By Bob Brown
TBC Church Revitalization Team Leader
Church revitalization is a stewardship issue over the congregations God has entrusted to every pastor and church member who are affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Several years ago, a man I barely knew walked into my office with a shoe box under his arm. He said that God had told him to give me something. After he handed me the box, I pulled up the lid to find $75,000 in small bills all neatly packaged and bound up. The man stated that God had told him to give this money to me. I followed with something like “What do you want me to do with it?” His response made an already baffling incident even stranger. He said, “That’s an issue for you to deal with now.”
God has entrusted something to us of far greater value than all the currency in the world, the stewardship of his church. Before he left Ephesus, the Apostle Paul called for the elders and told them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” Acts 20:28 (HCSB). And that is why church revitalization is fundamentally, a stewardship issue.
Last fall the TBC affirmed and embraced the 5 Objectives that will drive us as a cooperative people for the next 10 years. This historic action was taken in response to a realistic appraisal of the current situation in which we find many of our churches. In short, something must be done.
Objective 2 states our desire to have at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024. Like all the other objectives, I have heard reasons why there is no way this could be realized. I’ve even added a few objections to the objectives myself! However, as a steward of God’s church, we must ask ourselves what will we do with what He has entrusted. It’s our problem … NOW.
Recently, I began to see the truth of Jesus’ words commonly known as the Parable of the Talents in light of church revitalization (CR).
(1) CR is an ownership issue. Revitalization involves change which is always difficult. However, it’s made more palatable when we understand ownership and have the owner’s concerns as our compelling interest. It is His church after all.
I am convinced the place to start on any revitalization project is at the point of ownership. Embracing this simple reality leads to significant implications in change in any church. Far too many are managed as if they existed to fulfill the desires of the members rather than the owner.
As Tennessee Baptists we can point to many good things we have done through the years, but I wonder if at times we have left the priorities of the Master for those of the members. The first scenario produces a church that shares and lives out the gospel as a missional priority for the community in which they reside. The latter produces a church that shuts out and holds onto God’s resources divorced from the community in which they reside.
God loves that community and has placed His church there for a reason. Surely we should use His resources in a way that reflects his interests above our own. Maybe we need to purge the phrase “my church” from our lexicon. It’s an ownership issue. It’s a church revitalization issue. And it’s our issue … NOW.
(2) CR is an accountability issue. Most financial analysts tell us that we should always take the long term view in our investments. That was the strategy of two of the servants in Jesus parable. They knew their Master would return someday and they would give an account for the decisions made with his resources. They made decisions based on his interests. Unfortunately, in many churches decisions are made on a much more temporal or expedient basis.
The long term view reminds us that we each will each give an account before God. You are accountable for the resources and the church God has placed you in. Let that sink in! I’m not accountable for those things over which I have no charge. I am accountable for the unchanging charge Jesus placed on His church to go and make disciples.
We must answer for those treasures God has placed in our care. In a day when perhaps 90 percent of our churches are stagnant or in decline can we expect to share in our Master’s joy when we stand before Him? It’s an accountability issue. It’s a church revitalization issue. And it’s our issue … NOW.
(3) CR is an application issue. I’ve always wondered what the man was thinking who buried the talent trusted to him. Most likely it was fear which paralyzed him from making a wise investment. Fear keeps us from walking by faith. It produces a mindset of blame and excuses. This servant even blames the owner himself for his own actions. In the church we are tempted to play it safe by just staying the course out of fear, even if it sends us to disaster.
What a disaster to have buried the treasure of God under a mound of tradition and comfort out of fear. It is wrong to bury what God has placed in our care. By His grace, the church has everything it needs to be revitalized. It won’t happen without change and change won’t happen by playing it safe. Playing it safe requires no faith and without faith it is impossible to please God.
I believe God has entrusted with us the most important work on the planet. Will we use this treasure for glory or for our safety? It’s an application issue. It’s a church revitalization issue. And it’s our issue … NOW.
Over the coming months and years the Tennessee Baptist Convention is committed to coming alongside churches and associations throughout the state to encourage a church revitalization movement. We must focus our attention on seeing our churches revitalized, Tennesseans saved, and new believers set on the road of discipleship. We cannot waste a single resource or church, for they are not ours to waste. They belong to the Lord Jesus. It’s a stewardship issue. It’s a Church Revitalization issue. And it’s our issue … NOW.