Category Archives: Leadership

Six Principles for Church Revitalization

Pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church, West Terre Haute.

There is a lot of talk and emphasis these days on church planting.  While I believe church planting is a vital part of Kingdom work and must not be neglected, there is another part of Kingdom work that is as equally vital—the work of church revitalization.  By revitalization, I mean taking something that is dead, dying, or in decay and restoring to it life and health.  Church revitalization, then, is about taking a church that is dead, dying, or in decay and bringing it back to life and health.

The work of church revitalization is the kind of Kingdom work the majority of pastors in North America are engaged in.  Research indicates that 80% of churches in North America have either plateaued or are in a state of decline.[i]  What this means is that 3 out of 4 churches in North America are in need of revitalization.  The issue for the pastors of these churches is how to go about restoring life and health to the local congregation God has called them shepherd?

Many things could be said in answer to this question and I cannot possibly touch every facet of the work that is involved in church revitalization.  However, there are truths I have learned from God’s Word that have helped me think biblically about what is in involved in this kind of pastoral work.  Not surprisingly, I have found these truths in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  These two Old Testament books record for us an approximately one hundred year period of ancient Israelite history that is pregnant with contemporary significance as it relates to the work of church revitalization.

Here are a number of principles I have learned from Ezra-Nehemiah about the work of church revitalization:

1.      God is in control of all things, including the revitalization process.

This is the first and most important truth to come to grips with.  God is sovereign and we are not.  He leads the revitalization process through stirring up the hearts of His people to engage in the work of revitalization and we are called to participate with Him in the work that He is doing.

2.      The work takes time so we need to be patient.

In our fast paced culture that prizes instant results, the dreaded “p” word is hard to hear, but pastors much learn to be patient because change takes time.  The work of revitalization that is recorded for us in Ezra-Nehemiah did not happen overnight, but over an approximately 100 year period.  In other words, be patient.

3.      We need expect loss of people as well as opposition and difficulties.

It is just a matter of fact that when God stirs up the hearts of His people to do the work of revitalization people will leave.  There are various levels of commitment that are represented within a local church and those that are the least committed will usually disappear.  Others will not be in alignment with the direction things are headed and jump ship as well.  Still others will seek to thwart the effect by directly opposing the work that is going on.  When this happens, we must remember that when God began the work of revitalization in Ezra-Nehemiah the number of people who returned to the Promised Land to do the work was fewer than the number who went into exile and that opposition and difficulty was a common experience for the people.

4.      God’s people must unite around God’s mission in order for the work to take hold.

This is absolutely critical in the revitalization process.  The mission the church must pursue is God’s mission not their own.  Unfortunately, in our day we have experience a lot of “mission creep,” where the mission of God has been replaced by the mission of man.  However, for lasting revitalization to take place God’s people must be united around God’s mission and nothing else.

5.      Pastors must prioritize the teaching of God’s Word.

The Bible is the fountain head of the church’s life and health.  Just as the word of God created life when there was no life in the beginning of creation, so to the Word of God (i.e. the Bible) spoken through the mouths of His servants brings new life to spiritually dead people.  If there is to be any revitalization in our churches, the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word must be prioritized.

6.      Pastors must be prepared to always be engaged in revitalization work.

This may be the hardest truth to swallow—the work is never done.  The fact of the matter is that churches do not naturally drift toward greater degrees of faithfulness, obedience, and holiness.  Rather, we naturally drift in the opposite direction.  Therefore, pastors need to be mindful that as long as they are pastoring a local church they will be laboring to keep a church on track and headed in the right direction.  The end of the book of Nehemiah illustrated this point nicely.

These are six basic principles I learned from Ezra-Nehemiah concerning the work of church revitalization.  They are not anything new and innovative.  Rather, they are timeless truths gleaned from God’s Word.  I hope you find them helpful as you seek to turn the tide of decline and decay in the local congregation God has called you to pastor.

[i]Malphurs, Aubrey, A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 18.


The Name of the Game

Jake Evans, Pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church in West Terre Haute

By Jake Evans

There is a story of an elderly preacher in Scotland who was criticized by one his deacons on a Sunday morning before the service.  “Pastor,” the deacon said, “something must be wrong with your preaching and your work.  There’s been only one person added to the church in a whole year, and he’s just a boy.”  The pastor listened intently to the deacon’s words having felt the weight of this already himself.  “I understand what you are saying,” the pastor replied, “but God knows that I’ve tried to do my work.”  On this day the pastor’s heart was heavy as he went into the pulpit, and as he finished the message he felt the strong inclination to resign that day from his pastoral work.

I am confident that this story resonates with every pastor.  The stark reality that it highlights is the fact that as pastors we can put in countless hours each week preparing for our messages, visiting the sick, conducting funerals, counseling the spiritually wayward, and attending committee meetings with little to no apparent effectiveness in our efforts.  Pastoral work is hard work and often times we feel like throwing in the towel because we feel our work is in vain and that we would be better suited doing something else.

What I want to argue is that we need a paradigm shift in how we think about “success” in ministry.  Success, according to the pragmatic spirit of American culture today, is defined chiefly by fruitfulness.  Someone or something is successful if there are quantifiable results.  A business is successful when it increases its sales and grows its market.  A legal firm is successful when it wins more cases than it loses.  A television network is successful when it gets more viewers than the other networks.  By this standard of success the deacon had every right to question his pastor and the pastor had every right to feel it was time to resign.

But is this pragmatic, modern American view of success applicable to the church and the work of ministry?  My answer is no.  In Joshua 1:8 we have a passage of Scripture that turns on its head this notion of fruitfulness as the hallmark of success.  Joshua has taken over command of the nation of Israel and he and people stand on edge of the Promised Land about to enter into it.  Before they do, Joshua reminds them of one very basic but profoundly important principle: their success in the land will be predicated on their faithfulness to the “Book of the Law.”  Joshua tells them, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success,” (ESV).

The last sentence is the game changer.  Having imbibed the cultural milieu of today numerous Christians and pastors alike have come to think about success in ministry in terms of the quantifiable.  The mindset is that if we have a certain number of conversions and baptisms and we meet our annual budget then we are successful.  Joshua 1:8, however, reminds us that we cannot define success in ministry according to worldly standards.  In God’s view success is not our fruitfulness it is about faithfulness to Him and His Word.  After all, “What then is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” (1 Cor. 3:5-6, ESV).  The name of the game in ministry is faithfulness not fruitfulness.  God and God alone determines when and how much fruit He will bring about through our work.

Returning to our story above, after the service that morning while the elderly pastor was feeling inclined in his heart to resign the boy came up to him after everyone else had left and asked him, “Do you think if I worked hard for an education, I could become a preacher—perhaps a missionary?”  Do you know what?  That boy did become a missionary.  His name was Robert Moffat, a Scottish Congregationalist missionary to Africa.  Was this elderly preacher really unsuccessful?  In the world’s eyes yes.  In God’s eyes no.

Editor’s Note: For further reading on this topic, consider Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome, by Kent & Barbara Hughes.

Stirring and Waiting

Jones, GarryBy Garry Jones

Stirring and waiting sounds more like a cooking exercise than a spiritual reality in the life of a believer. For many in the gospel ministry there is a temptation to make things happen by a certain strategy or process that has been implemented by a successful pastor and then written in a book to encourage others to do likewise.  I would like to start a conversation today about the reality of stirring and waiting in order for anything to be “done” that brings glory to God.

First of all is the stirring.  I am not against reading books – I have read many and benefited greatly by those moved by God to write them.  However, the attitude with which we read must be, “Is God stirring my heart through this?” instead of “How am I going to copy this in my ministry?”  Many of the books we read are because God stirred the heart of a man and, as a result, changes were made that brought glory to God.  Where there is no stirring from God there is no glory for Him.

Second, there is a waiting on God to speak/stir before making changes.  Again, the temptation is sometimes great to do or try something in the hope of something happening in the life of our ministry without hearing from God.  I have heard someone actually say:  “Let’s just do something so people can see that something is happening!”  How about this one: “We need to get people excited about our ministry!”  I believe trying things is sinful.  How so?  It is because we have forged ahead in our own strength or wisdom without being stirred by God.  When we are stirred by God and follow His leading we stop trying things (what others have done) and begin doing His will.  This brings glory to God, and I believe that is the chief aim of man.

As Isaiah says, “For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him,” (Isaiah 64: 4).  We wait; He acts.  Anything of Kingdom value that is done is initiated by God.  After all, it is His Kingdom and He knows how to build it.  His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8).  We believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, but yet sometimes we act like He needs some help with knowledge and power to get things done in our area of ministry.

For today, we can look at two examples in the Old Testament that illustrate the stirring of God.  The first one is found in Exodus 35-36.  Moses shared with the people that God was commanding them to build a tabernacle with detailed specifications.  He was telling them how they are to fund the project – out of their own pockets!  He also was telling them that the skillful men and women would make all of the materials, furnishings, and clothing for the tabernacle.  God initiated the tabernacle project and gifted men and women with the possessions and skill to complete it.  Now pay close attention to these verses from Exodus 35:

21 Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments.

22  They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to the LORD.

26 And all the women whose heart stirred with wisdom spun yarn of goats’ hair.

29 The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the LORD, all the men and women whose hearts were willing to bring material for all kinds of work which the LORD, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done.

God stirs the heart and we respond to His glory.  He even called Bezalel out by name and said the following about him:

31 and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, 32 to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.  34 And He has put in his heart the ability to teach, in him and Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

When God stirred them and they responded faithfully, they had more than enough to do it (Exodus 36:5).  No one could boast of his materials, money or skill because God gave them everything they possessed.

The second example is one less appealing but yet giving glory to God just the same – stirring cuts both ways.  Some of the tribes of Israel decided to walk their own way:

 But they acted treacherously against the God of their fathers and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them.  So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day,” (1 Chronicles 5:25-26).

Yes, God sometimes stirs the hearts of unbelievers to bring glory to Himself.  This is probably the most humiliating stirring of God for the unsatisfied believer.

What does this mean for our ministries?  Our plans and strategies bring us glory and there are many church members who not only like the pastor with a plan, but even demand it of him.  There is a word to describe trying to build the Kingdom without God; it is called trespassing.  We should wait for the Lord to stir our hearts before engaging without Him.  Rather than trusting in our wisdom and experience or that of another, we should wait and seek the plan of Him who knows absolutely everything and has the power to complete it.

 “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images,” (Isaiah 42: 8).