The Weak Made Strong
Across North America today, there are coffee shops, flea markets, condominiums , and even mosques, that once were once church buildings housing Christian communities. More than 4,000 churches in America close their doors each year. Southern Baptist see the closure of over 900 churches annually. You might assume the majority of them are located in small towns in rural areas where the population is declining. But you would be wrong. More than 75% of then are in the city with growing populations.
Southern Baptist start more than 1,200 churches every year. Yet, more than 900 close annually, leaving a net gain of 3-4 hundred. (these stats where reported before the effects of COVID 19 on the church). (Mark Clifton's (of reclaiming Glory) forward for Dr. Henry Blackaby's book flickering lamps)
((Address the testimony of the local church.))
I believe we must equip ourselves with the unchanging, absolute, gospel focused, Word-of-God and represent it to a contemporary ever changing world in a relevant way. All for the glory of God. This can be very challenging.
The following outline is from Calvary Church Engelwood Colorado's revitalization training
Conviction #1: God desires to see dying and declining churches come back to life for His glory.
***God's strength is seen in our weaknesses! And He gets all the glory!!! (God loves underdogs! David & Goliath, the Disciples, Paul…)
(exegete Paul's story)2 Corinthians 12:9-10 - 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Charles Spurgeon’s on weakness and humility in ministry: “A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts, “I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my conquering sword shall get unto me the victory,” defeat is not far distant. God will not go forth with that man who marches in his own strength. He who reckoneth on victory thus has reckoned wrongly, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” They who go forth to fight, boasting of their prowess, shall return with their banners trailed in the dust, and their armour stained with disgrace.” “Those who serve God must serve Him in His own way, and in His strength, or He will never accept their service. That which man doth, unaided by divine strength, God can never own. The mere fruits of the earth He casteth away; He will only reap that corn, the seed of which was sown from heaven, watered by grace, and ripened by the sun of divine love. God will empty out all that thou hast before He will put His own into thee; He will first clean out thy granaries before He will fill them with the finest of the wheat. The river of God is full of water; but not one drop of it flows from earthly springs. God will have no strength used in His battles but the strength which He Himself imparts. Are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give thee victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up.”
Conviction #2: God not only has the desire, but He has the power to bring dying and declining churches back to life for His glory.
• Ezekiel 37… Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Judgment has come, but God reveals himself as the God of revitalization and resurrection. Ezekiel 37:1-6 1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD." - In this passage, I think we see two essential ingredients for revitalization in the church. #1: The first essential ingredient is the faithful preaching of God's word.
The first requirement necessitates the preaching of God's Word. God tells Ezekiel, "prophecy concerning these bones" (37:4 As Ezekiel obeys, the scripture unveils this magnificent vision of bone taking on tendons and flesh. Note carefully that the bones described are dry bones. These soldiers who died in battle were not afforded the privilege of a proper burial. The experienced the great disgrace of open decay. Yet God intervenes and Ezekiel speaks to the bones. Speak Truth!
#2: The second essential ingredient for revitalization is the power of God's Spirit.
The second standard for revitalization set by God involves the work of the Spirit. The word breath occurs in a variety of ways in this passage. That issue causes the reader to remain somewhat in the dark concerning its meaning as God says that He “will cause breath to enter you, and you will live” (37:5). The word for breath in the Hebrew (ruah) is actually translated as three different words in English, namely, breath, wind, and spirit. The writer resolves this question as God declares, “I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live” (37:14).
In order for the church to be revived, it will demand a mighty work of God’s Spirit. Following a particular methodology or program does not guarantee success. One might greatly desire for the church to revitalize and grow, but genuine church growth calls for more than personal passion. It requires the Spirit of God. Church revitalization begins with laying the foundation of God’s Word as it is preached and followed through a movement of God’s Spirit. The two are inseparably linked.
Can these bones live? Only God knows, yet He instills hope in those who desire to see the established church thrive and revive. Just as God miraculously returned Israel to her home, He can bring restoration to a declining, dying church.
Conviction #3: True church revitalization will not happen unless a congregation returns to their first love: Jesus.
The words of our Lord as He spoke to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-5: Ephesians 2:1-5 - 1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (From Clifton): 1) In this passage our Lord makes it clear that the pathway to new life for a dying church is repentance and remembering. 2) But not the self serving nostalgia of remembering the past for the sake of our own edification through control and a desire to return to a “better time”, but remembering the legacy of missions and ministry that first birthed this dying church and a brokenness to see that return once again. 3) This kind of remembering can only happen if repentance comes first. This kind of remembering can only happen when the Glory of God becomes primary rather than the glory of the past. There is one reason a church dies. 1) The church in Ephesus loved doctrine, they believed the truth, they worked hard and they endured. But they were doomed to die if they did not return to that which they did at first. 2) When we see the birth of the church of Ephesus we see a church that so greatly impacted its community that it started a riot. It was a church that made disciples who made disciples that resulted in a transformed community.
3) When a church ceases over a period of time to make disciples who make disciples and realize community transformation, that church will die.
Conviction #4: When a church returns to its first love, Jesus, God begins to bring about revitalization through 5 types of Renewal (Adapted from Rick Warren):
#1: Personal Renewal It starts with the heart. If God is going to renew your church, he’ll begin it with you – and then it has to continue with the rest of your church. You might call it rededicating your life, being filled with the Spirit, or the “deeper life.” I don’t care what you call it. Just get it! The bottom line is this – you need to fall in love with Jesus again. Do that and all of a sudden it’s not about religion and rituals; it’s about a relationship with Jesus. You realize that Jesus doesn’t just love you, but he likes you. #2: Relational Renewal After you get right with God, you’ve got to get right with others. Jesus told us this. He told us to love God with all of our heart and then love others as ourselves. When you have relational renewal in your church, the gossip goes down and the joy goes up. How do you know when a church has been through relational renewal? People hang around longer after the service. They want to spend time together. If people don’t want to hang around after your services, you have a performance, not a church. The church is more than content; it’s a community. #3: Missional Renewal This is when a church discovers what God wants it to do. We have a kingdom assignment. We’re not here just to bless one another. God wants to bless the world through us. When your church gets personal, relational, and mission renewal, it can’t help but begin to experience revitalization. #4: Cultural Renewal In this stage, God renews the culture of the church. I’ve known pastors who have tried to change the culture of the church without going through the other three renewals. There’s a word for that – martyrdom. You cannot change the culture of the church. Only God can. But once the first three renewals have happened in the church, God will change the culture.
#5: Structural Renewal After your church has been through the first four renewals, it’s going to outgrow your current structure. No doubt about it. The structure that works for a church of 30 won’t work for a church of 100 and so on. There is no perfect structure in Scripture. Why? Every situation is different. We’ve got to structure our churches differently depending on our circumstances. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins. As your church begins to get healthier and healthier, the structure has to change.
Discussion Questions: 1. Why is relying on God’s strength so crucial in a replant or revitalization situation? 2. How does replanting and revitalization reflect the Gospel? 3. How do preaching and relying on the Holy Spirit go hand in hand in a replant or revitalization? 4. What does a church’s legacy have to do with its ability or readiness to be replanted or revitalized? 5. How have you seen any of the five types of renewal begin to change the culture of a church? Or, if you have not seen any which of these would make biggest difference for the church you are in now or one you have worked with in the past?