A Plea for Church Revitalization
Chances are wherever you live there is a church in your city that is in trouble. Most likely there are several churches within your city that are struggling to stay alive. It is common to speak of them as unhealthy, sick or dying. I appreciate this type of language because the church is a living organism which is capable of getting sick from outside influences or by making unhealthy decisions from within, both of which could lead to death. So how do we rightly view these troubled churches? Some argue the best thing for most of these churches is to go ahead and die. I like to think about churches as I would one of my family members. Family members become sick from diseases they cannot prevent, while others make bad decisions or willingly chose unhealthy lifestyles. Considering some of my own family members there have been times where I actually prayed that God would bring death quickly because I was convinced it was best. The immensity of their suffering coupled with no hope of recovery led me to conclude the gateway of death was desirable. There are scenarios when the death of a particular church is the best thing for the kingdom, but I would argue most unhealthy, sick or struggling churches are not terminal as it is the case with most of your own family members.
I am sure you would not argue that death is best for a family member who has an addiction to cocaine. The addiction could wreck various relationships, lead to significant medical problems and eventually end in death, but there is nothing terminal about their situation. In this case, if you could simply convince the family member to stop using cocaine, then there would be a greater probability of the relationships being repaired, health restored and hope renewed. What this family member needs is someone who will not give up on them. They need someone who can look at their situation and with gentleness speak wisdom into their lives. They need to clearly see that continuing the same way likely will lead to them losing everything. They need to see your willingness to walk with them through their struggles. They need hope. It sounds so simple, but if you know anyone who suffers with addiction simply convincing them to stop is difficult.
Church revitalization is difficult, no church revitalization is impossible. Church revitalization is a process similar to convincing a group of food addicts to stop consuming things which are unhealthy, to start eating a nutritious diet and to regularly exercise. The churches in your city need men who will not give up on them. They need men who will patiently and graciously show them the dangers of continuing with the status quo. They need men who will take the time to prepare a healthy meal for the church to feast on week by week. They need men who will not only prepare the meal, but teach the church how to feast upon the Word of God for themselves. They need men who will lead them in exercising their faith. They need help discovering and exercising the gifts God has given them for the building up of the church. They need help seeing their community is made up of a bunch of addicts who have no hope and how God strategically placed them there to share Christ Jesus as the all satisfying Savior.
Church revitalization is impossible with man, but with God all things are possible. You see, struggling churches need more than a godly man to shepherd them, primarily they need a fresh vision of who God is. God is the Trinitarian Creator who made all things good. He is compassionate, gracious, loving, just and patient. He is the One who continuously rescues His people from the enemy. He is faithful always keeping His covenants. His humility is evident through His choice to take on flesh, be rejected by those whom He created and be killed as a substitute for His enemies. He is infinite in power as was displayed through His glorious resurrection. He is the sovereign king who has promised to once for all deliver those who believe on Him.
I recognize and rejoice in the fact that a new church plant can reach more people faster than an established church especially if the church is unhealthy or sick. Church planting must be emphasized and reemphasized as a vital part of a larger strategy to reach both North America and the whole world. Without new churches being planted the work simply cannot be accomplished. At the same time I also believe church revitalization must be emphasized and reemphasized as another vital part of that same strategy to reach the world with the gospel of Christ Jesus. We cannot abandon the established churches that Christ Himself has built. The church is more significant than a family member it is the bride of Christ. As long as the gospel remains in the church it is not terminal and we should double our efforts so that the “manifold wisdom of God might now be made know through the church.”
Would you join me in praying for and serving the sick and dying churches in your city? Here are some ways you could possibly help these churches:
- partner with them in outreach to your city
- pray with them for each other and for your city
- encourage them in what good remains
- share useful resources
- train your people together
- help with their building maintenance
- send people to serve among them
Martie Mangum is the Pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church in Durham, NC. He has been serving in this role for seven years. Martie has a bachelors degree in Biblical Studies from SEBTS where he is also pursuing a master's degree. He is married to Heather and together they have six children. Martie loves spending time with his family, reading books,preaching the gospel and spending time outdoors. He is passionate to see churches revitalized, orphans adopted and people reconciled to God.