Some churches are built on a foundation of entertainment and relevance. They need good pastors to go in and love them and feed them.
It’s not their fault, at least not entirely. They’ve probably been led there by pastors and elders. It’s been their culture for years, and it will take both love and wisdom to lead them to something better.
I’m no expert on how to do this. Others have done it much better than me. But here’s what I’d do if I pastored such a church today.
Love them. Ray Ortlund writes about the importance of a gospel culture. The anemic church needs an infusion of both gospel doctrine and gospel culture. Your leadership will set the tone for the culture you want to create. Be patient. Love them. To lead the people away from an unhealthy culture, begin by showing that church love.
Preach. Preach truth with passion. Put extra work into your preaching. Begin to develop a preaching ministry that they’ve never heard before. Introduce new foods the way that you would to a fussy toddler: begin where they are and help their palette to mature. Begin to address nutritional deficiencies. Preach the gospel. Exult in God. Develop the kind of preaching ministry that makes it impossible to go back.
Work with the leaders. Jared Wilson has done us a great favor by writing Prodigal Church. Use books like this to begin a discussion with leaders. What are the assumptions behind their current model of ministry? Before you reform the practices of the church, begin to reform their convictions about ministry. Be patient. Set a reasonable pace, and pray that God will begin to change hearts and minds. But get the discussion started.
Take your lumps. You will have to pick your battles carefully, but occasionally you will have to make an unpopular decision about ministry direction. Use all the wisdom possible, but still be prepared to take your lumps. Err on the side of patience, but know when it’s time to make a tough decision.
There’s no guarantee that any of this will work. But it may be that God will begin to create health within that church, and that the church moves away from a foundation of entertainment and relevance into something more substantive and healthy.
In the end, reforming a church is much more like parenting a child than it is like building a machine. You pour yourself into the church, you love it, you serve it, you instruct, and you lead it—and you pray all along that God will mature it into a vibrant, living witness to his Son.
As I wrote the other day, we need more church planters. But we also need more pastors who are willing to go into anemic churches, and to patiently shepherd them to greater depth and health.