Most have heard the leadership adage “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” With regards to church revitalization, this concept couldn’t be more accurate. If a church is to be revitalized and renewed, and experience health, vibrancy, growth, and multiplication, it will need to be led by a group of godly, knowledgeable, tenacious, loving, fierce, patient, unified, humble, and faith-filled leaders.
Depending upon the church governance, these leaders can range from vocationally paid leaders (staff) to lay elders (who oversee the church’s direction) to the various committee members who hold positions of leadership.
Church leaders—holding any leadership position in the church—are the key to the church’s revitalized future just as the group of spies held the key to Israel’s future in the Promised Land.
The problem for many churches in need of revitalization today is that they don’t have the leadership necessary to lead the church towards the land of revitalization and renewal.
In this post, I will outline the first two ways leaders can undermine the vision of a revitalized church. Understanding these points will (1) help pastors and church leaders to ask the right questions as they lead struggling churches towards gospel vitality and (2) prevent many leaders from undermining the revitalization process.
First, they believe everything is fine.
Churches are perfectly conditioned to continue doing what they are doing. In other words, they don’t have to change one thing to sustain their current condition. For many churches, this means a slow leak of membership, baptism, and finances while maintaining the image that everything is fine.
The truth about revitalization is that every church must be constantly engaged in the process of revitalization. Revitalization for a church is like sanctification for a believer. Sanctification, for a believer is the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus. Revitalization for a church is the process of being conditioned for gospel witness and mission. Revitalization seeks to center a church’s DNA around the message and mission of Christ while adopting methods and strategies that effectively disciple and evangelize their context.
The first step towards revitalization is acknowledgement. A church might be in need of revitalization if:
- It has been running the same amount of attendees for ten years and has never participated in either a church plant or sent people out as missionaries
- Everyone they baptized is primarily children of members
- They have no footprint in the community with regards to their engagement and interaction
The gospel hasn’t called churches to run activity centers of spiritual development for members; instead, it has been called to release saints for mission advancement among the nations.
Where revitalization is undermined is when leaders verbally acknowledge they want to grow and reach people far from Jesus, but inwardly they are hoping they can keep everything the same and yet see different results.
Once vision moves from theory to execution, the undermining begins. Those who undermine revitalization typically are in agreement with pastors expressing the theory of vision. However, executing the vision is where they begin a subversive undermining (that is, a passive aggressive stance and language which cuts down or delays growth and change).
This can manifest itself in a host of ways. Below are some statements that such leaders may make which express they are not fully on board with the changes of revitalization:
- “What if we did nothing?”
- “Let’s sit on it for a while.”
- “Let’s do some more homework.”
- “Do we really need to make that change? We’ve been doing it that way for years.”
- “Let’s bring some others in on this and get their opinion.”
- “According to our bylaws, that’s not a decision for us to make.”
- “I’m not comfortable with it.”
- “The pastor is being too pushy.”
In order for revitalization to occur, we need robust conversations, dialogues, and discussions. There will certainly be times for pause so that the team can pray more and do more homework.
However, subversive undermining comes from those individuals who secretly have a problem with the overall trajectory of the revitalization. Now that revitalization is moving from concept to implementation, they are vocalizing their opposition in subversive ways. As a result, revitalization is undermined either for a season or indefinitely.
Second, these leaders sympathize with complainers and naysayers.
Church leaders ought to have a loving and caring disposition when it comes to others. Love should be the motivating factor in all that we do. Jesus said it Himself: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). Of course, these are the two greatest commandments. Even Paul in his letter to the Ephesian believers addressed how the church body should build itself in love (Eph. 4:16).
Revitalization tests one’s biblical understanding of love. It tends to stir up complainers and naysayers who don’t like change and are accustomed and prefer the status quo. These complainers look for someone who has the capability to stop what is causing them discomfort. As such, they prey on the leaders who will listen and empathize with them—giving platform and credence to their complaint. In all fairness, many of these leaders are simply trying to love these people well. Despite this, their act of love undermines the church’s attempt to revitalize.
Let me share an analogy. What if a child comes to a parent and begins complaining about the healthy food that has been placed before them? What if they insist on having a diet of french fries and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Anempathetic parent can understand their child’s frustration, but then must guide them through why their diet needs to have healthy food as the foundation. While the child may still long for french fries and ice cream, at least the loving parent has taken time to engage and explain the healthy course of action to their child.
In order to maintain calmness and a mirage of order, a sympathetic parent, on the other hand, will work to ease their child’s feelings of discomfort. Therefore, they’ll give in to the demands. In doing this, the parent has given credence and validity to the child’s desired nutrition.
Can you guess which act of love is selfless and the other selfish? The selfless act of love is taking the time to empathize with the child and to enter into a dialogue and discussion about the child’s feelings and why the parent has chosen to place this kind of meal before them. The selfish act of love is the sympathetic parent who feels for the child, but because they don’t want to listen to the complaining anymore gives into the child’s demand, thereby undermining the very health of the child.
This kind of selfish love takes place all the time in churches desperately in need of revitalization.
The most loving thing church leaders can do with complainers and naysayers is to help them see the biblical vision of a God-breathed church compared to a personal preferred vision of a self-absorbed church.
…Stay tuned for Part 3 as I cover the two other ways leaders undermine revitalization.