I'm grateful that he was wiling to answer my questions.
What made you decide to start tweeting as @ChurchVitalizer?
Church planting is all the rage these days, something for which I'm glad. I was a founding member of a church plant and my brother-in-law is a church plant pastor. But in our zeal to plant churches we must not abandon the existing churches. I could list a whole host of reasons for this, but I'll limit it to these:
- While church plants often focus on being inter-racial, successful revitalizations are generally better at being inter-generational, a vital component of a healthy biblical church.
- Church plants rightly focus on reaching the un-churched around them (though they too often grow by plucking some of the healthiest members from other local churches). But there are many existing churches that are full of unbelievers and people whose faith is anemic. Church revitalization gives you a ready and captive audience that need to hear God's Word.
- Given the Bible's high regard for the local church, even the unhealthy ones, it seems like a biblical approach to work with the existing church to make it healthy instead of starting an entirely new enterprise down the street.
The work of revitalization is every bit as tiring and demanding as church planting, though the stresses are often quite different. Yet I've found many of the trending books and voices in social media provide all sorts of support for church planters but offer comparatively little to encourage people doing the work of revitalization. @churchvitalizer is my effort to be a small part of the solution.
What do you hope to accomplish through your tweets?
I hope to offer encouragement and perspective to those doing the work of revitalization.
Some pastors doing revitalization can grow discouraged, hopeless and alone. For them I hope to point them to truths from Scripture that will lift up their heads and help them press on with joy and hope.
Other pastors are unwittingly drawn to the idol of numbers -- the bigger my church is, the better I'm doing. Not only can this cause them to prioritize the wrong things, it also can do a number on their souls and how they think about their church. I hope to remind them of what God has called a pastor to do and to judge their success based on how well they're doing what God has asked them to do.
There are still other pastors who waddle in mediocrity yet hide behind the mantra of "sound doctrine" and "biblical preaching" as excuses to not work hard and grow. For example, he might be arrogant and ungracious but blame people's dislike for him on his strong doctrinal positions; or he might be a weak preacher but blame people's dislike for his preaching on the fact that they can't stomach biblical preaching. For men like that, I hope to point them to resources that have helped me grow better in the work God has called me to do.
A lot of pastors who are doing revitalization are greener pastors. Pointing out common pitfalls and exposing them to resources they might not know about is another goal.
You wrote, "Revitalization is not about taking a dwindling church and growing it, it's about restoring the gospel and God's Word to their proper place." What do you mean by this?
Man judges health very differently from how God judges health. If a church is growing and the budget is being met, we deem it healthy. So when people hear the term "revitalization" they often think of taking a church that is shrinking or not meeting budget and turning those numbers around.
But God judges things differently. His picture of health is given in Ephesians 4:11-16 (among other places). And, at the risk of oversimplifying it, I'd boil it down to two things:
- a culture where people are growing more Christ-like by speaking God's Word into one another's lives, and
- a church that looks to God's Word for everything - how it's structured, what elements go into the service, how to preach, how to pray, who's in leadership, how conflict is resolved, how sin is dealt with, what is believed, how decisions are made, etc.
There are many big churches with big buildings and big budgets that have built themselves up through effective management, putting on a good show and having a dynamic communicator & awesome band at the front; that doesn't make them healthy.
The church I previously served in had 600 people when the work of revitalization began. It ebbed to 450 before it started to grow again. In the meantime, the culture was slowly but dramatically changing. So when I talk about "revitalization," I'm talking about restoring a church to health based on God's criteria, not man's. It has nothing to do with size or budget.
What are you learning as you pastor Maple Avenue?
I'm a young pastor with much to learn. One lesson I'd like to share.
Early on, I met with fellow Fellowship Baptist pastor Justin Galotti who is doing revitalization in the city. I'd grown accustomed to hearing revitalizer's horror stories about how hard their job was, how difficult revitalization was, how slow their church was to embrace change. But Justin kept talking to me about how strong and capable God is to bring change. His words were full of hope and confidence in God. This reminded me to truly trust God as I labor. As I've done so, I've seen over and over how God is working.
I hope that my interactions with others - inside and outside Maple Avenue - are marked by the same God-centered hope that Justin's words contained.
Thanks so much, James.