Category Archives: Church Revitalization

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

The Law of Inertia

The Law of Inertia – An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This law is often called “the law of inertia” – Isaac Newton http://teachertech.rice.edu/Participants/louviere/Newton/law1.html In previous articles to this magazine I have used the word Revivalization. I use this word to identify that both spiritual revival and leadership structure are necessary for revitalization to occur. In the process of developing a revitalization strategy, the Team must look beyond the “Turning Around” point of the Church. It has been said that to turn around a huge ship it takes quite a bit of water; the same can be said with a dying or declining Church. Once the revitalization effort has begun its “turning” it has to keep the momentum or it can easily return back to a listless position. Momentum is very important within any organization; for a lull can be detrimental to all that was previously accomplished. Since we all know that change is unwelcomed, if there is a hint of stabilization before the revitalization process is complete, there will be none accomplished except wasted effort. Once a church is moving, it must keep moving. Revitalization has at its heart two key principles: 1st – Create a sense of urgency and 2nd – Create an atmosphere of change. A church must embrace its true condition; but knowledge of this does not mobilize the Church to do anything. The Revitalizationist like an artist must draw a new future to be embraced. While most of the plan and implementation is to bring a Church back from extinction; there must also be incorporated in the process, an extension of keeping the Church moving. This action can be simple as establishing an evaluation interval for course correction of previous actions. Part of the process I have incorporated is while establishing a Strategic Plan for “turning the boat”; we also establish a Long range Planning Team. This Team will take into account those actions implemented and will if necessary bring forth course corrections to achieve the original goals. But Revitalization is more than turning the boat around; it must also include how to get the “boat to move up-stream”. A Church/boat can be turned eventually; but that doesn’t mean it is moving, it could after turning around, then be caught flowing down stream, which only means it is in greater danger going down stream backwards.

In the Strategic Process, the Church must have clearly established goals and actions. These actions necessarily need to be accomplished over a period of time. Normally most experts say 5-7 years. Too fast a change can have the effect of no change. Revitalization takes time; we have all heard this over and over. But there can be a “push” to “get it done” that just puts too much at one time on the congregation. We have heard that we must have small wins to create a willingness to make bigger changes. Use the Wins to keep the Church moving. Once the Church has made the turn from drifting and declining, a great amount of effort has to be expended to get it to go upstream. As with a boat, it will take a lot of horsepower to move the boat forward; this is just as true for the Church. While the Strategic Process is at work, the congregation must be Strengthened. The Spirit of Revival can be this catalyst. Just as Nehemiah had the task of building the Temple Walls, he had to motivate the people to build. Nehemiah had an Ezra to help him “renew the spirit” of the people. As a consequence the “people had a mind to work” and the walls were complete in 52 days! [Nehemiah 6:15] People forget quickly what God has done. If Revitalization is going to be successful, the Church must believe again in the power of Jesus.

While the task of building the Wall was accomplished; there was so much more that needed to be done. This is likewise true in Revitalization. This is where the Long Range Planning Team [LRPT] comes in to the picture. Establishing a LRPT will act as the fuel for the engine to travel up stream. The goal of Revitalization is never just to turn the boat around! There must be in the Strategic Process the answer to the question – “Where are we going?” The LRPT establishes the course to get to the new destination. These course plans will have to be long, medium and short term. A typical format would have a 3, 5 and 10 year outlook of plans and actions to be accomplished. Now word of caution; this LRPT is an on-going process; it is part of the new DNA of the Church. The Church faltered because it “had arrived” so to speak and quit. To prevent the cycle from recurring, develop a continuous course. To do this when the 3 year plan has been implanted, the 5 year now becomes the 3 year and the 10 year plans become the 5 year. This means there is a new 10 year plan to be envisioned, and the subsequent cycle continues. Obviously, a church cannot continue to build building and the like, so the LRPT must include things like new staff positions, church planting and missions’ involvement. As a Revitalizationist, we must also be visionaries. We cannot be content with bringing a Church back from the depths of decline and death; we must enable them to become healthy and reproductive; and all of this will take time; a lot of time. When I read about Churches that have been Revitalized, it usually includes a long-termed pastor and on-going leadership and shepherding of the Congregation. This is why the Long Range Planning Team is important, it sustains the initial movement to head the right direction; but also provides the enthusiasm to stay on the journey. Happy Sailing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

Two Paths for Preaching Revitalization

Revivalization Preaching

Preaching for Revitalization takes two paths. Both paths are necessary and vital for success. The first emphasis must be placed on preaching for renewal; and the second is to challenge the congregation to new vision and ministry. In most if not all revitalization situations, there is an apathy or lethargy prevalent in the congregation. I like to use the word Revivalization to explain what needs to happen in declining and plateaued churches. I guess you could explain my thoughts about the preaching necessary for revitalization and some old fashioned “Hell fire and brimstone” preaching. The kind of preaching that brings strong conviction about the way people are or are not living. Revivalization is a combination of revival and re-visioning. It isn’t a far cry to say that every church needs revival; even the healthy growing churches. Revival is the renewal of our commitment to the Lord as sovereign over our lives. Usually there has been a lapse of hunger for spiritual things in the life of the church. Now revival is a much debated topic even among evangelicals. How does revival happen? Can revival be orchestrated and planned or is it just something that happens without any kind of preparation on the part of the people. Many books have been written on the topic but two that stand for me are Eight Keys to Biblical Revival by Lewis Drummond and Quest for Personal Renewal by Walter Kaiser. These two authors dig deep into the dynamics of revival. G. K. Chesterton has been quoted many times about revival “Put up the Sail and Wait for the Wind to Blow.” This thought puts the work on both mankind and God. We must do what we need to do for revival, but revival is what the Holy Spirit brings. As a sail boat needs winds to move, even so the sail must be up to catch the winds when it does blow. But the preaching that will prepare for revival is strong, powerful sin exposing and condemning preaching. The whole premise with revivalization is that the Church is unhealthy and dying; Holy Ghost preaching is necessary to bring the life back into the congregation. Now you must understand that that kind of preaching is not readily accepted today by most; and you may lose some folks when you quit being politically correct in your sermons. In order for a congregation to begin to seek the Lord and spiritual healing they have to know that something is wrong. If the church is satisfied and feels no threat of decline and death, they will not be inclined to seek the Lord for restoration. In this revival preaching there must be bold pronouncement against the “sins of the church.” This will require much prayer and study by the pastor. The pastor must know what the problem is even if he is the problem; the barriers and roadblocks must be exposed and dealt with. I call this my “killing the elephant in the room” preaching. The length of time spent on reviving the congregation can vary with each church. It is most important to convey to the church that something is wrong, and they are the key to making it right again.

In the second emphasis of preaching the focus is on “what to do” in restoring the church to healthy. The church will be hungry for direction if they are truly revived. Their spirit will thirst for the things of God again. If all that happens is the church is awoke from a slumbering sleep without something constructive and important to do, they will nod off again at best, or seek elsewhere to find the “winds of God blowing.” This part of the revivalization is most important for if the leadership does not have a plan or vision of where and what he expected the church to do, then no matter what kind of revival preaching occurred, they people will just be worked up into a frenzy and left to flounder. Just as the pastor/leadership conveys what is wrong with the church, there must be Challenging preaching to mobilize the now spirit revived congregation. Some may look at this part of revitalization preaching as vision casting or ministry focus. Either way the leadership would have to work through a strategic plan process to establish goals and benchmarks of where the church is supposed to be going. I have heard that vision leaks, this is true, so the congregation will need to have the vision constantly communicated to them. This where break down usually occurs. Pastors preach for change in people, but give very little application of what that looks like in personal lives and the church. Application preaching enables the church to take the Gospel with them into the community. The goals and vision forming must be done before the revival/renewal preaching begins. The whole dual emphasis preaching will take time. Revival and revivalization does not happen overnight. There may even be a need for preparatory preaching before leading into a revival phase. Now all of this preaching does not need to happen during a Sunday morning context. There are a number of ways to bring the sense of urgency to the church. Some of those could be through an in-depth walk through Fresh Encounter” by Henry Blackaby and Claude King; or Solemn Assemble and Lay Renewal weekends. The point is something has to change in the way the church does “Church” and ministry. Something that has been overlooked to this point in the article is Prayer. None of what I have presented or suggested will work if there is a lack of prayer. The prayer of the people the pastor and leadership is absolutely essential. One day prayer vigils will not be enough, there must be persistent prayer. [Luke 18:1-5] The bible says that somethings will only come by prayer and fasting. [Matt 17:21] Here is the power of revival and revitalization – prayer. But if the people won’t pray, no “blowing of the Holy Spirit” should be expected. I love the Old Testament verse – 2 Chronicles 7:14, if My people which are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and heal their land. God is willing, the question is are we? I know that verse sounds so cliché but God has honored His word in the past and is willing to do so again, If Only!

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

What Are You Aiming At?

“Knowing when to pull the trigger for Church Revitalization,” I am going to rely on my hunting experiences to address the topic.

First and foremost is the fact that “pulling the trigger” is the easiest act of hunting, and probably for Church Revitalization. Once the “trigger is pulled” the hard work begins. But long before the hunter/revitalizationist pulls the trigger there are major steps to be taken.

In the hunting scenario, you have to know what you are hunting. I won’t bore you with the statistics of how many cows and horses have been tagged as someone’s deer. The hunter has to know something about what he is hunting. He needs to know what are the living patterns and environmental conditions which the game animal lives. In other words what is the animals’ habitat? This is true for a church that is potentially going to be tried to be revitalized. What make the church tick? What are the demographics of the area, the animal and the church live in the area on purpose! The research for the hunter will increase his ability to “bag” the game he is hunting. Likewise it can be said for the revitalization attempt. The more you know about the “creature” the better your chances. Too often in hunting as in revitalization, those attempting the task haven’t thoroughly investigated the situation or “hunting grounds.” It would make sense that if you are going to hunt deer, that the location you’re hunting actually has deer. What I mean by this is that not all locations are suitable for revitalization/renewal. Sometimes the ground is vacant of a church/spirit and the church must be allowed to die. A hunter cannot “shoot at anything that moves” nor can a revitalizationist just start the process.

I liked hunting in Texas, they have plenty of game to hunt, and I was usually very successful. But before we donned our hunting gear for the hunt, we had months of preparation to do. We set up cameras in the field to get a good view of what was in the area. We tilled up the ground for a food plot, and of course we made sure the deer stand was in good condition. Likewise with a revitalization situation, much leg word has to be done. The congregation needs to be studied and viewed. If you don’t know their patterns of living, you can easily mistake what needs to be done. Observation is key; “pulling the Trigger prematurely is what we call “Buck Fever.” Identification again of the game is essential. The Fish and Game warden doesn’t care whether you made a mistake, if you shoot the wrong animal you lose!

Once the decision on what Game to hunt; the next decision of importance is “what am I going to use to hunt with?” This could range from black powder, rifle, crossbow, shotgun or pistol. Varying regulations and limits apply for each. Additionally, the hunter must determine what caliber of rifle is going to be used. This isn’t as easy as one would think. If you use too big a caliber, you not only kill the game, but destroy the meat – for example you don’t hunt rabbits with a 30.06! But the opposite is also true; you don’t hunt bear with a 22 rifle! I would equate the Weapon of choice for hunting to the process to be implemented in the church for revitalization. There are many tactics to hunting and also with church revitalization. Applying the wrong process to a situation could just “wound” the church or worse yet destroy it. This is where some more preparation comes in – I have to check my sights and accuracy before I go on the hunt. I must be familiar enough with the rifle so I can know what it can do, but also my limitations with it. The Church Revitalization process must be known and capably implemented. If there is unfamiliarity with the rifle/process, the hunter could be the one who is shot!

So the game has been investigated sufficiently, the location has been scoped out, the preparation of the field; deer blind and such has been checked and re-checked. It’s time to get up early in the morning for that first day of hunting. There is excitement in the air, we just know that we are going to be successful our first day out! A word of caution here; one of the greatest benefits of hunting is the hunt. What I mean is the joy of being out in nature, watching it all come alive. I have learned that there is more to hunting then bagging my buck the first day. I have on too many occasions shot my limit of one buck an hour after hunting season began. I was done, even though there was more hunting time, I was done. When we think of church revitalization, we can’t always have in the forefront – “fix the church.” The journey of revitalization has greater rewards besides that if we will be patient.

Church revitalization is for a “season” not a day. This brings me to my next point. Too many hunters shoot the first thing that walks into their sights, pull the trigger and they’re done. It doesn’t matter what size or quality of the animal at that point – the animal is down and the limit is filled. A smarter hunter/revitalizer will patiently watch and see what is in the area. Remember the church and game live there on purpose. Sometimes my greatest pleasure us watching a group of deer frolic in the autumn breeze without thinking about “pulling the Trigger!” Sometimes we can be in such a hurry we miss the joy of the process. But let’s say that you have watched a certain buck coming in and out of the hunting area, you have all you preparations completed, even having some “scent” out so they won’t recognize your odor. [Word to the wise here, not matter what you do, you’re not a deer!] You make the decision to “pull the trigger.” But pulling the trigger takes practice. I have missed my target too many times because I “jerked the trigger, rather than pulled it. In hunting and revitalization, how the trigger is pulled many times determines how the shot was effective. We can do all things right, but if we “blow the shot” we may never have another opportunity. When taking a shot, the field of view has to be clear, if there are things blocking a “good kill shot” or “launch,” take care of them, or pass up the shot.

SO now you are leaned over your rifle scope, ready to pull the trigger, breathing must be right, a rhythm must be reached. Revitalizer – Breathe, accuracy depends on it. Once all is in harmony, squeeze the trigger on purpose, with expectation of hitting the target.  But learn this great lesson – know when to pass up the shot! If there is something that prevents a clear unhindered shot – don’t shoot. Wait for a better day.

Revitalization is hard enough with all things “appear” to be right. Hunting is the same way; sometimes the animal gets away; so it is with churches. One thing about it, there is always more deer and more churches to pursue. Happy Hunting!

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

Falling In Love Again

Falling In Love Again

The topic for this issue is “The Basics of Revitalization.” To answer the question I had to answer what is the basis for revitalization? Is it just trying to get the saints revived, or is it something much more. We all know that our Country and the world for that matter, needs a great revival. By that I mean the Church has to come back to its first love in the Lord Jesus Christ and desire to live holy consecrated lives. If the Church will get right, then there is the possibility for the communities, countries and world to become awakened to the sovereignty and Kingdom of God Jehovah. I began to ponder, really, what is the basis of revitalization. I thought I might write about some of the tenets of how revitalization needs to be approached or possibly talk about the requirements that need to be in place before revitalization should be attempted. But neither of those resonated with me. I didn’t want to talk about the pragmatism or the philosophy of revitalization; there are already enough books and articles to cover those topics. Instead, I think the most basic issue in revitalization is the subject/object itself – the Church. This is what drives me in revitalization attempts – the Church. We find that scripture supports revitalization. When we investigate both Old and New Testaments, we find that the Father is brokenhearted about Israel, his people failing in their commission to bring glory to Him and the Gospel to the nations. The same is said by Jesus when He gives John instructions to “write to the Churches” in Revelation. I will note two of the Churches and the message or ultimatum they are given later.

Israel was the Bride of Jehovah in the Old Testament; albeit a very unfaithful one. The Church is the Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5:25-29 is clear about what Christ desires the Bride to look like. The Church is the body of Christ in the world, just as Israel was the “Bride” in allegory in the book of Hosea. The ministry of revitalization in its fundamental goal is to restore the Bride of Christ to a healthy loving Bride to the Bridegroom. Scripture informs us that the Church belongs to Jesus, the Bridegroom; and that he will build the Church. There are great examples in scripture where the Church was triumphant [Especially in Acts].  There are glorious stories of how the people of Israel overcame great odds and enemies to win victory after victory through the power of God at work within their midst. When Yahweh is supremely worshiped by His people there is great wonder and power displayed. But – Oh that word, Israel did not remain true to the Father. It seems that mankind is always wandering and looking for some new adventure. Instead of being satisfied and content with the God of the universe, we look for cheap imitations or an easier way to being religious. It doesn’t take long for the Church to drift from God – Israel lasted only 40 days before they replaced God with a Golden Calf idol in Exodus 32-34. The book of Judges is a vicious cycle of faithful and unfaithfulness by God’s people. Surely, with Jesus the Son as the head of the Church; we New Testament Believers will learn from our Old Testament brethren, right? Wrong! For we find in Revelation 2 and 3 that there is another message, Jesus will in fact snuff out the Lamp of a particular local church if it is not representative of Him.

Jesus isn’t the only one that is passionate about the Church, the Apostle Paul filled his epistles to the “churches” with instructions and admonitions to live and act rightly according to the holiness of God. It is the local church that needs revitalization.  There are so many books and models that have been developed to try and bring the local churches back to life. But just as Jesus addressed different “I have this against you” issues; so each local church must come to a “new reality”. Obviously the local churches did not see, or rejected the problems in their church, or Jesus would not have had to address them. NOTE: by now many of you have begun to debate with me about possible interpretations of the Revelation 2-3 passage. You may take a different position on why and how Jesus wrote to the churches, even taking a “they are examples” of church issues. Whichever way you want to address the passage I have referenced, you must acknowledge that JESUS WROTE TO THE CHURCH! The Church represents Christ, when the Bride no longer “loves” her groom; the Groom has every right and responsibility to call the Bride to account.

So the basis of Revitalization is about the Church body or Bride whichever metaphor you like, becoming alive again and falling in love with the Bridegroom, Jesus the Son of God. Revitalization is about recognizing the drift and departure from the Word of God; admitting that it is not on task of pleasing the Master; that it has become internally driven rather than outwardly; seeks its own will rather than the Will of the Father.

In Church Revitalization, there are three different audiences – plateaued, declining or dying Churches. The difference is, only a matter of degree of departure and remaining “Life” left in the Body.

In Revelation we are given seven Churches with varying degrees of problems and tribulations. Some are under attack, but most have “settled” for their particular state of being. In addressing the Church at Ephesus, the problem was it had lost its first love. Now we must remember that this church was founded by the grand Apostle Paul, was pastored by the great missionary pastor Timothy, Paul’s protégé. It was also the home church of the Beloved Apostle John and I believe the final resting place for Mary; Jesus’ mother. One would think with all that notoriety and prestige, surely this would be a Church that would be steadfast in faithfulness. But Jesus says, “I have this against you, you have lost your first love.” In other words, you have forgotten Me. Something every Church has to be careful about is the purpose for their existence. I would call Ephesus an Orthodox Church. They believe right, are solid on doctrine and truth, but have become mechanical in their worship and love for the Lord. It’s almost like an old married couple that forgot what brought them together in the first place and have settled for an EXISTENCE instead of a RELATIONSHIP. Ephesus was in need of a second honeymoon. Jesus spells it out this way – REMEMBER-REPENT-RETURN. The fire had got out of the marriage with Jesus! Ephesus had to get back that “Lovin Feeling.”

In the second church I want to address the church at Sardis. It is the DEAD church according to Jesus. But they think they are healthy and alive. This is a grave situation that needs a serious “Wake Up call.” The Church doesn’t even know they are dead, how sad a commentary! The Church had a Name in the community and among themselves that they were alive and healthy. An unreal reality had entrenched itself in the church. In Revitalization, the first order of business is KNOWING SOMETHING IS WRONG. A fresh, but honest assessment of the true condition must be diagnosed and embraced.  Sardis is an “Unfinished Church.” It had been alive at one time, and there was still hope, but the cure is “Strengthen that which remains.” Usually in a Church there is a REMANANT that God can use to restore the Church, as was the case at Sardis. But in restoring the Church revitalization does not mean return it back to its heyday, but return it back to ministry for THE CURRENT DAY. Too many Churches live in the past. This is true of a lot of Brides. They remember their beauty and slim figures, but time has taken effect on their bodies. If you think about this a little, there is a great illustration here.

Churches that need revitalization are those “whose love have grown cold.” In both Churches, it was time for them to Repent – the first step after conviction of sin and departure. It takes humility and a willingness to swallow our pride. Most Churches can do Church, but then again Doing Church was never the task – the Bride was called to faithfulness to the Bridegroom – Be the Church, that all Our Savior wants.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

Three Kinds of Takers

There is an old saying that people can be one of three types of “Takers:” A Caretaker, a Risk-taker or an Undertaker. Obviously each of those types of people has pros and cons. The point being made is if a person is a risk taker, there will surely be conflicts and struggles along the way. But it is better to attempt change than do nothing. The Caretaker is the “maintainer” in a situation. The risks are seen as too volatile to try because of the “fear” of repercussions and conflicts. So rather than engage in actions that should be done, there is a compromise with “Status Quo.” But as we have learned and experienced in a ministry setting, this can mean certain death, where you must call an “Undertaker.”

When it comes to Church revitalization and Renewal, a “status quo” frame of mind is unacceptable. The reason churches are in need of revitalization and renewal in the first place is because when they could have done something in the Church, they elected to take the easy road, or least hazardous. This action is clearly a compromise. James 4:17 tells us “to him that knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin.”

In the case of being a Risk-taker, the leadership necessary must be confident and bold about the direction to be pursued. If there is a “crack” in the plan from God, then it will show up as weakness. People in the church are unwilling to follow weakness. Now this doesn’t mean that the revitalizer needs to be a tyrant either.

SO where does this boldness and confidence come? It comes from the Lord. The revitalizer must put himself on the “potter’s Wheel” and allow the Lord to begin the revitalization and renewal work in him first. I have learned that excitement and passion are two very contagious characteristics. When a new believer speaks of the wonderful things of God, we that are observing this have two reactions: first we can pass it off and say the person will come back to earth soon, and discount the testimony; or secondly, we can remember the joy of our own salvation and be renewed in our faith having seen the Lord at work still changing lives.

In the renewal of a pastor or revitalizer there are necessary steps to be taken: Prayer and the Word. I hear so many pastors and laymen tell me they don’t know what God wants them to do! If a person is not in conversation with the Lord Jesus through prayer and the Word, then it stands to reason that there would be doubts about what to do, and even when to do changes. As a revitalizer, a person must determine who He is; which of the three types of people. Now before I get too far, there are plenty of ministry venues where, things are in place and a “maintainer” mentality will be at the forefront. Even so, the ministry must be evaluated and tweaked if necessary. Some 80% of pastors are maintainers/caretakers or as Gary McIntosh calls them “Operators.[1] Two calling in ministry are Risk-takers: Church Planters and Church Revitalizers; within Church revitalizers there are variations called super revitalizer and the reorganizer to mention a few. McIntosh indicates further that Revitalizers and Re-organizers make up only 7% of all pastors. When the Church is dying at alarming rates, there is a great need for pastors to know who they are, but then Be who they are supposed to Be. This is the confidence builder for a Revitalizer. When we know what we are to be doing and knowing where our orders came from, boldness and confidence from the Lord will be forthcoming.

I know from my own experiences, I didn’t want to be a Revitalizer – it was too hard and too much conflict! “No God I don’t want to be a Church Revitalizer!” I HAD TO COME TO GRIPS WITH WHAT THE LORD JESUS WANTED for HIS church not the ease of ministry I wanted. What I eventually learned was that I had always been a revitalizer. Every church the Lord moved me to, I had a mission of renewal and revitalization to do. Sort of like the song, “I was Country when Country wasn’t Cool.” I was a revitalizer before there was a movement.

As a revitalizer there must be purpose and intentionality in the direction a pastor moves the church. This will not come from a book or the latest growth model. The direction for a particular church has to be borne out in the prayer room, not in the board room. This is a mistake too often Pastors and churches make, especially in our CEO world of management. Churches don’t need management; they need leadership – bold leadership! Pastors are called to leader People, not manage resources.

Once a revitalization thrust has begun; regardless of the naysayers and the loss of people who don’t want change – the resilience to stay the course is imperative. Oh praise God for the testimony of Apostle Paul – “I have fought the good fight, finished the course, I have kept the faith. . . . [2 Timothy 4:7] The unwillingness to stay the course is tragic, both to the church and the man. The church will be very reluctant to attempt anything like it again; and the man will know he didn’t finish. A revitalizer must not just finish – but finish well. Success is what God does, obedience is what we do. If you know that the Father in Heaven is leading you; your confidence will rest in Him, not your own strength.

 

Dr. Jim Grant

Heartland Baptist Church, Alton, IL

Pastor, conference leader and revitalizer

DMin from Midwestern in Church Revitalization

Blog: preachbetweenthelines.com

Email: pastor@hbcalton.com

  1. McIntosh, Gary L.; Taking Your Church to The Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Grand Rapids: Baker Books; 2009, 87-96.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

Chefs Not Microwaves

Chefs Not Microwaves
The necessary time commitment to church revitalization has been well documented in other forums. I will only address the difference and then show how Church Revitalizers need to be more like Chefs instead of button pushing Microwave operators. When it comes to Planting or revitalizing a Church; planting can be done in the reasonable time frame of 3 years; whereas Revitalization will require 5-7 years. Obviously, the pastor/leader needs to be in place for an extended period of time to see the “revitalization” to fruitfulness.
I use the analogy of a Chef versus a microwave to illustrate the time difference in creating a meal. I have been a fan of the Food Network for a few years. I watch Iron Chef and Chopped Champions series. It is intriguing to see what the chefs come up with based on their ingredients. I also watched my mom cook for 8 people. It seemed like she dirtied every dish and pan in the house cooking a meal for us.
Warren Wiersbe wrote a book called “God is not in a Hurry.” Sometimes when pastors and leaders approach revitalization, the objective is to turn the church around as soon as possible. However, this often causes great conflict and failure. Let’s look at what you get with a microwaved meal.
In a microwave meal, it comes neatly wrapped and pre-cooked. It is already seasoned and determined what it will taste like. This is all done in an assembly line atmosphere. The seasonings and ingredients have been pre-ordained by the “fast food” cooks and recipes. You open the box and you get what you get. While this is good for someone in a hurry, and only wanting to eat something; it is very unappetizing for others that wanted a more nutritional and satisfying meal. If a pastor/leader tries to do revitalization by “Microwave” there may be an end product, but it was already pre-determined what it would be and what it would look like. There isn’t much preparation in microwave cooking; plus no amount of cleaning up afterwards. The objective was met – get something on a plate. The fast food is just that, fast, but most of the time not healthy. It also is a product of mass assembly; thousands upon thousands of duplicated end product meals; easy for the consumer to ingest. Often time in minster we would call this “modeling church.” The leadership/pastor picks a model, take it off the shelf, unwrap it and put it out for all to consume. The only problem is the product may or may not be what was needed. It carries the mentality of “do something, let’s hope it works.”
However, if we are to be chefs, our task is much more difficult and time consuming. There is ingredient preparation, or in Chopped Champions, inventory of the basket to set what one has to work with. The revitalizer must start here and determine what the raw resources he has to work with are. Revitalization is not a nice neat little grocery basket full of all the right ingredients and spices. Many times, the revitalizer must improvise along the way because much is lacking. In fact you can count on this; otherwise the church wouldn’t be in a revitalization situation in the first place. The revitalizer will need to determine what is inside the church and outside the church to assess what is readily available for the work. This can be leadership, demographics and other church and community resources. After the gathering of ingredient information has been inventoried then the decision must be made what can we make? The Iron Chef and Chopped Chefs are often thrown a monkey wrench, for they will be given either a certain food to work with, or a very odd food to use. A pastor/revitalizer will run across this as well.
The revitalizer will have to next start preparing the ingredients for the end product. Now I have watched enough episodes to realize that chef will have to have some basic culinary skills and experience to get the ingredients to cooperate together. This would be leadership for the revitalizer. Something else I notice, you can’t cook all the ingredients at the same time, some need to be prepared before you can include them in other cooking, things like sauces and gravies and the like. Now something important here, the chef/revitalizer are working on a basic recipe. There will be modification based upon what is on hand for them to use. Before the cooking begins, a lot of preparation time is invested to get everything ready to cook. Obviously being a chef isn’t just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot and hope for the best; likewise for the revitalizer’s world too. As the foods are prepared, a plan of attack is being implemented. The Strategic Planning Team would be the revitalizer’s recipe to follow. While the chef uses a proven recipe, the revitalizer will have to use proven skills and principles. Often recipes need to be modified specifically for the ingredients one is working with, this is where the “model” principle of cooking and revitalization have no place. The chef and the revitalizer must come up with their own specific recipe/plan for the situation they find themselves in. What worked in one place will not always work in another. Revitalizers and chefs must adapt to their working places.
When the cooking begins; obviously you can’t cook everything at one time, nor need too. The stages of cooking and continued prep will be evident. So it must be to a revitalizer. While there are certain steps ranging from communication, inventory, leadership development and strategies to be fleshed out, the revitalizer keeps the end objective in mind. In the kitchen some of the chefs look like they are absorbed in chaos, this can be the atmosphere in revitalization as well.
As the chef timely adds the various ingredients to the dish, so the revitalizer must to the same. There must be time to allow the principles and changes to absorb the other changes and principles previously implemented. The meshing of the ingredients is important to a chef, for it is through their combination that the unique taste and “lively” meal are born. All the while the chef and revitalizer appear to be using up every tool/utensil to create the end product. This should be expected. The masters of the art of cooking and returning health to churches must leave no tool unused. Cooking and revitalization is messy – but the end product can be so savory!
As the chef brings all the pieces of the recipe together, there will be added seasoning, and tasting to ensure that the ingredients bring out their fullness. The revitalizer must also “taste, test and smell” what he is cooking. Timing is very important in both situations. The chef doesn’t want to under cook or over cook, so there must be constant attention to detail to know when the meal is ready. The revitalizer will spend months trying to add “a new ingredient” into the “recipe;” he must be attune to know when the timing is right; otherwise the result could be a disaster.
When the cooking is all done, the proof of the chef’s work is found in the actual eating. If the meal is unfit to eat, then all the preparations and work are useless. Likewise if the Revitalizer does all the prep and cooking but never implements the “recipe” it’s all wasted effort.
While the shows I mentioned before have time limits for the chefs, the revitalizer has a more open ended time frame. Like my mother cooking, she was done, when the meal was done. Often she would be working on a meal for 2-3 hours, which we would consume in 20 minutes. Chefs and revitalizers are more like artisans than assembly line workers. Each time the “create” in is something new. While there may be some likenesses, none are ever the same.
Time, everything takes time; and in this face paced, hurry up and wait world; we must take the time to get it right. Time in inventorying the ingredients, time in preparation, time in assembling and cooking, time to cook, time to taste and evaluate. Time the chef and revitalizer must stay long enough until the finish product is done. To be in a hurry or delay will create a “tasteless” product. Like chefs cooking, revitalizers must stay the course. If neither is going to see the task to the end, then don’t start what you won’t finish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization

Elephant and Dinosaur Churches

Elephant and Dinosaur Churches
Within the realm of Church Revitalization the subject of change is ingrained. Revitalization by definition requires change, but the changes must be necessary and vision focused. People do not like to change – I don’t like to change. While this is nothing new, it is an essential ingredient for anyone entertaining church revitalization. I have to be willing to change and as a leader, must be able to create a healthy atmosphere for the needed changes. Whether the revitalization is within a city, community or church; those advocating such must be prepared for conflict and confusion along the way. It has been often said that “unless the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, nothing will be done.” Those who advocate revitalization have to create a “climate” for change, doing so is often a very tedious task. I want to use the illustration of elephants and dinosaurs as a way of identifying both “climate and ministry” changes.
In my office I have a collection of elephants that church members have given me over the last 4 years. Each elephant represents an “elephant in the room” problem that has finally been addressed and dealt with appropriately. Even though many knew the elephant existed, they were not strong enough, nor willing to expose it and deal with it. Many times churches would rather take “The Kings New Clothes” approach to elephants. If you are not familiar with this fable, it means just going along with what everybody else says, until it is so glaringly obvious to all that what was said is in fact untrue.
Characteristics
1. Elephants are warm blooded mammals, which birth off-spring and nurture it to self-sufficiency. Elephant ears are normally 1/6 of their body size.
2. Dinosaurs are cold blooded and largely reptiles, and have many eggs of which they will try to protect until hatching, once hatched they are for the most part on their own for survival.
3. There are some times when an entity has characteristics of both. [They are ministries that are extinct and still eat a lot of church resources; giving only an occasionally “song and dance routine]
Dinosaurs are flesh eaters. They devour their prey; they became extinct when earth had an extreme climate change as a result of Noah’s Flood. There are some dinosaurs that have made the climate change; such as alligators/crocodiles. Most of the dinosaurs are found in museums, and really are not much more than skeletons. But their existence in churches must be self-evident.
Elephants are very large mammals that have a pre-flood ancestor called the mastodon. The mastodon didn’t survive the radical climate change produced by the flood. However, we do have a distant relative, the large pachyderm with us today.
We must agree that these two species exist in some form with in churches. When we look at these two species within the revitalization movement, they become very self-evident in the lives of churches. It must become obvious that dinosaurs and elephants cannot be treated the same way.
The church in America still has dinosaurs in existence. One could put the “Bus Ministry, or “daycare/school” in this category. Years ago every church adopted the Bus ministry because it was the thing to do in churches. It has been clear from recent history [that and the rusting busses in back of churches], that not all churches should have started a bus ministry. In more modern days the necessity to have “hand bells, organ, piano and choirs” could be considered dinosaurs that every church felt it needed.
In a dinosaur climate, everything the church does is for its own self-preservation, particularly outdated programs. These become dinosaurs when the climate has radically changed, and it becomes a “dead/extinct” program. In other words the programs became more important that the ministry they were hoped to be. Before I get into too much trouble, there are some places where these aforementioned programs “appear to be beneficial,” however, they really only have significance for those who are dinosaurs themselves. Many communities and churches find themselves in a climate shift, yet, will not or better yet cannot acclimate to the new environment.
I have been a pastor at a dinosaur church. It is very interesting, how many “historical programs” have ceased to function, yet thousands of dollars are invested to keep them on life support. One such case is opening a daycare or school in the church; in hopes that it will keep the church alive. Day-cares look good on paper, but rarely add to the Kingdom of God. This is similar to the “Bus Ministry” mentioned above, except that the daycare or school devours ministers and laity without giving back. In order for churches to become effective they must rid themselves of the dinosaur syndrome. Caution – the dinosaur will try to eat you if you provoke it! Much like the movie series of “Jurassic Park” the original intention may have been well intended, but in the long run the dinosaurs turned against its masterminds that brought them to life.
Elephants are different however, while they consume a lot of resources, they are not as nearly mean spirited. When churches have elephants the condition is more subtle. Dinosaurs will be loud and boisterous, when elephants are more behind the scene operators. When we address elephants in churches we find that everyone knows they exist, but feel the elephant [area of problem] is too big to mess with, and tend to leave them alone. This seems like a good idea, except, the dynamics of the elephant are such that they aren’t programmatic, but personal relationship oriented. As dinosaurs are more flesh eaters, [destroy people] elephants are more of a hindrance. It is tough to get an elephant to move if it doesn’t want too. The “Elephant in the Room” is a person, group or established order that has become sacred.
Both the elephant and dinosaur have their own way of doing things. Dinosaurs just want to destroy everything, whereas elephants want to just create resistance and blockages of change.
In church revitalization, I think I would rather deal with a dinosaur than an elephant. One has to only change the “climate” to rid themselves of the dinosaur. But the elephant has learned to adapt to the new surroundings and remain still the biggest obstacle to productive and effective ministry.
A church will have to deal with both types of churches; it is imperative that the “change Agent” know which he is dealing with in order to lead a church beyond the position of mediocrity. If the climate of change is not significant enough in the right direction, the “extinct dinosaur will keep the church in the Ice Age.” Too many churches have been held captive to the past climate; partly because the dinosaur has threatened to destroy everyone if any change would cause them to be extinct.
When elephants are allowed to lurk around in services, business meetings and fellowship circles, then the church will lack the courage to confront for fear of conflict. The one thing about allowing elephants in the room or church is they will not leave on their own.
So if you are burdened about the Cultural or Climate you find your ministry currently existing in; you will have to be able to “identify the species” and determine how you will deal with each one in such a way so as not to destroy the church or worse yet be destroyed yourself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Revitalization