Fall in our New England neighborhood is beautiful. The air is crisp, the leaves are spectacular and the seasonal decorations of harvesttime are amazing. But with every change of the season comes new challenges for the homeowner. One of these for us has to do with yardwork — certainly not one of my areas of passion or expertise.
Leaves have to be collected for composting, flowers that don’t last the winter have to be dealt with and the grass has to be prepared for next spring. That last item provoked my attention today. Not every reality is immediately evident to even the most ardent observer. There’s a lot going on under the surface of the lawn that I must be aware of, so I can deal with it properly.
Replanting or revitalizing a church involves hidden realities, too, whether we know it or not. Though the following elements are not as well documented and discussed, they still make a tremendous impact on your efforts to lead revitalization.
First, silence is your enemy.
What I mean by this is simple, yet profoundly important. Whether it is our inherent sin nature, our cultural conditioning, the inquisitive media or something else, we as human beings tend toward suspicion when our leaders are silent. This happens in all aspects of life: family, government and certainly among our churches. When leaders are silent, the congregation typically will react with anxiety and concern. The people will begin to wonder if their leaders are keeping valuable information to themselves. Such suspicion can derail the momentum needed for revitalization efforts to be effective. Suspicion leads to a lack of trust in leadership, and trust is absolutely crucial for the success of your endeavors.
Silence allows members to “fill in the blanks” of their missing information, and they will do so in whatever way they see fit. This leads to misinformation, distraction from mission and potentially division in the body of Christ. Think of the children of Israel while waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai. Without anyone willing to inform them of the right information, they filled in their own (sinfully incorrect) solution to the situation (Exodus 32). Grumbling, gossip, criticism or alternative sinful solutions will result.
In your church situation, find ways to share information often and clearly. While not everything may be pertinent or proper for everyone in the church to know, be as forthcoming as you can. Acknowledge when it is inappropriate to share some information and why. But be an open book, as transparent and real as possible. This will build trust and confidence in leadership and the direction you are headed.
Second, you, pastor, are constantly being evaluated against the last or best predecessor in the church’s history.
This is one of the biggest differences between a church planter (who has no predecessors) and an established church pastor (who may have many predecessors). You as pastor of a church needing revitalization are charting a course for change — and some of the changes you are suggesting run counter to the ways former pastors led the same congregation to move forward as a church. This creates an internal “crisis of trust” for some of your members: Will they believe you and what you are suggesting or will they stay faithful to the way their former pastor suggested things need to be done? This internal tension is so strong that some members may feel guilty if they choose your way over the former way. This crisis is almost always internal, never spoken, and unseen … but it is very, very real. And its impact can be devastating to a new pastor, who is seeking only God’s best for the church and is unsure why the church won’t follow his leadership.
The solution is time and integrity. Think of young Timothy having to follow the apostle Paul in Ephesus; would you have desired that post? There, Paul reminds Timothy to be confident and courageous, recognizing the uniqueness of God’s hand upon him for the role he now filled (2 Tim. 1:6-7). Faithful relationship and ministry over time adds credibility and trust for you. Keeping your word and the promises you’ve made will demonstrate your integrity. These will aid you in decision-making and leadership.
Many pastors are too impatient to wait on God to work in people’s lives and, when their plans are rejected, they move on to another church. Perhaps they first just needed to demonstrate their love and faithfulness to the church, and the changes would more naturally follow. People almost always buy into the messenger before they buy into the message of change.
So stick with it, pastor! Do the arduous work in your ministry field now! And through your love and efforts, give them reasons — and time — to recognize the value of the change God has placed upon your heart for His glory and their good. Turn these unseen realities into something that will bloom with beauty and fruitfulness in the subsequent season of your church.
This is the fifth blog post excepted from David’s book on revitalization, “ReNEW: Traveling the Forgotten Path,” which can be found at Amazon.
Published November 10, 2020