Welcome! This week I’m starting a new series. I know, I know. I have done “series” before and I didn’t get very far with them but this time things just feel a little bit different. All over the place I have been seeing this saying “Do it scared.” The principle behind it is if God has placed a passion, desire, dream, vision, you name it in your heart and mind that even if you are terrified of the outcome, the results, the reception it doesn’t matter. You just need to do whatever that thing is and do it scared. So here I am. I am terrified to begin sharing these thoughts with the world. But for whatever reason, I feel like now is the time to really dive in the deep end with some of the things I have experienced and continue to experience as we continue on this “church replant” journey we are on. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me as we take this deep dive together.
What is Church Replanting
In 2016, an article was published on the North American Mission Board’s website titled, What is Church Replanting? In this blog church replanting is defined as:
Church Replanting: the rescue, redemption and restoration of a church at or near the point of death, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God and the good of the community.
In the body of this blog the author paints a picture of a beautiful plant that was just handed over to you. You love this plant but slowly the leaves begin to wither, the color on the flower begins to fade, and through no fault of yours it slowly begins to die. The only thing you know to do in this process is to quickly replant this beautiful plant in fresh soil, in a new clean pot, and get back to the basics to give the plant a fighting chance to survive. This is the same for church replanting.
That doesn’t always mean you will “replant” to a new location but it does mean that the church will get back to the basics that are necessary for a healthy and thriving ministry. History will be honored but new life will be infused into the roots so that God alone may get the glory. As Mark Clifton likes to remind anyone who will listen, there is nothing about a dying church that brings glory to God!
My Ministry Journey Thus Far
When I began my journey as a pastor’s wife in 2008 I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My soon-to-be husband had served first as the interim and then the officially called senior pastor of a small church in southeastern New Mexico. I often say that during that first year before we were married I had all the “responsibility” of a pastor’s wife with none of the “perks”. I was expected to look, act, and support as a pastor’s wife does but when it came to being supported, cared for, or considered as a pastor’s wife would be, well, there was none of that. But I will get into that more later.
While learning to navigate life as the senior pastor (and his almost wife) of a church, we were also in the thick of our final year of college, working full and part time jobs, planning graduation celebrations, and planning our wedding. At the time that we had discussed what he considered to be his call to ministry, just a few weeks into our dating relationship, I will be completely honest when I say that I did not even for a minute take him seriously. I was a college freshman who still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I “grew up” so the idea that someone just knew what they were called to do was baffling. So I did what any girl hoping to see where a relationship would take me would do, I smiled, nodded, and said something along the lines of “Sure, that’s great.”
I had spent my life in church, active in the youth group, participating in all of the activities that came along with being the core member of a congregation. However, not once during all my years of growing up did I consider where or how one became the pastor of a church or even a missionary. I will go as far as to say that I don’t think for a long time that I even realized the pastor we had in our church got paid to do what he did each week. Our youth leader, children’s director, music leader, and anyone else who even resembled a leader in the church was completely volunteer so the idea that the pastor was as well just made sense.
I know at one point my parents served on a pastor search committee at our local church when I was young so I know there must have been a process but I paid little attention to what that process actually looked like. At that time my biggest concern in the church was what we would be having for our Wednesday night meal before youth activities and if we would have to learn new drama choreography that week. So when I say that being the almost wife of a pastor was a learning experience, I mean it was a, thrown to the wolves, sink or swim, kind of experience. And trust me when I say it could have gone better.
Looking back on our first pastorate experience now I feel like I can confidently say that what we embarked on probably could have been considered our very first run at a revitalization/replant experience. The congregation was older on average, many of whom had been there from the very beginning. They had suffered the loss, pain, and sadness of losing not one but two pastors back to back to death. At the time, their most active and thriving ministry was the grief share that took place each week. They had dedicated their lives, almost in the most literal sense, to this body of believers and the congregation was looking for life and rejuvenation. There was a history many were unwilling to move on from while still desiring growth and change.
When we came into the picture Easter of 2017, the hope was that because we were young, vibrant, and excited for Christ we would draw in the youth and vitality that was so desperately needed. It was quite the Field of Dreams “if you build it they will come” mentality. Unfortunately, that’s not really how that works. Due to our lack of experience and training, youthful stubbornness and desire to do it all, mistakes, some bigger than others, were made. Some mistakes were made on our part and we take ownership of that. Some mistakes were made due to a lack of communication and trust on the part of the congregation. Some mistakes were made because, the truth is, none of us really knew any better. Those mistakes eventually lead to the end of one ministry and the beginning of another vibrant outreach in its place. While I do believe that it was time for a transition to be made
To say that we were left hurt, angry and confused at the end of that first ministry experience would be an understatement. Our faith in the call to ministry had been shaken to its core. We were done. And then that still small voice stirred us again. But this time the call was to get the training and encouragement we desperately were lacking with our first ministry appointment. Guidance, theological understanding, and developing relationships with those who understand where we are coming from has proven to be invaluable. We were provided the opportunity to rest, refresh, and learn along the way. Seminary was just what we needed. However, like all things in life, plans shifted and things changed.
When we made the decision to move back to southern New Mexico, getting back into some form of vocational ministry was not even on the forefront of our minds. The goal was to get things settled and work toward finishing a Master in Divinity degree. However, we would soon discover that God had significantly different plans. Slowly, as we got involved in the local association and my husband made himself available to fill the pulpit, a door opened to become the pastor of a small church barely holding on by a thread. If you were to look up a prime example of a church desperate for the title of ‘church replant’ you would find this local body of believers at the top of the list. While I felt like I had some idea of what it meant to be a “pastor’s wife” I was clueless to what it would mean to be the wife of a church replanter. I needed help.
As an avid reader and learner my first step was to look for any and all resources that would help give me some idea of what it meant to be a ‘church replanter’s wife’. What I found was a serious lack of resources. There are books on being a pastor’s wife and even a few on how to be a ‘from the ground up church planter’s wife’. However, nowhere could I find anything that speaks directly to the unique position that is church replanting. I even reached out on a dedicated “Replanter Wives” facebook group to ask for resources and ideas to no avail. So here I am, using my experiences as well as those I have heard from and watched farther along the journey to help give encouragement and hope to those in the trenches of church replanting and revitalization. Thus the desire to put to paper (so to speak) some of the thoughts and feelings I have learned along the way.
Where to Begin With Replanting
I like lists. I like it when everything is neat and tidy and organized. I get a surge of joy and happiness when I can check things off as I accomplish them. I’ll be honest, at 36 years old I still love a good old fashioned sticker chart. There is something so satisfying about looking at the finished list and seeing all the scratch throughs, the tick marks, or the empty space (if going digital) where everything shows you completed the task. While actually completing a todo list all in a day is a rarity for me I also don’t always mind the things that didn’t get marked off. In my mind that is just the launching point for the next day’s list. I know where I am going to begin and for the most part I have an idea of where I would like to end. I like checklists so much I even used a birthday gift card to order a book of lists for myself to reference a few years ago.
I like to believe that everything can be solved if it is just put into list format. Step 1, step 2, step 3,…you get the picture. Unfortunately, when it comes to ministry there is no such thing as a “how to” list. There are plenty of books, podcasts, lectures, and conferences filled with personal advice and stories of how individuals waded their way through the good times and the bad in their own personal ministry journey. Pastors, leadership teams, ministry families are then told to just find what works for their own unique already developed congregations. Listen to the stories, sift through the ideas and apply what you think, after prayer and consultation with wise individuals around you, will work. And if it doesn’t work, scrap it and try something else.
When it comes to church replanting the same is very much the case. Each church replant is different. Each community has different needs and different challenges. Each dying church has their own unique history with their own reasons for holding on to “the way things have always been.” There is no one list of “to-dos” that can be handed to the newly brought on church planting family that will solve all the problems, bring in all the new people, and breathe in hope and life to the community. Trust me, I have looked. The problem is, oftentimes there is very little time to “try what you think will work and if it doesn’t scrap it and try again.” Most churches that are at the replanting phase of their life cycle are on the last leg. It comes down to make this work or close the doors for good. People are tired, hurt, scared, and just holding on for dear life. So if there is no blueprint or checklist how do we know where to begin?
Over the course of the next several months I’m going to be sharing some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences along this replant journey. Some of them will probably make you laugh. Some might make you cry. And some might leave you shaking your head in shock and wonder. Don’t worry, we probably have felt the same way, however, again I remind you that there is nothing about a dying church that brings glory to God. It is my hope that as I share some of the things God has been laying on my heart and mind you will see some of what this process can look like, how you can be encouraging and praying for us as we continue walking down this path, and perhaps maybe even begin to consider how God can use you and your family to bring revitalization to the sick and dying churches in your neighborhoods.