LOUISVILLE–Pastors should endure amidst ministry challenges, said leading voices in church revitalization at the summer Alumni Academy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Despite challenges and trials involved in church revitalization, ministers who are turning around congregations should maintain their vision for a healthy, biblically sound local church. They need to focus on God’s plan instead of being discouraged when people scowl at biblical preaching, said Andy Davis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, N.C., and author of “Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again.”
“The greatest thing I can do is help you lift your eyes off the immediate circumstances you’re facing, and see with the eyes of faith what it is you’re doing and where you are heading, and just how glorious the church will appear on that final day,” Davis, who earned a doctorate in church history at Southern, told attendees Aug. 3-4. His church in Durham underwent its own process of recovery in the wake of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Wherever the Word of God is preached, the church will always see two things: genuine salvation and opposition, Davis said. However, when opposition comes from those who should be supporting the pastor and the church’s mission, it becomes a difficult trial for the local church to overcome.
“The Word of God is going to lead you to places that are going to be unpopular and controversial,” he said.
The ongoing preaching of the Bible is essential to the growth of the church and her ultimate salvation, Davis said. He noted that Satan will do everything he can to oppose any Bible-preaching church. Faithful preachers expect to undergo stiff trials and resistance from the enemy, but have the eyes of faith to see what God is doing through every situation, he said.
“We have to see beyond the outward unimpressiveness and sin and warfare and struggle, and we have to see the glory that is beyond,” he said.
Brian Croft, senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville and senior fellow of Southern’s Mathena Center for Church Revitalization, said church structure is important for the life of the congregation, and is built on proper authority and leadership.
That leadership is not determined by a church’s bylaws, but by who is the church’s greatest influencer, Croft said. New pastors undertaking a revitalization project have to figure out who is making many of the practical decisions in their congregation and compare it to the paradigm of the New Testament.
“Just because the pastor is paid full-time salary and preaches every week doesn’t mean he is in charge,” he said. “The first mistake I see a lot of guys make going into their first pastorate is that they think a salary and a title is going to give them (leadership). But they are usually not in charge when they first start.”
Teaching from 1 Peter 5, Croft pointed out that Jesus Christ is identified as the chief shepherd of the church, but the pastors and elders are called to exercise oversight on behalf of the chief shepherd. Pastors represent the authority of Christ by preaching his Word to the church, he noted.
“Pastors are biblically qualified leaders appointed by God to be under-shepherds on behalf of the chief shepherd,” Croft said. “We (as pastors) minister God’s Word to ourselves and to others, and we protect the flock. And we do so with the knowledge that we will give an account for those under our care.”
Undertaking this care of the flock is a difficult task, Croft said, and it becomes more difficult when the authority structure given by God breaks down. God also designed the church to have authority imparted to an autonomous, local church, rendering church membership essential. When a church is healthy, congregationalism is beautiful and life-giving, but a “train wreck” when it goes wrong, he said.
When a pastor undertakes a revitalizing project, structure is often the last thing to get addressed, but it is critical to the church’s growth. There are a lot of church workers who have practical authority that is not biblical, and pastors need to make a priority out of the biblical reordering of a church’s authority structures.
“How important is church structure in the church? I hope we would say ‘really important,’” Croft said. “But in regards to trying to turn the ship of a church that has been set in patterns for decades, that almost feels like a constant losing battle.”
Timothy K. Beougher, professor of evangelism and church growth and associate dean of the Billy Graham School for Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at SBTS, said pastors should help their congregations recognize their need for change. Beougher also has undertaken two church revitalizations, including most recently as senior pastor at West Broadway Baptist Church.
Just as Moses had to lead the people of Israel into the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land, so pastors need to lead their dead or dying churches through a difficult period before they can begin to flourish.
“When you begin the process of church revitalization, you are moving people from Egypt to the wilderness. And the temptations when you are in the wilderness are to want to go back to Egypt. You have to continually set before them the Promised Land, what awaits them, and the vision at the end of the day.”
Also speaking at the event was Mark Clifton, director of replanting at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the SBC. Southern Seminary offers a doctorate of ministry and a doctorate of educational ministry in church revitalization, which is designed to equip pastors and church leaders with the training needed to revitalize established churches.
Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary. To find out more about the program, visit sbts.edu/alumni. (SBTS)
Andrew J.W. Smith