The Ministry of Revitalization Pt 1

Last Friday on this blog I addressed young men going into the ministry to encourage them to consider the important work of revitalizing existing churches.  This week, my desire is to flesh out a little of what it takes to be a successful revitalizer.  Today, I want to focus on the single most important step in revitalizing an existing church — refocusing on the gospel.

Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to young Pastors who are taking on a new church I always like to advise them to be careful about making many changes in their first year.  Instead of trying to change programs, worship styles, and leadership structure, I encourage them to focus on making sure that the people understand the gospel and what it means to live a gospel-centered life.  In reality, this process will usually take more than a year and should be an ongoing process throughout our ministry.  But it is vitally important in the first year of ministry.

Do not assume that people understand the gospel just because they are members of the church.  Over the past twenty years of ministry I have been shocked at the confusion that I have witnessed among church members, leaders, and even Pastors over the content and response to the gospel.  The most common problem that I see, however, is what I might call the minimization of the gospel.  This occurs when people think that the gospel only deals with how we become followers of Christ.  In other words, they see the gospel as the elementary teaching about how we enter into life with Christ but then we need to move on to the deeper stuff.  My contention is that the gospel is the central message of Scripture and forms the fundamental lens by which we view and understand the world.  Furthermore, the gospel becomes both the model and the means by which we live out the Christian life.

So my advice for new Pastors is to start by first making sure that your people understand the content of the gospel — specifically the meaning of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, here I want people to understand the substitutionary nature and completeness of the death of Christ and the role of the resurrection in giving the believer new life.  Second, I want to make sure that people understand their response to the gospel by specifically defining it in Biblical terms — to repent and believe in the gospel.  If you want to understand the importance of using Biblical terms in defining the response to the gospel I recommend that you read J.D. Greer’s excellent book entitled “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.”  That title may offend you at first but I promise that the book presents a solid, biblical explanation of how to present the gospel in clear terms.

Once the content and response to the gospel has been clearly laid out, I recommend that you start working on showing how the gospel can be seen throughout the Bible.  That does not mean to simply tack the gospel on to the end of your message, but rather to use the gospel as a hermeneutical lens by which you interpret and understand the Scripture.  Show your people how the gospel is present in Old Testament types and figures.  Show them how story of redemption unfolds throughout the Old Testament.  Show them how the Apostles (especially Paul) apply the gospel to specific problems and issues in the local churches.  In other words, saturate your people with the gospel from the pulpit every time you preach.  Do this for at least a year before you start making any other major changes.

Revitalization begins with the preaching of the Gospel!  Start by patiently, carefully, diligently preaching the gospel.  Everything else that you do will flow from this first and more important step.

Nawho? — Why We Need to Preach From the Most Neglected Book of the Bible

In the entire history of preaching I doubt there is any section of the Bible more neglected than the minor prophets and among the minor prophets none is as ignored as the book of Nahum. Elizabeth Achtemier says of the book, “We often wish Nahum were not in the canon, and the book has been almost totally ignored in the modern church.” (Achtemeir, 5)  If you will take about 15 minute to read the book you will quickly see why.  The message that Nahum delivers is one of judgment and the picture of God given in the book is one of vengeance, wrath and anger.  Consider the second verse of the opening chapter, “The Lord is a jealous, and avenging Go; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps earth for his enemies.” (1:2) This picture of God doesn’t go over too well in the modern church but I would like to suggest that there’s more to Nahum than what we see at first glance.  There are hidden nuggets in this short book that the modern church desperately needs to hear.  Let me just mention a few of the important themes that make Nahum one of the most relevant books for our times.

Nahum Reminds Us that God’s Justice and Loving Kindness Are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Another way of saying is this is that God is sovereign, showing justice and wrath to the doers of evil while at the same time displaying mercy and love to His people.  We’ve already noted that in 1:2 Nahum clearly teaches us that God is jealous and avenges evil but we also need to note that in v.3 he says, “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power…”  Throughout this book, Nahum reminds the people of Judah that while God will judge the city of Nineveh for the atrocities that it had committed He will at the same time show them mercy.  For instance, in 1:15 he writes, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who published peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through yowl he is utterly cut off.”  In other words, the people of Judah could be confident in worshipping God because He will restore them and will deal with their enemies. 

God’s justice and His lovingkindness are not separate natures but rather, they are attributes that coexist perfectly within His divine character.  In the modern church, we have so overemphasized the grace and mercy of God that we have neglected to teach on His justice and wrath.  But the truth of the matter is that we cannot understand what God is like without coming face to face with both aspects of his character.  These two aspects of God’s character are displayed most vividly through the cross of Jesus Christ.  On the cross Jesus met the righteous demands of God’s justice by bearing the punishment for our sin while at the same time displaying God’s love and grace by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.

Nahum reminds us that God’s justice provides comfort because He has not forgotten nor does He ignore those who do evil.  People living in Judah may have thought that God had been harsh with them but that He was letting the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh off the hook.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Nahum reminds us that God is faithful to His promises

In 1:12-13 Nahum writes, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Though they are at full strength and man, they will be cut down and pass away.  Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more.  And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.”  In these verse God reminds Judah that He has not forgotten about them and that He is going to be faithful to all of His promises.  He may have had to temporarily afflict the people but He had not forgotten them.  This is a message that believers in every age need to hear.  Like the ancient residents of Judah, we often find ourselves wondering if God is ever going to intervene to bring about justice.  In those moments, Nahum speaks to us and reminds us that God is faithful to His promises.  He will judge evil and He will restore the righteous.  But there is one final theme in Nahum that modern believers need to hear.

Nahum reminds us that our only security is in God

 The Assyrian Empire was the mightiest military force on the face of the earth in Nahum’s day.  Under the leadership of Tiglath-Pileser the Assyrians dominated the Ancient Near East, including both Israel and Judah, forcing the conquered nations to pay him homage.  The Assyrians were a fierce, militaristic, conquering people who lived by the philosophy that “might makes right.”    They had conquered every major power in their part of the world and must have felt invincible but God says, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at you nakedness and kingdoms at your shame.” In other words, God is announcing that He was about to humble the greatest, most powerful nation on the earth at that time. In their commentary, Kenneth Barker and Waylon Bailey state that, “Nahum shows that when the military might of a nation becomes its security and its god, then sin has conquered the nation, and it will fall.  Sin is not limited to those with specific instructions from God’s book about it.  Every person knows basic human rights and values.  Any person or nation who refuses to follow these rights and values is condemned as a sinner and faces God’s judgment.” (Nahum, 155)

As a people we need to be reminded that our strength is not in our military might, economic power, or advanced technology.  In the end none of these will stand the test of time.  The only true source of security that we have is in God.  Nations, churches and people who trust in anything other than God will find that their lives are built on sinking sand.  Our security is found in God and God alone!

My prayer is that God will use this brief survey of the themes in Nahum to encourage you to preach through/from this most neglected book of the Bible.