The First Three Years: Signs of Grace
This is part two of a reflection back on the first three years of serving First Baptist Church-Muscatine, a revitalization context in Iowa. In part one, I listed three things I would have done differently if I could rewind the clock back. Today I would like to dedicate part two to displays of God’s grace in our church during these first years. Specifically, here are three things I am thankful God allowed us to do in the first three years:
1. Move at a slow pace.
Whereas in some revitalization and replant contexts the church knows they are unhealthy and are prepared for change, in large part, that was not the case with us. Even some who were aware the church needed revitalizing, believed that was the case only in other ministries, not the ones they led. Therefore, every change we made, whether significant or small, required us to spend ample time explaining the “why.” This has resulted in us moving at a slower pace, but by God’s grace, we have also kept a high majority of the families who came on this journey with us.
One thing that I have learned repeatedly in regards to pace is that the pace of change always feels different at the various leadership levels. For instance, when a pastor/elder feels as though things are moving at a slow pace, that probably feels like a medium pace to the rest of the leaders, and a fast pace to the rest of the congregation. Therefore, any time the pace feels just right to pastor, chances are it will feel too fast for the majority of the congregation, and they will fall behind. Harvesting is slow work; be content with a slow pace.
2. Transition to an elder/deacon structure
Because of #1, I would not always recommend trying to accomplish this in the first three years, as I have also been a part of an established church that split over such a move. However, the previous pastor had primed our church for this move prior to our family’s arrival in Muscatine, so this was an easier transition for us. Still, we took our time in order to clarify the biblical why for the move, what these roles would involve, and to develop the qualified leaders to serve in these roles. I, along with our church as a whole, have spent the last year reaping the benefits of this transition. We have a team teaching model on Sunday mornings, our elders are working on shepherding our church better than we have in the past, and our deacons are effectively taking care of most of the day-to-day tasks that used to fall on my plate. We are still working out some of the details, but we are much more healthy on a leadership level than we were three years ago.
3. Make Disciples
Shortly after year two began, our leadership team (pre-elder/deacon structure) decided to set aside an additional weekly time for a men’s discipleship group. I led one group and our former youth pastor led the other. Our current elder team all came from these two groups, as well as a few of our deacons. In addition, we now have two other men’s groups, a women’s group, and a kids group that are all meeting regularly for discipleship purposes. Leading this group was an additional task added onto an already crazy weekly schedule of preaching most Sundays, shepherding our church, leading a small group, and serving on our various committees (pre-elder/deacon structure). However, we have seen more fruit from these groups than anything else we have done in my three years here. Simply put, pulling aside 3-5 guys and investing in them for 2-3 years is worth the cost.
Matthea Haecker serves the Lord at First Baptist Church in Muscatine, IA as their lead pastor. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary and is passionate about assisting the Lord in turning dying churches into disciple-making communities for His glory. In addition, Matthea has the great privilege of serving his incredible wife, Jen, and with her, discipling their adorable kids, Halle and Malachi.