Replant

replant-devine-patrick

Can a dying church live again?

It seems like such a simple question. As long as there are people present and the Bible is faithfully preached, there’s every chance. But even so, there is no guarantee. Conflict, turf wars, wounds from church splits, and numerous other challenges are very real threats attempts to revitalize, especially the dreaded seven words, “But we’ve always done it this way.”

Can those obstacles be overcome? Yep. But it won’t be easy, which is why Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again exists. In this short book, Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick share the challenges facing prospective replanters through the story of DeVine’s efforts to rejuvenate First Calvary Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

Who is prepared for this task?

DeVine was, by his own admission, an unexpected choice for this job. He was primarily an academic—a seminary professor—not a vocational minister, nor a church planter. “What prepares a man to imagine that he can stroll into an old, proud, dying city church in the Midwest and have his way with it?” he asks.

What allows a man to suppose he can wrench the levers of power out of the hands of a small but entrenched and fierce pack of lay Christians habituated to having their way—to imagine he can do so despite decades of failed attempts at pastoral leadership?

Given what he and Patrick describe in this book, I’m not sure there’s anything that could prepare a man for such a task. DeVine found himself in the midst of a disaster: a church controlled by an elite few who intimidated congregation members, controlled committees and bullied their pastors into leaving. And this had to end:

The prevailing culture of the place, despite a superficial sheen of interest in the gospel, expended its energies largely in nostalgia, defense of personal perks and privileges, and the sabotage of would-be pastoral leadership. The more I researched the recent past of the church and examined its present state, the more convinced I became that only radical steps—including multiple and likely bitter confrontations with the lay cartel—held out much hope for spiritual revival.

As DeVine details the events that took place to eventually dismantle the lay cartel, readers see something pretty incredible: the rest of the congregation begins to stand up to them, as well. DeVine’s actions remind us of an important value: leaders shape the culture. When a leader cowers in the face of opposition, the congregation likewise cower. This is how the “cartel” took control of the church, in DeVine’s experience. It was because of a lack of strong leadership—not strong in the sense authority, but a humble confidence in the Lord. A willingness to be courageous in the face of opposition. And when a leader does that, it empowers the congregation to follow suit.

Perpetuating popular evangelical stereotypes

In terms of practical value (specifically “how-tos”), Replant doesn’t have much to offer. It’s really not that kind of book, something the authors themselves readily admit. But that doesn’t mean there are no practical takeaways. Most are in the form of principles, such as the one above. There are some, however, that don’t sit quite as well.

For example, early in the book, the authors assert that, “When churches settle into extended periods of decline, they sometimes adopt a defensive rhetoric that touts spiritual growth or spiritual health over numerical growth.” While there is an element of truth in this, without question, it’s not quite as clear cut as they make it seem. Some declining churches absolutely do adopt defensive rhetoric around spiritual growth. But many apparently thriving churches do the same around their numerical growth. The reality is a bit more complicated than that.

Growing in numbers doesn’t equal gospel-fidelity, as any number of churches around North America bear witness. It’s hard to make a case that Lakewood Church is a bold outpost for the gospel since its pastor preaches another gospel. Numerous so-called evangelical megachurches—such as Elevation Church—seem more enamored with their rockstar pastor than with the Lord Jesus. And then there are churches like those of my friends’ Noel and Tim, churches that are intentional about making disciples, training leaders and sending out people in order to spread the gospel through church planting. Their congregations are small by some standards (around 200 or so, which really isn’t all that small), but they are gospel lights in their communities and seeing it spread.

There are other curiosities as well—not necessarily good or bad, but things I’d love to have seen discussed in more depth. DeVine’s family was not with him while he served as the interim pastor of First Calvary. And this, he explains, was a good thing, for they were spared an enormous amount of hardship. But as I read, I wanted to know more about how that dynamic affected the family, even from afar. Of how much were they aware? Who did DeVine have to confide in and seek encouragement from during that time? The picture painted is, perhaps inadvertently, a continuation of the “leadership is lonely” paradigm, and that should not be.

If one church can revitalize, so can another

That’s not to say, however, that you should not read the book. In fact, I’d especially encourage those who are considering replanting to consider this. Every replanting situation is different, filled with its own peculiarities and personalities, after all; in some ways it might even more more difficult than planting an entirely new church. So those who are pursuing this mission are in short supply of encouragement. That’s really what this book has to offer: it’s the story of how one church was replanted and revitalized. And that should give readers hope that if it can happen in one church, it can happen in another—perhaps even their own. It won’t be easy, but it will be possible.


Title: Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again
Authors: Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick
Publisher: David C. Cook (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

14 books I want to read in 2014 (and think you should too)

Every so often, I wonder whether or not we really need more Christian books being published. After all, if we were honest, we’d admit that much of what’s being released is either entirely forgettable at best and trash at worst.

But even so there’s a glut of books that are the equivalent of cotton candy, there’s a lot of really, really good stuff being put out there. Here’s a look at a few I’m excited to read in 2014:

The Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever by Thor Ramsey (Cruciform Press)

This one had me at the title, and it comes out soon (like, this week!). What excites me most about this book (aside from the title) is its approach to the question of Hell itself, asking: “What if Hell itself is good news about God?”


The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables +

The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles by Jared Wilson (Crossway)

These two are so closely connected I have to include them together. In the first, “discarding the notion that Jesus’s parables are nothing more than moralistic fables, Jared Wilson shows how each one is designed to drive us to Jesus in awe, need, faith, and worship.” And in the second, “Wilson shows readers how the amazing miracles described in the Gospels attest to Christ’s divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.”


Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles (Crossway)

This is one of several books coming out in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series from Crossway. I’m particularly excited about this one because Mack Stiles is both a, a gifted evangelist, and b, incredibly passionate and articulate on the subject. If you heard him speak on this subject at TGC’s 2013 pre-conference, you know what I mean.


The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund (Crossway)

Another entry in the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series, “this short book helps readers experience the power of God as they are encouraged to trust in Christ and allow him to transform their beliefs, perspectives, and practices. For everyone who wants to be true to the Bible and honest with themselves, this book offers a practical guide to the fundamental teachings of the gospel and how they affect our relationships with others.”


The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper (David C. Cook)

I’m not a PK, but I know a number of them, and I know enough to know they’ve got a bit of a rougher go than the average Christian—largely because everyone is watching what they’re doing. Instead of venting about all the problems that come with being a PK, Barnabas “shares the one thing a PK needs above all else (as do their pastor/father and church) to live in true freedom and wholeness. With empathy, humor and passion, this book courageously addresses one of the most under-the-radar issues affecting almost every church and pastor, and their children.”


The Social Church by Justin Wise (Moody)

“This book is for Christians who are advocates of social media and who want to learn better about how to use these new technologies to further the Kingdom of God. Justin Wise speaks about social media as this generation’s printing press-a revolutionary technology that can spread the gospel further and faster than we can imagine.” I’ve heard Justin speak on this topic in the past and his insights are guaranteed to be worth your time.


Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb (Moody)

The Holcombs’ Rid of My Disgrace is one of the most significant recent books on the issue of sexual abuse, and I have no doubt this will be equally as beneficial as it “addresses the abysmal issue of domestic violence with the powerful and transforming biblical message of grace and redemption.”


The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters by J.P. Moreland (Moody)

This looks fascinating. “Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings.… [and] shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another.”


Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb (Zondervan)

Part of Zondervan’s KNOW series, this one by Holcomb looks particularly interesting, especially for use in a small group setting, because when it comes to the subject of heresy, we need “a strong dose of humility and restraint, and also a clear and informed definition of orthodoxy and heresy. Know the Heretics provides an accessible ‘travel guide’ to the most significant heresies throughout Christian history.”


The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing by Jonathan Dodson (Zondervan)

Dodson can always be counted on for an insightful and thought-provoking read. “Showing readers how to utilize the rich gospel metaphors found in Scripture and how to communicate a gospel worth believing—one that speaks to the heart-felt needs of diverse individuals—Dodson connects the gospel to the real issues people face each day by speaking to both the head and the heart.”


Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung (Crossway)

With the Bible’s authority under almost constant attack, this is a much-needed book. “With his characteristic wit and clarity, Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians alike.… Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage men and women to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s word.”


Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? by Mark Jones (P&R Publishing)

This one came out in 2013, but didn’t show up on my radar until fairly recently (and now sits on my Kindle waiting to be read). “This book is the first to examine antinomianism from a historical, exegetical, and systematic perspective. More than that, in it Mark Jones offers a key—a robust Reformed Christology with a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit—and chapter by chapter uses it to unlock nine questions raised by the debates.”


Against the Church by Douglas Wilson (Canon Press)

This, again, is a late 2013 release that slipped by me (not surprising since it’s official release date was December 19th!). Wilson is always worth a read, if for no other reason than the way he writes. “Alongside a critique of philosophical assumptions about human nature, dualism, and grace, Wilson stresses the unavoidable and absolute necessity of individual hearts being born again.”


So those are a few books I’m excited to check out in 2014. What are some on your list?

I’m giving you a whole pile of books for Christmas!

One of the things I’m most grateful for about this blog is the opportunity to share great books with you—and this Christmas, I have the privilege of giving some of you a ridiculous pile of great books! In partnership with the fine folks at Crossway Books, David C. Cook, Thomas Nelson, B&H Books, and Cruciform Press, I’m giving away a whole pile of books (keep reading for the complete list). But there’s more than books this time around—Logos Bible Software has generously included three copies of the Logos 5 starter base package, featuring nearly 200 books! You’ll need to sign up for a free Logos account in order to win (which you can do here); you can also download free apps to read your books on any device here. Here’s a look at all the books in this year’s prize pack:1

… and don’t be surprised if you see some more items added to the list before the giveaway is through! Best of all, three of you will be receiving this fantastic collection of books! You read that right—there are three sets to win. To enter, all you need to do is use the PunchTab widget below and answer the following question in the comments: What’s the big thing God’s been teaching you in 2013?

This contest ends on Friday, December 20th at midnight. Thanks to all who enter!

One final note: Logos Bible Software would like to send a special thank you to all participants who enter using the email entry option in the Punch Tab app (nothing spammy, I promise!). As a thank you from Logos, you’ll receive a discount on the purchase of several titles, including To Live is Christ To Die is Gain for $14.95 (regular $16.95), and 15 percent off both The Pursuit of God and Spiritual Waypoints.