By Chuck Lawless
Thom Rainer and I have talked often about the process of church revitalization. Both of us recognize, though, that knowledge of revitalization is hardly enough to turn around a church; the process cannot be separated from the personal walk of the leader who longs for church renewal. Below are ten reasons why spiritual disciplines matter in church revitalization.
- The call to disciplines reveals our heart. If we don’t spend time with God daily, that choice tells us something about ourselves. Perhaps we are more self-dependent than God-dependent (see #6 below). Maybe we are “fixers” who try to address problems first, and then pray if necessary. We may evaluate our walk on the basis of public results more than a personal relationship with God. Any of these realities will hinder revitalization.
- Our personal walk with God affects the corporate walk of the local church. Leaders who spend little time with God tend to spend less time challenging their members to be with God. Their stories of personal victory are often more past tense than present tense. Those who do not follow God intimately seldom see genuine revitalization in their church; in fact, they sometimes produce congregations that unknowingly need revitalization
- The Bible is a book about hope and life. We know this truth – perhaps so well that we have forgotten its power. We preach about the promise of resurrection and new creation, all the while wondering if even God can revitalize dying congregations. To have hope for revitalization, we need to be reminded regularly through the Word that God brings life out of death.
- Disciplines strengthen our faith. Reading the Word and praying are more than just disciplines; they are lifelines to the Father. Knowing that God divides seas, collapses walls, slays giants, and empties tombs strengthens our trust in Him. Talking to Him and recognizing He listens to our prayers magnify our wonder of Him. No task of revitalization is too big for this God.
- Prayer is an expression of relationship with, and dependence on, God. When we pray, we express the truth that we cannot do in our power what God has called us to do. The reverse is also true: our prayerlessness is an expression of idolatry of the self. God does not bless the leadership of idolaters, even those who have great skills for revitalization.
- Daily obedience undergirds our praying. Simply stated, revitalization requires the power of God. The kind of praying that results in God’s power demands obedience (Isa. 59:1-2), including reading the Word, praying continually, and rejecting temptation. Perfunctory prayer from disobedient hearts hardly produces new life in a congregation.
- Disciplines focus our attention on God, not on our circumstances. It’s the apathetic, dying church that needs God’s renewed touch, but it’s that same church that can most frustrate its leaders. Unless we are regularly focusing on God via study and prayer, the obstacles to revitalization can quickly become overwhelming.
- Disciplines help to turn our heart outward. It’s hard to read the Bible consistently without seeing God’s heart for our neighbors and the nations. The resounding message of the scripture is that the God who desires a prayerful, intimate relationship with us loves the world. Leaders who live in that truth daily are best prepared to lead inwardly focused churches toward turnaround.
- Apart from being with God, we can produce deceptive revitalization. This reason may seem to contradict #2 above, but here’s the tricky part: if revitalization is limited to increased numbers, even the leader who is not faithful in his walk with God can lead a church to “revitalization.” What might seem to be a move of God, however, could be nothing more than popularity and attraction.
- Faithfulness to spiritual disciplines gives us humble confidence to lead. Revitalization requires helping churches see their current situation and then change as needed to reach this generation. Leaders who live in a state of ongoing dependence on God are most prepared to lead in this direction.
Let’s help one another: what steps have you taken to help you be more faithful in spiritual disciplines?