Tag: pastor

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.

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. 

 

Should we Revitalize or Replant?

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to helping a dying church gain new life again? Or an instant formula that works every time? Unfortunately, no book you read on these topics will give you a predictable outcome for every situation. There are simply too many variables for a church’s factors of decline. And no two Revitalizations or Replants will be identical.

Conflict arises, culture changes, bad leadership exists, and churches sometimes fall out of touch with their community. Every church has glory days and difficult days. But if you’re reading this right now, it’s probable that you might be considering options for your church, or curious on what might be the best approach.

The Need for Church Renewal

When I first started working with dying or plateaued churches, I was overwhelmed at how many resources there were. In the past few decades, the need has become increasingly great for revitalization, because of the multitude of churches closing their doors.

The need for church renewal is urgent, and perhaps that’s why so many have turned to outside help for keeping their church alive. But there can be confusion on the language of so many books, programs, and resources. While revitalization is sometimes helpful, it’s not likely to work in every situation. 

With a huge stack of books on my desk, I started getting overwhelmed. I am still new to Associational work and needed some training on what to do with some of our churches who were facing closure and looking for answers. So, I attended a Replant training by NAMB earlier this year. Now, in a very rural setting with only 15 churches in our association, we have one church in Revitalization, one church in a Partnership Replant, and one church seeking to plant a church that died almost 10 years ago. 

There’s been confusion on the difference between Replanting and Revitalization. While there is some overlap, they are two different processes. Replanting is a form of Revitalization, but not every Revitalization is a Replant. So, what’s the difference?

Revitalization Defined

Church Revitalization is a deliberate, dedicated and protracted effort to reverse the decline or death of an existing church. Revitalization uses an existing church, with existing leadership, structures and history, but gives a renewed effort by addressing critical issues. 

Many choose this approach because it requires less change up front, and seems to be less invasive than other options. When church members are not ready for drastic change, they opt for this approach (if they opt for any at all). It can use an existing pastor and the pace of change is normally slow.

But there is some caution to Church Revitalizations. They’re less likely to lead to lasting change and more likely to be a continuation of the same, and for churches who are facing imminent closure, success is slim to none. In this situation, Revitalization may be possible, but it’s not probable.

However, God is more than able to do anything with any church for his glory. Some churches have experienced great success with Revitalization. 

How Revitalization Plays Out

After some conversations within a church, a church leader may either seek to be revitalized using their own congregation by suggesting a number of changes over a period of time to regain missional vitality and growth. The Church may address symptoms of the issues, but not causes. Sometimes, churches use outside help like a local Association or another ministry leader or team. 

In a traditional church, those suggestions normally go through teams or committees and need to be agreed on by the majority of the congregation. More organizational approaches see timelines and financial costs involved. A church leader may try a new methodology to doing ministry, but it sometimes gets pushback. 

According to a study by Thom Rainer, the estimated success rate of this type of revitalization is only 2%. But if there is a spiritually-binding covenant of agreement involved, its success rate is much higher. For churches facing closure, a more drastic approach may be needed to survive. As Bob mentioned in Ep. 1 of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, some churches have gone so far, they need a whole system reboot.

RePlanting

Replanting is a decision to close an existing church and re-launch as a new church, with new leadership (pastor), new name, new identity, new governance, new ministry approach and overall new philosophy of ministry. In some cases, it is not necessary to adopt a new name but simply to adjust it.

Replanting builds on the history of the previous church, but requires new leadership. A new identity can create enthusiasm and interest in the surrounding community. So a church that needs to Replant is one that does not have the time, energy, or resources to continue as their same church. 

Under this umbrella term, a RePlant can be done a few different ways: 

  • Replant Within: A Replant team is chosen out of the congregation under a Replant Pastor, and that team works together to relaunch as a new church.
  • Assisted Replant: Another healthy church partners with a dying church to provide leadership, accountability, and structure to Replant a Church.

Example

Thirty years ago, (Name) Baptist Church used to have about 200 in average worship attendance. They had an active Brotherhood, a WMU, children and youth programs, and lively worship. As they began to outgrow their facility, they decided to use their budget to begin building a larger sanctuary.

Through multiple conflicts involving prominent families and infighting about theological disputes, a group inside the church felt that their ministry staff wasn’t leading well. A large group of them wanted to separate and join another church. Others wanted to start a church of their own in a different location.

A large split happened. As a result, thirty years later a group of older members had done all they could to keep their church surviving. But without the giving they once had, their finances were quickly dwindling, and nothing they tried could reach a younger audience. Their reputation in the community was broken.

They grew tired of ministering, serving, and sharing the gospel after working so hard for so long. To make it worse, they couldn’t afford to pay a pastor anymore, so he eventually left. A long-time deacon went to the local association for help and their leader helped them consider some options.

All Things New

Another church closer to town wanted to help the church by restarting a new church in that location. Seeing that there was no way to remain open, the congregants decided to close as (Name) Baptist Church. They worked with another church’s leadership as they watched the church they once knew relaunch as a new church. 

During that time of closure, a new worship team and Replant pastor were introduced, a new mission and vision for ministry was birthed, new documents involving governance and membership were printed, and a new direction for the church on the horizon. 

Now, (New) Baptist Church has a different mission field. As they began to grow, baptisms and giving have increased, and they have plenty of space to meet in their sanctuary.  Their reputation in the community is restored, and their identity has changed.

Similarities in Need

This may sound like an awesome example. But it’s just that, an example. While many churches have experienced new growth and success with Replanting, it can’t always be guaranteed. But whether your church decides on Revitalization or Replanting, both have similar needs:

  • Both require time, energy, and effort
  • Both require a renewed spiritual commitment
  • Both require a high receptivity of change

As a final word of encouragement, Remember that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20). We need that confident assurance during this type of work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local Association, Convention, or NAMB for help with leadership, advice, counsel and care. Doing the task of Replanting or Revitalizing alone can be a lonely road. But Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church.

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

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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Episode #1 – What is the Difference Between a Replant and a Revitalization?

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Episode #1 - What is the Difference Between a Replant and a Revitalization?
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In this episode, Bob and JimBo discuss and define terms. This is one of the questions we get the most. What is the difference between a replant and a revitalization.

Replanting is a form of revitalization. Every replant is a revitalization, but not every revitalization is a replant.

REVITALIZATION = existing church + existing leaders + existing structure + history or legacy + renewed/new effort (over a protracted period of time)

REPLANT = new qualified/skilled leader + existing people + new structures/approaches + outside partners + new people + history

Want to read more? Check out this blog post

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