“A Blog from an Interview at Westminster Theological Seminary – part I”
Above is the actual interview that can be listened to by clicking on the link.
The first thing I would say to seminary graduates is, more than likely when you enter into ministry as a solo or Senior Pastor, you will be faced with the challenge of church revitalization. The reason for this assertion is the fact that 85% to 92% of the churches in North America are stagnant or declining. More than likely your call will come from one of these churches. So, you need to know: “What is the Biblical paradigm of church revitalization?” This is the reason I wrote the book years ago and we began the ministry of church revitalization both called: Embers To A Flame. I have had the privilege in three different settings to do the ministry of church revitalization and in each of them I and our leadership followed this Biblical paradigm.
The second thing that I would say is that you need to understand Biblical leadership is absolutely crucial. It is important to know that whenever we talk about leadership and revitalization, there is a distinction, although an overlap, of revitalization and revival. No leader can bring revival. We can preach for revival, we can pray for revival, we can call upon the Lord for revival, but we cannot bring revival. Revival is the Lord’s work – “revive thy work in the midst of the years O Lord.” But, revitalization is directly attached to God’s ordained means of bringing revival to His Church.
Revitalization is a commitment by the church leadership to Biblically lead the church back to spiritual health and vitality. Let’s use an appropriate analogy. The health of the church is in the Hands of the Sovereign Lord just like the health of my children is in His Hands. But, as a parent, while I rest in God’s sovereign will for the health of my children, I also engage in those means that God has ordained for me as a parent to effect the health of my children. As a means of accomplishing this I make sure they are fed, I make sure they are exercised and I make sure that they get appropriate rest. Now, let’s apply the analogy to Pastors. Paul says in the book of Thessalonians that he was like a “nurturing mother” and a “faithful father.” So, we too are to parent the church to spiritual health and vitality. Statistical growth is not our objective; statistical growth, (i.e. the enlargement of the Body of Christ) is like the growth of my child’s body. It is a consequence of fulfilling our objective which is to faithfully nurture the spiritual health of the congregation. Therefore, when a church has gone through a period of time in which it is no longer healthy, and the matrix of church life indicates that it has plateaued or is dying or perhaps stagnant, then you, as the Pastor must commit to the priority of leading the church back to spiritual health and vitality.
The book of Revelation given through John by the Holy Spirit provides for us the paradigm of Church Revitalization from the very words of Christ, the Savior, Lord and Head of the church. When Jesus tells the church at Ephesus (which had already been revitalized 50 years prior through Timothy’s ministry, having initially been planted by Paul) that the church must “remember from where they have fallen,” “repent,” and “recover the things you did at first.” In these words Christ Himself has given us a Biblical paradigm of Church Revitalization, from which a Pastor can guide the church through a three-fold process of renewal – “Remember, Repent and Recover the first things.” To “remember” is to celebrate the past, to learn from the past, but not to live in the past. In other words, the call to “remember” is a call to use the past as an instrument to move the church into the future the way the Lord used Ebenezers in the Old Testament. God would say, “when I have done something, pile up some stones – raise up an Ebenezer – then bring your children back here and tell them what I have done…” Why? Because, “I am the same yesterday, today and forever.” So, you lead the church to “remember,” not to be a museum or a monument, but to reignite the movement by celebrating what God has done, contemplating how He did it, and then investigating how that applies today. This leads to the second step in the paradigm – “repentance.” Almost always when a church has plateaued or stagnated it is because the disease of unconfessed sin has been “covered up” and now needs to be “confessed up” with Gospel-driven repentance. Then, repentance positions the church to “recover the first things.” Obviously this has to start with the leadership of the church since leaders cannot lead a church where they have not yet gone.
The “first things” of the church are actually the life lines of the church: Christ-centered, Gospel-driven ministry, personal spiritual formation, the ministry of prayer, the ministry of the Word, Biblical mission and vision, leadership multiplication and mobilization, small group disciplemaking and a great commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. In an attempt to assist this endeavor I wrote the book: The Leadership Dynamic with the immodest proposal that the church become a Leadership Factory defining, developing and deploying leaders from the church into the world instead of our present practice of letting the world define, develop and deploy leaders even into the church. The Church of Jesus Christ will be built. Christ has promised it and has established it from the victory of the Cross and the empty tomb. The only question is, “Will our local church which we are pastorally leading, participate in this promise as a healthy and vital testimony of the Body of Christ?”