Recently I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several replanting pastors who are about to begin ministering to a church that has called them as shepherd. Many of them are excited, a few are overwhelmed, and almost every one of them understands the stakes are high and that God’s direction and leadership are needed to turn around a declining and dying congregation.
If we were talking and you asked where to begin, these are the things I would offer six suggestions about starting your first season of ministry in a replant.
Love the people
Ministry is about people, the people God has called you to lead. Know that those who He has called you to lead, He has also called you to love. First and foremost, your work as a replanter is to love people. It will be difficult: Some will be wary of you, some may resist your leadership, others may embrace and welcome you as long as things remain the same. Love them as God loves them. Let the truth of Romans 5:8 sink deep into your mind and heart, and let it be felt in your actions. Love covers a multitude of sins — both theirs and yours.
Preach the Word and disciple
If you haven’t preached regularly (meaning weekly, back-to-back sermons), you’ll likely struggle to find your footing. Don’t spend 15 to 20 hours on sermons. As a replanter, you simply don’t have that kind of time to devote exclusively to sermon prep. You can prepare a good, solid, biblically faithful sermon in about eight hours. In your preaching, focus on Jesus, the gospel and the application of God’s Word in everyday life. Spend time with others reading through the Bible — that’s discipleship and that is often what is lacking most in churches that need to be replanted.
Replanting is difficult hand-to-hand combat with our enemy, Satan, and those under his influence. Replanting is, first and foremost, an act of spiritual warfare to free the church to obey God and proclaim the gospel. Having a great strategy won’t bring about surrendering personal preferences, forsaking disobedience, repenting of sin, and passion for the gospel and those who need to hear. They happen because God moves, and God moves when we pray. So, pray. Specifically, regularly, fervently.
Make a few small changes
If I were to go back to Day 1, there some things I would not change quickly. I would leave Sunday School but adjust it slightly. I would continue Wednesday evening services and use them for missional training. I would still change the bulletin, the flow of worship, and make sure we have greeters at the doors. I would be very cautious in changing the style of worship right away, and probably would leave it as it was for a season. You need to make a few changes, but choose them wisely. Replanting is deconstruction and reconstruction at the same time. Tear away too much, and the church will collapse.
You’ll need to laugh, because if you don’t, you’ll cry — or end up angry at people. Make it a habit of listening to good humor that hits your soul and lightens your heart. Laughter is good medicine, and it soothes a hurting heart. I’m really enjoying this comedian. He understands church and enables us to laugh at ourselves.
Relax, rest, reflect
Turning around a dying and declining church takes time, usually five to seven years. You may not want to hear that, but on average it’s true, unless you are a campus replant or merger. To stay sane and enjoy the process, you have to relax. Don’t take everything so seriously. You should take days off, even vacation. Pastors are the worst at this. Don’t be a ministry casualty because you burn out. Think about ministry in silence. Meditative prayer helps you untangle the mess that is pastoring a troubled church.
It will be difficult, but you can make it, by God’s grace and by listening to wise counsel.
Published May 29, 2018