I have been working on a book I hope to finish by the end of the year and have published sometime in 2021. It is a book that explains my philosophy of church and ministry. It is based on the Book of Acts and will cover 10 principles of a healthy church. Recently, while working through the book, I wrote the following conclusion to one of chapters. It’s about FCC. I thought I would share it to get your opinion. Please let me know what you think.
There has been a lot of emphasis on church revitalization lately. Numerous books, webinars, and conferences have been developed around this important concept. Church revitalization, however, must begin with a complete understanding of a particular church’s history. Many churches needing revitalization need to simply go back to the church’s original vision. The purpose of all churches is to glorify God by being faithful stewards of the gospel of Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom of God until Christ returns. Most churches needing revitalization have strayed from the reason God called that individual church to exist. The question needing to be asked is why did the people who started this church feel the need to start the church? Did the church start because there was not a church in the area? Did it start for denominational reasons? Was the church planted for doctrinal reasons? Did the church split from an existing church? Was it for a particular missional reason? Did the church start in an effort to address a particular unmet need in the community? Why did the founders of the church decide another church was needed? A church must answer these questions before moving forward. If it is determined the church started for an unhealthy reason, repentance and reconciliation may be in order. If the church started for a healthy reason then a return to that reason may be the key that unlocks to door to revitalization.
I believe all churches share the same purpose— to glorify God by being faithful stewards of the gospel of Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom of God until Christ returns—but I also believe God had and has a specific, unique plan, or vision, for each local church. A unique plan that helps them fulfill the purpose of the Church. The church I pastored at the time of this writing had a long and complicated history. The church started in 1969 because there was no denominational church in the area. They started in the garage of a founding member. Very quickly, however, through prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, it was discovered the unique vision of the church was to reach out to the marginalized people in the community—the homeless, the addict, the prisoner, etc. Throughout the 1970s they started a homeless shelter, took strangers into their homes, ministered in prisons, and faithfully carried out the ministries described by Jesus in His parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. God miraculously blessed the efforts of the original church members.
Beginning in the 1980s, however, the church lost focused and turned their attention to other, good and noble, efforts. By the mid-1980s the church split and terminated the founding pastor. I became pastor in 1989. In my youthful enthusiasm and arrogance believed I would be the next megachurch pastor and would spend my time preaching to thousands, writing books, and leading seminars on how to grow a church. I wanted to be the relevant, cool church, attracting families through our cutting-edge programs and contemporary, seeker-sensitive, worship experiences. But what ensued was fourteen years of struggle. What I wanted the church to be was not why God wanted this particular church to be in existence. In 2003, I took the opportunity to pastor a larger church in another state. Believing this was God’s will for me and my family, I moved to my “dream” church. I thought I had “arrived.” But in reality, God had called me into the wilderness to be alone with Him so He could teach me some things. Three years later, the church I left voted to close her doors and contacted me to help them dissolve the incorporation. After much prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, in 2007, I resigned my “dream” church and went home to restart the previous church, my first love. People thought I was crazy.
In my times alone with God, I could feel the Holy Spirit leading me home. At first, I resisted, but the Holy Spirit is a powerful Counselor, Comforter, Teacher, and Guide. I knew not returning home would be disobedient. But I told God (a dangerous thing to do) if He wanted me to return it could not be like before. Things had to be different. The city of my first church did not need another church doing the same things as all the other churches in the area.
The primary lesson God taught me in the wilderness was the supremacy of proclaiming the kingdom of God. I head the Holy Spirit say, “Study the kingdom of God.” And so I began a deep dive into the Gospels, underlining every time Jesus mentioned the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. I discovered this was Jesus’ primary teaching! All that He did, all of His miracles, and all of His parables, were about the kingdom of God. Then I moved to the Old Testament. With my eyes now opened I noticed all the times the Bible talks about caring for the poor and the widow and the orphan and the immigrant. I was convicted that I had grown up in church, and pastored for decades, without caring for the “least of these,” which are the most important in the Kingdom. I had much to learn and even more to repent.
I returned to restart—or better, revitalize—my first church. I was determined the church would be different and unique, emphasizing God’s kingdom, striving to be a conscious for the community. After much prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, we, the leaders of the church, decided our “target audience” would be the poor, the widow, the drug dealer, the addict, the alcoholic, the prostitute, the down and out, and the forgotten. My home town is the wealthiest county in my home state and one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country. I found humor in the fact God called me to pastor a low-income church in a high-income city. The greatest irony of all? I thought I was doing something new. In reality, I discovered, this was the very reason the church started in the first place! This was the vision of the very first pastor and the very first members. This was the calling God had on this particular church from day one. The church had changed, but God’s unique calling on the church had not.
Has it been easy? Absolutely NOT! I have lost friends. I have been heavily criticized. I have been ostracized from some religious circles. I have had death threats. I have lost sleep. I have dealt with unimaginable stress and trauma.
Has the church grown? NOPE. At least not numerically. I have put more people in other people’s churches then I have my own. We are still a small church, but the impact our church has had on the community is huge! The resources God has provided is miraculous, and the difference we are making in the lives of individuals, and the wider city, is unmeasurable. Has it been worth it! ABSOLUTELY! Here are a few highlights from the past few years:
- A homeless shelter
- Group homes
- A ministry on Tennessee’s death-row
- A death-row inmate ordained into the ministry by our church
- Planted a church on death-row, pastored by the inmate we ordained
- Several houses built in Honduras
- A church in Honduras that is an extension of our church
- A business started in Honduras by a former “hit-man”
- Over 40 families in our community who were homeless but are now in permanent housing
- A community center in a government housing area of our community
- A reputation in the city of being THE church that advocates for the “least of these”
- Completely debt free
I hesitate to share the above examples because it is not about me, or my church, but about Jesus and His kingdom. I also hesitate to share it because I don’t want you to think if you follow my example you will have the same results. There are no magic formulas to church grown or church revitalization. God has a unique plan for every church and every pastor. The joy is in being obedient to God by listening to the Holy Spirit.
By no means is my church perfect. In no way am I perfect; far from it. If you knew our story, and if you ever came to visit us, you would be unimpressed. In fact, you would probably be disappointed. But you would leave knowing the only way any of these things could have been accomplished was because God did it. God did it through us, and in spite of us, because we listened and obeyed the Holy Spirit.
 Church Revitalization is the process of leading a church that has lost its focus (an unhealthy church) back to a healthy and sustainable state.