Two weeks ago I began sharing a revitalization playbook. It’s not a step-by-step manual for church renewal, for I don’t believe that creating a universally applicable revitalization plan is possible.
But it is going to be a playbook, like that of a football team which has a couple dozen plays it has practiced extensively.
And I do believe that the first three plays can be scripted: 1st – Help your people to face the true condition of your church (last week’s post), 2nd – Help your congregation to take responsibility for the condition of your church (today’s post), 3rd – Lead your congregation to begin praying for revitalization.
After these first three scripted plays you can choose your initiatives based on your congregation’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
Better yet, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in choosing the plays from the playbook. He personally led churches in the first century and I don’t see any reason to believe that He has quit doing this.
Today is the 2nd step: Help your church to take responsibility for its condition.
There is no heaven-sent, Spirit-empowered revitalization without this.
If you don’t help your people to face the facts honestly, they will naturally look for quick solutions, magical methods, or individuals or groups to blame.
“We just need a new, young pastor.”
“Our church is a mess because of Pastor Jones.”
“Our church has shrunk because of the Democrats.”
“Our church is dying because of that big, flashy church down the street.”
If we want a genuinely revitalized church, we must face the facts and then take responsibility for our own contributions to the problem. Here’s how you can help people to “own” their church’s current condition:
- Give your people massive doses of hope.
A future page in this playbook will focus on this important subject, but the giving of hope must begin at the outset of the revitalization effort.
People won’t repent if there isn’t hope.
In my interim pastorates I always insisted, from the first day I was in the pulpit, that “This can be a really great church!” All seven congregations heard this incessantly until our moving truck pulled away. People sometimes looked at me like I was crazy the first time I said this, but by the end of our time with them they were usually convinced.
- Drill down deeply into the reasons for your church’s condition.
This is the hard part. If you have done an assessment process with a good church-health assessment tool (see last week’s post here), you will have detailed (and possibly “damning”) information regarding your church’s ills. Specific questions and your congregation’s answers will paint the picture in vivid colors.
While it’s true that some churches need revitalization because of issues such as division, bullying, controlling people or heresy, in most cases, churches in need of revitalization are simply – but seriously – inward focused.
“Inward focused” means that our programs and ministries are mostly about us. We share the gospel in Sunday morning sermons only. “If lost people want to get saved they know they can come here and hear the good news.” “I would share the message with lost people but I don’t know any.” “I would share my faith with non-Christian people but I’m much too busy doing church work.” (These are actual statements that church members have said to me.)
Let’s get real: An inward focus is sinful. Isaiah 53 still says that the essence of sin is selfishness: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” Indwelling sin entices every one of us to be selfish every single day.
But our churches are not for us. They exist for those who are not yet part of them. They exist to make disciples out of the raw material of lost people. We are to “look on the fields” which are ready to be harvested (Matthew 9:36-38). We are to “receive” and eat with sinners (Luke 15:1-2). We are warned to not turn into grumpy Christians with “older brother” attitudes (Luke 15:25-32). Our churches are to be clinics for the sick, not hiding places for the saints (Luke 5:31).
However much this goes against the grain of our pastoral personalities, those of us who are spokespersons for God must carefully and humbly, but boldly, call our congregants and our committees to repentance for not sharing the gospel with the lost.
- Explain that repentance is a gracious gift of God.
For some reason the Biblical concept of repentance is now seen as a severe and egregious concept by modern American Christianity. I’ve seen pastors bristle at the very idea of preaching repentance.
But in both Testaments of the Scriptures, repentance is seen as a gracious gift of God, just as surely as faith is depicted as a gracious gift of God (Acts 11:18).
In the letters of Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation two and three, repentance is, again, linked to promises of blessing (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28, etc.).
One more illustration: The gospels declare that both John the Baptist and Jesus came upon the scene announcing good news (Matthew 3:1,2, Mark 1:14). The first admonition of their common gospel message was “repent,” and the promised blessing was entrance into the Kingdom of God.
- Call your people back to basic discipleship, which includes disciple-making.
In the Scriptures, Christian discipleship, following Jesus, involves sharing the message of good news with other people (Matthew 4:19, Acts 8:4). It’s that simple. Many of us will do just about anything to escape from this privilege. We’ll work our nails to the bone to make our attractional churches mega-appealing to lost people, but God’s plan was always a missional, attractive, incarnational people. Better people, not better programs.
- Call your church to heed God’s call to be genuinely missional.
There are other good things that God’s people on the earth today are supposed to do of course, but none of these good things should be confused with the one and only mission of the church: making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
Most churches today have a mission statement but they are not engaged in a mission and they don’t act even remotely missional (see this post), which means passionate, determined, focused, tenacious, committed, invested and maybe even reckless: the characteristics of any group of people who are on a mission together.
It is also important for us to insist on the Biblical depiction of missional unity: contending for the gospel as one man (as if we were one giant person) with the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, as in Philippians 1:27-2:4.
- Own your own part of the problem and model repentance.
I’ll make this as confessional as I expect other pastors to be. There came a time when I – as a pastor – had to admit that I was not enjoying the blessing of rubbing shoulders with non-Christian people and trying to win them to Christ. My excuses melted away as I realized that I was like the priest or Levite of Luke ten, far too busy with my “church stuff” to help the victim on the roadside.
Re-arranging my priorities, I got some evangelism back into my life and was blessed accordingly. I was surprised by the – dare I say – fun I had while working with God in seeking to hang with and share the gospel with, some non-Christian men.
Bottom line: The second play in the revitalization playbook is helping your congregation to take responsibility for your church’s in-need-of-revitalization condition. This is not an easy play to run but it’s a vital one. Pastors: God will bless your courage and your effort as you run this play!
FOR LEADERSHIP TEAM DISCUSSION:
- Does our church need a heaven-sent revitalization? What facts point to this?
- Have we determined the causes of our church’s condition?
- What does our church need to repent of?
- Do our people understand that real Christian discipleship involves the sharing of our faith?
- When and how are we going to do numbers 1-6 above?
- As leaders, are we modeling real discipleship, and if necessary, real repentance?