The Cost of Revitalization

No one told me how much it would cost me. When I took the church in Plainfield, Indiana in 2005 I knew it needed some work. I knew it needed to be brought into the 21st century. But it was a good place. It had some strength. All of this was true. I honestly thought I could get it “there” (wherever “there” is) in a couple of years and we would be off and running. I didn’t understand the price I would have to pay to lead that church to a place of renewal and vitality.

You see we’re told from very early in our ministry about all the great things we’re going to do for God. How God is just going to incredibly use us to build His Kingdom. We’re taught (or it’s at the least implied) to believe we’re invincible and sort of immune to the pitfalls and difficulties others have faced. It’s a new century…nay….a new millennium! And in this new millennium with resources at our fingertips, the best leadership material in the history of man, and podcasts galore, how could we fail? My generation grew up in youth ministries saying these kinds of things. What this has created now is a generation of church leaders who have not counted the cost of revitalizing and leading in the 21st century because we believed everything was just going to work out for our good! While I do believe everything works out for our good, it sure doesn’t feel that way when one is in the middle of it! I’m not cynical about this, just bringing some context to what many of us have felt through the years.

The cost of any ministry is high. I’m not here to suggest the cost of revitalizing is higher than say church planting, or missionary work. I am here to say it is often a little (or a lot) different. Since I lead both church planting and revitalization for the Indiana Assemblies of God, I have a bit of a perspective on this. Church planters have a unique set of tariffs they must pay as the toll for traversing the road of pioneering. Revitalizes are walking where others have once tread. While the path may be more clearly defined, the road for them has very much eroded and reviters are faced with a whole different set of, not so much tariffs, but liens against them. Reviters are dealing with what was, what is, and what could be. Simultaneously. Most of which they inherited and didn’t create themselves. The price for the privilege is quite high.

Can I get an “amen” from all the revitalizers out there?

In my experience, I’ve found five key prices we have to pay to lead a church to rebirth.

  1. Pay the Price of Popularity
    Not everyone will like you. I know your momma won’t understand this (your spouse will :-)), but it’s just a fact. People who tout you as the savior of the world one day will be screaming “crucify him!” by the end of the week! Especially if you paint the walls, take down the Home Interiors decorations in  the foyer, or remove the plaque of generous donors from the 1964 building campaign. When I arrived at Plainfield, we embarked on an $80K remodel of the facility. It needed it. The platform had this wood geometric design from the 1970’s (which ironically would probably be very hip and trendy today) we removed in favor of drywall and paint. You would have thought I burned down the church!! One lady, whose brother had put up those pieces of wood, was just beside herself they were being removed. She did not vote for us when we were elected so in her mind, all of her fears were becoming reality. Now, I should have been a little more careful. My experienced self shakes his head at my youthful self for my insensitivity. I’d have still taken down the wood, but I would have spent a little more time preparing people for it! This is the price of experience….which didn’t make my list.
    You will make some unpopular but necessary changes in revitalization. When you do, there will be some who do not like you. Even vilify you. Call you evil things. It happened to Jesus. It’s a price we have to pay to facilitate new life to a dead or dying place.
  2. The Price of Abundance
    In Mark 6 Jesus sends out the twelve. He doesn’t allow them to take anything with them except whatever they’re wearing and the power of God in them. Jesus was trying to help the disciples understand the abundance of what they had, who they were, was enough to do the work of the Kingdom.
    I remember often being discouraged by my own gifts. I thought, “if I only had the gift of _____, I could really do something.” For a long time I was limited by this thinking. I focused on what I didn’t have rather than the abundance of gifts with which God had gifted me. What God has put into our hands is exactly what He intended. Oh sure, He’ll add to it through the years, maybe even take some away – it’s all His anyway, right? I think the price we pay is being content in whom He has made us. If God wanted me to have different gifts He would have given them to me. Instead He gave me the gifts He gave me and I need to seek to be as effective as possible in using those gifts to build His Kingdom.
  3. The Price of Death
    OK most of us won’t pay the ultimate price of death.  Here’s what I mean:
    -You’ll have to die completely to your own preferences. I tended to make the church what I wanted rather than what God wanted. This only caused me frustration and the church pain. Once I died to this and began forming the church after God’s design, He did so much more.
    -You’ll have to die completely to THE PLACE. If God sends us, why do we complain about where He’s asking us to serve? I’m sure Moses didn’t want to be in the desert but it was THE PLACE of his calling. I’m sure Paul didn’t want to be in prison, but it was THE PLACE God put him so he could write. Be content with THE PLACE God has called you. Die to the desires to be in greener pastures.
    -You’ll have to die to habits that will kill you. Stress will be high. Channel that stress into productivity rather than Haagen Dazs and McDoubles, or you really will die. You know what I mean.
  4. The Price of Lack
    This seems a little counter-intuitive to number two above, but hear me out. There will be MUCH the church or you need you won’t have in your hands. You won’t have enough money. You won’t have enough leaders. You won’t have enough (or any) nursery workers. You won’t have enough energy. You often won’t know what to do. What’s really cool about God is He’ll take our lack, multiply it, and feed like 5000+ people. What death looks like in this is to stop complaining. Stop comparing yourself or your church to those you envy. Stop thinking the answer lies in what you do not have. Yield to exactly what you, where you are, and what you do have. Give it to the Lord. See it as His provision. Ask Him to bless it, to multiply it, then give it all away – don’t hold on to it. Don’t curse it by complaining about it. It’s amazing what God can do with so little. All of the sudden our lack turns into His abundance.
  5. The Price of the Storms
    You know that great story about Jesus walking on water and saving the disciples neck?? Yeah that one. Did you ever notice how Jesus sent them out into the storm? He sent them INTO the storm!!!! He didn’t shelter them from it, didn’t tell them to wait it out. He sent them directly into the fray. Thanks, Jesus.
    Look, storms are going to come to all of us. I always expected these kinds of things….but I didn’t expect them to come through church people who supposedly loved God. They might have loved God, but they sure hated me (see number one)!!! Some storms God sends of His own providence. Some we create accidentally or through mis-managed leadership (these you can minimize), and some certainly come from the enemy. STORMS WILL COME!!!!
    So, what?
    When they do, don’t strain on the oars as long as the disciples did. Just call on His name….call on the Great I AM!! He’ll walk right into the middle of the storm and calm everything down. I had to get to a place where I recognized the storms as part of God’s processes for me and the church. What a difference this view made!! It alleviates frustration and a lot of pain. Doesn’t make the storm less concerning or make us able to ignore it. But knowing Jesus is walking towards us on the water makes all the difference in the world.

What about you? What are some of the storms you’ve faced while faithfully revitalizing the church? What did you do? How did God help you?
Be part of the discussion by commenting below!!!!

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