What you are about to read just might be the ramblings of a mad man. I pray the words are received in the spirit in which they are given. At the end of the day I might not have a clue as to what I’m talking about. So just consider this a friendly observation from one who is still trying to work through solutions.
For the past few years church planting has received a good deal of attention, and rightly so. In fact, I’ve argued in the past that we might need to put a bit more focus on church revitalization. Though I’m certain having nothing to do with me personally, I’m happy to see that a renewed emphasis on church revitalization in struggling local churches. But I’m becoming a tad concerned with the way it is being emphasized—and here is where you can accuse me of just being a 33 year old curmudgeon.
A couple of questions.
1. Churches which are in dire need of revitalization are typically found where?
For the most part our dying and struggling churches are not in major population centers. Many of them are smaller churches under 100 who find themselves in rural areas. Many of these churches couldn’t grow to over 200 even if they wanted to. There simply aren’t much over 200 people within driving distance.
2. Who usually speaks at the conferences and leads the seminars are church revitalization?
Typically the folks leading these seminars and such are the ones who have had success (whatever that means). These guys are pastoring larger churches often in more densely populated communities.
Here is what I see happening as a result.
Mr. Revitalizer helped revitalize a dying church which was housed outside of a larger metro area. When he started his pastorate the church had fallen from its glory years and now only had about 200 discouraged attenders. They now have 1000 on Sunday morning and are still growing and reaching their community. The ship has been turned around.
So, Mr. Revitalizer is asked to speak to a group of fledgling pastors and share what worked for him. And just like the parable of the soils I see one of four things happening in response.
For one pastor, he’ll be immediately discouraged. As he looks at the age of his congregation and the sparse numbers he realizes that it is absolutely impossible to implement the new discipleship tool in his local church. Not to mention that the community he is ministering in is dying alongside the church. So he leaves the conference a bit discouraged and still feeling quite lonely.
For another pastor, he’ll get jazzed up about what worked in the great Metro area and bring these new fangled gadgets back to his local church. He’ll have a new energy and new resolve; Maybe this will be the thing which turns the church around. But he’ll soon realize that he’s putting a square block in a triangle hole. Metro ministry is not the same as rural ministry.
Yet another pastor, newly out of seminary, will go back to his local church and try to implement this plan to turn the church around. Truth be told he isn’t going to be in this church long because he has greener pastures on the horizon. But he knows that if he is going to get that pastorate he wants—in the big city—then he’ll have to grow this church. He’s got little time to make this happen and so he begins this process of change very quickly. And he gets chewed up and spit out. The local church gets blamed as just a bunch of curmudgeons and the new pastor wonders if he is even called to ministry.
And here is a little side note on this third scenario. Most of us younger pastors out of seminary are not going to get hired at the thriving church in a Metro area. We are either going to church plant or end up in a church which needs revitalization. The same thing goes for the church—when they are struggling and smaller they likely aren’t going to draw Mr. Revitalizer to pastor their church. They’ll get a young buck out of seminary. And if this young pastor views this church as just a stepping stone to greener pastoral ministry, then it is only going to perpetuate this stuff. He won’t bleed long enough. And each time this happens the church will only grow in its distrust of those who might have the energy and years left on their biological clock to turn the ship around.
Thankfully there is another pastor who will hear this talk, apply the concepts, go back to his local church and see the Lord use his efforts to turn the ship around. I’m sure it happens—but I’ve only met this guy a couple times. Most of the pastors I rub shoulders with fit into one of the other three categories.
What I’m suggesting.
We need to rethink our approach to church revitalization.
What I’ve personally found the most helpful are not seminars, conferences, or books on how to do things. Though they might work in some churches, 90% of the time those things don’t work in my local church. What has been most helpful to me are other local pastors who are in a similar environment. Men of whom I can pray with and for. Men who help me remember I’m not alone. Men who will talk me off the ledge when I feel like checking out. That has been more helpful than any guru visiting our church and telling us how to do stuff. Spend our energy on creating these types of networks.
When we do have seminars, conferences, and books focus on the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ. Encourage me with truth which is true no matter where my local church is. Remind me to drop anchor here. Encourage me to keep preaching the Word, to be faithful in the things which I can control. This is why I always try to go to the Together for the Gospel Conference. Because they don’t tell us how to do stuff. They just encourage us in Jesus—and every time I go back to my local church with more confidence in the Word and a greater love for Christ. That’ll sustain. Fads won’t.
We need less experts and more people who will give us a hug, pray with us, quietly listen, and when fitting redirect our minds and hearts to the Lord Jesus.
And when I say “pray with us” I don’t mean endlessly pray that God will bring revival and help our church become a mega church. I mean pray with us that we’ll be satisfied and content in Jesus. Pray with us that we’ll keep laboring and feeding the sheep no matter how many show up. Pray with us that we’ll have eyes to view our work and ministry the way Jesus does—and that we’ll measure success or failure accordingly.
That’s enough ramblings from this beggar…