Over the next few weeks I plan to share some highlights from some reading and study I am doing regarding church revitalization. I have had the privilege of serving on pastoral staff, planting and pastoring a church, and working with churches in times of transition and change. SBC of Virginia has been committed to church planting since our founding and we are now seeking to learn more and grow in our commitment to church revitalization.
Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13) focused on church planting, but the second time around, strengthening and revitalizing churches was needed.
Acts 15:36, And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Acts 15:41, And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (ESV)
A number of books can supplement and add commentary to our biblical study. Harry Reeder’s From Embers to Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church is a resource that prompted the following:
Symptoms of a Sick Church
A focus on programs. A program is a plan and a tool, and sometimes “programs” get a bad rap. But we can't miss the principles for the program. Health and growth as a church is grounded in the Lord and His purposes, presence, and power – first and foremost.
Nostalgia and tradition. Remembering the past is important, and we can learn from it. There is a big difference though between remembering the past and living in it.
Personality dependence. Be careful to not fall into personality traps. God has gifted a church and His people with a variety of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
A maintenance mentality. Are we just polishing a monument or yielded to be a movement of God’s grace? Are we just “holding on” or are we ready to “press on”?
Excuses and a “victim” mindset. To the contrary, Scripture teaches that our weakness provides an opportunity for God to work in and through us (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
A bad reputation in the community. Churches may be viewed in an unhealthy and unhelpful way by the community.
Distraction from the Gospel. We must repent and refocus on the Gospel of Christ and not let anything usurp our affections or energies that takes away from proclaiming the Gospel.
The Privileges of Church Revitalization
The heart of the Shepherd. Reeder writes, “So I think that when a pastor, a supporting church, or a denomination comes alongside a church in need of revitalization, this action reflects the heart of God.”
The heart of the Apostle. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch and evangelize and plant churches. In Acts 15, we see the need to strengthen and revitalize churches – the need did not take long to manifest.
Church planting or church revitalization? Yes! Both are needed and necessary. Reeder writes from his own experience as a church revitalizer and points out the potential of revitalizing a church – without denying the obvious struggles. He notes that in church revitalization you may have existing resources, a group who has stayed committed through thick and thin, and some mature followers of Christ.
The Global opportunity. There is opportunity to be involved in revitalizing churches as we mobilize for global missions.
Harry Reeder shares this personal testimony at the conclusion of his opening chapter in From Embers to Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church – I came to believe that this situation was a test for me, like the one Abraham faced when he was told to offer up his son Isaac. Would I continue in obedience to the call of God, despite the conflicts outside and the confusion within? The Bible says that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb. 11:19), and I likewise believed that He is able to heal and renew a dying church. So, I settled in and searched the Scriptures for anything I could find that related to church revitalization. And I found more than I had ever dreamed. Yes, the apostle Paul returned to revitalize the churches that he had planted, but Christ Himself exemplified that the Good Shepherd not only goes after a wandering sheep, but also goes after a wandering flock of sheep, as illustrated by the pursuit of the wayward dying churches—comprising four of the seven churches in the book of Revelation.
Suggested Resource: Reeder, Harry L., From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church. P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
May the Lord encourage you and strengthen you in the work He has called you to serve in these days. SBC of Virginia in on a mission to strengthen and mobilize churches to make disciples and plant churches…and revitalize churches through Gospel partnership!
Your brother in Jesus,