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Saturday, January 14, 2017

5 Reasons Young People Should Connect with Church Revitalization

Citation
“The young people are the problem!”  “Once we get young people in here- like back in the good ole days- then our church will be able to do ministry.”  These represent the diametrically opposed views of young people in churches-especially among churches in need of revitalization.  One of the common ways this manifests itself is in a war of worship songs.  A classic hymn says, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”  Many have taken that song and taken a different spin, “If they are gonna lead, I’ll go!”  These often cause divisions in churches.

Among these “distracted” churches, young people are seen as a hindrance or as Saviors.  Both are unhealthy.  Regardless, there are many reasons for young people, who are often wanting to connect with the “cool, hip” churches should pour out their lives into distracted churches.

1) You have more of an opportunity to use your gifts.

God has gifted every one of us, and we should consider those gifts as a stewardship (1 Peter 4:10-11).  In my experience, in many larger churches (notice, size is the measurement, not health) you can have many gifts people, but only the “most” gifted get to participate.  There is little room for a believer wanting to grow in leadership to teach because- to be frank- there is little freedom to fail.  While you may be able to have a gifted teacher lead a small group or Sunday School class, there are still limits on the amount of classes and the amount of teachers that can be used.  You can only use so many on the worship team.  Also, these venues are often still not fit for the less experienced believers.

Smaller, distracted churches offer a better avenue for believers to use their gifts.  First, from my experience, there are literally a hundred ways to serve.  There is room to fill in the youth, in the music, and so on.  In fact, a staple of distracted churches is that there is little desire on the part of the members to create new ministries.  A sure sign of a distracted church is a desire to control, not a desire to create.  Creation of new ministries, whether it be music or youth or discipleship classes, provide a context for less experienced believers to steward their gifts. 

Less experience is often mistaken for less gifted (no such thing!), and younger believers can get lost in the crowd.  When there is less people and more need, this is less of a problem.

2) You can grow in your experience and giftedness.

Sure, some of these believers you send out to create and work to equip will blow it- good.  We all blow it.  No one learns without blowing it.  The gospel is for people who have blown it.

 So, we should give believers, especially those with a desire to be involved, freedom to create.  As they create, the job of the pastor is to shepherd through control and crafting.  Be careful giving the keys to the new youth group to a youth, but don’t be afraid to sit in the passenger and let them try out the experience.  As they go, you can help them cast vision and craft the ministry- this provides the opportunity and context for discipleship and leadership development.

Young believers, you can benefit from the church revitalization process as much as the church you help serve.

3) You need wise godly council (and you may learn that “old people” are not that bad).

One of the many benefits of the church revitalization process is that generation gaps tend to be less cut and dry in smaller churches.  When the college student, the retiree, and the pastor’s high school daughter all share a pew together- bonding is bound to happen.    Circles of friends have to be more diverse because more diversity (in one sense) sits in the pews. 

One of the benefits of this is that natural connections can form.  Another is that both parties will see the benefit of the other.  In fact, the various generations may see that they need each other.  The zeal of one and the wisdom of the other complement one another.  Pastors must make it clear that every person in the church is dependent on the other.  Lastly, we must make sure not to view young believers as the “future” of the church.  They are the “present” of the church.  They need to be involved.  They need discipleship for now, not for later.  Older believers, mentor the next generation.  

Next generation, seek and submit to mentorship from others.  You may find it shocking, but you’ll realize that you need each other.

4) You will learn that the church is not about you and your preferences- and that is a glorious thing.

Younger believers learn through church revitalization that churches do not exist to serve every preference, but they exist for the increase of the kingdom of God.  A short but profound point is found here: The church you attend will have a direct effect on how you view the church.  It is not about us- we need to know that.  We need to recognize that the Christian life is one about sacrifice.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Can we consider our churches faithful if we never have to crucify our desires?  Since when was “denying ourselves” a comfortable experience?  What does this say to younger believers about the purpose with the church?

5) You need to be revitalized too.

Revitalization is simply refocusing.  Friends, young believers, while you may think the problem in the church is the older generation (and vice versa) we all need to be refocused.  We all need what Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  While our distractions may be different, we all need to be focused on what matters- obedience to God.  We need each other- may we never forget that.


Younger believers, is God calling you to leave behind the comforts and coffee shops of larger “hipper” churches and to pour your life out helping to refocus the distracted church down the street?  

The experience may not be the most comfortable, but the gospel is not a call to be comfortable.  Ask God to lead you.  Ask God to empower you.  Take up your cross and follow him.  Whether you realize it or not, the generations before you have tons of teach you.  They have sacrificed a ton for you to reap the benefits.  May one thing we model the attitude found in one of those “old people songs”…”Wherever you lead, I’ll go.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some Reflections on Church Revitalization

From here
“I don’t want to serve in a dying church.”  My jaw dropped as I heard a pastor friend retell this story.  He recounted the story of how someone had decided to stop filling in as the music leader at a small country church.  They played a role on the music team of their much larger home church, and didn’t see a point in serving as a music leader at a much smaller country church 15 minutes down the road. 

As a pastor of a church that is far more similar to the latter than the former, I was dumbfounded.  Stories like this are not unfounded.  There a massive misunderstanding, especially among younger believers, about “dying” churches.  The Bible speaks a different word over these churches.

First, the title “dying” next to any church is a denial of the gospel.  Yes, while I know what they mean, if there are believers in any church than it is by definition a “living” church.  Ephesians 2:5 says, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [Christ] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”  No church is a dying church because every church contains people made alive by the gospel.

Now, certainly we need to be put a title on the type of church we are talking about.  Often times by “dying” many are meaning to say “declining.”  Certainly spiritual life and numerical decline are different.  Also, there are studies that show that the majority of churches are in decline, not able to grow at a pace equivalent to the surrounding area.  Decline is not just something that affects the tiny country church, it’s just has a faster effect on them.  

Also, the term “unhealthy” could be used.  Often times there are churches are overrun with unbiblical traditions, whether with their membership, leadership, or practices.  Certainly these traditions could be having a negative effect.  While "unhealthy" is a better term than "dying", and gets more to the point than "declining", it doesn’t address everything that can be happening to a church.  I know many churches who are healthy in terms of their membership and leadership, but are far from impacting their community.

I propse that the term “distracted” better displays the reality of what is taking place in most churches.  Yes, they are in decline.  Yes, they are unhealthy.  But, ultimately this is due to distractions.  This could be doctrinal distractions (liberalism), or practical distractions (traditionalism) or a mixture of the two.  Ultimately, all distraction in a church is a distraction of affection.  Jesus speaks to a church in this same situation in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The goal of church revitalization is to restir affections toward Jesus and toward His Word.  Once a church is more in love with Jesus than with prior commitments (doctrinal or practical) then transformation can begin.  Jesus speaks in John 15 of this reality, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  To see the fruits of transformation in the life of our people, they abide in Jesus, and they cannot do this without their affections resting on Him.

How do we do this?  Here are 5 reflections...

First, we need faithful preaching.  Pastor, I know it is tiring, but continue to preach faithfully.  Exalt Jesus.  Lift Him up.  They need to see the one they are to love as lovely.

Second, evaluate where the churches affections rest.  What “golden calf” do they have?  What areas of church life will be a battle to see transformation in?  When those are evaluated, make immediate changes in areas that can be changed without a battle (for us, this was leadership and membership).  Once those changes are made, and the benefits are seen, you will be in a better position to see future transformation.

Third, set your focus on the long-term.  I know I am one who cares far more about the short-term comforts of life (this is a reality I am repenting over as we speak).  But, Abraham set his eyes on his heavenly home (Hebrews 11:17).  His eyes were to the long-term, which was how he endured through the short-term discomforts.  In fact, every single biblical figure lived this way, why should the pastor be any different?

Fourth, pastor, get friends.  You may feel alone, but you are not alone.  Form networks and fellowships with other pastor's in your area.  You need brothers to cry with, to pray with, to bounce advice off of.  Especially if you are without a plurality of leaders, get friends!  Spurgeon said “Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.” 

Fifth, be willing to confront the golden calf.  I will write more about this in a future post


Church revitalization is not easy, but it is necessary.  We must give ourselves toward transformation.  This will require humility and unity- we need people of all ages!  In a future post, I implore young people to plug into church revitalization and address other issues that I have seen in the past two years of working with church revitalization.