Saturday, June 19, 2010

Considering a "revitalization" church

I recently interacted with a pastor who was contemplating a transition to another congregation. The one he was considering had a number of markers of need for "revitalization" and my colleague wondered, "how can I know if they are ready for true revitalization?"

This is an excellent question, because a number of churches will recognize the need at some level, but will not be ready for it.

I asked him: do you think they really want to grow? Do they genuinely want to minister to others? Or is there a sense of urgency mostly out of fear of continuity— that is, they are afraid the money will run out, there won't be anyone around in 20 years, etc.?

If they really want to grow through the ministry of the Gospel, be interested. If it's motivation out of fear, not so much.

He responded that he agreed— he didn't need to move to minister to people motivated by fear; he had plenty of that where he was.

How do you discern whether a congregation is motivated by fear, or by Gospel urgency? Asking the following questions is a start:
  • Health: What is a healthy church? Is your church a healthy church? What brings you to that conclusion?
  • Good ministry: What does good ministry look like to them? What are the marks of success/effectiveness for good ministry?
  • Workload: Who do they see as the "front lines" of ministry in a healthy congregation? Is it the pastor? Is it the church's officers? The members?
  • Roles: What is the role of the pastor in a healthy church? What is the role of the officers/other leaders? How does Ephesians 4:11-16 apply to them?
  • Goals: What are the two most important things that you hope the Lord will accomplish through your next pastor? Why are those more important than others? How will you know that your new pastor is effective in his work of ministry?
  • Values: What are the things that must not change in any future ministry of this congregation? What is open to change, however great? What sets the boundary for what may or may not change?

Answering those questions will set you on the right track of evaluating motivation. A church that is ready for true revitalization will exhibit a biblical definition of church health, and they will recognize that their congregation is unhealthy in at least some ways (every church is!). They will define "good ministry" as "Gospel ministry"— that is, the faithful preaching and teaching of Christ with the result of transforming work through His grace. They will recognize that the workload is to be shared among all of the leaders (and all of the congregation in general), and that the primary work of the pastor is to teach and equip them for Gospel ministry (as Ephesians 4 states). Their goals will reflect that, and they will understand that the only things not open to change are the faithful preaching of the Gospel and the right worship of Christ.

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