Tag Archives: revitalization

Timothy My Son!

1 Timothy 1-5; the beginning of what has been called “the Pastoral Epistles.” Paul the Apostle and missionary is writing to his Son in the faith – Timothy. Timothy joined Paul’s missionary cadre in Acts 16. His mother is a Jew and his father a Greek. We know that Timothy was well taught the Gospel by his grandmother [Lois] and his mother [Eunice], Paul took Timothy in as the two became like father and son. Paul has left Young Timothy at Ephesus. The Church at Ephesus was a strong established church. It must have had an older contingents of congregational people, for there was a problem of Timothy’s youth. [1 Tim 4:12] So as we look at this church we actually find that it is a tough church to pastor. It is a second generation believers church; yes there were charter members still alive; but the original “core” was passing away. They could remember the glorious things that had been done in the establishing of the work in Ephesus. In Fact they could boast of Apostle Paul as the church planter, the beloved Timothy as the first pastor, then having the Patriarch John the Beloved Apostle and Jesus’ own mother part of the church. What a grand heritage! Yet we find in Revelation 2, that Ephesus had grown into a very orthodox church, looked good, believed all the right things, but they had lost their passion and first love. Imagine a church with all the things 1st Baptist Church Ephesus had going for it; yet it had lost its love for Christ.  I see Ephesus as a church that needed revitalization. It had been hot after the things of God, but was languishing in what HAD been done rather than what COULD be done. Now place a young 30 something pastor in that midst, and can you see the problems he had to face. “We have never done it that way before, that now the way we do things here.”  I am convinced that the church environment at Ephesus caused ulcers for Timothy. I am sure he tried to pastor and resolve conflict, but all this was taking its toll on him. “No longer drink just water, drink some wine for your stomach.” [1 Tim 5:23] Wine would be a stomach soother for the gastric acids of stress and worry.

These pastoral epistles have become of most importance for preachers and church ministers. How to deal with church people and problems. Often the established church is a buzz-saw for young fresh seminarians. Often they last less than 18 months, having been chewed up and spit out by staunch resistant congregations.

Paul must have been familiar with timothy’s struggles and writes to advice him on many church dynamics. It is clear that young Timothy is a called man of God. He has been discipled  by his family and Paul. Timothy having escorted Paul of his 2nd and 3rd missionary trips was intimately aware of ministry pitfalls. It is one thing to move from place to place starting churches, quite another being in one place for an extended time. Revivalist can get away with saying things that the home pastor would never even consider speaking.

In these first chapters we find a sort of laundry list of items that an established church must put in place for the organizational structure. First is the necessity of an Elder/Pastor/Bishop. In various denominations these are all still the same person, so I will use the name Pastor to identify this leadership position. The Second is the establishment of deacons. We have seen that Paul placed, overseers at the churches, and the necessity in Acts 6 for deacons to do service to the people. The character traits of both are almost exact. The leadership must have an “above reproach” personal life both in and outside the church.

Inf one was to look at Chapter 2: 9-15; you would think that Paul was sexist and against women. He said the same thing to the Corinthians. Obviously there must have been a similar problem. Paul spends chapter four is describing how women are to be in the church, and what services should include. In Chapter 5, the care or relief of widows is clearly outlined as far as who and what that ministry should look like.

Paul the “spiritual father” is instructing his son in pastoral ministry. In closing this week, Paul knew that Timothy could not do the work alone; he had to have help. chapter 1:18, invest in like-minded men who can take up the good fight with you. This enables Timothy to gain some much need relief, but also creates a legacy of passing on the Gospel. Oh Pastor listen today to the sage advice of an Elder statesmen of the Gospel – you can’t do it alone!

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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.

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What is the Answer?

What is the Answer?
What is the answer to decline and death of a continuing multitude of churches across all denominations in America? Now that you have the full question; I wonder what you have heard is the answer? Recently I have been fixated on what could possibly be done to turn the tide for Churches.
I recent heard that churches are closing their doors at a rate of 4000-6000 annually. I have heard that upwards to 91% of all churches are plateaued, declining or dying. I read that the halo effect when conducting surveys has distorted the true numbers of committed Christ followers. There is debate even among researchers as to whether the church is really dying.
If we couple with these facts the increase in crime, immorality, apathy and just plain rebellion against authority in our cities; it seems that America has a crisis on its hands.
What the answer is depends on who is seen as the cause; some are toting a political cause to the nation’s woes. Others are blaming the bent toward immorality such as homosexual marriages as the problem. Still others would look at the Church itself as the problem.
Reports outside of “Western” Christianity do not indicate Christianity as dying. While there is great conflict in other regions of the world, with many becoming martyrs; faith in Christ is anything but dead. The Church is the Bride of Christ; He said “He would build the Church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18] I do agree that the Church will not be gone from the pages of history. However I do believe that there is a cleansing of the Church; a winnowing of the wheat and chaff.
I put forth a number of suggested answers based on the theory that the Churches are the problem. Please note I said churches are the problem. It is no secret that the church has gone through many changes recently, not all for the good. The desire for “entertainment” seems to be the order of the day. Evangelism efforts are minimal, with upwards to 70% of all churches adding no one to the Kingdom of God. I often tell my church “there is too much world in the church and not enough church in the world.”
I have agonized over the condition of evangelical churches. Many in the mainline denominations have waned for years, but now that the problem [closing churches] has moved into the Southern Baptist ranks, many are seeking answers.
One answer could be Reformation. There are some that think that the Church is on the cusp of a Reformation like in the days of Martin Luther. It can be argued that the Church has lost its relevance and identity and that a full blown Reformation is the answer.
Another possibly answer is Replanting. Replanting is basically placing another congregation in a failed church. This answer could also be coupled together with the emphasis that continues to grow of planting as many new churches as possible. If the hope is plant more churches than the number that is closing; this would not be an answer but a soothing of the conscience. There is an attrition rate even within new church starts; estimates indicates that in five years after a church start, a little over half will still be open. Replanting a church in a failed area is usually done with a different ethnicity. While this might sound good, to put a beginning work in a failed area, to include giving it an old building doesn’t address the problem.
A third possibility is Return. Many books and articles have promoted the soon Return of Christ as the problem. This view holds that all the problems in the world [America] that this indicates Christ’s soon return. This has taken a stronghold on many in the Churches; especially the elderly. I am saddened that more people in American churches are looking for the second coming of Christ, while others outside Western Christianity are waiting to hear of Christ’s first coming. It is easy to think of the church at Thessalonica, and how many had quit their jobs just to wait for the soon return of Jesus. It cannot be denied that Jesus’ return in eminent, but still that is no reason to quit working.
A fourth work called Revitalization is put forth as a viable solution. Revitalization is the work of the Holy Spirit to renew the Churches who have languished in the more recent past. It requires that there was a time when the church was alive and accomplishing the Kingdom of God in their community. There is a problem with this solution; with such a high number of churches needing immediate revitalization; where do we get the people for the work? If there is only a select few for church planting and revitalization, it seems like a losing battle. Revitalization is what I believe was the work of Jesus in His writings to the Seven Churches of Revelation. Once thriving ministries, these churches were warned to “repent and remember,” and to “to wake up and strengthen that which remains.” The church then and now were experiencing gross immorality and heresy. The churches appeared to relax their faith and befriend the World around them. This is not new, for Israel did the same in the Promised Land. Both examples failed, Israel went into captivity and many of the churches, although warned – died.
Lastly, there is the option of Revival. Revival is for the Church, not the Lost. One familiar with Church history in the Western world will recall the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, along with the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. The condition of the churches and the community were deplorable. It took men like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, The Wesley brothers, Evan Roberts and Jeremiah Lanphier, to bring such a spiritual renewal. Western Christian is a mirror of the conditions then. It is obvious that America needs a revival. I have a saying; revive the people revitalize the church.
In conclusion, it is this writers opinion that Western Christianity needs both Revival in the Pews/Pulpits and People. But it also needs Revitalization in the Church. There must be clear preaching of the Gospel, there must be brokenness in the people. But there also needs to be a return to being the Church of God, not culture.
The Churches are dying because they are filled with dead, carnal Christians. Judgment must begin at the house of God. The world is the way it is because Churches/Christians are the way they are! When we quit crying out about everything else being the problem and admit our own sin, repentance and restoration become real. A restored, revived and revitalized church will change the world we live in.

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