On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Years ago, when I ran relays and low hurdles, I was always thankful for the device that made a quick start possible. The starting blocks were a valuable tool to spring forward and get that early lead. When it comes to revitalizing a struggling or declining church, I find it beneficial to have a clear and decisive starting point. Too often churches wait until the church is on life support before seeking “medical” attention for their malady. The congregation and the leadership need to begin the revitalization process while the church is alive and vibrant. Seeking to redefine and redesign the group should be accomplished when the church is healthy and has strong resources. “No one will ever arrive at their desired destination unless they first recognize there is a nobler place to be.” Start when you sense the fire is growing cold!

          I recommend every church to do an assessment of its mission and ministry effectiveness every year or two, just like you would ask a doctor to perform a physical to remain healthy and productive. The graph to the left reveals the crucial point for this evaluation process – during the height of the ministry and structure stages. You should redesign before the apex of the bell curve. Determine afresh why God planted your group in your locale. Preach on why God planned your church in this location and what the purpose was for its beginning. Then, ask yourself, “Are we still accomplishing that for which Christ Jesus planted us? Are we still living up to His calling in us?” If your answer to these questions is NO, then now is the time to start a renewal process. Get to it! Start now! Seek to make an eternal difference, even if the risk is high and the resistance is almost excruciating. Before the plateau stage is on the horizon, the church must begin redesigning the next three to five-year vision strategy. If the ministry is beginning to be mundane, NOW IS THE TIME! 

1. Start when the church family is desperate for the Power of God. Nothing positive will occur when the congregation no longer expects Almighty God to show up and show off! How big are your goals? How big is your God? Plan big with a big God and you will be surprised what God will do.

2. Start when the body is desperate for the Presence and Person of Christ. If the family feels the curse of Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21 – “The Glory of the Lord has departed…”) is written on their church walls, they will cease inviting friends and family to join them in this slow death march. When the family of God is desperate for the presence and person of Christ, others will see and hear of their zeal and be more inclined to join their quest.

3. Start when the leadership is committed to obtaining the favor of God, more than the accolades of humanity. What is most important to you, pastor? Do you prefer to be empowered by a Holy God, or are you more enamored with the dreams of being in some other church where everything is hunky dory, or the pastor of a larger church or being sought after by a denominational agency? Jesus warned us about such things: (John 12:42-43) Flourish where you are planted for the honor and glory of the Vinedresser (John 15:1-11)! If you are not committed to the right-here-and-now, then let someone else take the reins and lead His Bride to the pastures He has prepared for them.

4. Start when the Congregation is Desperate for Something Different. Don’t change simply for the sake of change. Often when a church family sees that the church is struggling, it is past time for something to be done. But when the congregants are crying out for a change, it is time to storm the gates of the status quo and make the adjustments necessary to get the church back on track. If you are not committed to join them, then find a new set of tracks.

5. Start where you find the anointing and leadership of the Lord. Sometimes we find ourselves getting ahead of God. We may find in a Google search an answer that appears good and innovative, but is it God’s plan? Does our direction keep us focused on the best message ever proclaimed? Is the Gospel the source of our foundation? Do the lost people in our community see our love for God being displayed in our care and ministry for the people outside our church walls? Are we doing what Jesus would do if he were a physical member of the church we attend? If we are not living up to His example, then we need to renew our relationship to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

6. Start when you are seeing bitterness, anger, apathy, defeat and despair. A negative, complaining and grumbling persona will destroy the church’s future opportunity for healing and revitalization. We need to have a CAN-DO attitude because we serve a WILL-DO God. If we gather together in harmony and unity (Matt. 18:20), desiring to do His Will, He will be there! Remember, we cannot be defeated when we are His! (2 Cor. 4:7-10)

7. Start when the members are beginning to be more concerned with maintaining the church facilities than reaching the lost souls of humanity. A passion for the lost is vital. We are not a museum; we are a ministry! Recognizing people are headed for a God-less eternity should instill a sense of urgency in the body of Christ; for such were we! The church must remain externally focused. Searching diligently for the lost sheep is the example Jesus gave us about His Shepherding Father. May we be known for leaving the building to rescue the perishing.

8. Start on your knees. This is where Jesus began the walk to the Cross. It is the primary starting point! The source of empowerment for Him, for the church and for every revitalization process is the same. Power is spelled P-R-A-Y-E-R!

Isn’t intriguing that the disciples asked Jesus early in His ministry to teach them to pray? They didn’t ask for training in healing, exorcising of demons, multiplying of bread and fish, or the ability to walk on water. They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Prayer is the faucet that opens the pipeline to the blessings of God. If we pray, we can move mountains. If we pray, we can stand strong when the storms rage and when we pray, we capture the eyes, ears and heart of our Heavenly Father. Prayer changes me!

9. Start when you are absolutely convinced the process, the race and the finish are not up to you. Revitalization and renewal are not about the leader, the congregants or the community. It is about obedience to the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and our Great Savior, King Jesus. The process is to get His Bride ready for His return. To assist her in adorning herself with the fullness of the Spirit and being a co-laborer with her in proclaiming the Gospel to the nations. Revitalization is REVIVAL! If it does not lead us to revival, then it is not revitalization – it is merely a Band-Aid on a dead body!

What is coming next in the life of the church?

Remote Pastors? I really doubt it! The sheep will never agree to having a shepherd who is not physically present to watch over them, feed them and meet their every need (PS – a pastor’s job is to equip, not feed). Sheep prefer the shepherd to be their own personal servant. They often act and respond in a manner that shouts – “This is my shepherd; I cannot live and move and have my being without him!” They look to the pastor for sustenance, safety, and guidance, but this is the role of the Great Shepherd. We can never replace the Great Shepherd; we are simply His representative and ambassador. I think it is safe to say that the shepherd will never be replaced by a robot or a digital image. Nope, no remote pastors!

Remote Staff? Not likely either, but some pastors of large tier churches feel this has already happened. The youth pastor and the youth are all the way across campus in a separate building, having separate worship, hearing age-specific messages and focused on separate goals. When the staff are allowed to lead in ways that are not compatible or complementary to the mission and vision of the entire church body, conflict is brewing. The church family needs unified leadership and willing compliance to the plans of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. We need equippers and disciplers to prepare the church for the next generation.

Remote members? Hum? This adaptation has been altering our congregations for the last two years and it is continuing to happen even as I write. We see members who prefer attending church via laptop or tv, drinking coffee in their pajamas while listening to the sermon, and feeling free to take a bathroom break without the embarrassment of others judging their movement during the message. They like sending in their tithe and fulfilling their monetary obligation. For some, this is their way of satisfying God. For others it is a method for offering adoration to our Lord. Still for others, it is like offering indulgences hoping to gain a plot in heaven. But what is lost when members log in remotely all the time? Fellowship, relationships, pooled wisdom in Bible Study classes, a symphony of voices raised in adoration to our Great God and Father, the sharing of what God is doing in the lives of other believers, and the adrenaline of celebrating the transformation of a lost wanderer into an adopted child of the Heavenly Kingdom.

But wait! I believe remote services should be a continual part of the church’s ministry, maybe forever. The main purpose is for reaching those who are yet-to-be-saved! It is for those who are sick, shut in, the “not-yet-comfortable returnees,” and those around the globe.  Jesus knew that “remote only” is not THE BEST option, that is why He sent us the Holy Spirit, but if being remote reaches the lost and glorifies our Lord, then maybe we should hang on to it until He says it’s okay to stop!

THE MUSCLE OF BABY STEPS

Ben and Erin Napier are hosts of the HGTV show, “Hometown.” They have taken the dreams of a small-town revitalization by storm. The Laurel Mercantile (owned by the Napiers) even has a collector’s mug with the phrase, “We have the POWER to do this.” This phrase was devised by the series director during their first summer of filming in the sweltering heat of southern Mississippi. This axiom is applicable to revitalization in general. Revitalization is a process of many exciting and rewarding BABY STEPS!

          Ben and Erin started a small, grass-roots movement to assist Laurel’s downtown in regaining its former beauty and vibrancy. What they started has become a booming trend! It didn’t happen overnight, but with a series of small, incremental improvements, their efforts provided enough momentum to transform and improve the quality of life for years to come. In the world of small towns and Main Street renovations this is known as “incrementalism.” Incrementalism is not flashy and not always immediately rewarding. It requires numerous small changes that need to take place over a period of time. Some are well-received, and others are totally rejected, but like the domino effect, a chain reaction is set in motion, and the beauty of the plan brings about something new, exciting, and desirable to replicate. This is the MUSCLE of Baby Steps! 

          Every child begins walking with small, baby steps. Some steps lead to excitement, applause, and the joy of making it from one spot to another. Others end up on their face with embarrassment and a painful “booboo.” So how can we as revitalizers help a church work through the process with the least amount of pain and bloodshed? Neil Armstrong said it best on that monumental day of July 20, 1969, from the surface of the moon – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” His words have been repeated thousands of times and the message still rings clear – the first steps maybe small, but the journey beyond can be gigantic. We start by taking a small step and we press on for the health and effectiveness of the entire congregation. Our baby steps can lead to a thriving church and a transformed community.

          The first steps can be a bit mundane and laborious. Consider how many times a baby who is learning to walk, gets picked up, set precariously on their wobbly legs, and told, “Come to papa or mama?” This must be exasperating for the infant! But this is where we all start. The Change Readiness Assessment determines if the pastor is the one to lead the process and if he has the trust of the congregation. Will they follow him into battle? Second, unpacking the process helps the congregation and leaders to determine where their church is on the congregational lifecycle bell curve. This can be unpleasant and even embarrassing. Here is where the measurement tools are laid out for display and the timeline is presented. At this stage I usually lose the commitment of a majority of churches. They have forgotten how long it took for them to get into the pit from which they now feel trapped. We begin by having the pastor preach on the Biblical rationale for the revitalization process and start praying about the candidates for a Future Vision Team.

          Now that we have begun toddling along, we introduce the revitalization specialist. He shares the process with the entire membership, presents the church health survey and begins congregational and leadership interviews. Next, before compiling the data needed for the church report, are observations and evaluations of the facilities, property, parking, signage, technology, security, documents, ministries, committees, teams, events, plans, etc. Only after thorough inspection will the weakest areas be exposed. The reason for such intense examination is that the specialist does not want to be considered a liar or manipulator of the church’s leadership. The revelations of this stage are from the church members and interviews with people in the community.

          Now, with all the facts in hand, the specialist presents the report – the survey, church member interviews, demographics, observations, evaluations, and community interviews are presented to the staff just prior to the Church Conference Weekend. During this retreat, the report is submitted, and the congregation hears the “what and why” of their survey responses. They hear what makes a church healthy and barriers to church health. Then, they break up into smaller groups and dream, declare their ministry values, uncover the areas of greatest church need and present their greatest hopes and deepest concerns for the future of their church family. We come back together to synthesize their findings and ponder the ideas that would break down the barriers to a thriving and exciting ministry in their local church. The Conference Weekend is often the time I see members become aware of the depth of their decline and hear testimonies of a craving to re-ignite the fire and mission that once drove the church into the community and the world. This step is the “one giant leap for mankind.” When the congregation embraces a fresh zeal for the lost and becomes broken over their own apathy, revival is only one more baby step ahead!

          Next, we examine and secure the players who will make up the Future Vision Team. By use of a Personality Inventory and Spiritual Gifts assessment we can locate a balanced and harmonious team; this is performed by the specialist in conjunction with the pastor. After securing a covenant by each team member, the team is ready for training. We deal with the biblical rationale for a revitalization team, the difference between a purpose-driven and values-driven philosophy of ministry, strategic planning molded together with intentional implementation and a receptivity to the responses of the Church Conference Weekend. These findings and suggestions become the marching orders for the Future Vision Team. The team learns to use the Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis to evaluate the bulk of the church’s activity/ministry. Every ministry is evaluated, and adjustments are offered to those who lead these ministries. The church needs to know how to do more, with less, in this present culture. Priorities are determined and goals are set using the SMART goals plan (Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). Measurement tools and checkpoints are clarified and the persons who will champion each of the goals is assigned during the training sessions. Any church conflict must be addressed before or during this stage. Adding some equipping courses to the weekly schedule of the church should be considered at this juncture as well (mentoring; coaching; discipleship training and potential worker training, etc.).

          Finally, the Vision Team and the pastor set the goals, proclaim the vision, encourage engagement in the revitalization process and motivate the leaders to perform ministries and events with the values and goals discovered in the Weekend Retreat and Vision Team training. Innovative technology, security procedures and safety protocols should be developed and incorporated by those who function within these roles. Church documents need to be reviewed and adjusted to align with the new values and strategies, and committees and teams should be renovated to assist in adhering to and acting in agreement with the new paradigm.

          We, as followers of Christ, must not make the baby steps about theology or methodology only. We need to be displaying a willing receptivity to the Holy Spirit and immediate obedience to His voice and movement. Some of these strategies may appear worldly or elementary, but baby steps look easy until you walk in the shoes of those who are new to the family of God and those who are yet-to-be-reached. In business, the axiom is, “think like a customer.” In the church, the strategy should be, “how can we effectively answer the question: ‘What must I do to be saved!’” These are the baby steps most important for the health of the church!

Watch Out, the Road is Full of Potholes

          As a Revitalizer, we can find a plethora of examples of renewal in the Word of God. It’s wonderful when the Lord reveals these models of wisdom that can help shape and mold our character and attitudes. I wish I would consistently and constantly assimilate their traits into my daily living! Here are my favorite biblical examples. Ones who have stood firm during the tsunamis of life and responded in righteousness. Nehemiah is my man for strategy and prayer; Enoch, my model for an intimate relationship with the Father; Ittai, (one of David’s commanders) is my symbol of steadfastness and loyalty, Job is a mirror, reflecting perseverance and faithfulness, when all seems horrible, and Jesus is my preeminent model of obedience, holiness, and righteousness. For these giants, I am eternally grateful!

          In this world, I have encountered spiritual leaders who have come under unwarranted attack from church members while striving to guide their church to health and fitness. Why would any church member not want their church to be productive and effective for the Kingdom of God? Could it be they are not really one of us, or could it be that they can’t bear the thought of “their church” changing? Or maybe it’s simply that they are uninformed about what the Bible says about the health and growth of His Bride? Whatever possesses them to be a barrier, the leader often ends up the target of their refusal to submit to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

          So, let’s examine the determination and grit that a successful revitalizer must possess. First, what does the term “perseverance” mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Perseverance is needed for our spiritual success as well as our success in human life. It is a command from God! In Revelation 3:7-8 and 10, He expects us to persevere. How do we do it? Well, we cannot in our own power and intellect. We must have God’s spirit living and working in us. That’s the only way we can endure.

          A person who has perseverance endures no matter what the trials or how much suffering or grief he or she may go through. It’s from the root word meaning “to remain under.” What does that mean? It means a person would be willing to remain under trials, if necessary, and to honor and glorify the Lord. By enduring such trials, they learn the lessons only trials teach. We need to view barriers and potholes as part of God’s plan. I found personally that when my church was struggling, so was I. They were mirroring the leader’s lack of energy and passion.

          Job, when confronted by his wife about his trial, said, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job 2:9 (NASB) Making adjustments in a struggling or declining congregation has never been easy and during a revitalization process it is no more palatable. The process can expose flaws, weaknesses, and failures, but it can also present the congregation with checkpoints for the church to be able to see when the congregation and the leadership are moving forward. This gives a view toward a brighter future.

          How can a congregation and its leaders endure and proceed in the face of scrutiny, opposition, or desertion?

          1. Be absolutely certain you are following Christ’s plan (not your own). Paul states in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We have persistent steadfastness, not because we are invincible, tough and wise, but because we have the power and anointing of the Spirit of God within us. When we are weak, He will exchange His strength for our weakness!

          Another way to say it is found in 2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).For this reason, I also suffer these things; nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” If you are absolutely persuaded that you are the leader to walk the church through revitalization and you are certain the direction is His, then stand up, speak boldly, and invite your church family to follow your voice!

          Okay, here’s one more peg to hang your hat on: Galatians 6:9 (NLT)So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Don’t give up, sit down or shut up if you certain of His calling and direction.

          2. Accept suffering as God’s way of guiding our ideas and opinions so we see the best option – His plan! The fruit that grows on the outside of a tree and is exposed to the abuse of weather is always the sweetest, because it receives the most sun. Are you allowing the Son to shine on your situation or are you trying to stay in the shade of comfort and convenience?

          James 1:2-6a (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.

          3. Walk in faith, God is for you and with you! Perseverance is when we keep coming back, and we never give up. Keep trying, keep knocking and, finally, the door will open. Stay the course (let me rephrase that – “Stay His course”)! 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NKJV)But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed– always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

          4. Don’t give up! Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said this, “Perseverance is a great element of success, if you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you’re sure to wake up somebody.” If God is with you, stay in there for the duration. Keep the faith, charge with courage, be tenacious and run with stamina.

          His goals are just ahead. They are well within reach. No church knows how much time it has left. Most everything has a shelf-life. Sooner or later our best intentions come to an end. Where will your best efforts, your greatest adventures and your most zealous passions lead you? Why would we want to consider accepting failure when He is with us? Many before us have worked too hard, for too many years to let the legacy and the mission of the church fade away into obscurity.

          5. Don’t be afraid of those who oppose you! Ezekiel 3:9 (NKJV)Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead (the conspicuous part of our head that discloses our direction); do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” If you are on track, following God’s design, they are not opposing you; they are opposing Him! Remember, “stay on course even if the road is loaded with potholes.”

          Nehemiah faced opposition, but he prayed, developed a plan, sold the people on the purpose for the new walls, consistently pointed them to the goal ahead, and reminded them that The Lord would be with them and give them the victory. The walls were rebuilt, safety and security were regained, and it was all done super-fast – just 52 days! Let us keep our eyes on the prize and hold fast to our energy source, which is found in our Savior, the King of kings? We won’t be disappointed at the results! Focus on the goal, not on the potholes!

Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Leader

I find it perplexing today that many people would have us believe they are an expert on just about anything and every topic. Pseudo-experts write new books every year concerning the latest and greatest ways to get ahead or make millions. People approach me regularly for advice or coaching supposing I have all the answers to their problems. Some think they can tell others what they should be doing in their lives, while their life’s secret is – their situation is a mess and they can’t even see it. The Bible said it would be this way! And, some leaders are so busy picking at the speck in another leader’s eye, that they can’t even see the railroad tie that is protruding from their own. The Word of God says that God gives GRACE to the humble and resists the PROUD! (1 Peter 5:15).

          Jesus showed us the way to be first in the kingdom of God, and first in our own families, AND He did it with a basin, a towel, and water. We are to get off our arrogant, self-centered high horse and get down into the filth of a dirty floor and wash each other’s feet. Yes, shepherds often smell like sheep stuff when they are working closely with them. Ever get a little stink on you? If not, why not?

          I’m not necessarily saying you should practice literal foot-washing, unless God impresses you to do so, but I am talking about setting aside your pride, your wants, your plans, and your feelings so that others around you would have the chance to flourish and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus, because you and I are expected to model the Biblical principles of humility and selflessness.

          No one in our homes will grow to embrace Godly character or a healthy self-image without us each individually living out the life of Christ to our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents or our friends. People MUST see Jesus in us!

          We have reared five children and I would love to tout their absolute perfection to every command of the Lord, BUT I would be lying! The one thing that made a huge difference in our 43 years of marriage and almost 40 years of parenting is this – consistent unity of parental leadership. When I speak, the kids knew that mom would not overturn my words. When she made a declaration, they knew I would not cave to their tears or pleading. We were always ONE. Sure, there were times when we had bedroom powwows over our response, but when the door opened, the words they heard were consistent and unified.

          With that foundation in mind, I hope you will receive the following with sincere evaluation, knowing all adjustments require love and challenge.

SEVEN SECRETS TO A HAPPY AND HEALTHY FAMILY LEADER

  1. Security and Faithfulness – our spouses and our children should never, ever have to wonder about our faithfulness to one another. They should be at peace with the covenant we have made between God and our spouse.  When a warning light goes on, don’t smash it out or unscrew the bulb – deal with the problem and make a choice to overcome it by the power of God.
  2. Communication – Many great marriage experts have already exhausted this topic. Communication is the essential to a healthy relationship, whether marital or social. During difficult times, it is absolutely vital not to do or say anything that will close the spirit of others. Keep the lines of communication open and honest!
  3. Courtship/Dating beyond the Ring – Don’t become lazy and sloppy! Keep the fire alive! Remember how you use to act in the presence of your now present spouse? Remember how you dressed? Remember how you smelled? Remember? Never lose the challenge of loving one another in the same way Christ loves you. Put on your best for the one who holds your heart!
  4. Warming Up the Iron – women are like an iron; men are like a light bulb. Men, take the time men to engage your wife in intimate conversation and intimate caressing before you sizzle! Make sure your mate receives as much or more enjoyment out of a sexual encounter as you do. Respect each other! Don’t push. Our purpose is to be the fulfiller for the needs and voids in our spouses’ heart and mind.
  5. Spend time to make lasting memories/moments – Camping has always been a memory-maker for us. Some good; some bad; some funny and some just plain grotesque.  Places like Golden Gate Canyon State Park; Lake Mineral Wells State Park; Kerrville-Schreiner State Park hold special memories.  Canoeing with my wife. Yes, I got cocky and overturned the canoe to her chagrin. My oldest son who bent back the van door when backing the van out of the garage (you gotta shut the door first). Kids who pounded on the van with a hammer, thinking they were helping me work on it. Cut fingers; stitches; a broken jaw; a broken arm; and the list goes on. Trying times, but precious memories!
  6. Keep the Cup Full – Give each other constant and consistent encouragement and care. What if they were taken from you today? Have you done everything you know you ought to, so they would know, without question, how valuable they are to you?
  7. The True Source of Love– don’t look for fulfillment in a house, a car, clothes, a job or even in people alone. Fulfillment is only found in Christ! Help your family to experience the fullness of Christ’s presence and love in their spirit and life. Your spouse and your children, and now grandchildren, should always find peace and security in your love for them.

          I have read and heard numerous testimonies of how persons in a crisis or traumatic experience found strength and healing in the consistent compassion of their spouse or family. My mind goes to people like Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic resulting from a diving accident); Clebe McClary (Vietnam veteran who lost an arm, an eye, and most the of the use of his good hand); Dave Roever (Black Beret Vietnam veteran who had a phosphorous grenade explode in his hand – 14 months in the hospital and 15 major surgeries); and the list goes on.

          All of these chose to let God give joy for sorrow; healing for pain; and to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)

          It isn’t wrong to avoid painful situations whenever possible, but it is wrong to deny problems, ignore them, or try to explain them away. Don’t get me wrong here; I am not implying that God causes trials (James 1:13), nor am I saying that we ought to help others suffer trials so they can gain from the experience (Romans 6:1-2).  God can and does take the lousy stuff that happens to us and uses it for our good (Romans 8:28). I love how Job put it, when answering his wife’s comment, “Curse God and die.”

Job 2:10 (NKJV)Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” And the writer adds – In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

          Life is messy and often unfair, and families will have differences of opinion and even arguments at times. What makes the difference between a life of victory and a life of misery is how we respond to what life throws at us. Avoid negativity and refuse to allow bitterness to dwell in your life. Be positive, encouraging, and care for others more than you care for yourself.

          Where are you? Exchange your spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise. Relinquish any anger or frustration you are having with your spouse or children and let God give you peace and joy. Wage the war against our enemy, not against one another!

          It is never easy to “welcome” trials as “friends,” but they can train, shape and mold us to become Christ-like. Accept each trial as an opportunity to grow and each other as that “shaping-agent” for our good! Be the leader who has a healthy, stable home and you will be much more likely to become the revitalizer who can help churches to have a healthy, thriving future.

Are You a Leader for Change?

As I was writing this article, I was warned about using the word – CHANGE! It was originally titled, “Advancement Requires Adjustment.” I received suggestions such as adjustments, alterations, and modifications, but I have come to grips with the truth that unless we accept the horrible consequences of doing nothing, we will die and so will the church we serve! The soldier who is afraid of the prospects of dying will never storm the enemy’s line of defense. We must trust unwaveringly in our God Who is invincible and eternal!

I hear the voices of numerous pastors I have known and to whom I have worked alongside. The questions that grip us over and over are – “Am I the one who is hindering our church’s growth,” or “Do I really want to go through the valley for a change that is not guaranteed?”

Do we really want life-altering change? Of course! Do we expect God to do something amazing if we relinquish our will to His?” Sure! BUT, do we trust ourselves? Do we believe we have the tools, the skills, the stamina to go through what is necessary for change to become a welcome reality in our ministry setting? Rarely! Our own weaknesses knock us down and our lack of strength often pins us to the mat for the “ten count.” So, what can we do to keep our head in the game and our heart in the ministry?

In Paul Nixon’s book, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, he gives some great ideas for helping leaders join with their people in becoming a growing, thriving church, but the reality is – Every pastor is leading a dying church! You may say, “Wow, how cynical can you be,” but let’s face it, all our churches are in a world setting our world is passing away. Even Nehemiah’s great rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem only lasted a few decades. After Nehemiah’s great victory, the walls of Jerusalem were almost completely destroyed in 70 A.D. during the Roman siege (First Jewish-Roman War). Once again, they remained in ruins for decades. The walls we see today were rebuilt during the Ottoman Empire (1535-1538). Revitalization or rebuilding can have limitations and restrictions. That is why revitalization is a process, not a program! It is a consistent conduct of living, not a mountain top experience to be attained and forgotten.

What I have experienced is church leaders (I’m not pointing a finger at pastors alone) are excited about the prospects of their church regaining vigor and productivity, but they draw back when the process is presented and they view the lengthy labor of that process. As has been seen for about 3+ decades, we welcome the fast-food version of living, but we steer away from slow, laborious technologies and methodologies.

I think we ought to learn a great phrase by which to serve the Lord, as presented in Star Trek – LET US BOLDLY GO WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE! Here are the major points:
1) Let us give our best and die to self, even if no one will go with us.
2) Let us be unstoppable in our quest for finding the new life and helping those who crave a new civilization.
3) Let us remain undeterred in the face of opposition or threat.
4) Let us remember, there is a real hell and real people are going there.
5) Let us focus on the fun of the finish line and not the woes of the journey.
6) Let us be diligent and selfless, not mediocre and lazy in reaching those who are yet to believe.
7) Let us stay true to the Owner’s manual – Man does not live by bread alone!

We cannot help but walk amid the constant degradation of the world around us, but we must not allow the spiritual demise of our planet to overcome the task we have be called to – preparing the Bride for the Bridegroom’s coming. We are to be ever expanding the Kingdom on earth, and we are to be steadfast in our holy trek at the same moment.

True revitalization is indisputably and unequivocally linked to a spiritual catharsis in each of us. Rebuilding walls destroyed by the enemy is a great thing, but the victory of Nehemiah’s time was his people experienced a season of repentance and revival and they were blessed with peace.

So, how can we obtain “the tools and the energy” needed to invite the Spirit of God to bring revitalization? How can we remain steadfast in the work before us while being torn between work, church and family? Would we be willing to labor for 52 days to see our homes and families safe and secure again? We often shy away from any project, meeting or training that takes “too long.”

Here are some thought-tools for your toolbox:
1) There will be resistance. Whether due to fear or loss of status or stability, change can be uncomfortable and unwanted.
2) Change may mean death to something or someone. “A grain of wheat cannot bear much fruit unless it first dies” (John 12:24).
3) Revitalization without spirit-empowered revival is merely a band-aid.
4) Those who appear to be “resistors” may just be wrestling with the change that we have already embraced. Give the congregation time to hear AND receive from the Lord.
5) Help the church to see that the change will help them be successful in meeting their needs and accomplishing their values with less negative impact and with God’s favor.

Are we daily, dying to self so our Lord can use us to bear much fruit? Or, are we striving in our own flesh to produce fruit, only to find we are producing the bitter fruit of this world’s system?

Some pastors, who have requested the revitalization process, quickly change their tune when we unpack the commitment required. I close with some of Paul Nixon’s ideas/tools as well as a few of my own:
1) Keep the Biblical Rationale/Foundation for revitalization always before your people. Help them to be unified (in one accord) and to find joy in regular fellowship and camaraderie.
2) Remind them to always choose what brings life and vitality, not stability and survival. We were called to thrive, not survive. We are to bear much fruit, not protect the fruit basket.
3) Choose to be focused on the yet-to-believe, not on the ninety-nine already in the corral. We spend so much time, money and effort on the structure, rather than on the mission (Acts 1:8).
4) Equip the congregation to be bold witnesses, not fearful followers (Phil. 1:19-21; Prov. 28:1). Consider “How Can I Share My Faith Without an Argument?” by William Fay (https://discoveryseries.org/discovery-series/how-can-i-share-my-faith-without-an-argument/)
5) Intentionally and regularly get the congregation out into the community. Your community needs to see the body serving, once a quarter or even monthly. How will they know you care if you hide inside the walls of the sanctuary?
6) Do what you value! Purpose-driven church has a biblical base, but values-driven churches are usually more passionate and aggressive. When we value something, we tell people about it. We have no qualms promoting what we value to the rest of the world. Ever seen or heard the claims of, “You can make thousands of dollars per week from your own home!” Ever buy a new car and not tell someone about it? I verify my point!
7) Choose your new frontier. Google “revitalization” often and read all you can on the subject. Glean what is helpful for you and your church and discard the rest.
8) Last, but of greatest importance, PRAY! Seek first His plan! Then, ask the Lord to guide your steps and empower your efforts. If we abide in Him and He abides in us, we will ask what we desire (which is also His desire) and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).

So, I ask one last time – Are you the one to advance your church by making adjustments, both easy and hard? Ask Jesus and then decide!

God-Called and Sold-Out!

One of my greatest desires in ministry is to be a leader with the passion and guts of Nehemiah. He prayed, cared, strategized and led the people of Jerusalem in such effectiveness and productivity that they rebuilt the wall, rehung the gates and reinvigorated the downtrodden inhabitants of the city, AND they completed the entire renovation in only 52 days! In most churches today, during that same timeframe, the project would still be in committee, debating what building materials would be most conducive and arguing who would be the chairperson for the project.

We need Nehemiah-type leaders for revitalization. I’m sure there may be someone who has all the leadership attributes of a Nehemiah, but even having a few would give one a leg-up over most of us!

That being the foundation for the rest of this article, there has been a consistent weakness in EVERY church I have engaged with the revitalization process. Without fail, the two glaring weaknesses have been in the areas of discipleship and evangelism. Jesus’ two parting commands to his followers were “Go, disciple and baptize” – Matthew 28:18-20 and “be faithful witnesses, even unto death” – Acts 1:8. We must be students leading others to Christ and discipling them to become passionate gospel sharers, but this appears to be our greatest weakness.

Yes, we must reach out to our communities. Yes, we must intimately relate to our Lord in spiritual worship. Yes, we must impact our world in missional fervor. Yes, we must spend quality time with our Father, listening and speaking, but we should not be guilty of ignoring His final words to us before bodily leaving planet earth.

So, how can we know if revitalization is being successful? I believe there will be some very defined markers if we are leading congregations to be strong followers of our Savior’s great commission and great commands, immediately and unswervingly. I am also absolutely convinced it takes a strong leader and godly example to help the body of Christ live out our Lord’s commands in this post-Christian world. So here are three markers:

1. Leading others to repent – Acts 20:20,21 “I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the requirement of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

2. Passing on the faith to others – Discipling faithful learners to pass it on as well – 2 Timothy 2:2 “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”

3. Being a Persistent Witness – Prov. 11:30 – “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” If we are wise and faithful followers, our easiest message is to blabber incessantly about our love for the One Who gave His all for us!

A wet baptistry, worn prayer altars and weekly praise testimonies of new converts and transformed lives are signs of successful renewal, personal revival and corporate revitalization.

So what tools can a leader offer that will position the church body to be poised for a successful revitalization process?

1. Teach them to share their testimony in 90 seconds or less – naturally and confidently!
2. Preach on the reality of hell and grieve with them over the thought of friends, family, neighbors or co-workers ending up in that horrific place.
3. Train them to boldly and lovingly share their faith and the love of Christ with those they engage in their community.
4. Equip them to be faithful stewards, willingly giving quality time to teach new believers what God has instilled in them.

We have forgotten the basics. We need to return to the blocking and tackling of the Christian life. We spend way too much time and energy on events and programs. Yes, they are necessary, and can be a bridge to lost people being willing to listen to the gospel message, but we wear out the body of Christ with a myriad of good things while often running past the best things. These next few paragraphs may make you angry, but I pray you will hear the heart with which I present them.

In our generation, the Sunday morning worship service has become the defining event of Christianity. Yes, we should go to church because Jesus did, and He is our example – Luke 4:16 “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was (emphasis mine), He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” I’m concerned that what happens in most churches on any given Sunday across America has become a liturgical ritual and routine. The worship hour has become our religious idol.

The book of Acts unpacks the lifestyles of a follower of Christ over ten times, yet it never once describes a worship service. If we were composing a book about the twenty-first century church, we would likely spend 90% of the pages describing the Sunday morning services and church events, rather than the life-changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church was designed to be God’s people joyfully displaying the journey to transformation He performed in us!

As a leader of the family of God, how do we change our church’s present mindset to impact the future?
• Encourage your people to choose the center seat in the service and leave the end seats for guests. An initial comfort in the worship venue is vital!
• Present the gospel in the common language of the people. Don’t be vulgar, just be relevant and understandable. Avoid seminary terminology and scholarly phrases. Remember, there are young ears in many worship centers who need to hear and understand.
• Teach your congregation that ministry is the result of proper equipping and spiritual maturity.
• Offer regular opportunities for mission action within your service area. Your community needs your service; that is why He placed you where you are! Don’t take a trip across the country or on the other side of the planet just to entice your people to do what they should be doing at home.
• Live out a lifestyle of constant and consistent mission activity. Avoid missions being a vacation to a place you like to visit or have never been!
• Equip the people to give quality time to digging spiritual wells instead of repainting marred walls. He church is about transformation, not reparation. We are to mentor and coach new believers how to live productively for the Kingdom of God. It is for spiritual oneness that we were reborn.
• Lead with the banner that declares, “Every Member is a Minister.” We are the team, the pastor is the coach, and Jesus is the Owner Who bought us with His blood. We are to run His plays and make touchdowns for Him!
• Develop patterns, not programs. Believers reproducing themselves in new converts, to be examples of the Christ-life.
• EXPECT the laborers to go into the fields that are white unto harvest. If a member does not want to labor, recommend they find a place where they can be satisfied watching people be forever separated from Jesus Christ. The church is not the place to recline! We are saints, not sloths.
• Do something new and outlandish for the glory of God! Jesus was a trendsetter, not a pew sitter.
• Our calling has eternal significance. It is a matter of life and death for eternity. Revitalizing leaders must be concerned with scriptural obedience, rather than social solace or religious rewards.

It is high-time for the church to be the church once again! March, Army of God. Head for the frontlines! That is where we will find our Commander.

Become a Shepherding Revitalizer: Success through Observing the 10 Core Competencies of Jesus Christ, the Lord

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I have been blessed to have many strong mentors. I have been touched and trained by Jack Stanton, Elmer Towns, Luther Williams, B. Gray Allison, E. J. Daniels, Norman Noble, and Ken Bradley just to name a few. These men radiated strong leadership qualities. And then there are the writers that have instilled little nuggets of gold into my leadership vault – Ron Edmonson, Tim Elmore, Rick Curtis and classics like Vance Havner, Andrew Murray, Paul Billheimer and Leonard Ravenhill.
With these in mind and heart, and countless hours of my own study in revitalization, I offer my own rendition of Jesus’ 10 Competencies which every revitalizer ought to strive for to be effective.

First, and these are not in any order of rank, is this: Jesus knew when, where and how to ask the hard questions. His discernment and boldness is crystal clear. When speaking to religious leaders, He knew the correct words to dig into their heart and mind, unearthing the root issues. Jesus did not offer roses and teddy bears to the deception and dishonesty of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He called a lie by its originator – the devil, and He paralleled satan’s schemes with the false religiosity of His day. The religious charlatans were of their father, the devil, and Jesus exposed them. It is imperative for the revitalizer to discern truth from sham, and call leaders and congregations to follow what is true. Sugar-coating the truth will never help fix a church that is declining or dying. Remember, speak the truth in love, but speak the truth!

Second, Jesus was priority-driven. He dealt with what was urgent. In John 17:4, He said He had “accomplished the work which You (the Father) have given Me to do.” He was laser-focused; never distracted from what HAD to be done, but always willing to divert his attention to what needed to be handled immediately. He never failed to stop for those who were sick or grieving before going further. He handled distractions as though they were a part of the plan of the Father (and they are). He never got anxious, never showed disdain for the distraction or the detractor and never shrugged away anyone’s crisis.

Third, Jesus lived what He taught. As my parents used to chide, “Practice what you preach!” And Jesus did. Be genuine when you ask churches to do what you are, and have been, doing. In Luke 7:22, “He (Jesus) answered and said to them (John the Baptist’s followers), “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” Jesus’ ministry was proof of His message and His authority. He had no problem humbling Himself by washing His pupil’s feet and encouraging them to continue His example. Revitalizers should be known as servant-leaders, not experts. The strategies, processes and plans we present to blemished brides originated from the eternal Bridegroom. Give Him the glory!

Fourth, Jesus took time to refresh Himself. Mark 6:31-32, “And He (Jesus) said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” Luke 6:12, “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Jesus was into self-development. He took time to recharge His physical and spiritual batteries. So must we!

Fifth, relationships must always trump roles. Jesus cared more about people than religious rules, rituals and regulations. John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Who we are is more important than what we can do. Jesus had no problem breaking the “rules” to care for those who were in need.

Sixth, Jesus replicated Himself in others. Matthew 10:1, Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Mark 3:14-15, And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. He did not micromanage them, but He did oversee them.
He prepared and trained the apostles to assume His responsibilities. They may have been uneducated and uncouth, but He pushed them to accomplish more than they could have ever imagined. He trained them so well they gladly followed Him to the point of martyrdom. Here is His three-step strategy. 1) He did the ministry and they watched. 2) They did the ministry and reported back to Him for evaluation and advice. 3) He departed, and they took over the ministry and trained others. And it is continuing today through every believer! When the church adheres to this discipleship process, they can’t help but be productive.

Seventh, Jesus expected His followers to be sold-out to His cause. We must gain buy-in to lead in revitalization. Mark 8:34-35, And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” He was asking them to relinquish their plans, goals and future for His agenda. We must be willing to lose everything, so He can do the miraculous.

Eighth, Jesus led His followers with an authority beyond Himself. John 12:49, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.” We would do well to:
a) Seek the Lord at the start of every day.
b) Be calm and trust Him when things look bleak.
c) Stand firm in the Word when the enemy attacks.
d) Admit error/sin and seek forgiveness.

Ninth, Jesus perpetuated His ministry in us by leaving us a strengthener and counselor. John 14:12-16, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever…” Always seek the unction of the Holy Spirit and empower others with the very same Spirit.

Tenth, FINISH WELL! Revitalization is not about us; it is about Him and His Bride being joined in perfect harmony!  (All scriptures are from the New American Standard Bible)

Where are You?

2294096854_cd60c6bb69In Genesis 3 (NASB), God calls to Adam, after he and Eve had eaten of the forbidden tree’s fruit. We pick up the story in verse 9: “Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”

This is a question that should be posed to every pastor, and it is painfully apparent that the same question should be directed at the church today. We seem to be focused mostly on where we want to end up. But, you and I know that we can never get where we intend to go unless we first know where we are – where to start!

It is interesting that in the secular world we find the same understanding of this foundational concern. When I go into the mall, there is a directory that maps out the entire mall layout, but it has a star or some other designator to show me where I am. It usually states, “You are Here!” During a college orientation, the student often receives a map of the campus. It shows the new student where everything is located and it has that little designator on the map that says, “You are here!” The university orientation venue is the starting point for the new student to begin their tour of the campus. Even in a retail store, there are aisles with four to five labels disclosing the contents of the aisle and a number designating the aisle. If you are looking for something on aisle 20, you need to know which way to go from your present location. If you are on aisle 2 and you encounter aisle 3 then you are headed the right direction to your destination.

So how can we determine where a church is before we dive headlong into a revitalization process? How can we get headed in the right direction? Let me suggest four exposing tools to help determine where the church is stuck.

First, a pastoral readiness assessment is key to starting the process. It is imperative that the leader struggle with the hard question, “Are you the one who can lead this church into revitalization, renewal and revival?” If that is not clear, then the process is at a standstill. I recently talked with a pastor who said, “I’ve had twenty years of effective ministry, of course I can do this!” But as we analyzed his twenty years of ministry, he realized all he had was four years of good ministry repeated five times. After producing well for four years, he would run out of passion and energy and would move on to a new setting. Or a second pastor who could not answer the previous question. In two subsequent conversations there was still no commitment, but on the third contact, he told me there was no use in pursuing the process with his church. When I probed why, he said he had been terminated. They saw through his lack of leadership and decided for him!

Second, what are the past and present trends of the congregation? Statistics and data from past records and annual church profiles offer a decent look into historical and present trends. Also, there are congregational analyses that offer information by way of the Church Health Survey, staff and personal interviews, demographics, worship service observations, facilities and parking observations, “secret shopper” evaluations, social media assessments, church document reviews and community interviews. These may provide a clearer picture into present trends and the congregation’s reputation in the community.

Third. A weekend congregational workshop encourages members to remember the probable factors that ushered the church into this crisis. They unpack the history of their world, their community and their church. They get to realistically discuss the influencers that have forced both positive and negative impacts on their church. It sheds light on the factors that influenced church strengths and expose areas requiring adjustments and reinforcement, plus they are required to compile possible solutions and suggest concerns that might block the future effectiveness of the renewal process.

Fourth, is inventing the battering rams that can be utilized to knock down the hindrances, barriers and blockades to future success. The Holy Spirit is the greatest revealer and the most powerful bulldozer ever! He must be our source and He must have control over all we think and do and say!

Here are five probing questions and thoughts that can help determine where you are, even as you are reading this article:
1) Ask yourself the hard questions. Are you the one to lead this venture or should you step down and hand it over to more eager and capable hands? Is this the right time? Are these people willing to be moved?
2) Clean up yourself. If you are not confessed up and intentionally seeking the power and presence of the Lord, then maybe no one should be following you at this moment!
3) Run the direction God is going. Make certain you are not demanding the congregation to follow you, if your path does not mirror His. God’s direction is true; it lasts forever and leads to life everlasting.
4) Don’t worry if your friends make fun of you. You may be growing a church that is uncomfortable for them, but if it is sealed with the Father’s approval, who cares what they think! Stand strong, stand up, stand out and live boldly for His glory.
5) Listen to the voice of God first and then go His way! Don’t be a Jonah. Are you looking for Tarshish? Is there a great fish awaiting your disobedient carcass? It has been said of old, “There are few atheists in foxholes,” but for the Christian it is more apropos to say, “There are few happy campers or satisfied inhabitants in a great fish’s belly!” Run with God and you’ll always be running right! Our process is not perfect, but our God is!

Finally, let me warn you about the attacks of the enemy. Nehemiah had the threats of Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem to deal with while trying to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem, and the devil will do his best to throw threats and discouragement your way as well. He will mess with mind by saying you are done, washed up, burned out and finished. But the Lord says we are overcomers and victors. I read the back of the Book and WE WIN! Christ has already won the battle, so follow Him.

Where do we start? RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE! RIGHT NOW! If you know where you are and where He is leading you, then you don’t need a GPS or a map. Don’t go it alone. Get help and follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership. Don’t procrastinate, hesitate or make excuses. All you need to succeed is IN Christ! So I’ll ask once more – Where are you?

The Three Pastoral Types that Help or Hinder a Revitalizer

 

Years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a poster. It was a poem entitled, “Don’t You Quit.” It has become a favorite mantra of mine. It keeps my feet to the fire and my nose to the grindstone. She knew I was overworked and my focus had grown dim. I knew she was right, but I surely didn’t want to admit that to my mother-in-law! I had become a discouraged “sitter” and because of a family crisis, I was contemplating the role of the “quitter.” But, God reminded me of this poem. I reached into a file drawer, pulled out the poster, unrolled it and found renewal through its invitation. I offer it here as a motivation to you when you feel like throwing in the towel:

 

Don’t you Quit

 

 

 

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

 

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

 

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

 

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

 

When care is pressing you down a bit-

 

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

 

 

 

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

 

As every one of us sometimes learns,

 

And many a fellow turns about

 

When he might have won had he stuck it out.

 

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –

 

You may succeed with another blow.

 

 

 

Often the goal is nearer than

 

It seems to a faint and faltering man;

 

Often the struggler has given up

 

When he might have captured the victor’s cup;

 

And he learned too late when the night came down,

 

How close he was to the golden crown.

 

 

 

Success is failure turned inside out –

 

The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,

 

And you never can tell how close you are,

 

It might be near when it seems afar;

 

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –

 

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

 

 

 

Since helping facilitate the revitalization process with several churches and walking alongside of pastors who were dejected, discouraged and defeated, I am aware that there are leaders who can help the revitalizer, while others hinder him from being effective, blocking the church from being renewed and stifle the entire process. I pray that this treatise will be received a positive lift and not a negative thrashing.  

 

 

 

Here are three Leadership Attitudes/Actions for our consideration:

 

 

 

1) The “Reluctant Admitter” (previously called by the negative title of “The Quitter”) – This leader allows the revitalizer to move forward and the church to move on without him. He has come to grips with the fact that he is the barricade. He has either accomplished the thing for which God called him to that church, or it is just time for new vision and new leadership. There is a big difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough!

 

 

 

The reluctant admitter may not always be that “reluctant” either! There are times and settings where dissatisfaction and distraction keep us from moving forward and upward. It could be a physical health issue or the distance from ailing parents or precious children and grandchildren that bring us to a driving desire for relocation or reuniting. I do not believe the Lord is resistant to healthy, happy, loving families! Yes, I am fully aware of Luke 14:25-26 (NKJV) – Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. Just remember, this is a Semitic hyperbole. He wants our love for others to be exceeded only by our love for the Father.

 

 

 

If you KNOW you are not the one to lead the revitalization process, then be gutsy enough to admit it and allow someone else to step in and lead the flock to new vistas and new aspirations.

 

 

 

2) The “Satisfied Sitter” – this “leader” holds back the process and the church. He pulls everyone into his rut of worthless activity. This is the pastor who views the church as his place to preach and be part of a group. The flock allows him the resources and location to practice his “gift.” He’s not leading, he’s just absorbing and diffusing.

 

 

 

The congregation is often the first to recognize the “sitter.” They wonder why the church is not growing and healthy. People are dissatisfied and there are as many, or more, exiting as there are joining. Some refer to this as the “back door” being too broad for the continued success of the church. People are often discouraged from beginning new ministries and programs. The prospects of change and extra effort are squelched, and the desire for maintaining outweighs the possibility of creative, innovative service within the church or outside in the community. 

 

 

 

This pastor has become satisfied with his comfort zone and disregarded the commands to go, to disciple and to be witnesses (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

 

 

 

3) The “Gritty Go-Gitter” (yes, I know there is no such spelling, but in the south where I was brought up, we pronounce it “gitter” instead of “getter”). This leader lights the way for the followers and drives the process. This leader lets nothing slow his momentum, lets nothing distract him from the goals he has perceived as from the Lord and perseveres until the mission is accomplished. His focus is on God getting the glory and the church walking in unity.

 

 

 

He is often viewed as a workaholic! He is never comfortable with where the church is or the speed at which it moves. He is always looking for a new approach, a new idea, or a more productive resource. I love the “go-gitter!” He may seem like he is ADHD, but he is probably so passionate about his love for the Lord and his calling to serve Jesus Christ that he can’t imagine stopping or even slowing down.

 

 

 

This leader may get frustrated by the process of revitalization. It can be slow and meticulous, but once he receives the strategy, realizes there are clear markers to verify productive movement and comprehends the goals to be achieved, he will get behind it and gladly push toward the finish line.

 

 

 

If you are the “Reluctant Admitter,” ask the Lord whether He expects you to lead the charge to change and revival. If not, get your resume updated and search for the ministry setting where you can have that confidence.  

 

 

 

If you are a “Satisfied-Sitter,” rent a moving truck and relocate. Evaluate God’s calling. If you have no clear response, or you just need some time to find healing and renewal, then take the time in another setting or job that will clarify God’s leading. Ask Him to re-energize you and expand His Kingdom in and through you!

 

 

 

If you are a “Go-Gitter,” put the pedal to the metal and speed on. Just remember to slow down and take the congregation with you! Keep your eye and the goal, equip the saints to do the work and “run” alongside of them as all of you seek to glorify of the Father!