Replanting is difficult: Here’s what you need

By Bob Bickford

We all love a good story, one that involves risk, challenge and struggle. A story where a larger than life Hero defies the odds overcomes enemies and wins the victory.

In the book of Joshua (chp14) we are reintroduced to Caleb, the faithful warrior scout who believed in God’s faithfulness who is now and aging leader. As a younger man he stood against the ten who insisted that the enemies living in the land were greater than God who promised to give his people the land. Caleb did not prevail that day, but God was preparing him for another battle. Forty-Five years later Caleb asks for his inheritance—he requested the fortified Hill Country. This was the place with the people that struck fear into hearts of the nation of Israel, crippling not only their faith but also their forward progress.  Rather than playing it safe or choosing comfort and ease, Caleb asks for the Hill Country and sets out to conquer, trusting God will be with him. Caleb could have asked for an easy assignment, one with few challenges and few obstacles. No one would have questioned him—he had paid his dues and fought his battles. Yet, at the age of Eighty-Five, Caleb had one more conquest—the Fortified Hill Country. I’m convinced there are “Caleb’s” in many of our churches today. Men who have for years, served the church faithfully. Men who are warrior-pastors. Men who have led people, departments and staff teams well, helping them to experience God’s blessings. Men, who could be called by God to the battle of Church Replanting and Revitalization. Nothing is more daunting to ministry leaders and potential pastors than taking on a dying or dead church. Denominational Leaders tell us that close to 1000 churches close their doors each year. Their once full sanctuaries and busy children’s classrooms are now mostly empty. It’s time for modern day “Claeb’s” to leave the safety of camp and take on one more challenge for the Kingdom of God.  In November of 2012, I left my staff role at a strong, gospel centered, multi-site missional church. It’s been wonderful and horrible, a blessing and a beating, gory and glorious—and it’s the best move I’ve ever made in ministry. Because God has been with me.Replanting is hard work. It is the “Dirty Job” of pastoral ministry. But, Replanting is a beautiful picture of the Gospel, which redeems and restores that which is broken through the power of Christ.

If you’re serious about Replanting or revitalizing a church you’ll need God’s help as well as the following:

In almost every Replant or revitalization situation you are going to need more help and resources than are available at the church you’ve been called to serve. Partnerships with strong healthy churches are invaluable. When I left my position at The Journey in St. Louis, Pastor Darrin Patrick, the Elders and Staff were not only supportive but also sacrificial. Our first need was transitional salary support and insurance—these were graciously given. Next, we needed help with systems and structure—the Central Support team assisted us here. We also need help patching our 1960’s state of the art sound system-the Tech Team spliced, soldered and prayed over it until it worked. If you’re leaving an existing church to Replant a struggling church maintain the relational bridges over which future blessings could flow. Perspective
When staff members leave a church there is a great temptation to vilify the congregation they are leaving in order to feel better about the one they are joining. This is a form of self-righteous pride that will not only isolate you but lead to discouragement. Repentance is needed here. No church is perfect and every church has its own unique problems and challenges. Avoid making your previous church the villain and your new church the only place where God’s Shekinah glory dwells.  Keep this in mind… The Church you left is not as bad as you think—you are not as great as you thought.

Most people who are looking for a church don’t wake up on a Sunday morning and think; “Let’s go find a small, unhealthy, inward focused, out-of-date place to worship.” And most members at the church in need of revitalizing don’t view their church as such. If the church is going to grow you will need a new group of committed Christ followers who understand that the work will be long, painful and hard. We helped set the expectations of those coming with us up front by sharing this reality in our Replanting prospectus.

Be aware of this: Replanting a church is challenging, difficult
and it requires a deep commitment to prayer and patience. If you have ever remodeled an older home or building you know that there are usually surprises. It takes longer and costs more than you typically plan for, yet the reward of seeing something redeemed and restored makes the sacrifice worth it. Prayer
Ask any seasoned church planting veteran or coach and they’ll say that you cannot and should not attempt to plant a church without a deep commitment to personal prayer and developing a team to pray specifically for you. Multiply this exponentially for a Replant. You are attempting to take back ground that the enemy has held onto for some time—it won’t be let go of easily. If you are not constant or consistent in prayer you will not only flounder but also fall and possibly fail. Pray for the problems, the people, God’s provision and the possibilities. Keep a prayer journal not only to record requests but also to celebrate when answers come. Patience
I’ll admit right up front—I don’t have this; I want everything yesterday. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why God has called me to Replant—I am in need of his grace and the sanctifying work of Jesus in my life. Develop your plans and your timetable but hold them with an open hand. The adventure of Replanting will be more like a family vacation in the car (frequent pit-stops, along with the potential for a few breakdowns) rather than direct flight in first class.Replanting is difficult. Buckle up, work hard, depend on God and watch Him get the glory.

This article first appeared in The Church Planting Survival Guide published by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Published March 9, 2015

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick