- Stan Turner
Not an option: church revitalization
RIVER ROUGE – No one would disagree that our Lord Jesus is the Builder of the Church (Mt 16:18). He has to be, because it is utterly impossible for any of us to be, due to our deadness apart from the spiritual life we have only in Christ.
The Church consists of people with a new humanity unlike anything this world has ever seen. Every citizen born into this world is of the earth and comes through the spiritually dead ancestral line of Adam (Rom 5:12-14; I Cor 15:22). We are Christians via the spiritual operation of salvation and it’s meticulous surgical steps of justification, transformation, sanctification, preservation, glorification performed by a merciful, gracious, and intelligent Holy God who raised Jesus the second Adam from the dead (Rom 1:4; 5:12-21; 6:5; I Cor 15:21; Col 3:1-3) are now no longer a product of the old man.
Believers are immigrants in so far as this world is concerned. We’re foreigners on the earth—unknown to them just like Jesus (Jn 15:18-21), because our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil 3:20). The old human species lost the gift of Paradise, but the new human species regained the gift of Paradise. Amazing, fascinating, serendipitous is the story of redemption and how God regenerates dead men.
Since this is the case, church revitalization is not an option. Let me explain first from what is my Christian experience then secondly based upon the Scriptures.
I grew up in downriver metro Detroit, and came to Christ at age seventeen. My walk as a young Christ follower was exciting, and I marveled at the life and excitement of the Church that I knew intimately and other local expressions of the Church that I gazed at from a distance. Great preaching with heartfelt conviction that would bring one to tears as you felt almost compelled to remove one’s shoes because of the holy ground that God’s presence brought to the sanctuary. The witness and outreach endeavors of local churches that regularly scheduled the doing of street, park, door to door and sports evangelism. The body life of the church experienced in celebratory occasions such as: baptisms, Communion Service, Love Feast Dinners, picnics, VBS, choir rehearsals and open air concerts, Bible clubs & camps, Sunday School, church clean up days [I cleaned a church top to bottom every Sunday almost always by myself from age 17 -21], prison ministry, children’s outings, Bible college & seminary, trips & travel, revivals, seminars & conferences, men’s & women’s breakfast, discipleship—mentoring, even prayer meetings.
In my early Christian years in the context of all this life and vibrancy that the Holy Spirit created, I ascertained and responded in the affirmative to the Lord’s call to the gospel preaching ministry. I was 21, I was feeling what I believed to be what Paul felt in Romans 1:15-16, and said yes because no was not an option. A voluntary slave does not say no to his Master Lord Jesus whom he both loves and respects.
After the completion of my Mdiv studies, God in His grace & mercy used me to plant the first church that I ever pastored, and I did so for five years, in Southfield MI. In my fifth year of pastoring full time I responded to the call to pastor in Chicago IL. I stayed and did ministry in Chicago for twenty-five years. During the duration of those twenty-five years I experienced heartbreak over the Lord’s church in Detroit. Over the course of those years in my frequent travels back to Detroit I saw the vitality of the spiritual milieu that birthed and fostered me into the new humanity called the Church, erode. I knew it had declined because of seeing geographical territories where churches and outflow of Christian ministries existed, were no longer in a lot of places.
The light of the church was extinguished and in its place was a fake light, a fictitious light, an entity that perpetrated to be light, but the messages disseminating from it was no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-9). Symbols, writing, religious garb, observances of pagan sacred days not reflective of the Christian faith and our God of the Holy Bible had been taken and now stood, where the Lord’s Church had at one time stood. The lights were out.
For the last fifteen years of my time in Chicago I made this observance and the more deterioration of the church that I saw, the more my jaw dropped in shock and my heart grieved to tears. I did not understand how the people of God could allow the Christian light of the Gospel to go out in a community. How could the corporate Church allow such to happen especially if that Church was struggling? How could a local Church, even if that congregation is growing and needs another facility, surrender that territory to the enemy?
Theologically, practically, progressively in kingdom advancement it made no sense. Jesus said, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). Should not the Church be pushing back spiritually, geographically, territorially, physically, against the growth and spread, of the enemies of the Gospel and not vice versa?
I was all the more excited to begin the transition and return to Detroit after learning the door had been closed for me to do missionary work in the Philippines. Ready to go somewhere, I asked the Lord, “where should I go instead?” and after twenty five years, it was back to Detroit Detroit was the very place that my heart had ached for after watching the Church’s demise.
That being said, church revitalization is not an option, but a must. Every track of land, every beachhead of a Christian witness should and must be maintained. We have to keep the lights of Christian witness on because individual lives and communities are dependent upon it.
When the Holy Spirit used Paul to turn on the lights of Gospel witness in Corinth and Ephesus, he through the Holy Spirit maximized the assurance of such lights getting brighter by leaving resources, one of which was in the person of Timothy (I Cor 4:17; 16:10-11; I Tim 1:3).
The same thing in Corinth and Crete when the Holy Spirit used Paul to turn the lights of the Gospel witness on there, he, through the Holy Spirit again, guarded its brilliance by sending and leaving resources, one of which was Titus (II Cor 7:13-16; 8:16-24; Titus 1:5).
Even Barnabas, who no doubt, played a role in discipling Paul in this Kingdom of God-advancing strategy, he went all the way over to Tarsus (Acts 11:22-26) and brought Paul from there to what grew and became the new headquarters of the first century Church, Antioch (Acts 13:1-3).
Why did he do this? He did this because the Scripture says, “he saw evidence of the grace of God” (Acts 11:23). Whenever and wherever we see evidence of the grace of God, and especially if there is a threat to the loss of Christian witness in a community, it behooves us as Christian leaders in the Lord’s Church to give support & aid to local churches.
Many times they simply need the encouragement, prayer, fellowship, safety and relationship of the community that we bring to them. Interestingly enough what is frequently needed more than anything is a resource like Paul, Timothy and Titus for a season. Not to ignore larger mission tasks abroad that cost thousands of dollars per person. But what if in addition we reached out to churches here in metro Detroit, no strings attached, and just asked how we can help with a team of just three or six youngster mission groups to lend physical aid to struggling churches for a summer, during Christmas and Spring break for a year?
Young people, not too far from home, would likely require no money to do this work. They could even get inexpensive visits from family & friends that are just a car drive away. What if instead of uprooting a church and totally relocating, our churches left behind a pastor and portion of the congregation to keep the lights of Gospel witness burning instead of giving up ground and selling a building that will likely be scooped up by faith systems that are not Christian.
Did the Lord tell you to sell the building because the money is needed where He’s taking you or did your secularist business acumen that came from corporate America? We should be willing to do as Barnabas, as Paul, and bring resources of revitalization to the Lord’s local expressions of Churches. We’re already empowered to do so.
This formerly Christian-majority society is losing. And it’s not solely because of the advancement of ideologies that fly in the face of biblical theology. I believe it is also because of the selfishness and lack of aggressiveness of Christian Churches that lack faith, love, and frankly at times just hoard Kingdom resources.
May God help us and show us where the lights of Gospel witness are flickering and threatening to go out. May we respond and ask God to show us how to assist sister Protestant churches especially in urban areas, whether our brand or not, to keep the lights on!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pastor Stan Turner, B.R.E., Mdiv., ThM is the pastor of New City Church in Lincoln Park, MI.