5 Lessons from 5 Years at a Church Replant
This week I hit the 5 year mark of pastoring a replant. There were countless times in the last 5 years that I almost quit. Today I can say that I am glad I haven’t quit and I am truly excited about what God is doing and is going to do at Redemption Church.
Today I am helping lead an assessment process for potential replanters, and this Sunday our first replanting resident in training will be preaching his last sermon at our church before we send him off.
We have NOT arrived; I have NOT arrived by any stretch of the imagination. I have learned an immense amount of lessons in the past 5 years and I still have a lot to learn. Here are just 5 things I have learned and I am still learning.
- Go in humble
- It takes grit
- Know your why
- Layers of community
Go in Humble
In lots of reading and conversations with other replanters I have learned that years 2-4 can be described as the crispy season. This is a big part of why NAMB lists ‘capacity for suffering’ as an essential characteristic of a replanter. Being crispy in replanting is the emotional equivalent to a really bad sunburn. A well meaning friend comes and pats you on the back to say hello and you just want to scream.
I was in one of my crispier seasons 2 years ago when our association’s Lead Missional Strategist, Rick Wheeler, asked me to do a leadership pathways video with him on replanting. He was prepping me for the types of questions he would ask me when he said, “What would you tell someone considering pastoring a replant like you?” It was just a gentle pat, but my mind immediately screamed, “DON’T!”. In the video I said, “Go in to it humble, because you will end up there anyway.” (If you watch the video you will notice how much coffee I am drinking to stay fueled.) Replanting requires and provides humility. Go in humble.
It Takes Grit
Angela Duckworth describes Grit as passion and perseverance toward an ultimate concern. Replanting is not easy work at all, and it takes true grit to not just survive the suffering but to push through and continue to lead. You have to care more about the glory of God than yourself. You have to have an ultimate concern for the church and the community to be redeemed by the Gospel. That ultimate concern has to be what drives you. It is this ultimate concern that has kept me from quitting, It is this ultimate concern that has made me push forward when I was so crispy. Victory has already been declared by the empty tomb, your job is to walk in victory and point others to find their victory in Jesus. I plan on writing much more on this subject in the future, so I will leave it here for now.
Know Your Why
In order to survive I had to come to a point that I celebrated stories instead of statistics. Replanting is a notoriously slow process. One of the tensions I have found though is the cultural tension of speed. The older saints that have been a part of this church longer than I have been alive can often feel like we are moving at warp speed and desire that we slow down. While that is spoken in one ear the newcomers are in the other ear heralding that we need to press the gas pedal down or we are going to lose momentum. When this happens the leadership has to decide how to define success. Ken Hughes book, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome”, was incredibly helpful for me. Kent helped remind me that success is faithfulness in serving and loving the church and the community.
My favorite definition of success in replanting comes from Mark Clifton’s book, “Reclaiming Glory”. In this great book he says that our churches are successful when we are making disciples that make disciples that make the community noticeably better. Replanting a dying church is not about methodology. The attractional model doesn’t work in replanting. You can’t be cool and dynamic enough to bring the church back to health. You can’t coordinate the events so well that people flock to your church.
You have to be faithful in what Zack Eswine calls the “mattering things” in his book, “The Imperfect Pastor”. If you are driven my selfish ambition you will know it by what excites you and what crushes you. Replanting, for me, has been a painful process of chiseling parts of my pride and arrogance out of my heart. It has been painful, but it has been glorious and I am grateful for the work the Lord is still doing on a wretch like me.
Layers of Community
You cannot do this alone. Pastoral ministry requires several layers of biblical community. This starts at home with your primary ministry, your family. If you grow a church but lose your family, then we chalk that up to a loss. Pastoring can seem like an endless to-do list at times. You have to prioritize your family and shepherd them as well as you can. Your family needs layers of community and you need to shepherd them to love God, love His church, and live with layers of community. How to do this could be an entire series of blog posts. I would recommend Brian Croft’s, “The Pastor’s Family.”
The next layer I have found that I need is good friends, people you can confide in and bond with. You need friends that you can both laugh and cry with. It can be difficult to hold good strong friendships in the church you pastor. I would argue it is worth the risk to bond at this level within the church you pastor. Know the risk but embrace it. Some of my most painful and crispy moments come from people I have bonded deeply with at our church.
I have developed some life-giving friendships with other pastors in our city as well. Without these relationships I don’t know if I would have made it to five years. I consider these men my brothers and would do anything for them. Some are peers and we learn from each other and some are mentors that I glean any wisdom I can observe or they will give me. I still lean back on my pastor in New Orleans, Michael Carney, from time to time. Before I left New Orleans I sat down with Joe McKeever and he shared wisdom with me that I still consider daily. Scott Yirka has been a confidant, friend, and someone I consider to be my pastor in Florida. Rick Wheeler has been an invaluable friend, mentor, and co-laborer over the past 5 years. I would highly recommend you be a lifelong learner, but also spend time with people that are life-giving, bring you joy, and hold you accountable. You don’t have to look far to find story after story of pastors with great ministry strategies and crumbling private lives. True biblical community in many layers will help keep you and me from being one of those stories.
Hello, my name is JimBo Stewart and I am addicted to productivity. Every time we close our eyes and go to sleep we are declaring that we are not God. We are not designed to be self-sufficient. “I’ll rest when I die” is a fool’s adage. Admittedly, this is a lesson that I without doubt still have far more to learn than I have applied up to this point. My mom often tells me she has a sense when I am “burning the candle at both ends” and on my way to burnout. My wife says that I have a look I get in my eyes when I am getting close to burnout. My body finds a way to give me a sinus infection so bad that I have no choice but to rest as I approach the breaking point. My first year here I got walking pneumonia, and it was one of the first times I stopped to rest in that year.
The Lord has been doing a work in my heart on this recently. Reminding me that I am not Him and I need to stop acting like I am. I have started building some sabbath routines into my life over the past 2 years. It is not easy for me to stop for very long. I am in the process of learning that the most productive thing I can do is pursue a John 15 posture of abiding/dwelling in Jesus, His Word, and His Love. My layers of community have been helping me do this as well.
To the Next 5 Years
I have made countless mistakes and missteps in the past 5 years. I am confident that I will make many more over the next 5. I have hurt people and I have been hurt by people. To the members of Redemption Church that have stuck it out with me this far, THANK YOU. Thank you for forgiving me when I have fallen short. Thank you for your words of encouragement and acts of service toward me and my family. Thank you for having hard conversations with me and displaying the maturity to reconcile and grow together. Thank you for serving His Church sacrificially and faithfully. Thank you for the truly humbling honor of being your pastor. I love you so much.
I could share a thousand stories of how God has and is using you to make much of His name. We are not a perfect church, we aren’t the coolest church, we aren’t the biggest church. But we are a mighty army with a great mission to make disciples that make disciples that make the community noticeably better.