Shepherding the troubled sheep

By Nathan Loudin

The call to replant a church is nothing more than the call to pastor a troubled or immature church.

Right after being married, Colette and I moved to Hong Kong in order to serve at an international church. We served there for four years. Three years into our ministry, the Sr. Pastor felt the call to return to the U.S. after only 18 months of service. The church was in a hard place for many reasons. But the greatest problem in my life was my own heart. I was bitter, frustrated, and angry at the church. Not only our international church, but the capital “C” church.

For years I had allowed a seed of bitterness to grow toward the local church. I’d seen immaturity, division, selfishness, apathy, lack of evangelism, and poor doctrine cripple the churches I served. Granted, there were great churches and great Christians all along the way, but I let my negative experiences shape my opinion. As far as I was concerned, the church was in the way of my Jesus-exalting and soul-saving ministry.

So, when in Hong Kong, I kept my word that I would never serve as a Sr. Pastor. I was fine working at a church as long as I did not have to lead a church and be responsible for the church (which was a silly false dichotomy). I settled for serving as interim Sr. Pastor on the technicality it was “interim”. But that came to a head when I sat reading 1 Corinthians. Colette and I had agreed that maybe we should leave the church, too and return to the States for ministry. We committed to pray for two weeks and then make a decision. But really, I had made my mind up and simply wanted to feel God’s affirmation. I was ready to leave.

One morning, in our Happy Valley apartment on Sing Woo Road, I sat down and began to read in 1 Corinthians. I came to chapter one where Paul says,

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-13 ESV)

That resonated with me. That is how I felt about the church. Paul you’re onto something! On a deeper level than my current situation I felt I had a friend in Paul—we’re both frustrated with the church. Paul says it again in 3:1-4 (ESV):

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?”

Exactly! Paul, you get me. You get the church. The church is divided and immature. That is what has been boiling in me for years! Now I see it in Scripture more clearly than ever. I’m out!

Then God called me to repent.

It was suddenly very clear to me that if I was the author of 1 Corinthians I would have ended the letter at 1 Corinthians 3:4 with, “And that is why I’m never coming back to Corinth. Yours Truly, Nathan.” But that is not what Paul did. Paul lovingly tended and nurtured the troubled and immature local church. That there are 16 chapters in 1 Corinthians immediately astounded me and brought me to tears.

As I looked through 1 Corinthians, I saw Paul caring for a disturbed church. Paul led with a Shepherd’s heart, which is required when you replant a church. You might be amped up on Red Bull about your outreach strategy and new leadership structure. Maybe your by-law plans won a blue ribbon at the seminary fair. But your call as a Replanter is the a call to shepherd the church through the challenges listed by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.

What is your plan to pastor a church through these matters:

  • Divisions and Quarreling (1)
  • Boasting (1-2)
  • Carnal (3)
  • Confusion About Authority in the Church (4)
  • Sexual Promiscuity (5-6)
  • Church Discipline (5)
  • Members Suing Each Other in Civil Court (6)
  • Matters of Marriage and Remarriage (7)
  • Member’s Consciences and Mutual Care for Each Other (8)
  • Idolatry and Complaining (10)
  • Misuse of the Lord’s Supper (11)
  • Purpose and Place of Spiritual Gifts (12-14)
  • Essential Gospel Doctrine: Resurrection of Jesus (15)

Mike Tyson is known for saying, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Likewise, replant pastors have a plan until they meet the right hook of immaturity or the jab of division.

Mark Dever, in his book, Twelve Challenges Churches Face, calls the above list, “some more ordinary challenges”. Similarly, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Paige Patterson says, “Perhaps the most remarkable feature of 1 Corinthians is its timelessness.”

In other words, Dever and Patterson are saying in unison, “This is normal pastoral ministry”. It isn’t excluded from planting and it is to be expected in replanting and revitalizing. Churches need pastors, not only strategic growth consultants. Look, for example, and see how many of the New Testament epistles deal with at least one of these two things: the unity of the church (or division) and sound doctrine. When we move into a replant we must be prepared to shepherd a church through various issues and not simply cover sinful patterns with veils of outreach programs or new leadership structures. That is how churches die, not revitalize. Our job is to administer the gospel with tender resolve to each immaturity, division, or sinful pattern.

Reading 1 Corinthians that day, my eyes began to open, and I saw my pride, my arrogance and my bitterness. I was exposed by the Word of God. Where I would have ended at 1 Corinthians 3, Paul kept writing. He kept pastoring. He kept “grieving” the church for their good through his counsel (2 Cor 7:10-13). He patiently addressed every immaturity one-by-one with godly wisdom. Every replant and revitalization is similar then: watering the christians that are there, praying that God makes them grow (1 Cor 3).

For Paul, the church was not in the way of pastoral ministry, the church was the pastor’s ministry (Ephesians 4:1-16). That is our calling as pastors–be it a plant or a replant. When we call a church a “replant” are we not just saying that this church needs Pauline, 1 Corinthians-like pastoral ministry? In other words, the church needs a pastor.

Published April 13, 2017

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Nathan Loudin

Nathan Loudin serves as Sr. Pastor at Milwood Baptist church in northwest Austin, Tx. He and his wife, Colette, served in Hong Kong, China for four years before moving to Austin in 2011. They have four children at the ages of 8, 6, 4, and 2. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @loud_in_out.