There are many different reasons why leading with passion is so vital for a revitalizer serving a declining church. While the following is not an exhaustive list, I do believe each of these are important factors to consider.
1. Passion inspires hope
A forest fire. Have you ever seen or experienced one? They are no joke. Think about the image of a forest fire with me for a few moments as we consider what passion looks like in our lives as pastors and leaders.
After a forest fire has decimated everything in its path and begins to die out, a single tired spark can remain and smolder within a tree. With the right conditions, a breeze can fan that ember back into a flame. In a dying church, folks will often remember the heyday of when their church was significant in their community and how over the years they have lost their flame of passion. The wind stopped blowing and, slowly and subtly, the fire in their hearts and in their congregation was doused. The result is that this church is now running on fumes rather than flames.
In most revitalization contexts, the remaining church members are very tired. They have little hope left for the future health or growth of their church. For this reason, if we are not leaders who are passionate about the Gospel, about these people, about the lost and about what God can do, we will inspire neither hope nor passion in the congregation.
You see, passion is a lot like fire. And passion that’s growing and spreading is vital in helping discouraged congregations see that God is still alive and moving! God uses passion to ignite fresh vision and fresh fire in those who are ready to throw in the towel. He uses passionate leadership to help hopeless congregations begin to believe that God is not done with their church.
2. Passion ignites passion that ignites passion in a congregation
Let’s continue with the forest fire analogy. Three ingredients are needed to start a wood fire: fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. If only two of these ingredients are present, there can be no fire. Now, imagine that there is a small grove of 20 cedar trees growing in a gully at the base of a mountain densely covered in a lodge pole pine forest. The east wind had blown all summer and had left the trees parched and brown. Even the cedar grove, whose roots were tapped into the deep damp mud, were bending from the heat. A dry storm rolled overhead, and lightning struck the center cedar tree. Embers glowed bright orange. The wind buffeted the forest. Flames grew and spread up the cedar tree’s trunk and across its branches. The handful of trees that were growing close to the center tree began to heat up, and soon they too were burning. Their flames burned in unison, hotter and higher, as one united flame. The wind continued to blow, and the outer ring of burning trees ignited the trees around them until the cedar grove was completely engulfed in flames. Sparks flew on heated air currents, and the surrounding forest began to burn. As the flame grew hotter, the fire flashed over, and whole communities of trees ignited until the entire mountain was in flames. Can you picture this scene?
In the congregations we are revitalizing, we will find tired, parched people who are bending from the drought of their dying church. They don’t see any hope because time and time again they have watched young families and pastors come and go, often heading to greener pastures. Now we find ourselves standing in the middle of this church in need of much love, hope and passion! When God ignites our passion as leaders, like fire we begin to burn. And here’s what happens: The people who are close to us will begin to smolder, and soon they will start to burn in unison with us. As a result, their passion will, in turn, catch others on fire. This is how passion works. This is how passion spreads. Passion ignites passion, which in turn ignites passion. As those in a congregation begin to burn with passion together for God, the gospel, one another and the lost, their shared, unified passion will begin to flash over and start fanning out into their communities.
My point in sharing this analogy of a forest fire is simply this: Passion is contagious. Passion is like fire. Passion spreads. The truth is, passion is more caught than taught. This is true for any congregation, but it is especially true with a dying church where there is only an ember of hope left. When we are around passionate people, we catch their zeal.
Of course, the opposite is also true. When we are around apathetic, dispassionate people, our flame can be easily doused. The unfortunate reality is that for many struggling congregations, they have not been shepherded in quite a while by pastors who are truly passionate about God and the things of God. But God wants to change this. He wants to use you to change this!
At first, the tired and weary sheep in our congregations may look at us in our passion and zeal like we are a little crazy. This is to be expected. Don’t be surprised or offended by it. But, over time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, our core leaders will start to catch our fire. Then other influencers in the church will catch it too. After a while, like an expanding fire, passion will slowly begin to spread to others in the congregation. This passion for God and for the things of God will then begin to overflow outside the walls of our church. The glorious result of this is that Jesus becomes non-ignorable as God’s people begin to live out the Great Commission through word and deed in their surrounding community! This is what biblical, Spirit-empowered passion can do!
3. Passion is a catalyst for reaching and mobilizing new people to become part of your church
While I am no expert in the world of forestry and forest fires, I am fascinated by them. For example, one thing that amazes me is how the unified flame of a forest fire grows. As it gets bigger, it begins to funnel in oxygen and to form what scientists call a “fire whirl” or “firenado.” Towering, swirling heat rises in the center of the fire column—sometimes hundreds of feet in the air—and the flames on the outside dip and wrap around objects, igniting them and drawing fuel into the vorticity.
Think about this. As we go, show, and tell the gospel to those around us, the Holy Spirit does a similar work in and through us. He uses our Christ-infused passion to proclaim His love and truth to the lost in such a way that He opens up the eyes and ignites the hearts of the spiritually blind and broken, drawing them back to Himself. This is the power of God at work through His people!
As we reach out to those who are new in our community and to those in the surrounding areas, individuals and families will begin to check out our church. Maybe they show up to our worship gathering on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps they come to a new community group or Bible study we are starting up. Maybe they are open to having coffee with us so we can share with them the vision of our church and the work of revitalization God is beginning to do. Whatever reason they decide to check us out, I can tell you one of the biggest factors for why they will come back: our Spirit-empowered passion.
People who see a pastor on fire with passion will often think, “I don’t totally know if I’m on board with everything yet, but this guy really believes in this! He is committed to this! He is fired up about this, and I want to hear more.” Of course, not everyone responds this way to passion but, in my experience, many do. For leaders in revitalization, the vision that God gives us to see a church come back to life and vibrancy is so compelling, how can we not be passionate about it? I’m convinced that many people want to be part of this kind of ministry; they just don’t know it yet. Let them know it. It’s time to burn!
4. Passion is essential for leading the congregation with vision and endurance over the long haul
A forest fire is in it for the long haul. It doesn’t die easily. It doesn’t go down without a fight. Likewise, our passion is not simply something we must begin with in revitalization. It isn’t something we must pursue and fight for throughout the first few months after coming to the church and then no more. No, we must continually cultivate passion in our hearts in order to sustain health and vitality in our personal lives and leadership over the long haul. We must fan the flames of our passion and zeal, that we might lead well with vision and endurance through both the mountaintops and valleys that are sure to come in the years ahead.
This post originally appeared on Mark’s blog, Preach Lead Love.
Published April 13, 2022