Archive for the ‘Church Revitalization’ Category

Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the prestigious Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a leading figure of the eighteenth century First Great Awakening. Religious leaders, like the famous preacher George Whitefield (pronounce “Whit – field”), traveled great distances to meet with him and discuss theological matters.

At age 14, Edwards, already a student at Yale University, treasured the spiritual qualities that directed his life and ministry. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” So the rare blend of spiritual passion and searching intellect characterized his life. By the age of 26, he became the sole pastor of the Northampton Church. Five years later his preaching on justification by faith sparked an awakening.

Yet even a man of Edwards’s credentials was not exempt from criticism. When Edwards sought assurance that those in his congregation had experienced genuine conversion, a group of discontented church members took exception. They launched a slanderous campaign against him that ultimately led to his dismissal from the church he had made famous. One of the greatest theological minds and most devout pastors in American history had been forced out of his church by malicious detractors. Edwards then assumed a modest pastorate in the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and ministered to native Americans.

Eventually Jonathan Edwards was vindicated before his critics. Some of his most vocal opponents publicly confessed their sinfulness in attacking their godly pastor. Ultimately, the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, called his as president in 1758. To its great loss and to that of the American church, Edwards died soon after his arrival at the age of 55. Some consider Edwards to be the finest theologian America has produced.

I offer this short biography of Edwards to remind us that God uses faithful believers who have solid commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His Word. I am reminded of the call that God issued twice to Jonah, “Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach the Word.” The first time, Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sea, and ultimately down into the belly of a great fish. The second time God issued the call, Jonah was more than ready to listen and obey. When he arrived in Nineveh, he preached the word that God had given to him — and God brought about a supernatural movement, and the people repented.

I am praying that God will “do it again.” A few Sundays ago, we dedicated both services to prayer and to seeking God’s divine intervention. We believe that God still wants to do a great work in America and to the ends of the earth. However, He will only do so on His terms. We cannot tell God how He must move. We cannot require Him to submit to our bidding. Rather, we must humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wickedness. Then He will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

Over the past several weeks, we have spent a lot of time refocusing on why Mandeville’s First Baptist Church exists. We have done so for several reasons, not the least of which is so that we can make sure we all get on the same page. The most important reason concerns our belief that God wants to reach more and more people with the good news of the gospel. We have also begun preparing for a church multiplication strategy through which the Lord may use our church to plant and/or to revitalize other churches.

As I wrote last week, whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.

To that end, I want to offer some principles that we can apply to our ministries in order that together we can bring people who are far from God near to Him. One of the biggest keys going forward for us will be our ability to minister in and adapt to an ever-changing world. We will need to reach out both to our members and to those do not yet believe in relevant ways.

1. We must not strive for size, but we must strive to serve God. We must have a passion for the unchurched not because we want to grow a big church but because people need Christ. We need to see our friends and neighbors in that light so that we focus on bringing them to faith in Jesus not just on inviting them our church.

2. We need to study and know the culture where God has placed us. Knowing our community’s culture will help us determine how to embrace the people and how to speak the gospel in their language.

3. Evangelize in every possible way. The entire congregation – not just the leadership – has been commissioned to make disciples of all people. Each of us must know the gospel and how to communicate it. Sharing the good news must permeate our ministries.

4. We must help people make vital connections in the congregation. Active participation matters, because without it people will, sooner or later, fall away. This means more than getting people to attend a Life Group on Sunday morning. We must show them how committed followers of Jesus serve God and His church and encourage them to do likewise. The sooner people become connected with people in a Life Group and become involved in ministry, the more likely they will stay and participate because they will have made vital connections with people.

5. We must do church well. By this, I mean more than just putting together a good Sunday service and preaching a good biblical message. We must do everything we do with excellence. Our special events at Christmas and Independence Day have been superb, but we must do the “everyday things” well. This includes having a full complement of people on hand to staff the classes (not just adults, but all age groups) and to help new people when they come to our church. Rather than just having a minimal number of people serving in these areas, we must strive for excellence in this area by having many joining together in this aspect of ministry.

6. We must help people live out their calling in Christ.
Because the Holy Spirit gifts every believer, every believer can serve God through their unique talents and gifts. Knowing this and acting on this means that we must encourage our members to recognize God’s calling on their lives and to help them become involved in ministry. Doing so will grow more believers in spiritual maturity and expand the scope of our church’s ministry.

On Sunday (August 17) we begin a new series of messages at Mandeville’s First Baptist Church called “Joseph: A Life of Integrity.” This nine-week series of messages has an aim to offer a model, though hardly perfect, of a person who God raised up to trust Him in every situation and to model His grace before those who did not deserve it. Shan Taylor will preach the first message big ideain this series from Genesis 37, where Joseph’s story begins. With seminary classes beginning next week, this gives Shan the chance to dedicate more time for preparing this message.

We have other reasons for having the various pastors from our staff to preach from time to time. First of all, when I’m away from town, it makes sense to have someone from our team to preach because they already know our church family and understand our vision and mission. Second, God has given us a number of gifted preachers, and it is just good stewardship to use them. I must admit that giving up pulpit time to others has not been easy for me, because I love to preach the Word. However, the Lord has given me a calling not only to preach but also to lead and equip. Therefore, in this season of my ministry, God has surrounded me with men who need to craft their own skills to preach. I believe that He will use this investment to further His Kingdom.

There’s still another reason – church multiplication. We know that the Lord desires to reach more and more people with the saving news of the gospel. We also know that He has gifted us with so many leaders for a reason – to plant and/or to revitalize other churches. To that end, I am leading our team to prepare for a church multiplication strategy.

While we will begin the “Joseph” series this morning, we have already started working on the next series of messages as a staff. Not that it’s surprising that we are working ahead, because I have tried throughout my ministry to provide “at least a clue” to David Watson (and now Tyler Harris), where my preaching was headed. But now we have begun preparing all aspects of the services in team fashion. In fact, a creative team will meet this evening to begin planning for October 19. The teaching team will work together on the message beginning in September, so that all who participate in the preparation for the message would be ready to preach on any Sunday. Such a preparation strategy will provide the benefit to those in our services that we will all be focused on one unifying message (“the big idea”) for the week. We will also work to use the week’s theme in our Wednesday activities, including AWANA, the youth gathering, and the midweek service.

This strategy will also position us to launch new congregations in the future and even to assist in the revitalization of other churches. Across the south, there’s a new strategy beginning as struggling congregations are requesting mergers with a stronger congregation. We saw in St. Louis when we went to World Changers last month. Struggling churches in Woodward, Monroe, and Baton Rouge have recently chosen to merge with other churches, and the results have been outstanding.

Whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.