(Josh King is lead pastor of Sachse’s First Baptist Church in Sachse, TX, and a contributor to Looks Like Reign: A Commentary on Theology, Culture and the Gospel. We are grateful to have this excellent guest post today!)
“NationsBeGlad Desiring God Int’l It’s easier to birth a baby than to raise the dead – plant new churches, don’t focus on dying churches. @edstetzer #dgnc”
I am a big fan of Dr. Ed Stetzer and would love to be at the Desiring God National Conference. Because I am not there I cannot fully know the context behind this specific tweet. This obviously hampers my ability to speak in detail to what is actually being quoted in the above tweet. However, the sentiment in the quoted tweet is disturbing to me, which is a bit unusual. I have read almost everything produced by Dr. Stetzer and the DG website is a constant resource to and for me, so to take issue with something emanating from one or the other of them is a bit unusual for me.
When I came to the church I am currently at, I found myself regularly struggling with this perspective from my friends and colleagues. Many of them told me not to go to the little church with financial problems and what seemed like a fair amount of sickness and poor church health. In spite of that, God was clearly leading and my wife and I were glad to follow His leadership.
So, with an admitted sensitivity in favor of the existing church, here are a few points where I feel the attitude of ignoring what appears to be dying churches, in favor of starting something new may fall short of God’s best.
- The example of Christ. Jesus was in the business of raising people from the dead. Pursuing Christ’s example demands that we equally commit ourselves to restoration and revival with the same fervor that we commit ourselves to new work(s).
- The church is worth fighting for. God establishes the church in a community and as servants of God we should care about what he cares about. The local church is his plan for reaching the world, not to mention his bride. It seems counter-intuitive to simply give up on her.
- Resources are limited. Both planting and revitalizing require resources but established churches many times already have buildings and staff. To simply write off those resources may lead us to a position of being poor stewards of what God has entrusted to us.
- God is the life giver. Often the reason is it easier to plant rather than to revitalize stems from the planter’s arrogance and unwillingness to love the sheep, not to mention a man-centered, pragmatic approach to church “success”. When you plant you get to call the shots. You do not have to care for the sheep the previous guy wounded. Church restoration is not easy, but the people of God are worth it. When we understand that “Paul plants, Apollos waters but God gives the increase” than we will find ourselves committed to the hard tasks, even if the reward seems improbable.
Hear me, I do not want to fabricate a distinction between planters and ‘pastors’. Both are necessary and both should be celebrated, and in many ways both are entwined in the same person. However, I do hope that we can expose this unnecessary rejection of hurting churches in the pursuit of what we may perceive to, in fact, be an easier path.
One friend recently asked me why I would want to pastor a First Baptist Church, particularly because ‘they have deacons.’ My response was something along the lines of ‘the Spirit led me’. From the outside looking in it may be easy to assume that this church was dying, in fact many had already declared it dead. However, since coming, I know that God has been at work. There has been a new life and our influence in the community has gone from almost non-existent to a constant force. I understand that voices that promote church planting are not necessarily against revitalization, and I appreciate that, but I think we need to take it a step further and remember that God is passionate about restoration and renewal, just as he is passionate about new works. It is my conviction that it takes a strong man to plant a church and it takes a man with true grit to fight for the dying ones. No one said either was supposed to be easy.