Category Archives: Church Revitalization

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

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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Some Things Never Change [Here we go again!]

I am back from my recovery from open heart surgery. When we left off we were reading Leviticus; obviously I can’t capture all of our readings for the last seven weeks – so I want to pick up with Numbers 10. In Leviticus and the first nine chapters of Numbers, we find the continued instruction for the people and priests.  They are still at Mount Sinai; they camped at Sinai for a year. Israel has been out of Egypt for about 18 months when we come to Numbers 10. The track record of the people thus far is not a good one. It seems that every time the LORD tested them to determine their obedience, they failed. The people complained from the beginning of the Exodus; complaints about being drawn out to die at the Red Sea; complained about no water, or food. We even have the episode of blatant rebellion in Exodus 32 with the Golden Calf while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law. The scripture tells us that Israel is an obstinate and stiff-necked people. I was reading recently from Thom Rainer about the three kinds of church revitalization attempts. [http://thomrainer.com/2015/05/three-types-of-church-revitalization-introducing-church-answers-monthly/] He identifies them as Acquisition [90%], Covenantal [40%] and Organic [2%]. Acquisition is similar to replanting or restarting a church with new leadership. Covenantal pertains to a church agreeing on certain changes with a catalytic change agent; and Organic is when a church tries different methodologies and programs to stop the declining and dying.  My point in referencing this is that Organic is least successful because while the processes and programs have been changed, the people’s behavior/attitude has not. Some churches would die than change. When we know that upwards to 1000 churches will close this year just in the Southern Baptist Convention; obviously something has to done. If Thom Rainer’s success rates are accurate; then only when radical “surgery” occurs will there be any real effect on the dying/declining churches. As I titled this blog post, some things never change. Change is inevitable; if change doesn’t occur, death will.

Back to Numbers 11; when Israel is told to leave Mt. Sinai and head to the Promised Land; the people pick up where they left off with complaining about everything. Their complaints find the ears of the LORD and Moses; now Moses has to be commended for even when the people seem bent on ousting him, he intercedes for them. Remember now the people are still in the Wilderness; they complain about the Manna and wanting meat to eat. The fury of the LORD brings fire that singes the outskirts of the camp. The rabble as they are called continue to stir up strife and controversy. Rather than praising the LORD for deliverance from slavery and the daily sustenance. The people have a nostalgic moment, thinking back to Egypt – their memory was skewed for they made Egypt far better than it was; claiming they ate fish, leeks, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic. To me that seems like the formula for indigestion!  The people continue to complain – “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” This is the struggle with Church Revitalization – that which needs to be done, cannot be done for people would rather be like Israel and remain in Slavery [Egypt] then to move forward in the power of God. Since there are so many churches closing, one would think that people would do what is necessary for the blessing of God – Israel in its complaining still expected to receive the blessing of God – instead they got the plague of the quail. They asked for meat – boy did they get it – the point that it came out of their nostrils. Murmuring continues even from the family of Moses; Miriam and Aaron balk at the leadership of Moses. [Familiarity often breeds contempt]. After a bout of leprosy they get back in line with Moses authority.

Too often churches that once had a viable ministry decline because the focus become “What’s in it for me?” Another way of saying this is the church become “inward focused.” So what is the solution? There must be a heart change before there is a behavior change. The heart must return to the authority of the Holy Spirit, we call this REVIVAL. Israel never did change; they continued to be a stiff-necked people; would that we would learn this lesson in our time.

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Early and Latter Rains

Early and Latter Rains

As I sit writing this article, I look out across the corn and bean fields of Illinois. It is obvious that they are in need of a refreshing rain before the scoring heat of the summer withers them to just dry foliage.  It is essential that the plans that were put into action during the spring have the continued nourishing rains during the summer. The scripture talks of Early and Latter rains [Joel 2:23-25]. The growing seasons in Israel were dependent n both rains. The Early Rain came in the winter and gave hope of a spring harvest. The Latter Rain came in the spring as would be necessary for the crops to mature and produce during the arid Israeli summer months. The absence of either would spell doom for any hope of sustained crop production.

While our growing seasons are somewhat different in America, the crops planted in the spring are dependent on the snowfall and winters rains. Likewise the crops need the sustained rains for a bountiful fall harvest. As a child we grew quite a large vegetable garden. We had the early crops like snap peas and green onions that would come on pretty quickly. The rest of the produce such as tomatoes, corn on the cob, green beans and sweet potatoes would be the fall crops, used for canning and seeing our large family through the winter months. Now I like the early crops of peas, cucumbers and the like, but they won’t be around in the fall. So while it is enjoyable to eat of our labors quickly; they would all but be gone by fall. Amos 8:1 uses the image “basket of summer fruit.” The point is that summer fruit just doesn’t sustain; in fact it spoils very quickly.

In the April/May Renovate magazine, I titled my article “The Law of Inertia.” In that article I addressed such things as strategic plans and Long Range Planning; correlating it to the plans that had to be formulated in the winter month, and put into action during spring. You might at this point wonder ok, where is he going with this? The focus of this edition of Renovate is “how to sustain momentum coming out of summer.” I want to use the aforementioned discussion on crops and rain to draw a parallel to what must happen in the life of the Church.

For many [if not most] Church the summer months are the busiest time of the year. Most of the ministry done will be done during the summer months. Plans are made for mission trips, camps, VBS and backyard sports camps and such. The struggle with the “early rains” of ministry is that they are not enough to sustain a Church through the dry had fall and winters months. While there is a lot of excitement during the summer activity, and please I do not want to minimize the good works that is accomplished by these activities; but they are like the Basket of Summer Fruit, Amos talks about. The ministry has its quick rewards, but it doesn’t last. The focus too often of the ministry and missions of the Church in the summer months is “Let’s get through these activities for another year!”  Instead of trying to create or use them as launching greater sustainable “crops” for future sustenance, the objective was do the ministry and be done with it for another year. If there isn’t a goal of using these “traditional” events for longer, deeper ministry, then all we get to enjoy is the immediate rewards for our efforts. There is nothing wrong with the summer fruit, except it is consumed during the summer months, for it will spoil before winter, so it must be eaten quickly.

Now I know that with our modern day ability to irrigate crops, we can determine that there will be a fall crop. But if we are people of faith, we must trust the Lord for the Latter Rains; this blessing from God will produce the “staple” crops for canning and the rest of the year sustenance. The planning, planting, weed pulling and plowing has to continue throughout the hot summer months. I can remember complaining about the heat of the day and wishing to just bask in the food we already had. Something about tending a garden and church ministry – if we are not mindful and attentive to the crop in the field, the weeds/tares will take over and choke out the good harvest. The Work of a Church is not done when they have finished planting and harvesting the early crops; the work continues into the fall. I am reminded at this point the words of Jesus. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labors for the harvest, for the fields are already white unto harvest.”

As a child we would spend hours shucking corn, snipping beans and peeling tomatoes. There were long nights of pressure cookers and jar washing. What seemed to be an arduous task during the summer was a welcomed sight when retuning to the cellar for jars of our labors.

If a church is going to have more than “Summer Fruit” the ministry and missions work must be more that a completed task on the calendar! Every “crop/ministry” must answer the question – why did we do this? If Churches have not thoroughly thought through why they do what they do during the “missions months” then they will enter into a fall/winter season of dried up fruit, which will not sustain any momentum achieved by their hard lard in the sun.

I was so thankful for those canned jars of “latter rain” crops; for they assured that we would get through the cold months of inactivity to greet another spring filled with hope and new life.

 

 

Dr. Jim Grant

Sr. Pastor, Heartland Baptist Church

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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