is doing through you?  Remember, as Bob said in the podcast, that first God does something around us, then He works on us through the situation, so that He can work in us before He ever works through us. 

This is what He does, because of who He is.

Which of these dangers do you fall into most?  What are some steps you can practically implement to make sure you don’t allow these short-term dangers to become long-term failings? Email us at replantbootcamp@gmail.com or contact us through social media to let us know!  

 

EPISODE #77 – EVALUATING YOUR CALL PT.2

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EPISODE #77 - EVALUATING YOUR CALL PT.2
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The boys are back picking up where they left off-talking transitions in ministry, specifically how Jimbo became a “denominational guy” and why. Check it out as we discuss the importance of learning, serving and letting God lead you on a journey in ministry.

How did you begin the path to becoming a denominational man?

  • There was a key moment when I remember my passion quickening after having a conversation and helping a local pastor.
  • Networking and Partnership has always been important to me and something that I practiced from the early days of ministry.
  • I contacted my Association as soon as I moved to Florida and said I’m here to learn and serve.
  • I began to ask my Associational Leader questions about Replanting and Revitalization, all the time!
  • I had the idea and passion to help others not make the mistakes and experiencing the pain I had as a Replanter.
  • My Associational Leader saw that passion and drive and gave me the opportunity to serve.

How did you decide you need to make the switch and transition out of Pastoring a local Replant?

  • I realized my church needed someone who could give more than I was able to give
  • The church needed someone with a different skill set who could take the church to a new place.
  • It was the obvious next step to me and confirmed by those around me.

An important question to ask: Are you willing to do the work (serve other pastors, churches) with no pay and little recognition?

(From Jimbo’s Mentor) There are three kinds of denominational leaders

  • They one who sees his position and as a promotion and believes he has arrived-and is immediately irrelevant.
  • The one who sees his position as a way to end or retire-and is immediately irrelevant.
  • The one who has a passion to serve pastors and churches with everything he has-be that guy.

Learn to be content with the pace of your ministry and the pace of your ministry and let God direct both.

 

Raising Up Replanters (vintage edition) 199.99

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Episode #18 – Replanter Wives – The Unsung Heroes of Replanting

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Episode #18 - Replanter Wives - The Unsung Heroes of Replanting
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Joining the guys on this episode are Barb Bickford and Audrea Stewart, they share from their experience as spouses of Replanters.

Is it harder for the Pastor’s wife than anyone else?

-Yes, a lot of times it is. When people attack or criticize your husband (the pastor) you feel the need to defend.

-You often feel alone.

 

What do you wish someone would have told you about Replanting?

-It’s hard and it is supposed to be

-It’s lonely. Replanting is unique, it’s not like anything else.

-Friendships are difficult, you often benefit from having friends outside your Replant.

 

What are some helps during the difficult days?

-Other pastors, often more seasoned older pastors and their spouses who can listen, pray and encourage you.

-Reading helpful books (see some of them below)

-Be prayed up, be ready.

 

How do you deal with personal attacks?

You have to let a lot of things roll off your back

-Recovering from serious attacks-is a very long process.

-Give yourself time to recover-spend time in prayer, give the hurt to God.

-Be okay with not being who people think you should be, be who God has made you to be, and do what he has called you to do.

 

How do you deal with the revolving door of people coming and going from your church?

Maintain perspective, people come and go.

-Many of the people who join you in the first years of your Replant will not be with you in the second or third year.

-The more adamant a person is that they will stay with you regardless are most often the ones who will leave.

-Often you will be tempted to think you are not enough-but the truth is you never were, only God is enough.

 

What are the unique joys of being a Replanter’s wife?

Remember what it was like in the early days and look at what the church is like now!

-Stories of life change!

-The personal transformation that has taken place in our lives personally.

 

Links Mentioned on the Show

Brother’s Taco House (the place where we ate breakfast, twice!)

The Google “Florida Man” Phenomenon

She can’t even Play the Piano

Leading and Loving it

Replanters Wife Facebook Group

 

Checkout our Sponsor: oneeightydigital.com

 

Episode #3 – How NOT to Lead Facility Changes

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Episode #3 - How NOT to Lead Facility Changes
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In this episode, Bob and JimBo start a new segment called, ‘Stupid Stuff We Did and Survived’. JimBo will share a few stories of how he unwisely led facility changes. We invite you to laugh at us and with us during this episode. Hopefully, you will be encouraged and challenged as well.

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Episode #2 – Advice for Replanting Residents and Rookies (with Boots on the Ground Guest Jesse Peters)

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Episode #2 - Advice for Replanting Residents and Rookies (with Boots on the Ground Guest Jesse Peters)
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In this episode Bob and JimBo are joined by BOOTS ON THE GROUND GUEST Jesse Peters from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Henderson, NC. Jesse is helping start a replanting residency at his church and wanted to know what advice we would have for replanting residents and rookies.

Replanting is not easy work, but it also isn’t super complicated.

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