It is because we ourselves have made the church, and keep making it, into something which it is not. It is because we talk too much about false, trivial human things and ideas in the church and too little about God. It is because we make the church into a playground for all sorts of feelings of ours, instead of a place where God’s word is obediently received and believed. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon: Ambassadors for Christ, 10/22/1933
‘Church Revitalization’ Category
April 22, 2013 by Jeff
March 20, 2012 by Jeff
I came across the following in class today while reading The Bondage of the Will with our eighth graders. It struck me as remarkably timeless – or at least timely for our own day despite being written nearly 500 years ago.
If you aren’t familiar with the work let me set the scene: Luther is responding to Desiderius Erasmus’ On Free Will in which Erasmus had criticized Luther. In his work Erasmus had written the following (on which Luther latches with his typical tenacity):
“I find so little satisfaction in assertions that I would readily take up the skeptics’ position wherever the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s decisions permit…I gladly submit to these authorities in all they lay down whether I follow it or not.”
It will aid understanding if we define assertions (as Luther himself did at length in his book). The quickest summary I can offer of what is meant here by assertion is this: “Positive statements of religious doctrine.” Assertions are statements like “Jesus is Lord” or “There is one God who exists in three persons.” Erasmus wants to avoid those whenever possible. Luther, obviously, doesn’t think that is a good idea:
“In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace; you would be happy for anyone whose life, reputation, welfare or influence was at stake to emulate him who said ‘if they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I’ & you would encourage him to treat Christian doctrines as no better than the views of human philosophers — about which, of course it is stupid to wrangle & fight & assert, since nothing results but bad feeling & breaches of outward peace. ‘What is above us does not concern us’ — that is your motto. So you intervene to stop our battles; you call a halt to both sides, and urge us not to fight any more over issues that are so stupid and sterile.
By so doing you merely let us see that in your heart you cherish a Lucian, or some other hog of Epicurus’ heard, who, because he is an atheist himself, finds in all who believe in God and confess Him a subject for secret amusement. Leave us free to make assertions and to find in assertions our satisfaction and delight; and you may applaud your Sceptics and Academics – till Christ calls you too! The Holy Spirit is no Sceptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions, but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life itself.”
How relevant is that to a day where so many wear as a badge of pride their refusal to acknowledge doctrinal distinctives in their practice of the Christian faith (as if that can even be done)? Erasmus sounds like he could be speaking as a representative of a myriad of groups whose only confessed doctrine is the avoidance of doctrinal confessions. Even more he completely turns the whole process of being discerning about Christian truth over to his chosen religious authority – much the same way that people sit comfortably under unbiblical preaching every Sunday from a person they have deep affection for because trusting the person is easier than the hard work of comparing what is said to Scripture.
Rather than avoiding “assertions” Luther argues we should love truth.
“The Christian would rather say this: ‘So little do I like skeptical principles, that, so far as the weakness of my flesh permits, not merely shall I make it my invariable rule steadfastly to adhere to the sacred text in all that it teaches, and to assert that teaching, but I also want to be as positive as I can about those non-essentials which scripture does not determine; For uncertainty is the most miserable thing in the world.”
 AKA Erasmus of Rotterdam
 Despite the two earlier sharing similar concerns regarding the Roman Catholic church; Erasmus eventually concludes that Luther is too radical and a break with Rome would be too drastic.
 Lucian of Samosata, a second century satirist who made sport of Christians – most notably in his work titled Passing of Peregrinus.
 I’m quoting from the translation of The Bondage of the Will created by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston and thus retain their spelling. Skeptics for Luther represent those who never actually get around to saying anything because they are so busy asking questions – a reality that reveals the pointlessness of their system. For more information click here.
January 6, 2011 by Jeff
For some time now I had been kicking around the idea of writing something to help guide pastor search committees because, at least in my Southern Baptist circles, there seems to be a dearth of resources that present Biblically guided wisdom on how to go about the process. However, before I was able to write something up along came the January/February 2011 9 Marks E-Journal with a section on search committees written by Dr. Dever that covers almost everything I would want to say with greater eloquence than I could muster. Nonetheless, I have a few thoughts to add (mostly in terms of emphasis) that will follow Dr. Dever’s material.
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What’s Wrong With Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor
By Mark Dever
Some very godly folks serve today in such committees around the country, and even around the world, giving freely of their time to help their congregation find a new pastor. The decision is a momentous one for the sake of their church, and therefore those on the committee give their time prayerfully and with a sense of a being given a sacred privilege. Thank you to those who have approached this task lovingly and dutifully!
But here’s the problem: if churches were healthier, we’d never need to call together such a committee. The last guy would have helped the elders to make sure that this was taken care of before he left. Indeed, the last guy would have realized that one of the most important parts of his ministry in a church is ushering in his replacement! Failing that, the elders of a church still should still have taken the lead in ushering the church toward choosing a man who meets the biblical requirements and deftly handles the Word.
Sadly, too many pastors and elders have failed to discharge this crucial responsibility, and so congregations have been left with no choice but to create a committee. But this is like making the teenage son and daughter parent their younger siblings because mom and dad are absent. The teenagers can get the job done, and how grateful we are for them. But they inevitably do the work with a limp because they lack the natural resources and advantages of the parents.
Let’s consider some dangers and pitfalls that may await the average search committee. Then in the next article we’ll consider why the church’s elders, including the outgoing pastor, are best suited to leading the search for a pastor’s replacement.
THE DANGERS AND PITFALLS OF SEARCH COMMITTEES
1) The basic problem. The basic problem with search committees is that they are typically built to do the wrong thing. They’re built—again, typically, not always—to represent different portions of the congregation in the process of finding a pastor. So you get some women on the committee to represent the women’s perspective, men to represent the men, young and old to represent different ages, the businessman, the deacon, the musicians, and so forth. In other words, search committees are built to put the principle of representation to work. And it makes sense that corporate-minded, democratic Westerners would think this way, doesn’t it!
There’s nothing wrong with incorporating the interests of different kinds of people, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. The most important criteria which the people responsible for nominating the next pastor should meet is an ability to represent not the interests of different kinds of people but the ?interests of the Bible, if I can put it like that. This group needs to understand the Scripture well—how to ?rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)—so that they will prioritize what Scripture prioritizes in looking for a pastor. Yes, these individuals should be interested in finding someone who knows how to love and serve men and women, young and old, and every other group in the church, just as Paul instructs Timothy about how to love different kinds of people in the pastorals. But this group must approach their job asking first what Scripture says. And then they should have the pastoral wisdom and experience necessary for differentiating between those candidates who meet the biblical criteria in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional fashion.
Since the committee’s search engine uses the wrong principles, it’s more likely to hobble along, stuck with the following problems that produce a limp:
2) Undue influence from outside denominational leaders. If your church belongs to a denomination where the authority of Scripture is under attack, consider very carefully the interests that denominational leaders have in making sure you get a pastor who’s acceptable to them. They may have unsavory theological or political reasons to want to install certain people in your congregation, and they can exercise undue influence on committee lay people who humbly want to defer to ?the professionals.?
Will the influence of denominational leaders always be bad? Certainly not! But as a congregationalist I believe that those men who have been given a specific biblical charge to lead a congregation—the elders—are at least less likely (and maybe I’m being idealistic!) to be susceptible to unsavory outside influence.
3) Wrongly-guided members of the committee. Sometimes members of the search committee are the biggest hindrance. This is more likely to occur when the committee is not chosen fundamentally to represent the Bible’s ?interests. Sometimes a church will have a businessman who wields great influence in the church. More than once I’ve heard of such men who basically set out to ?hire a preacher for their church. Such people view the church as their own private property. Too often committees can be dominated by such folks, rather than being led by the elders (Heb. 13:7, 17).
4) A suspicion of pastors. Some of you may feel uneasy about pastors leading in finding good successors because it could seem like giving the current pastor too much influence. Maybe you view the interim time between pastorates as time for a congregation to catch its breath, or be rejuvenated, or recover, or whatever may be the need after the last pastorate.
But what if the pastorate has gone well? Is it proud of the elders (along with the senior pastor) to try to serve the congregation in one of the most monumental decisions it will ever make? I’d say just the opposite. I’d say it’s part of their very job as elders! And keep in mind 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13!
Finally, it’s the present leaders who will be in a good position to harvest and apply lessons learned during previous pastorates.
5) A beauty pageant mentality. Too often search committees will look at a number of different candidates, rank them, and conduct a kind of pastoral skills tournament, all while sincerely wanting the best for their church. But does our church really need to have a good pastor who is better than other good pastors? Wouldn’t we really be better off simply looking one brother at a time for someone who could serve us well? We don’t want to turn our search process into a kind of pastoral beauty pageant.
Consider how a man looks for a wife. He doesn’t line them up, glance over their resumes, and then compare them to one another. Through natural relationship networks, he gets to know them one at a time. He takes time to know a woman’s character. Why should finding a shepherd to lead and feed God’s people be treated with care?
Admittedly, elders can approach a pastoral search as if it were a beauty pageant too. But hopefully, as elders, they will know better!
6) Risk aversion, which prioritizes experience over character and giftedness. Search committees tend to be too risk-averse. Again, the very nature of the committee is to represent the congregation, which means they’re designed to look for a candidate that pleases the congregation. And the only way to satisfy everyone—often—is to find the middle-of-the-read, milquetoast candidate.
Most commonly, committees prefer experience over character and giftedness. It’s true that young men tend to have great acuity, but poor depth perception. They see truth sharply (and often accurately) but don’t have experience in knowing how to implement things well. But that’s not true of all of them. And a humble character which seeks wisdom from older, godly men is a sign of a good leader.
God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades. Committees, frankly, just don’t have this long-term perspective.
7) An inordinate hunger for résumés. Search committees also tend to have an inordinate hunger for résumés! They’ll take hundreds! But wouldn’t it be easier and more immediately productive to get a single reference from a trusted pastor? If there is no one in your congregation suited to be a regular teacher of God’s Word in every-Sunday preaching, then find a church you like, with a pastoral ministry you like, and approach that pastor for a suggestion. Pursue that person until you are certain he would not be good. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy.
Now, elders looking for a pastor can be resume-happy, too. But again, the elders—as men chosen to lead a church because they can ably teach the Word—should know better. On the other hand, the very business-like premise of a search committee veers them toward vetting résumés.
8 ) Patterns of secrecy. Often search committees travel with some secrecy to other churches, hoping to observe a pastor in his natural habitat (his current church) in order to see how he operates, all unbeknownst to his present congregation with whom they are worshipping.
One of my favorite memories is, one Sunday morning in the service, asking a visiting pulpit search committee to stand so that we could pray for them. Don’t worry; I had told them I would do this, though they didn’t believe me!
I also remember talking to one search committee about various folks they were considering—each of whom were flourishing in their current churches—and asking them to consider carefully why they would ask them to leave such flourishing ministries.
Such committees should understand that this kind of ladder-climbing really tempts some men in ministry. But why do we think God loves our congregation more than the one whose pastor we would take? Why would we be so secretive? Does this suggest that something may be amiss? Do you know where your pastor was preaching last weekend? What does this suggest about how this potential pastor might treat your congregation one day?
9) A fixation on credentials. Search committees also tend to require credentials. And this makes sense: They don’t know the person and want some validation of their abilities. Degrees provide a commonly accepted currency of pastoral proficiency.
But again, what may commonly be the case isn’t always the case. Such artificial criteria for sorting through the volume of résumés can hide choice servants of God. While I generally encourage young men to train at a seminary, some of the best pastors I know don’t have MDiv’s.
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where he arrived as a young cub and chewed things up for a while.
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As quickly as possible, a few points of emphasis related to what Dr. Dever said based on my observation and experience with the search committee process.
1. Be Careful What you Look For – Dr. Dever noted that we tend to have a fascination with credentials and recommendations from prominent leaders outside the church. This looks like finding someone with a certain percentage of church growth in their most recent church, someone serving on the staff of First Baptist Big Shot under insert-name-of-prominent-pastor, or someone with this or that specific degree and this number of years experience in ministry.
If you have experience with pastor search committees you know how common those types of criteria are amongst those looking to fill a pulpit. Common though they may be they should be properly identified as the fruit of a bad assumption, namely that the church is supposed to generate criteria by which to evaluate a candidate for ministry. The reason that is a bad assumption is that God has already directed His people in this matter. God’s requirements for Pastors are (summarized):
- Strong character
- Loyal to his wife and family
- Wise, self-controlled, hospitable, and able to teach
- Not subject to vice or desirous of conflict
- Free from the love of money
- In control of his household
- A mature believer
- Of reasonably good reputation amongst non-believers
- Committed to expounding the full counsel of God’s Word
You can see God’s criteria most clearly in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. What God has said represents the sum total of what qualifies a man for ministry in the church. God doesn’t need our innovations or additions (had an M.Div been a proper requirement for the office God would have mentioned it). To go beyond what God has required is as dangerous as (and closely related to) acting as if He had never said anything at all. This leads me to my next point of emphasis.
2. Be Careful Where you Look – if one takes seriously the first point – that God has given us all the criteria we can operate from when looking for a pastor – then you realize very quickly that God’s criteria demand a familiarity with the person’s life.
This familiarity with the candidate’s life is precisely the thing that a resume cannot communicate. Yes, resumes contain references that can be contacted in order to ask about the issues of the candidates’ life. However, references are hand-selected by the candidate and thus are not a good source of objective data about the information God has indicated is of utmost importance. As a result the resume system should be largely abandoned, at least for those who are so removed from the church’s local community that evaluating the resume in light of the candidate’s conformity to God’s criteria cannot be evaluated reasonably well. This will take us to my final point.
3. Be Careful Who you Look At – So if resumes from far off aren’t a legitimate means of finding viable pastoral candidates what is? Dr. Dever recommends contacting one trusted pastor and starting there, dealing with one candidate at a time. While that is certainly a more reasonable method than the resume system I think his other suggestion – to look within the congregation – is the most helpful (and the one most consistent with the Biblical data and practice of the early church). I believe candidates from within the congregation are perhaps the most consistently overlooked pool of potential candidates in the current Southern Baptist climate and yet I am confident that it is this group that should be the first consideration when looking to fill a local congregation’s pulpit. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The church is hoping for a super-pastor or, at least, the next super-pastor. There is all kinds of wrong thinking here. One, it assumes that a prominent pastor is what God has prescribed for that church. Two, (and this is more dangerous) it assumes that there is something to the person (or personality) of the pastor that drives ministry success. Three, it assumes that the next prominent pastor is outside the congregation.
- The church looks too critically at candidates within their congregation. There are flaws that are evident within young men in the congregation. However, there are also flaws – flaws the congregation cannot see – in the men sending their resumes in from hundreds of miles away. The more dangerous is the latter in that the church won’t be able to evaluate those flaws until after the pastor is hired. Dever’s advice to let a young minister to make mistakes is the healthier route to pursue when it comes to dealing with flaws in the candidate.
What should be done if, after diligent search is made, a legitimate candidate cannot be discerned within the congregation? Find candidates from existing connections in the church and/or churches of like faith in the immediate area. Ask the congregation for recommendations of people they know personally. Contact healthy local churches in the nearby area and ask about potential candidates within their congregation. Better to take an outsider from 20 miles away (that can be more easily evaluated in light of God’s criteria) than one from 250 miles away.
Bear in mind too (as additional incentive) that a pastor from within the church, within the same area, or with existing ties to the congregation will be much more likely to stay for a long tenure than a candidate who comes in from outside; those who move in are more likely to move out.
Reading the entirety of the 9 Marks eJournal would be helpful to any search committee.
May 4, 2010 by Jeff
Here we are. Southern Baptists have been on a very long trip from last year’s annual meeting to May 3rd, 2010 – the date of publication for the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. As a Convention we find ourselves a little over a month and 1/2 from our next annual meeting at which we will act as a body on this very report.
What the GCR task force has produced comes to us in a fairly timely fashion, giving us more than 40 days to chew on, discuss, and debate the document that so many are hoping will reorient and revitalize our convention around the gospel and our responsibility to make disciples of all nations.
Here’s my .02 contribution to the conversation (and I’m sure the actual value is far less than that sum).
1. I was glad to read the GCR report’s explicit statement about the central importance of the Cooperative Program in fulfilling the Great Commission: “The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program.”
My church is small, out of the way, uninfluential, and far from wealthy. Left to our own devices we’d barely be able to contribute to the work of a single missionary, let along broadly participate in world-wide mission work. Yet through the Cooperative Program we are connected with a global missionary endeavor that multiplies our contribution exceedingly. I’m thankful for the Cooperative Program and remain convinced that it is far and away the best system for participating in missions, regardless of the size of the church involved.
2. One of my concerns about how the SBC allocates funds going in to the Louisville was the relationship between the NAMB and the IMB regarding spheres of responsibility. I was primarily concerned with overlap; it appeared to my Southern Baptist eyes that in the domestic U.S. a great number of people were employed between the two entities working overlapping jobs. It is encouraging to see the GCR put in print what common sense should have dictated all along – namely that the IMB would partner or cooperate with the NAMB in reaching unreached people groups within the boarders of the United States. Having read the final GCR report I see that there is language speaking to ways in which the NAMB and IMB should be directed but I’m concerned that the language remains vague to the point that I don’t see anything practical that will remove the overlap between the two agencies (and the resulting inefficient use of funds). To my eyes the GCR focuses primarily on the NAMB, less so the IMB. I’m quite fine with that if the proposed system is the best way to utilize Cooperative Fund money. What I’m not clear on is who does what and why. For instance, if the NAMB is going to be the agency charged to “implement a missional strategy for planting churches in North America with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and underserved people groups” what do we then anticipate when we read later that “[The IMB] has the charge to develop strategies for reaching these unreached and undeserved people groups around the world” which is followed by “We need to allow the IMB to utilize those skills and that knowledge within North America as well.” Even more confusing, the very next sentence declares that it “makes no sense to duplicate this effort and work with an artificial separation of mission.”
How can we charge two entities to reach underserved people (the same terminology use for both the NAMB and IMB) and no create overlap and duplicate effort? Since I don’t imagine the NAMB will just close down because the IMB is freely operating in the U.S. and I assume that, continuing in operation, the NAMB will also continue to participate in missions in North America – you know, reaching unreached/underserved people in the U.S. – I can see no reason that inefficient overlap (and even competition) won’t continue.
Yes, I realize that the GCR report says “[The NAMB] retains the leadership mission of reaching North American with the gospel” but what does this really mean, practically speaking? The ideology of the GCR on the NAMB and IMB relationship is fine but in the absence of specific parameters for this relationship I don’t anticipate much change taking place.
3. The GCR reproduces our current myopic emphasis on planting new congregations as the solution to any and all problems. Let me say up front that I’m in favor of planting new congregations… where they are needed. I am adamantly opposed to planting new churches in areas well saturated by established churches that aren’t being utilized to their fullest potential. Until language is in place encouraging the implementation and revitalization of established churches in a given area as a priority equal to or – *gasp* – even greater than planting a new congregation we’re going to be unnecessarily locked into a one-size fits all approach that isn’t wise or efficient. Revitalizing existing churches will require dollars, just like planting new ones. As long as a financial commitment to implementing reinvigorated established churches is missing from the GCR (and by extension the SBC) we aren’t going to have a resurgence of the great commission.
4. The GCR began as a grass-roots groundswell to see a greater investment of Cooperative Program resources invested in spreading the gospel worldwide. The perception is that the SBC is more bloated bureaucracy than missions agency, a situation that led many to question whether or not the SBC was more of an aid or hindrance to the Great Commission. In response the best and brightest amongst us were appointed to a year-long task force that would address and trim the fat from the SBC so that our denomination would be refined into a lean, mean, gospel-sending machine. And what now do we see as the product of our efforts at missional reformation? If followed the GCR taskforce will lead the SBC to increase Cooperative Program to the International Mission Board (and, implicitly, foreign missions)…
1 percent more than current levels.
The sound effect in cartoons when something disappointing happens sounds something like Wahmp-Whamp-Whamp-Waaaaaah. It is hard not to hear that sound effect in your mind when reading the final recommendation. Someone said this works out to an increase of $3 Million dollars which sounds much better than 1 percent but I have strong concerns about whether or not this is enough.
One, the question about whether or not the 1 percent increase is enough rises from the need. You can read the GCR report for yourself for an accounting of all the unreached people groups with no exposure to the gospel or the scores living in our own borders who have never heard the gospel. The need is great. I’m not sure that a 1% increase – even if it represents $3,000,000 extra dollars going to the field – is enough to meet the need.
Two, I don’t know if 1 percent is enough to satiate the court of public appeals. The GCR is supposed to be a REVOLUTION, man. It was going to trim out all the excess – kill the bureaucracy and oust the bureaucrats.
But on paper we get 1%.
Look, I’m a realist. I know that a ship as large as the SBC takes a loooooong time to turn. I realize that some of our members, particularly those who have been in SBC life for many years, need and deserve a bit of time to adjust. I can see that the GCR is a necessary first step, an articulation of ideology that will guide further action. I also realize that even small budget percentages in an organization as large as the SBC amounts to drastic real-world differences.
However, I’m also realistic about my generation. I know the ones most loudly talking (and Tweeting and blogging) about being missional are the ones hardest to satisfy. Frankly speaking we’re arrogant, self-confident beyond reason, and iconoclastic to the core. 1% won’t satisfy the thirst of those who think they know a better way to support missions. I’m afraid that a significant percentage of them will head off in any number of directions not realizing that separate we can’t accomplish even a portion of what we could together. As individuals my generation thinks we are the next Luther, Calvin, Wilberforce or Spurgeon. Well, if not that then at least the next Driscoll. We never realize that we’re much more likely to be unknown than well known. I’m afraid this inappropriate self confidence will cause us to break apart the greatest system of supporting mission work that has been produced in the name of new ventures that won’t touch the significance of what we sacrificed to attempt them.
I hope I’m wrong.
In Louisville I voted for the GCR taskforce and I’m glad I did. While I have concerns about the impact of the final report I stand behind what the GCR report represents. I only hope we have enough time to work out the bugs in the process before we kill the golden goose.
September 2, 2009 by Jeff
This is the final post in response to J.D. Greearâ€™s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here, my second here, the third here, and the fourth here.
Working to revitalize existing churches around the Gospel is pure Kingdom work. Godâ€™s affections are set upon His people in His Son and the one who works for the benefit of the church labors at a task close to the heart of God. Because the work is so important an so closely related to Godâ€™s priorities I would suggest we should attempt church revitalization if:
I. God really is Sovereign
Much has been said about finding strategic locations and people who will follow leadership. However, if God really is Sovereign, anywhere can be strategic. Jerusalem was in the backwaters of the Roman Empire and yet the church in that city managed to send the Gospel to the ends of the world.
II. The Word really does produce faith.
I find it personally disheartening when I hear or read about the need to find a location where the people in the church are ready for change and willing to follow the leader. No doubt this is a wonderful situation to minister in. On the other hand, do the obstinate not need a Pastor and a Preacher? Isnâ€™t the Word full of examples of men who have been called â€“ and exhausted their lives â€“ working with flint-faced people? Also, if the preaching of the Word is really Godâ€™s instrument of producing faith then canâ€™t we expect revival to break out in even the rockiest soil?
One other thought: could it be possible that what is interpreted by the minister as a refusal to follow his leadership could in reality be a case of a congregation is exercising wisdom or discretion that the minister doesnâ€™t appreciate? Is the pastor the only one who can discern the appropriate course for the church? The Baptist in me has a hard time believing that every time you hear about a church unwilling to get on board with God that the problem lies in the congregation.
III. The Great Commission is really about making disciples rather than just converts.
Statistics, measurables, strategic planning and evaluation: these are the tools of ministry that I see lauded in many books about the church and ministry. The problem is how one measures discipleship. We know what a disciple is but how to you chart that in a bar graph? What if success in ministry is largely un-measurable? Do we have categories for that though any longer?
IV. The church really is designed to demonstrate Godâ€™s glory.
This is the ultimate kicker for me. God is glorified in saving men from all tribes and tongues solely on the basis of His mercy and power. The collection of the redeemed doesnâ€™t bring glory to Him because they are so impressive but because His love for them is. Angels, demons, believers, and even the lost see the church as curiously amazing in its collection of disparate people brought together under the love of God. What greater motivation do we have for working toward revitalization? God is glorified in our efforts even if we donâ€™t register numerical increase or find personal fulfillment in the response of those we work with. While it is possible that working to revitalize a church isnâ€™t the Lordâ€™s will I would argue that those cases are vastly smaller in number than the ones in which revitalization absolutely is the Lordâ€™s will.
July 30, 2009 by Jeff
This is the fourth in a series of posts in response to J.D. Greearâ€™s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here, my second here, and the third here.
I initially had a spot of difficulty in understanding how Greearâ€™s fourth post @ the Resurgence blog on the subject of church revitalization actually related to the topic at hand. I have since concluded that Greear is giving guidelines to leaders attempting revitalization about how to deal with the conflict that arises from making changes in an established church which are necessary to reorient the congregation toward fulfilling the Great Commission.
Sadly, I know of no one who has been involved with congregational life for any significant amount of time that hasnâ€™t seen conflict arise in connection with a Pastor. The reasons for this conflict are almost as numerous as the occurrences: spiritual immaturity in the pastor or congregation, failure to communicate clearly, poor (or lack of) policy, spiritual attack, poor decisions, poor pacing for change, etc etc ad nauseam. I was listening to The God Whisperers and heard a new one: church member Joe works all day every day of the week as Employee 462 installing blue bolt 16 on widget B; heâ€™s anonymous, marginalized, and powerless for most of his waking life. However, in the church, he has the power to bring everything in the church to a screeching halt simply by speaking in a certain way in church business meetings or hallways. The root of this example holds true for clergy as well: pastors often decide since they are The Man of God in the church that their perspective, preferences, and opinions are ordained from on high and begin to exercise a kind of totalitarianism rather than the servant leadership modeled by Christ.
I (and you) could provide countless hours of analysis and examples of this very problem. To get back on track let me quote Greearâ€™s recommendation on how to evaluate problems that arise which involve the pastor:
â€¦we [Elders] should never fight to protect our reputation, but we should be willing to fight to protect the body. It may superficially appear “humble” and “Christ-like” to obsequiously walk away and surrender when you are being attacked, but you may be doing the church a great disservice in doing so. You may be turning your flock over to wolves. No shepherd worthy of Jesus’ name should ever do that. You need to say “only over my dead body.” The church is Jesus’ most expensive investment. She is worth fighting, even dying, to protect.
Taking his cues from Paulâ€™s life, Greear says by implication that when defending oneself doesnâ€™t benefit the local church donâ€™t do it (Phil 1:13) but when protecting the body entails defending oneself (2 Corinthians) then it is incumbent upon the pastor to roll up his sleeves.
That is a much more healthy paradigm for evaluating conflicts in the body than our most prevalent model: fight or flight.
You know this model well. Something comes up, generally not anything as important as doctrinal error or unconfessed sin, two parties (at least) form, and the fight is on! Those who donâ€™t join one of the groups quickly flee for another congregation. Pastors, deacons, and laity are all equally prone to this behavior; dig in your heels and load your guns or update the olâ€™ resume/start church shopping.
None of that â€“ as Iâ€™m sure you know â€“ looks anything like how God intends conflicts in the body to be resolved (Matthew 18). Our fight or flight tendencies dishonor the head of the Body. It is more reasonable when these conflicts arise for the two parties to have an honest discussion with one another about their differences and then, if no resolution is found, involve successively more Godly peopleâ€™s council until a solution is found.
I would encourage anyone reading this to make use of Greearâ€™s paradigm but modify it in such a way that – regardless of your conclusion about whether to defend yourself or not â€“ your first step will be to conversate with the other party/parties.
Iâ€™m convinced that being consistent with the Matthew 18 process as the every-time go to strategy for resolving conflict would take us farther in restoring the health of our churches than anything not connected with doctrine and preaching. Churches growing in health are churches that are being revitalized, thus the need for Biblical conflict resolution couldnâ€™t be greater.
July 21, 2009 by Jeff
This past Sunday we had our first State of the Church meeting. After a couple weeks of advertisements following our corporate worship services we had 27 people in attendance. I counted 5 members who attend regularly but werenâ€™t there for the meeting. The rest were what I consider the core of the church. To my mind this is confirmation that the real membership of our church is around 30 rather than the more than 150 we have on the church roll (even after removing some in the previous year).
I gave my church some rough demographics about our county: 5500 people, 22 churches (not counting the four Churches of Christ in the community because frankly I am highly suspicious about whether or not Campbelite doctrine excludes the gospel). You can do the math and figure out that if every church in our community was filled equally they would all run around 215 in attendance.
I also had those gathered in the meeting raise their hands as I called out the age groups they fit in to (65 or older, 64 to 45, 44 to 25, 24 to 18, and 18 and under). We had more than a few hands raised in the 65 + category, most of the rest in the 64 to 45, and 3 total from 44 down (Christie, another lady, and myself). This is very much out of step with our county in which 31.2% of the population is under 24 years of age. Said another way, the ratio for our church of those under 44 to the rest of the congregation is 3/30 or 10%. In our county that same ration (under 44) is 3288/5508, or 59.7%.
While there are a number of positives in our church that I am very thankful for this disparity in age is very troubling. I thus presented to the church that, while we leave room for God to do what He wants, the numbers indicate that Welchland as a church will die within one or, at the most, two generations.
That sounds pretty dire but I am not convinced that death is the only future for our church. Insofar as Welchland serves the Lord in reaching Van Buren county with the gospel the church’s life is ensured. There is tremendous opportunity for ministry in our county. I asked our members if they knew of any church in the community that was currently averaging 200 in worship. They suggested one that possibly might be (one of the Churches of Christ). I also asked if any knew of a church offering a dedicated ministry to Students. None knew of any. My challenge to Welchland was to be the church aggressively taking the gospel to our community.
There are of course obstacles. Campbelite doctrine is rampant. Resources are scarce. The population is itself quite small. I would counter that the gospel is not subservient to any of these factors. While no mega church will likely be born in Van Buren County it is entirely possible that a congregation can thrive if the Lord blesses.
I suggested very simple changes to our church: one, intentionally reaching out to the generations we are missing in our church; two, hiring a Minister to Students; three, emphasizing the development of personal relationships with neighbors for the opportunity of presenting the gospel through word and deed.
Next week the church responds to what I presented. Part of me is worried that we as a body wonâ€™t take seriously the issues we are facing. The other is that we will but wonâ€™t know how to proceed. If you are reading this and have a moment to say a prayer for Welchland I would appreciate it greatly.
One other thing Iâ€™ve been kicking around in my head on this issue: There are three large congregations in White County (one of our nearest neighbors) and as many in Warren County (another close neighbor). I have been considering approaching these churches about sponsoring Welchland as a local mission.
Well, I can think of why not from their end but on my end it seems as appropriate as investing in church planting. We are a community with no thriving churches and one, considering the lack of church attendance and Campeblite doctrine, that is in dire need of the gospel. Doesnâ€™t that sound like a good place to invest mission resources?
Specifically I wonder if they (or any other church really â€“ Iâ€™ll take support from anyone if there arenâ€™t bad strings attached) would consider sending money to support staff positions or â€“ and this is perhaps more radical â€“ donating families in the age ranges we need to reach ala what happens when churches launch new congregations in the same general area. I know of couples that go to the mission field together. What about a more limited mission posting, one that wouldnâ€™t require language training or a passport but one that required a longer drive to church? It might only sound reasonable to me but darned if it doesnâ€™t make sense to my mind.
Any comments? Iâ€™d love to hear them.
July 14, 2009 by Jeff
This is the third in a series of posts in response to J.D. Greearâ€™s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here and my second here.
I wish J.D. Greearâ€™s third post on The Resurgence blog had came before his second. In that post Mr. Greear says exactly what I wish more people were saying to those who were considering leaving an established church to plant a new congregation.
As a matter of fact, I wish all ministers – regardless of context â€“ could hear and embrace the theme of Greearâ€™s third post: Don’t Underestimate Staying Power.
I think, assuming that the Lord tarries, church history will look back on our era and marvel about how rapidly our ministers hopped from church to church (Yes, it may be naÃ¯ve to think that future generations will have longer tenures but I can hope canâ€™t I?). In contrast to our day, read the ministers of â€“ for example â€“ Jonathan Edwardâ€™s day. The language they use to describe a minister taking a church is betrothal in nature. The strong connotation is that this minister will be with this congregation for life unless something unforeseen takes place.
Greearâ€™s post talks of the cumulative good of multiple hands working at a common task (the flywheel illustration in his post) is good reminder that great works really rely on multiple works (even if a few tend to get the lionâ€™s share of attention). How fast could we the wheel turn if we spent our life giving it spins?
Greearâ€™s also right that this task of slow and steady labor toward revitalization is Kingdom work.
Think about Jesus’ story of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. The whole parable seems ridiculousâ€”God is compared to an unjust, uncaring judge who answers a widow’s request simply because she is annoying. It almost seems blasphemous, but the point is that if an unjust judge will respond to persistence, won’t the just, compassionate God of the universe? For whatever reason, God has ordained that some miracles only come through persistent asking. Sometimes we give up when we don’t see an immediate miracle, but we might be giving up right before God gives us what we are seeking.
Our God encourages [/commands] persistent labor. May God grant us grace to embrace this truth.
July 9, 2009 by Jeff
This is the second in a series of posts in response to J.D. Greearâ€™s series on Church Revitalization at The Resurgence Blog. You can my first post here.
Greearâ€™s second post centers on his second question about whether or not to attempt church revitalization: Has God Been Preparing the Church for Revitalization?
Here is his thesis:
If God has not orchestrated revival, and you don’t see signs of God’s movement within the congregation, I would not advise attempting to revitalize the church.
Greearâ€™s next point is refreshingly humble. He downplays his own involvement in the revitalization of what became Summit Church, a move not often seen by those who have found as much success in ministry as Greear has.
People are often deceived by our story. I came to the Summit Church in 2002. Shortly afterwards, we sold our building and replanted the church under a new vision. What most people don’t know is that God had taken the church through a painful process prior to my coming on as pastor. There was a lot of turmoil about what direction the church should go. Many left. By the time I took the helm in 2002, those who remained were ready to do whatever it took to reach people. Voting me in as pastor was their decision to move forward.
In other words, I did not come in with my cape flapping in the wind and playing my magical flute, with everyone hypnotically following me. I was simply one stroke in a movement God was working in the church.
Because of his perspective on himself as â€œone stroke in a movement of Godâ€ J.D. sees â€“ rightly so I believe â€“ that the Pastor is really only a small component in the work of God to revive an established church. However, I think that for all the good this perspective has produced in Mr. Greear it has also produced a less than healthy conclusion as well:
I would not suggest, generally speaking, trying to revitalize when you don’t see signs of God working in ways that are independent and larger than youâ€¦ Discover where God is working, and go join him in itâ€¦. If you don’t sense him moving in that congregation, go plant. Find a fertile field and invest your life there. You’ve only got one life, and there are billions of lost people. In my opinion, you should not waste your life banging your head against the wall, trying to lead people who don’t really want to be led, unless God tells you in clear terms that is what he wants from you.
When I read this I am torn. I know that there is a point where I would no longer be able to pursue the goal of revitalizing a church, perhaps if there is extreme doctrinal error or unrepentant sin within a church which the congregation chooses to do nothing about. So I wouldnâ€™t argue â€œKeep your hand to the plow no matter what!â€
On the other hand, Iâ€™m not comfortable with the idea that someone in ministry should go â€œfind a fertile field.â€
One reason, and it is the lesser of the two Iâ€™ll give, is that younger ministers â€“ particularly those who look up to Mr. Greear but havenâ€™t acquired his wisdom and maturity â€“ often use words like these to abandon a good work when it becomes difficult. Iâ€™ve written before about the church planters who meet in my area and grouse about how they left their church because no one but they were on board with what God wanted to do. I also talk to their first cousins at conferences who bemoan the failure of their church to embrace â€œthe vision.â€ Surely some of these people are seeing their situation correctly. However, the sheer numbers indicate that some are jumping ship too quickly. Either they need to (a) understand from the congregationâ€™s wisdom that their ideas arenâ€™t as great as they think or (b) learn that good ideas sometimes need to be implemented v e r y s l o w l y. The sad reality is that these lessons will never be learned if these men are always off in search of fertile soil when difficulty arises. Instead you are left with wounded and confused churches who donâ€™t have shepherds and men of God who are depriving themselves of healthy lessons.
Clearly, Mr. Greear canâ€™t be held responsible for someone taking his good advice in a bad direction. Even so, a bit more qualification in what he wrote might save a potentially great deal of grief.
The second reason I would differ with Mr. Greearâ€™s conclusion is precisely what he mentioned at the beginning of the post Iâ€™m writing in response to. Mr. Greear identifies a long series of events which God used to bring Summit Church to the point it is today. What if the Pastor working in the difficult church is Godâ€™s instrument to complete step one? These types of positions are Jeremiah ministries. Energy is exerted, the Word is proclaimed, God is honored, but the converts are few while the opponents are many. Still, this is ploughmanâ€™s work and it honors the Lord. Our perspectives simply arenâ€™t sufficient to discern what the final results of our labors will be. Therefore we have to be careful about self-evaluating the effectiveness of our ministries.
Finally, is there no room in the kingdom for small ministries? I wholeheartedly agree with Greearâ€™s desire to reach the â€œbillions of lost peopleâ€ in our world. I would, however, say that this can be accomplished from small and/or difficult ministry positions in much the same way it can in larger and/or fertile ministry fields. Furthermore, it could be that from heavenâ€™s perspective it is the small field that is truly strategically important (one has only to read the account of Spurgeonâ€™s conversion to see this possibility). It is also entirely possible that the Pastor needs to be in the smaller congregation. Mark Dever is fond of quoting a letter from John Brown to one of his pupilâ€™s that reads in part
I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.
Could it be that we will reach heaven and really desire that we had labored in smaller congregations? Yes, for all the reasons listed above.
In conclusion I would say I joyfully concur with Greear that you should see yourself as a small component of what God is doing with your particular church. I would, however, be a bit more cautious about leaving that church when you suspect it is a stubborn congregation or one that isnâ€™t sufficiently prepared for revitalization. It could be that you are just the man God has called to prepare it for revitalization.
July 6, 2009 by Jeff
While in Louisville for the most recent Southern Baptist Convention I was sorting through the list of speakers for the Pastorâ€™s Conference deciding which speakers I did and did not want to hear. I came across a name I recognized â€“ J.D. Greear â€“ but did not remember exactly why I recognized it. A few minutes with Google I learned that Mr. Greear is a pastor in NC and works with The Resurgence. I was also directed to a message of his which immediately grabbed my attention â€“ Church Planting is for Wimps: Revitalizing a Church around the Gospel.
My love/hate relationship (and Iâ€™ll leave it up to you to decide which emotion wins the battle) with modern church planting is well documented here. Mr. Greearâ€™s title struck the chord within my mind (because Iâ€™m suspicious church planting is sometimes easier than working for reform in an established church) and heart (because Iâ€™m currently trying toâ€¦wellâ€¦revitalize a church around the gospel). I listened to his message and, after another moment or two with Google, found out that in preparation for speaking on the subject Mr. Greear had blogged @ The Resurgence Blog about revitalizing a church.
Because I think the subject of revitalizing existing churches deserves more attention, I thought I would do a series of posts in response to Mr. Greearâ€™s blog posts. I realize it is entirely possible that no one other than myself ever reads these but I hope to contribute to the conversation in some way (hopefully spurring it in some small way to greater prominence) and this seems like the easiest way to do so. At the outset I want to clearly acknowledge that Mr. Greear has (a) accomplished more already that I have and perhaps more than I ever will, (b) is almost assuredly much more intelligent than I am, and (c) most likely walking in greater intimacy with our Lord than I am.
Letâ€™s dive right in to his first post on the subject of revitalizing a church around the gospel:
Iâ€™m thankful for Mr. Greearâ€™s statement about the need for Pastors willing to do the work of revitalization:
America is rapidly becoming a boneyard of emptying churches, and our situation cries out for pastors who can lead their churches away from the idolatry of traditionalism and back to the centrality of the gospel.
While I donâ€™t know if (and am not entirely sure that Greear believes) traditionalism is the chief culprit behind the decline of so many established churches in our country I joyful join him in affirming the great need for modern day reformers (my term) working within established churches.
Iâ€™m also encouraged that, according to him, he regularly discusses the issue of church revitalization –
I am often asked by guys whether or not they should try to revitalize their current church or plant a new one.
- because that would seem to indicate there is a healthy interest in the subject on the grassroots level.
Mr. Greear provides two questions to pose to oneself when considering whether or not to invest ones self in the work of revitalization. His first post deals with the initial question and thus so will my post. That question is â€œWhy Do I Want to Revitalize?â€
In answering the question Mr. Greear begins with two answers he identifies as bad reasons to work toward revitalization. His first bad answer, â€œTo Restore Institutional Gloryâ€, is an answer I would join him in classifying as a bad reason to work for revitalization. Scripture gives no mandate to preserve the prestige of any one local congregation. As Mr. Greear says, â€œa local church is a covenant community, and it’s composed of the people who are currently part of that community, not those from its past.â€ Ignoring this truth has locked a number of congregations into the past and paralyzed their church as the community around them changes, particularly when that change involves a shift in ethnic identity.
The second answer Mr. Greear identifies as â€œbadâ€ Iâ€™m not so enthusiastic about.
That answer is: â€œTo Save the Resources of the Churchâ€.
Greear anticipates problem I have:
â€œOn the one hand, you hate to see the sacrifice of previous generations go to waste and millions of dollars of property “lost.”
I wish he didnâ€™t bring up the other hand.
His rationale for rejecting the above-quoted reason is two-fold:
the Bible repeatedly instructs us that we should look to God to meet the needs of what we are doing today. The story of God’s provision of manna in Exodus 16 shows us that God does not want us to depend on his provision yesterday for what we need today.
Practically speaking, you will likely waste time and money trying to redeem resources that could be better spent starting something new. The most valuable resource of the church, the only one really worth saving, is its people.
In response to the first of his rationales I would note that I donâ€™t know if the Exodus passage is sufficient justification for the point. In fact, I think one could offer a number of countering proof texts that would seem to indicate the opposite point (Nehemiahâ€™s work, the numerous â€œrebuildingâ€ motifs in the Prophets are just two examples).
Rather than reducing this to dueling-proof-texts I would say that the issue is about exercising Biblical wisdom in regards to stewardship. As Greer notes, established churches hold millions of dollars of assets. In Europe these buildings are being turned in Mosques. In America they become real-estate agencies. Both scenarios are a black eye on the face of the catholic Church in my opinion.
I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Danny Aikin following the second 9 Marks @ 9 session at the SBC and I asked him two questions: 1 â€“ Do you think there is value in revitalizing established churches that corresponds to the value of planting new congregations? 2 â€“ If so, is revitalization an enterprise worthy of receiving Cooperative Program dollars? I canâ€™t think of any reason Dr. Aikin would mind me sharing his response: he answered in the affirmative to both. The first reason Dr. Aikin gave as he answered my questions was the incredible amount of assets held by established churches. I donâ€™t know that this reason is paramount in Dr. Aikinâ€™s thinking but I do find it notable that this rationale readily came to his mind.
I see where Mr. Greear is coming from. He sees a potential â€œwaste of timeâ€ in seeking to redeem assets rather than people. While I understand his perspective I do wonder if it might be based on a false dichotomy. Church assets are, if rightly understood, tools employed to reach people. What if by revitalizing that church those assets are marshaled for their proper purpose?
Another aspect of my brief conversation with Dr. Aikin that I find relevant to this issue is his thought that it might be in the best interest of sharply declined congregations to turn their buildings/facilities/resources over to a new church which desired to reach the community they are located in. Dr. Aikin talked of numerous church plants that eventually reached a point where a building would be an asset to their ministry. Could we not link two churches, one declining and the other developing, so that the investment of the first would live on in the ministry of the second?
If I understand correctly, something very much like the scenario above took place at Clifton Baptist in Louisville, KY. As I understand it (and will welcome as well as publish any correction) a declining congregation was approached by a group looking to change the direction of the church. Eventually this group was voted in to leadership and the church eventually grew to the thriving congregation it is today. What a wonderful story of believers working together for the good of the Body and their community. May God grant more stories like Cliftonâ€™s.