Plant or Revitalize? — Why I would like to Encourage Young Pastors to Consider the Exisiting Church

One of the growing trends that I see among young men entering the ministry is the desire to plant new churches rather than Pastor existing, established churches.  The reasons for this are rather simple.  Many young guys simply do want to deal with the hassles and difficulties of steering a church back towards health and gospel centeredness, as one young man told me, “Why try to fix what is broken when I can just start brand new.”  Young Pastors also know that it is far easier to start an evangelistic minded church than it is to lead an existing church to recapture their zeal.  Many young men have simply become disenchanted with the unwillingness of existing churches to engage their culture and adapt their methods.  They find that it is easier just to start fresh.  Finally, I do believe that some young men are drawn to church planting simply because it is considered the glamorous thing to do or they think they can become the next evangelical superstar.  My advice to this last group is to rethink whether or not they have been called to the ministry.  The bottom line is that if you are not willing to labor in obscurity you are not fit or ready for a larger ministry.  With that said, I would like to give a few reasons why I think more young Bible college students and seminarians should consider taking on the challenge of revitalizing existing churches:

  1. Jesus died for existing churches, owns them, and loves them– we hear a lot of criticism about churches and church members today but what we often forget in this mix is that Jesus loves these churches and so should we.  Sometimes I listen to Pastors and church leaders who seem to relish in pointing out the warts and flaws in the church.  Among young pastors especially there sometimes seems to be an arrogance and smug attitude about the problems in the established churches.  Let me remind you that while she might have some blemishes and may at times show her age a little, the church is the bride of Christ, therefore, we should all be careful about how we treat her.
  2. Exisiting churches have resources that can be used to build the Kingdom– Obviously, existing churches have material and financial resources that new church plants don’t always have but I have more in mind here than building and bank accounts.  Existing churches have men and women with years of experience in church work and the community.  This often goes unnoticed by new Pastors but the collective experience of the people in the church are some of the greatest resources for spreading the gospel.  The key here is to reengage their creativity and energy into carrying out the mission of the gospel.  The challenge is that sometimes in an existing church this can take awhile and requires patience and humility on the part of the Pastor.
  3. Exisiting churches are needed to help start new churches- the work of the Kingdom is not just starting new churches nor is it just about revitalizing existing churches.  It is both!  We need exisiting churches to be revitalized and to recapture their desire to spread the gospel through evangelism and church planting.  Often it is good to think of revitalizing a church as a replanting it because in many ways that is that it is.  But part of every revitalization project must be the focus on fulfilling Acts 1:8 by planting new churches.  In my experience at First Baptist Church, Metropolis I’ve become convinced that one of the ways to revitalize a church is to lead them to get involved in church planting.  Here we started by simply becoming a secondary partner with a church plant.  We took on the role of simply investing part of our budget in the work and sending a couple of teams a year to help, but this quickly grew and became part of the DNA of our church.  Now we are involved in a church planting partnership in Haiti and Chicago but in addition we have experienced a revitalization within our church that has been amazing to watch.

There are several more thoughts running around in my mind about this subject but that is enough for right now.  Next week, I am going  to try to put some ideas out about the things Pastors need to do in order to lead a revitalization process.

Why Do We Give?

As church leaders we are charged with the responsibility of teaching our people good Biblical stewardship.  In other words, we have to talk to them about how they use their time, talent, treasure and temple to glorify God.  One of the hardest areas that we have to deal with is the issue of giving.  This always a sensitive subject, however, I believe that our focus needs to be more on teaching people “why” they give than “how much they give.”  The truth of the matter is that someone can give a large sum of money but if they give it for the wrong reason it is all for naught.  The reason that we give is far more important to God than the amount that we give.  Turn in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 and let me show you three principle that should guide our attitude in giving.

1.  Our Giving Should Reflect Our Understanding of the Grace of God (v. 1-7)

Paul uses the churches in Macedonia as an example for the Corinthians of how they should give, but notice that the emphasis is immediately on the grace of God.  In the first verse of this passage, Paul says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia…”  He then goes on to describe how, even though they were experiencing a time of extreme poverty and a test of affliction, they still had given more generously than anyone would have expected.  This was clear evidence of the grace of God at work in the Macedonians, but also reflects their understanding of His grace.  They gave beyond their means because of their experience of grace.

In verse 2 Paul lays out a rather unusual and unexpected formula for wealth.  We tend to think of wealth only in terms of material blessings and abundance.  But Paul says that  Joy + Sever Affliction + Poverty = Wealth.  This is contrary to everything that we are taught by the world, but it is a fundamental Christian truth.  The Macedonians were poor by the world’s standards but rich in God’s economy.

Understanding the grace of God produces a sense of gratitude and humility in our hearts.  It reminds us that everything that we have has been given to us by God.  We own nothing, it has all been placed on loan to us by God and we are responsible for using everything for His glory.  The deeper we understand the grace of God, the more generous we will become.  As ministers, therefore, our teaching on stewardship needs to begin by thoroughly teaching our people about and celebrating the truth of God’s grace.

2. Our giving must be motivated by the Gospel (v.8-11)

I often say to our church that “Paul never encountered a problem that he didn’t solve through the Gospel.”  The gospel is the primary reference point for Paul’s worldview, therefore, when he was dealing with marriage problems in Corinth he settled them through the gospel.  When he was dealing the relationship between a runaway slave and his owner in Philemon, he fixed the problem by applying the gospel.  It should be no surprise then that when Paul deals with giving that he focuses our attention on the gospel.

In verse 8 he tells the Corinthians that he is not commanding them to give but then in v.9 he immediately turns to the Gospel, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” There is no better example of giving in the history of the world than Jesus giving His life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  Throughout the history of the church those who have understood the gospel the best were also those who were most willing to sacrifice and give all they had to give for His cause.

Honestly, I am afraid that far too often in the church we resort to a worldly, materialistic motivation for giving.  I hear preachers all of stripes and theological persuasions attempt to motivate church members to give so that they will receive back from God.  Recently, I heard a preacher actually quantify the amounts, he would say things like, “God will restore to you 30 times what you give, so if you give $1,000 He will return your gift thirty-fold.”  He then when on to ask, “How many of you could use $30,000?”  As the hands went up all around he then said, “So come and give your seed gift of $1,000 and God will return your investment thirty-fold.”  This kind of plea misses the point of New Testament giving completely.  We don’t give to receive, we give because Jesus gave His life to save us, therefore, everything we have belongs to Him! When we give we are supposed to reflect the gospel, not the basest forms of human greed.

3. Our Giving Should Reflect Our Participation in the Body of Christ (v.12-15)

In these verses, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are participants in the body of Christ.  He then cites Exodus 16:18 to show that in the wilderness God provided the needs of the children of Israel by sending manna and quail.  It is important to go back and read all of Exodus 16 to really capture the context of this verse.  When you do, you will see that Paul is really saying two things by citing this verse.

First, he is pointing out that God always provides for the needs of His people.  One of the most amazing things about the manna and quail is that every Israelite family has exactly what they needed. Those who gathered much had exactly what they needed and those who gathered just a little had exactly what they needed.  In other words, God made sure to cover their need.

Second, he is making the point that since Corinth had an abundance of material resources while others had less, they needed to give out of their abundance to help those in need.  Furthermore, there would be a day when these rolls were reversed and Corinth would be on the receiving end of Christian generosity.

As we give we need to remember that every member of the body of Christ is called to participate in the life of the church.  Not only does this apply to the local church but also to the church universal.  In the recent years our church here in Illinois has been involved in helping a church in Blanquette, Haitit.  While our church has been able to send large amounts of material aid to the church there, I feel sure that we have received more blessings than we have given.  The dear people of Haiti have done more to teach our people about the gospel and about what it means to live out the gospel than they can possibly imagine.

Conclusion

Christian giving is a reflection of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a basic part of the Christian life.  As Pastors and church leaders we have a responsibility for teaching our people good stewardship.  But as we do, we need to make sure that we teach them as much about “why” they give as “how much” they should give.