It’s refreshing to read articles and listen to honest evaluation concerning the need for church revitalization in our denomination. I’ve grown up a Southern Baptist and been a church member at places where revitalization was desperately needed. And I’m confident the anecdotes you and I could share about our church experiences would support the statistics that describe the declining situation of many American churches.
When you observe the church landscape across our land, it is not surprising to conclude that a movement toward church planting offers our denomination hope. As a missions and evangelism pastor, I believe renewed focus on church planting in urban, suburban and even rural settings is the only way Southern Baptists will regain ground evangelistically on current population growth. So, why would a young prospective pastor want to take a struggling, difficult, entrenched congregation when he could plant a vital new work? Let me offer six reasons.
- God does not call or gift every young pastor to be a church planter. Some men just aren’t wired or gifted to envision, begin, raise money and successfully build a church plant from the ground up. Some men are gifted to build on an established foundation.
- Established churches need pastors too. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my dad, a pastor, not long after I surrendered to the ministry. In my youthful exuberance (about 15 years ago), I opined that most young ministers should just plant churches rather than have to deal with the entrenched powers and structures of established churches. He offered me a wise corrective, “Established churches are still God’s flock, and they need pastors too.”
- Some young ministers should aspire to lead congregations in need of revitalization. One of my doctoral professors at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. James Parker, told his students when asked what ministry career they should pursue, “Don’t be trendy and seek to plant a church, go pastor an established church.” He wasn’t trying to generalize a call for specific students. Rather, Dr. Parker’s advice was meant to keep seminarians from attempting a church plant because they were caught up in the wave of the movement.
- Church planting needs revitalized congregations. I love NAMB’s refocus on church planting, the IMB’s efforts to emphasize international church plants and church planting networks that train and encourage planters. We need these renewed efforts. But for new congregations to be planted at the rate necessary, churches, not organizations must take the lead in planting. It’s time for established churches to reconnect to their heritage (nearly all established churches were church plants) and make planting other churches a part of their future as well. Leading an established church to plant will be the challenge of a visionary pastor.
- Some young ministers need a good challenge. I’m competitive. But I always hated winning because someone else wasn’t at his best. I always wanted to beat the best at their best. I wanted a challenge. Leading an entrenched church to revitalization is a challenge. But it’s a challenge I believe God specifically gifted some pastors to do.
- God desires church revitalization. This reason is probably so obvious that it could remain unstated. But the Father sent his Son to bleed and suffer in order to redeem his church. God loves his church (universal) and churches (local), and he wants them to thrive. He promised the gates of hell would not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18). This promise alone should drive pastors to patiently, doggedly, fearlessly, relentlessly, lovingly, and willingly accept the calling to lead entrenched congregations toward revitalization.
Bottom line, revitalized churches are good for our denomination, the kingdom of God, and church planting. Maybe some of us, or most of us, are supposed to dig in, work hard, pray harder, preach passionately and help lead our churches toward revitalization.