As I was about to embark on this replanting journey in 2012 I thought it wise to speak with men who had gone before me, men who were still standing, loving Jesus and their families and fully engaged in ministry.
After stalking and negotiating (i.e. insisting on a mtg) I was able to sit down with Mark Clifton, over breakfast. He kindly grilled me about my plans, vision for the church and philosophy of replanting. I survived the gauntlet and then had the privilege of asking him a few questions. Fortunately, I’d done my homework and had a few ready, so I asked first: “What can I expect during my first year of replanting?”
He paused, sat back and then leaned toward me, responding with the seriousness one has when sharing deep and significant truths:
“You can expect significant spiritual attack and deep dark depression.”
As he gave a few accounts of his own experience my thoughts raced, the voice inside my head was saying; “Not me, this won’t happen to me.” I tried to look interested but was ready to get to the next question as quickly as possible, something to do with strategy, transitioning governance or some such.
A couple of weeks later another replanting pastor, Randy and I sat down for burgers. I had the same list of questions at the ready and led with the question I had asked Mark. Randy’s response was verbatim to the warning given to me by Clifton just weeks before. Once again I thought—not me, this won’t happen to me. But this time, I asked a few follow up questions and made some mental notes regarding prayer, personal worship, rest etc.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses but the first three months weren’t bad. There were a few bumps when I changed the bulletin, wore jeans on Sunday mornings and we begin changing worship style—but all in all things were progressing until late January of 2013.
After sharing key observations from home visits and initial thoughts on strategy and future direction with a key leadership team things began to get difficult.
- Secret meetings were held to discuss my leadership and our new direction.
- False reports and lies began circulating about our plans and actions
- A local Evangelist, not a member of our church, told some of our members to use the Church bylaws and figure out a way to stop the progress
- The first ever Church Discipline case resulted in a long time family leaving the church followed by several of their close friends
- Some of the marriages in the congregation began to crumble
- Our youngest daughter began having nightmares regularly
- I experienced frequent spiritual and demonic attacks at night
- Mechanical breakdowns of all sorts (automobiles, appliances, computers) occurred in clusters
- Financial challenges and setbacks both personal and for the congregation happened frequently
- My older daughter wrecked her car-the one we just replaced
- Our son rebelled
- The core group who came with us to help replant the church experienced conflict and division, some left.
- I sank into a deep, dark and sustained depression.
The warnings I had received were prophetic. It had happened to me. If you’re embarking on a replanting journey they’ll likely happen to you.
A replanting pastor is seeking to reclaim ground for God’s glory, ground that has been under enemy control for years, if not decades. Simply changing the music style, adding coffee and putting a new sign out front won’t win this ground. This ground is only won back through prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit and the real hand-to-hand spiritual combat of pastoring people well.
Challenging the status quo isn’t simply a ministry strategy issue; it’s a heart issue. Comfort and preference are often loved more than Jesus. Dislodging this idolatry unleashes the wrath and fury of the one who desires to keep it there. To stop it, he will go after you, your family, your finances and your health. He will attack the unity in the church, he will raise up adversaries.
You, like the apostle Paul will be able to say: for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
In the mud and muck of replanting you’ll be pushed beyond your strength, you will despair, you’ll likely think you are going to die—if nothing changes.
Replanter here is a purpose in our suffering: But, that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9
As a Replanter it is easy to trust in your ability to persuade, your visioning skills, your finely tuned strategy. Here’s the thing—God will let you do that, until He doesn’t.
Suffering and hardship are designed to make us relinquish relying on ourselves. The church you are seeking to replant has likely been relying on itself for years—this is why it needs to be replanted.
God does a work in the heart of the Replanter as he is doing a work in replanting the Church. That work involves suffering, but the good news is that God raises the dead—including those that feel like they are going to die.
Published October 15, 2015