In a previous post, I addressed how to approach your first year in a church replant or revitalization setting. I shared some things I felt I did well and some things I would do better if I could go back.
Generally speaking, the first year in a new church will be a honeymoon. While not true in every case, the first year usually is pretty smooth sailing. The church likes you, and you like the church. You may even experience some congregational growth as folks come to scope out the new pastor. You might even be tempted to believe you’ve found a perfect church.
Then comes the second year.
Sometime between Year 2 and Year 3, things change. Both you and your congregation will discover the other is not perfect. You’ll most likely deal with a crisis or two. A few people may get mad and leave the church. It might even seem like the wheels are completely coming off the wagon.
So, how do you lead a church well in the second and third years? While I’m not an expert by any means, I’ve learned a thing or two that will help you lead effectively. (Disclaimer: As I write this, I’m at the 2 ½ year-mark in my current ministry).
These four actions are not original with me, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of their necessity in church revitalization.
Some weeks you won’t feel like you have much to say. Some weeks, you won’t even be sure your people care what you have to say. I believe this is why Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:1, commands Timothy to continue preaching the Word to his people. I think he knew there would be weeks when it would be easy and weeks it would be extremely difficult. That’s why he commands Timothy to be prepared to preach “in season and out of season.”
This is one area I need to spend much more time in, personally. Pray for yourself. Pray for your family. Pray for your church. Pray for your neighbors. Charles Spurgeon said, “Let us not see the face of man today until we have met with Jesus. Time spent with Him is time well spent.” This is a reminder that time spent in prayer is never wasted time. Carve out time each and every day to spend with the Father in prayer. You will not regret it.
Frequently tell the members of your church that you love them. Don’t be like the husband whose wife asked him on their 20th wedding anniversary, “Why don’t you ever tell me you love me?” He replied, “I told you on our wedding day, didn’t I? If that ever changes, I’ll let you know.” Pastor, just as your wife and kids need to hear that you love them, so do the folks in your church.
Love must be spoken and demonstrated. We demonstrate our love for our congregation through phone calls, text messages, hospital visits and attending birthday and anniversary parties. It might mean sending notes just to tell them you’re praying for them. You’ll have to figure out exactly what this looks like in your context, but don’t just assume your people know you love them. Tell them and show them how much you love them.
This one is the most difficult, but also the most important. If you want to see a declining or dying church reclaimed for the glory of God, you must be committed to stay. Again, this might look different for each context. In my own, this meant we bought a house when we first moved to town. I wanted our folks to know we were committed. Alamogordo is home for our family now. I also took a step that was important for me: I deleted my resume. I didn’t want to be faced with the temptation of having an updated resume right there on my computer that I could send out on a really rough Monday morning.
Commit to staying at your church. This means you’ll have to weather some really rough days. But it also means you’ll get to experience weddings, births and birthdays. It means you’ll walk with your folks through disease and death. As you journey alongside folks through the ups and downs of life, you’ll really become their pastor. And I’m convinced that therein lies an inexpressible joy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it: Ministry is hard. Ministry in a church that is being replanted or revitalized is really hard. But as you commit to preach, pray, love and stay with a local church, through thick and thin, you’ll see God do what only He can do, through a people who are committed to following Him regardless of what may come.
Published July 21, 2022