Church Revitalization begins with Personal Revitalization
Timothy K. Beougher
When we start the process of church revitalization, it is easy for our focus to be on the church and the way “the church” needs to change to be more faithful and vibrant. And as we identify critical issues we must apply biblical wisdom to address them. But, before we begin with the corporate we should begin with ourselves – with our own hearts. Church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. You can’t revitalize a church before you have been revitalized.
It’s easy to make excuses for ourselves and our churches. We have poor parking, poor deacons, a poor location, poor facilities, poor signage, you get the picture. We can easily slip into a victim mentality – poor us! If only we had what other churches had, we’d be setting the curve! We would be “off the charts” in terms of our growth!
Michael Green, author of Evangelism in the Early Church begins his classic work by observing . . .
It was a small group of eleven men whom Jesus commissioned to carry on his work, and bring the gospel to the whole world. They were not distinguished; they were not well educated; they had no influential backers. In their own nation they were nobodies and, in any case, their own nation was a mere second-class province on the eastern extremity of the Roman map. If they had stopped to weigh up the probabilities of succeeding in their mission, even granted their conviction that Jesus was alive and that his Spirit went with them to equip them for their task, their hearts must surely have sunk, so heavily were the odds weighted against them. How could they possibly succeed? And yet they did.
How could they possibly succeed? Look at all their liabilities! They had no seminaries, no tracts, no lifestyle evangelism seminars on DVD. No national polling agencies doing demographics on the local population, no buildings, and no microphones. No radio, television, or ESV Study Bibles. So what caused this small band of followers, who had deserted Jesus after His arrest, to become those who “turned the world upside down”? (Acts 17:6)
They were personally revitalized – they were filled with the Holy Spirit – they were on fire for the Lord! The story is told of John Wesley being asked, “Why do people come to hear you preach?” Wesley replied: “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” While historians debate the historicity of this account, Wesley’s life certainly reflected this reality. Like the apostles (post-Pentecost), John Wesley was a man on fire for the Lord. As we begin the process of church revitalization, we need to pause and conduct an honest assessment of our lives. Are we really living as though we are “on fire” for the Lord, or is too much of our life lived at room temperature?
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor (who saw an amazing church revitalization in his parish of Kidderminster, England), noted the correct order of Paul’s charge in Acts 20:28: “take heed to yourself, AND THEN to the flock of God.” Recognizing this biblical pattern, Baxter devoted the first part of his classic work, The Reformed Pastor (written to fellow pastors) to “The Oversight of Ourselves.” His second directive concerning the nature of this oversight is, “See that you be not only in a state of grace, but that your graces are in vigorous and lively exercise.” Baxter challenges pastors with this admonition:
When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. . . . They will likely feel when you have been much with God . . . I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when [my heart] is confused, my preaching is confused; and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been too like my preaching.” (Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 61.)
Baxter concludes: “O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts . . . be much with God . . . Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation . . . remember, you cannot decline and neglect your duty, to your own hurt alone; many will be losers by it as well as you.” (p. 62)
E.M. Bounds drove home this point forcefully in his book Power Through Prayer:
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.
We must begin with our own hearts. To modify the words of the hymn, “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s not my deacons, not my S.S. teachers, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Brothers, church revitalization begins with personal revitalization.
Timothy K. Beougher is the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry on the campus of Southern Seminary. Dr. Beougher also serves as associate dean of the Billy Graham School, and is a fellow of the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization. Along with these roles he also serves as Sr. Pastor of West Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.