Church Health Check

I have recently finished reading Harry Reeder’s “From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church,” and I wholeheartedly recommendembers it to you. Reeder has served as a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, a seminary teacher, and a conference speaker, specializing in church revitalization.

 

Church revitalization is a necessary ministry, but one that is often overlooked.  We spend a lot of time and energy on planting new churches and on moderating fighting churches, but very little time or attention is ever given to the longstanding church that seems to find itself unable to grow.  “Embers to a Flame,” doesn’t offer a program to launch church growth, but brings the church back to its foundations to fan the ember to a flame.

Reeder presents 10 strategies for revitalization:

  1. Connect to the Past: Learning from the Past without Living in the Past
  2. A Call to Repentance: Cover Up or ‘Fess Up
  3. Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered Ministry: The First of the First Things
  4. Personal Gospel Formation: The Discipline of Grace
  5. The Priority of Intercessory Prayer: The Ministry of Prayer
  6. The Primacy of Preaching: The Ministry of the Word
  7. Staying on Mission with a Vision: Simplicity in Focus in a Day of Complexity and Chaos
  8. Servant Leadership Multiplication: An Effective Yet Neglected Strategy for Church vitality
  9. Small-Group Discipleship: The Biblical Delivery System for Effective Discipleship
  10. A Great Commitment to the Great Commission: The W.E.L.L. Church.

What I thought I’d share here is a brief overview of the wellness check of the Church. If you see your church in this, perhaps it’s time to pray for and work toward revitalization. Here are some of the symptoms of a sick church:

A Focus on Programs – Dying churches tend to be focused on programs, pinning their hope for success on the latest organized ministry for pre-packaged church-growth plan.

Nostalgia and Tradition – Dying churches are often living in the past… People are hoping that the pastor will move the church backward, to recapture the “glory days.”

A Maintenance Mentality – Hoping to just hold on, replacing the people they lost just so they can meet budget. They are merely polishing a monument rather than building a movement of God’s grace.

Distraction from the Gospel – Churches have grown ineffective in reaching the world around them because they have lost sight of the centrality of God’s grace. Something else has become more important than living according to the gospel and sharing it with others.

Do you see these symptoms in your church? How can you address these problems? If these are the problems your church faces, what is the solution?

I encourage you to get a copy of “Embers to a Flame” and see how revitalization is possible, and let us pray and work to that end.

A Labor of Love

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

(Acts 2:42)

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this passage taught as the model for Church ministry – and rightfully so.  This example of the early Church’s daily practice of life together reveals the essential marks of the Christ’s body.  What is the Church if it is not centered around the teaching of the Word of God, with genuine fellowship among believers who care for and build up one another, the regular and proper administration of the Sacraments, and faithful, passionate, and Spirit-filled prayer?  Countless books and conferences have given attention to this passage, seeking to keep the Church grounded in those “means of grace” through which God has long-blessed His people.

Yet something struck me as a I re-read the passage today: As often as I’ve heard this passage extolled to the leaders of the church, highlighting these essential four marks, how often have we stopped to consider what is being said about the members of the congregations? We rightly focus on the fact that the leaders of the Church (teaching and ruling elders) need to keep us grounded on these four marks, but do we give enough attention to the role of those who are being led?

Consider what Acts 2:42 says, “they devoted themselves…”  The people of the church, not just the leaders, gave themselves to these practices, devoted themselves to these means.  This word, “devotion”, deserves some consideration.

In it’s simplest form, “devotion” means diligence, commitment to, or endurance.  It suggests an intent to follow through on a decision, I have devoted myself to this task… So, in one sense, devotion is a labor, a work, that we must be dedicated to perform.

Now, before the “works-righteousness” alarms start going off, please understand that I don’t mean that we must do this in order to merit salvation.  Scripture clearly teaches that we are “saved by grace through faith… it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8-9).  That being said, God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ does not exempt us from doing good works, it actually enables us to those works (Eph 2:10).  When I say that we must commit ourselves to the work of studying the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to partake in the sacraments rightly, and to prayer, I am talking about the discipline and duty of the Christian in ongoing growth and life in the Spirit.

Another aspect of this word “devotion,” however, is that of the heart.  Devotion doesn’t just suggest commitment and dedication, but also love and adoration.  Devotion implies a heartfelt passion.  Devotion cannot be a plodding through the God-given means of grace of study, fellowship, sacrament, and prayer as though these were burdens to be carried out.  Devotion is a joy-filled, Christ-centered love for God and for the blessings known in sweet communion with Him.  It is a commitment to the Lord because of a delight in the Lord.  It is a labor, yes.  But it is a labor of love!

For the church to thrive, she must practice these marks, these are god’s gracious means give for our growth.  As leaders we must never abandoned the principles of Acts 2:42.  But this passage is meant to go beyond a Church ministry model.  It speaks to the heart of every believer.  We must, each of us, be devoted, to seek out the Lord and delight in His presence.

May you know and grow in the joy and delight in devotion to the Lord!

SDG