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.