Among many other duties, a replanter is one who leads a struggling congregation into repentance. A church has only reached a point of needing to be replanted because somewhere along the way of its history, it made several bad decisions. A replanter comes in to shed light on where the congregation took a wrong turn; he then humbly and lovingly labors to lead them down the right path that they had previously rejected—whether it was a failure to discipline unrepentant sin, a failure to capitalize on evangelistic opportunities, a failure to contextualize in strategic and missional areas to effectively reach a changing neighborhood, a failure to keep the main thing the main thing and the secondary things (like color of the carpet, or pews vs. chairs) secondary or any other shortcoming. A replanter will be spending a lot of his time exhorting for change and repentance. However, no matter how disastrous a given church was before it needed to be replanted, it’s unlikely that the church had absolutely no bright spots—nothing to be proud of.
Therefore, since a replanter will not have to search far for areas of improvement, he will have to labor twice as hard to find areas of commendation. This is a unique burden that falls on the shoulder of a replanter. A pastor who steps into a leadership role of a healthy and vibrant church will already have a clearly admirable legacy, and a church planter will spend his entire time striving to write such a legacy—neither the pastor of a healthy church, nor the church planter has been bequeathed with the baggage of a cringe-worthy history. However, this is precisely what the replanter is given when he steps into his role; this is his inheritance. But this is not all he receives with his new, struggling flock. He is given a history with hidden pearls—diamonds in the rough. He is given a cavern which, although may be seemingly bleak from the outside, is nevertheless laced with jewels of commendable moments and figures and seasons of faithfulness.
A replanter becomes a miner; he lunges headfirst into the cave of his congregation’s dark history and re-emerges with gems of praiseworthy history. And he will always find something: a church exists—that is itself a glorious reality! At one point in time, a group of God-fearing men and women thought it worthwhile to establish an expression of God’s Bride at a particular location; and whether that point in time was 10 years ago 100 years ago, it is a foundational snapshot worthy of admiration. And more than likely, the history of a congregation will have even more admirable moments than its founding; there will be moments and seasons and persons that deserve recognition. Some of these bright spots may be known by the existing members, and others may be buried under the years of history; some acts of faithfulness may have been performed by the remaining members of the congregation, and others by faithful men and women who have long since departed to be with their Lord.
It is the duty of the replanter to lay claim to this heritage. He is to remind his people that they are in a line (perhaps decades or centuries long) of faithful men and women who have left behind a legacy worth recognition. He is to exhort his flock to move forward and avoid the mistakes of the past but also to remember and imitate the faithfulness exemplified by their forefathers. Moreover, God is honored by this sort of recognition, so long as it is humble and doxological. A replanter and his congregation do not lay claim to the legacy of faithfulness previously established for the sake of their egos; they do this for the sake of highlighting God’s faithfulness. They search out an admirable legacy to remember a simple truth: in spite of the sin and shortsightedness and failures that pepper the church’s history, God has remained faithful—He has kept a congregation alive, He has empowered sinners to produce fruitful ministry, He has gifted an undeserving people with a legacy that is not utterly shameful. Threading this needle is something that a replanter is uniquely called to do. Therefore, an essential characteristic of a replanter is an affinity for legacy and history. If a man doesn’t have the desire or the wherewithal to swim in the archives of an old congregation’s history to find worthy pages, he should certainly think twice about replanting.
Get engaged and become equipped in replanting as you spend two days with experienced replanters at the NAMB Replant Lab.
Published July 13, 2016