I have been working in the field of church revitalization and renewal for almost twenty years now and I wanted to share in this edition of the Church Revitalizer blog about some of the nasty things, which happen to the leader of a church’s renewal effort. Wise Church Revitalizers, while not liking some of the things that will come their way, should be ready for some of the big ones, which often precede the turnaround of a plateaued church. It was John Maxwell, which taught me some thirty years ago a great principle of leadership and it is never more important to remember than as one who is working in the realm of church revitalization and renewal. John told many of us way back then:
“People will let you down, but Jesus Christ will never let you down!”
I have reflected upon this wise statement many times while in the midst of the challenge of the moment. The reality is that there are some nasty things that are thrown at leaders of renewal as they seek to turnaround a church. The Scriptures remind us:
“I appeal to you, brethren, take note of those who create dissentions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
“Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene: such men are Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2 Tim 2:16-17).
It is interesting that in reflection the big issues I thought I would encounter have not been the ones actually encountered. For every Church Revitalizer which is part of our monthly Virtual Coaching Network, I spend time discussing the following challenges in revitalization and renewal in an attempt to assist them in a smoother transition when they encounter these trials.
1. Not everyone is excited that you have come to renewal the church.
Young pastors leaving our academic institutions are usually surprised to discover upon graduation, that the church in which they have been called to might not desire to see it grow. There becomes a sense of comfort that takes place in long time plateaued churches and though most of them have told the new pastor coming to lead them there was a desire to grow, but once the transitions and changes began to take place it is anything but fun for the Church Revitalizer. I am sure most on the search committee, which called you, believed the church sought to become renewed, yet there is often a slight shift which begins to take place after a few months and you begin to diagnose, analyze, and evaluate past obstacles in light of future aspirations for church revitalization.
2. Far too many churches in need of revitalization seek to solve their problems by firing and hiring pastors.
Most of the church laity are just not very willing to take the credit for why the local church has declined. It is much easier to pass the blame on to a former pastor or staff minister than to admit that they were just not willing to do the things necessary to revitalize the church. Many local congregations operate on the three years and let’s begin looking for our next pastor. What was a once in a few transitions event have now become a major problem and perhaps even a long term one. Changing pastors over and over every few years will eventually cause the critical mass of your membership to wonder why things do not get better, but are actually getting worse.
3. You will encounter various confrontations, opposition, resistance, and attacks from nipping church stakeholders.
I wonder how many pastors are shocked when they get the first nasty unsigned note declaring all of their individual inadequacies for the work of the ministry. There are those who will even create fictitious email addresses so they can consistently evaluate you in your preaching, teaching, and leading of the church. Most ministers expect conflict from those without the Lord in their lives, but as I was many are naïve when it becomes the membership within the church body which slanders God’s under shepherd. There are some sheep who take pleasure in nipping at the new minister and if not confronted it could hurt the entire body. Even the great Apostle Paul had to experience supposed saints and the suffering they caused (2 Timothy 4:9-18). At the critical hour his follow believer’s deserted him in his darkest hour. No one came to his defense when accusations were made. Virtually every experienced pastor I know has seen this scenario repeated in his life. I often wonder how many church revitalizers actually recognize that some of the people they invite over for dinner, have coffee with regularly, and confide confidences in, will turn around and malign them, gossip about them, break confidences, and even rally support against them?
When an attack comes, the temptation is typically, to circle the wagons and play defense. Not only does this tactic quash opportunities to heal your assailant with a Christ like response, but in licking your wounds, you can also easily cut yourself off from the rest of your sheep. During this hardship, Church Revitalizers must pray for the ability to love people and to walk into God's courts with them with mutual affection, having forgiven them as the Lord forgave.
Let’s think about that and begin doing something about it! If you would like to have conversations related to this blog post, why not drop me a line so we can begin your journey and conversation.
You can connect with Dr. Tom Cheyney and the RENOVATE Church Revitalization Coaching Network additionally via Facebook at RENOVATE Conference. Tom is the co-author of Spin-Off Churches (B&H Publishers), a conference speaker and a frequent writer on church planting, new church health, and church revitalization. Tom’s latest book is going to press entitled Ninety Church Revitalization Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Primer Before You Jump Into Church Renewal. Also, be looking for The Biblical Foundations for Church Revitalization by Tom Cheyney and Terry Rials later this year. If you or your church would like more information about how to be considered for the next series of RENOVATE Church Revitalization Applicants you may contact him at Tom@RenovateConference.org.