Category Archives: Church Revitalization

Articles addressing the plateaued, decline and dying condition of Churches in North America

breaking the cycle of sin

Breaking Sin Cycles

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When Generations Collide

when Generations Collide

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Vicious Cycle

Readings in Judges can be down right depressing. When Joshua dies after 30 years of leading the Israelites into the Promise Land; I would imagine there was a very high feeling of success. Finally, Israel got the long Promised Land covenant to Abraham. While God had said that “wherever the sole of your feet would touch had already been given to them;” the conquest  of the Canaanite tribes still had to be done.

Joshua, a man of war, and great integrity of character delivered the people. Obviously Joshua was a very influential leader, for we find in Judges 2:10; Israel served God all the days of Joshua, the days of the Elders who followed Joshua; but there rose a generation that knew not the acts of God.  It amazes me as a person and a pastor how quickly people are to forget the blessings of God in their lives. The very next verse tells us that Israel went after Baals; the walked away from Yahweh; provoked Him to anger and incurred His wrath. It’s that same mentality of “what have you done for me lately?” Israel was a wayward, hard-headed and stiff-necked people – careful so is the Church for the most part!

I know the book of Hosea describes the terrible marriage Hoses and Gomer had; when I think of Israel and the spiritual marriage to God – oh how unfaithful they were to Him. Even in the wrath and anger of our holy and righteous God; there is great compassion and mercy. When Israel [and we] cry out to our Lord in distress that we self-inflected; God hears and delivers us. I was thinking about the Judges and how they were called to “deliver” Israel and how that they are a good archetypal of Jesus our deliverer!

The book of Judges reveals the insane cycle of Israel coming and leaving God continually. The cycle shows the unfaithfulness of Israel and the long-suffering of Jehovah. It appears that when a nation/church experiences times of opulence and abundance that a “look what I’ve done” attitude – pride develops and we leave our Heavenly Father who has done it all for us. I cannot but help think of the United States in this analogy. When we are in times of distress or economic decline, we seek after God – even those who don’t know God call on His name for deliverance. God hears the prayers of His people and a return of blessing and hope result. Soon however, people start to drift from the Lord – He isn’t as important now, for things are going good. Henry Blackaby speaks of this vicious cycle in his book “Fresh Encounter.”

One of the problems that I feel precipitated Israels waywardness is they broke the covenant with God. He told them to NOT intermarry with the people; do not take their gods and eliminate the Canaanite people. They failed in all aspects. Early in chapter one, we find that 6 of the tribes did not totally remove the people for their land. Eventually, co-existing with them and sharing their children and customs. Instead of being a change agent to the people; the culture and Canaanites change Israel. Over and over again through the book of Judges, the people of God become enslaved to the very people they were to oust from the land. In our homeland toady we find that we have been infiltrated with so many Eastern religions and customs; when Christianity is lived out correctly, it is declared “offensive” and legislated to stop. Now, before I get too far – the Gospel is for all – all people, all cultures all creation. But the world is having more impact on the Church then we are on the world!

Compromise and apathy are the order of the day. We are to be IN the world, not OF the world; sadly the latter is true. Is America and the American church already in the Vicious cycle of judgment and deliverance?

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A Thrice-bound Cord

A Thrice-bound Cord

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? [Amos 3:3]– And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:12]. When we look at Revitalization and the necessary elements for success; it becomes quickly to our attention that revitalization cannot be done alone. Revitalization work by itself is tedious and strenuous; couple revitalization with ministry and revitalization becomes almost insurmountable. The problems and conflict connected with revitalization efforts could be partly to explain why so few revitalization attempts are successful and even more not even attempted. If revitalization is going to have an opportunity to be successful there must be a cadre of people for support and encouragement along the way.

I have heard many times that every successful person has to have at least three people in his life: a Paul as mentor, a Barnabas as encourager and Timothy as a protégé. In this article I will discuss these three necessities, plus add two of my own “friends” to the list – A Cohort and a Critic.

While there are different models/methods of accomplishing revitalization, it will come down to a catalyst in place trying to implement a strategy that will bring life back to the Bride of Christ. Some may call this “an organic” method of revitalization. I point this out because while other methods may focus on a Revitalization Team or Covenant Board; the leadership at the Church will have to implement the strategy. Conflict in ministry is a norm; adding change to the mix makes it volatile.

Beginning with the Paul friend – he is the mentor; the one who will be instructing the leadership. Just as we find that Paul became the Team leader with Barnabas and Silas, there must be someone who is ultimately guiding the process. This person has to be versed in the work of revitalization; this will keep the leadership and church on course to the intended goal.  You could call him the expert; one who has done the work, a practitioner, not a theorist.

The next person is the much needed person – a Barnabas as the Encourager. This is a vital person in all of our lives, even more so in a Revitalization scenario. Acts 8 tells of Paul’s conversion; a great miracle in itself, but Paul was a persecutor of the Church, and His own testimony in Galatians that he did not affiliate with the Apostles. The people looked upon Paul as an outsider even after his salvation. Enter into Paul’s life was Barnabas, who took a chance and embraced this one who breathed threats and persecution on believers [Acts 9]. Barnabas was more than a friend; he became THE advocate for Paul in ministry. When we looking at Acts 11:19-26, the Church is being persecuted, yet growing at a phenomenal rate. Barnabas seeks out Paul and brings him to Antioch, and Paul becomes a leader in discipling believers. We all need a Barnabas in our lives to be our advocate and encourager for us to keep believing and trusting in the work the Lord has for us. It is through the influence of Barnabas that Paul becomes the accepted leader for establishing churches within the Gentile community. Barnabas believed in Paul; but more so believed in the God in Paul. Every Revitalizationist needs this person.

Then there is the Timothy or protégé person. Revitalization must be taught and lived out before others; especially the next generation of ministers and believers. Paul is the “father figure” for Timothy – who had a Greek father that appears to be missing in his life. Paul calls Timothy his “son” in the ministry. As we experience revitalization events, success and failures, the Revitalizationist needs to teach the stumbling blocks and success on. Paul was an example to young Timothy. It is interesting that Timothy is left at Ephesus; this well established church that was in need of revitalization, for it had lost its first love. Through the Pastoral Epistles written to Timothy, Paul admonishes and teaches Timothy about the truths of ministry. As ministers and pastors, we have obligation to pass on to others the lessons we have learned.

A person on my list is the Cohort – this is someone who is also going through the revitalization process as well. I know misery loves company, but in our world, walking with someone who is walking in the same situation as us is encouraging and helpful. We are able to talk and philosophize about how to accomplish our work. In this relationship – the verse “Iron sharpens Iron like one brother does to another” is so applicable. [Proverbs 27:17] During my seminary days I found that having others going through the same regiment that I was an encouragement and a much needed voice in attempt to master the classes. Often we can attempt to do something we think is right, only to find out that we didn’t even get the assignment right. So a person who can bounce different ideas and techniques off of is a great someone to have. This actually works both ways. While we need a Cohort, we need to BE a cohort as well; a much needed voice into our thinking and ministry.

The last person is the Critic – I know you are already saying I have enough of those in my life already, why do I need another one? The word critic doesn’t carry a negative connotation. A critic is someone who acts like a critique of what is being done. I like to call this person an Overseer. They are the one who will be a clear voice of analysis and evaluator of whether the Revitalizationist is accomplishing what he thinks he is doing. A set of eyes removed from the intimate details which can objectively look at the work, and give a true assessment.

If a revitalizationist has these five friends in his corner, he is well on his way to “staying the course, finishing his race” and making the right decisions about strategies and their implementation which will accomplish the goals initially set out to achieve. What is the song Hanks Williams, Jr. sang, “Getting a little help from my friends!” We all need our friends because revitalization work is hard, lonely and discouraging; but well worth the time and energy to achieve New Life for the Bride.

 

 

Jim Grant, DMin

Heartland Baptist Church

Blog: preachbetweenthelines.com

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Snakes and Mistakes

Numbers 20-21 are two more accounts where the people of God; Israel are still the stiff-necked people. The change in their hearts has not been made. Time after time the people will rebel and then when things go haywire, they cry out in distress for the LORD to deliver them. One would think that after so many times of rebelling and failing that after the Lord delivered them, the people would get a clue. Wait a second, this sounds like how many believers live their lives out! The Book of Judges is reflective of the roller-coaster ride many professing Christians experience. The on and off dedication to the Lord is cause for so much agony and heart ache.  Chapter 20 starts out with Miriam dying, the older sister of Moses. So at Kadesh, after refusing to enter the Promised Land, the people start singing the same song about “why have you brought us out here to die, would that we stayed in Egypt.’ If we think about this a bit; if the spies had just brought the glowing report of food and sustenance about the Promise Land, then the people had to be satisfied with the Manna and Quail now; I’m sure we would complain a bit too. However, this complaining has its effect on the Leader. Now leaders are human beings too; but that doesn’t give us excuse. In the heat of the conflict, Moses gets angry and instead of “speaking to the Rock” he strikes the Rock twice. The water comes forth from the Rock – but the event of rebellion against God has its consequences. Moses will not be allowed to enter in the Promised Land when the time comes. In Deuteronomy Moses is not sick, or blind, in good health, but taken up the Mountain that overlooks Jericho, Moses sees the picture of “what could have been.” Joshua will lead the people across. Now I have to admit I was a little ticked about the harsh punishment Moses received because he disobeyed God. I thought of all the ways that the people behaved, and felt that God should give him another chance – in fact Moses addressed the punishment with God – and the Father got ticked “what I have said, I have said – no more talk about it!” Only until I was reminded of how close Moses was allowed to get to God and the privileged position he was in did I understand that if anyone should have gotten it right – Moses would have been it. Speak to the Rock, don’t strike it. The is a metaphor of Jesus – Jesus only needed to be struck/die once. We do not need to repeatedly re-crucify Him. Also Moses struck in anger at the people. I wonder how many times have we struck out at God when people made us angry?

The second event is the Snakes – The same song is sung “why have you brought us here” – this time the complaining of the people to Moses draws the ire of God. He sends a plague of fiery snakes on the people. The people start dying because of the snake bites. Moses begins to intercede for the people to the LORD; God gives the cure to the people – don’t look at the snakes on the ground look at the standard with the bronze serpent on it. Jesus uses this metaphor about Himself – just as Moses lifted the serpent up in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up. As the people “looked and lived” by believing [faith] the serpent standard would heal; so it is with people who look to Jesus who was lifted up on the Cross. Healing from sin and death is a result of our faith looking. The symbol of the medical field is one similar to the Nehushtan. As the people of Israel were plagued with the fiery serpent that caused death, so are we people who are plagued by sin and death [Satan the serpent] the cure then and now is to Look and Live. Look at the Savior and live. For all the healing mankind needs is found not with a snake on a standard, but the Son of God on the Cross.

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You’ve Gone Far Enough

In Numbers 16 and 17 we find that Israel [congregation] confronts Moses [pastor] about just who is important and who isn’t.  It always amazes me how short a memory we have about the past. Israel has just tasted defeat because of their lack of faith and rebellion against the LORD. Now they want to take on the LORD’s anointed.  The clan of Korah – Levitical ancestry challenges Moses and his authority. The Levites were chosen by God to do the administration of the Tabernacle/Sanctuary. Two-hundred and fifty leaders stand up to enact a coup. They tell Moses “You have gone far enough!” Now let’s think about this a bit. Moses reluctantly takes the task of delivering Israel out of Egyptians slavery; he has led them through the Wilderness and been the spokesman for them to God.  Now that the future 40 yrs. is before them – which means wandering around and dying; they bow up and say they are equal to him. “All the congregation is holy, and the LORD is in their midst . In other words – Moses you just aren’t all that! We are just as good as you.”

Now this is a very interesting story – one could ask why the LORD would include it in the scripture? Additionally, what do it mean to us today. This is just my thoughts – but one could look at the story of the congregation versus the Pastor; or the Ministerial leadership against the Laymen in a church.  I have often found that many pastors labor in conflict and difficulty when things are going rough. When congregational life improves, then we find the people want to take over from the leadership – using the justification that they are “God’s people” too. This has the impact of bringing the pastor/leadership down to the pew level. I believe today there is a lack of respect for the pulpit in many congregations. Sometimes this can come about because the pastor/leadership is weak or the congregation looks at the leadership as “hired employees.”

Back to our story of Korah – Moses does his normal response, he seeks the LORD. The incense and censer test will determine who is holy and who isn’t. Moses tells Korah “You have gone far enough.”  Many a conflict arises in congregational life about who is in charge and who isn’t. The Pastor is called to be the under-shepherd; he is to lead the flock/sheep in accordance with God’s will.  Moses has already led them where God wanted them; but they refused to follow. We often have read that Israel is compared to a stubborn, hard-headed sheep.

In this passage we are confronted with the power of God and His protection of his servants and intolerance for rebellion. Korah forgot who they were – nothing they had done qualified them for the priesthood; yet now they boasted of themselves. While Korah thought they were confronting Moses and Aaron, but in reality they were confronting and challenging the LORD. The story continues with Moses interacting with Dathan and Abiram; who refuse to come see him – throwing the failure of obtaining the Promise Land on him, when it was the people who decided not to go.  I have wondered sometimes why Moses decided to stay with the rebellious people? He had opportunity to let the LORD start over fresh with him – I believe it is the pastor’s heart of Moses, even though the people were adamant against him, he stayed with them, interceding and pastoring them. Finally the anger of Moses with the insubordination and rebellion reaches its apex – Korah just kept pushing against Moses’ leadership. The righteous anger of Moses draws the attention of the LORD. “Separate yourself from Korah” the ground opens up and the 250 men are swallowed up.  You would think that after the display of power from God people would get a hint – Nope; the murmuring continues and a plague is sent  that 14,700 die.

In a revitalization thought – how is a pastor to shepherd a people who do not respect or honor the position of pastor? How many business meetings have happened where the pastor/leadership was raked over the coals about something they had no control over? How many times have congregations risen up against the LORD by rising up against God’s man? We wonder why churches die and decline – I think it is a result of the Pew taking over the Pulpit. Now don’t get me wrong, there are bad pastors, just like there are bad congregations. We all have no grounds for boasting of ourselves. We are the priesthood of God, because He made us so!

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Death of a Generation

I find that Numbers 13/14 to be some of the saddest chapters in the Bible.  After having camped at Mt. Sinai for a year, the nation of Israel is finally on its way to the homeland – the Promised Land. The blessing of God that was promised to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12/14/17/22 is finally coming to a crescendo; but the lack of faith by the generation appointed to enter the land results in children wandering in the wilderness for forty years, watching their disobedient parents die. The tribes of Israel had been witness and recipient to the power of Yahweh for the last 18 months. They had tasted of His provision of manna, water and quail. The people had personally received the mercy of God during their rebellious behavior [Exodus 32]. Each tribe afford the privilege to send out a scout to see the Land of Promise and bring back a report. The orders were to “spy out the Land; investigate the cities and people of the Land and bring back some fruit from the Land.”  For 40 days the spies enjoyed the provision of the land; all the while collecting data about the Land God said He would give them. I cannot imagine having to cut down a sapling tree in order to carry back a cluster of grapes. The question – is the Land as God said it would be? Is it a land “Flowing with milk and honey?”  True enough was the report from the 12 spies. But – oh, why did there have to be a “But”? Yes the land is like the Lord promised – but the cities are fortified, and there are descendants of Anak in the land [Anak or the Nephilim are ancestors of the Philistines – remember Goliath was a Giant some 9 feet tall.] Fear had gripped the 10 spies who saw the obstacles in the land not the opportunity of the land.  Caleb tries to quiet the people; fear has gripped them – their thought obviously was that they would just walk into the inhabited land and take it without fighting or conflict. Just as Egypt saw the “strong hand of the Lord” so will followers by faith. The people saw their own limits and determined that even though the land was as described – they were like “grasshoppers” and would be nothing more than cannon fodder for the giants. Walking by sight says we can’t – walking by faith says we can’t but God can!

Caleb and Joshua some men who were 40 and 45 at the time relived that God could do what he said. Joshua the son of Nun had been the commander of the armies and witnessed the “battle strength” of God during the fighting of the Amalekites. [Exodus 17] For he had been part of a battle with the enemy where if Moses hands being lifted up , fighting a battle he couldn’t lose; and when Moses hands were down, fighting a battle he couldn’t win. The faith of Caleb and Joshua would be rewarded, not on this day though. The crowd or mob that was forming would win the day. FEAR won that day. Numbers 14 is just as sad – for now the people have realized no promise land, so they complain against Moses and Aaron. “Would that we would have died in Egypt”  – Let’s get another leader and go back.

Moses challenges the people not to rebel and not to fear the people of the land. I wonder how many churches have not conquered their “land” because of fear of the people? We find out later that the people of the land were already gripped with fear in the story of Rahab [Joshua 2].  In Numbers 14:18-19; there is a great warning and punishment for failure to accomplish what God had set out to do through us. To know that our rebellion will be found in the 2nd – 4th generations – this is the great influence and impact that we pass on to our children and grandchildren. While that is the negative, we also know that faith expressed is a source of influence for good to the generations that follow us. After the people of Israel had been chided for disobedience; they try to go take the land in their own strength. This is a big mistake; this was the source of their fear – Not by the strength of man, but by the Power and authority of God the Land would be theirs. The change of mind and attempt to do what only God could do ended in disaster. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is still disobedience. The people of Israel and the church often have learned the difficult lesson following God. Many a church has balked at the “Promised Land” because they saw obstacles. Would that Churches today would trust more in the power of Jehovah than in the programs of men!

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