10Publishing, 2016, p. 130
For bright young things contemplating a call to pastoral ministry church planting is where it's at. Or at least service in an already large and thriving work. Why bother trying to turn around a dying church when you can start a new one? After all, isn't the gospel all about new birth and fresh starts? Certainly. But let's not forget that the God of the gospel is also the one who raises the dead.
Where villages, towns and areas of cites are totally devoid of evangelical witness there is certainly a case for church planting. No argument there. But in many cases communities could be reached with the gospel more effectively by the revitalisation of existing churches.
Not an easy task, admittedly. Struggling churches are often small, demoralised and disconnected from their neighbourhoods. A stuck in the mud membership may be reluctant to embrace change. Considerable ‘cons’. But there are ‘pros’ too. An established work is likely to have its own buildings, at least some presence in the local community and a group of seasoned Christians who may be longing to see the Lord visit the church afresh by his renewing power.
Sometimes it may be too late and a church will need to close its doors. But if a leader is willing to take on the challenges and the church is willing to embrace change, revitalisation becomes a real possibility. After all, with the Lord nothing is impossible.
John James writes from his first-hand experience of church revitalisation at Crossway Church, Northfield in Birmingham. But this is no ‘this is how I did it – go and do likewise’ manual. James knows that there are no silver bullets or copy and paste programmes for turning around dying churches. It takes the grace of God at work in pastor and people and the faithful application of biblical principles of church life.
A leader involved in revitalisation ministry is going to need bucket loads of God-given grit, determination and stickability. Not to mention the patience and wisdom required to know how best to implement change without alienating established church members. Leaders mustn’t shy away from conflict, but they also need to ensure that the church is united behind a common vision for reaching their community with the gospel.
To that end, James recommends that churches bear four essential questions in mind: 1. What has brought us together? 2. What are we aiming to do together? 3. Where does our authority come from? 4. How will we make decisions together? Regular reflection on these questions will help fellowships maintain their gospel focus and embrace an outward facing growth mentality.
In a way, all pastoral ministry is revitalisation ministry along the way of the cross, whether in congregations large or small. Ultimately it is only the risen Jesus who can breathe new life into dying churches by the power of his Spirit. This book helps us to see some of the biblically sanctioned means by which our Lord may do just that.
John James provides valuable advice and counsel for people who may be thinking about engaging in church renewal ministry, and gives welcome encouragement to those already involved in that difficult, yet rewarding work. Expect a healthy dose of realism mixed with a good dash of faith in the God who awakens the dead. Re-establishing a vital gospel witness in every community in the United Kingdom is going to require thriving gospel churches in every community. Who will say, 'Here I am, send me'?
*Reviewed for Evangelical Times