Being a Moses or a Joshua
I have come to understand in the world of church revitalization, there really is not any question about WHAT needs to be done or about where, when, and why. The biggest struggle in revitalization is the WHO. Are the people who need revitalization WILLING to take the necessary steps to restored health? Revitalization would much easier, if congregations, leaders, and church members enthusiastically jumped on board for the hard work of revitalization. But there is always fear and push back from folks who genuinely afraid of what the “UNKNOWN FUTURE” might look like, with or without them. I have had several situations where all the steps were slowly taken to build trust and confidence in the work to be accomplished and the leader/catalyst do the work, only to have a church or pastor balk at taking the first step. What does a Church Revitalizer do? He knows what, when, where, why and how-but the WHO says no. I will list below what experience has shown me what to do. But before I get too far, let me explain what I mean by being a Moses or a Joshua.
In Numbers 13-14 we have the story of Israel coming to the Kadesh-Barnea area, Moses sends in 12 spies to check out the land. After spending 40 days scoping out the Promised Land, the 12 spies brought a report along with some of the fruit from their journey. The “Church Business meeting in the Wilderness” voted 10-2 to NOT go into the Promised Land. There is a lot of similarities between that “church vote” and what happens in a Church revitalization vote. FEAR IS A PARALYZER. People could not or would not go forward in obedience to God because of visible and invisible giants. At this point, Moses has a choice to make; go in anyway or stay with the decision of the people. Now Moses rightly knew firsthand what He was supposed to do; but decided to stay with the people of Israel and die with the defiant generation. Fast forward 40 years to Joshua 1:1-2; Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise and cross this Jordan, you and the people.” Moses decided to live and die with a generation that chose to disobey God – very pastoral, but now good leadership. Joshua told to cross over Jordan with the people. Of course, there is a new generation of people now because everyone else died. Joshua tells the people in 1:11 “you got 3 days and we are going across. Joshua the leader did not put the decision up for a vote again. He obeyed God’s instruction. So, when a church says no the Church Revitalizer has two options be a Moses or a Joshua. I would hope as a Church Revitalizer they would choose being a Joshua.
When it is decision time; after all the talking and cajoling is done, the church has to make a definitive decision. They have options because the are autonomous.
1. Say yes and mean No
2. Say No and mean No
3. Say Yes and mean Yes
It is absolutely essential for a church revitalizer to have BUY-IN from the Church and its leadership. When we look at the three options, we have to ask what exactly the vote is saying.
The Church Revitalizer needs to find out who is saying No and Why? If there is a resounding NO, then you can probably assume that there was not enough groundwork done so the people understand are comfortable with the proposal.
1. Pastor must be a risk taker, and able to make a tough decision
2. Staff – Must staff for future, not present
3. Power Brokers – emotions, power base losses
4. Older People- congregation tired, “unmovable”
5. Lay Leaders- fear of change
Change Brings Opposition, it cannot be overstated, the revitalizer must Find the Source of Opposition.
Here are some possibilities of what a NO vote may mean:
1.No may not mean to revitalization, but to the plan/approach. The people are ready, but not with the specific action plan presented.
2. A No vote could mean that too many unanswered questions remain. As a rule of thumb, the church revitalizer needs to try to “answer questions before they become questions from the people. I know this can seem like an exhausting task but providing as much information up front will alleviate questions and NO votes later. So, answer the questions before they become a question.
3. Find the barriers; in any proposal there will be barriers or non-negotiables will pop up. The Church Revitalizer must find these and deal with them before a vote is taken. That means the revitalizer has to do his homework of exegeting the Church and the Community.
Sometimes the Revitalization Team could be the hinderance to a positive Yes vote. So, the structure and substance of the Revitalization Team must be established with the right people.
Revitalization Team – this is the Working with the people of the Church step
1. Careful Selection of people; get the right people on the bus, even though you do not know where they sit
2. Communication Lines clearly established; one cannot over communicate
3. Creating By-In; the Team must own and believe the work before the congregation will. The Spies mentioned earlier did not have buy-in into the Promise Land as a personal possession.
4. Church Task not Staff Task; this is vital, for if the church only sees revitalization as something the staff is going to do – again there is no ownership. Leaders have to be on-board, lay, and professional staff
5. Clear idea of what is being asked; the people have to have a clear understanding of WHAT they are asked to do. To try and get buy-in without a plan; the revitalizer will be asking the people to buy something but have no idea what they are buying. This will result is a NO VOTE.
6. Assessment of the Church Health. The Revitalizer has to know who he is dealing with as a people. If you look at Moses’ situation, we find that they were grumblers and stiff-necked. Not really conductive to a position decision.
Handling Opposition – how a revitalizer deals with this area is crucial. Instead of trying to “win the argument” use tools at your disposal to confront and deal with conflict and opposition. Keep the “goal and vision of health” before the people. Do not let someone become the Main Distraction! Use the tools available to defuse opposition. Obviously, a Church Revitalizer has to present accurate information without prejudice or manipulation. Some of the tools listed below will circumvent a “wild Card” looking to derail the train.
1. Use Health Assessments [Transformational Church]
2. Perform SWOT analysis of Ministries
3. Perform Community Demographics analysis
4. Create Vision for a Future
5. Get the “Elephants” on the Table – a revitalizer will deal with either a dinosaur or an elephant. Dinosaurs go extinct; but elephants can adapt. Make sure you know which one you have!
Finally, No means No – in the end; an autonomous church may very well say NO and mean NO. As a Church revitalizer, you cannot become their Moses! Even the Pastor may have to evaluate who he is in light of a no vote. Ultimately a Church will decide. The revitalizer cannot become an obstacle to possible future decisions. No may mean no for now. If the Door is closed, do not bust it down. Some Churches will just die. Just as a Church will have to count the cost of moving forward or staying the same, so does the Church Revitalizer – he must count the Cost
Jim Grant, D Min
Galveston Baptist Association