I’m not a huge rule-maker. I like to operate in freedom and so I try to leader others that way. I’m strict about very few things.
(Can I be completely honest? — I’d rather break a rule than keep one. Certainly I love to write better rules.)
I’m a little different on Christmas Eve.
I’m strict. I write rules. An ole’ controlling leader.
Our ministerial staff works on Christmas Eve.
Period. No excuses.
That’s harsh, isn’t it?
Christmas Eve is a big deal in this church. Always has been. Long before I became pastor.
We now have 3 services to accommodate crowds, but the church has always had one packed service that is live on television. Near 100,000 people in our region watch the show and the past couple years we’ve rebroadcast the show several times on Christmas Day. It’s somewhat of a community event.
But, there’s another reason.
Culturally speaking, Christmas has in many ways become the new Easter. Not theologically of course. You can’t trump the resurrection, but as an opportunity to reach lost people.
They’ll come at Christmas. It’s a culturally acceptable thing to do. A familiar affair. Get dressed up (or not) and gather together to sing familiar Christmas songs. It’s a great family tradition.
And, who can’t love a baby in a manger story? You can attract people at Christmas like no other time of the year.
We would never think of staff missing Easter. It’s an “all hands on deck” kind of day.
So, I make Christmas Eve a priority and require our staff to be here.
(Now, in complete transparency, if there were extenuating circumstances with a staff member we would certainly consider them.)
And, sure, it’s difficult on families to understand. I get that. My family has to sacrifice also. We live 4 hours from our family and we now miss Christmas Eve together.
But, if we had a job as a policeman or at a hospital emergency room, no one would question why we had to work. It comes with the job.
And, in church work, Christmas Eve, if it’s done well, can be a great part of the job. Lives are at stake. It’s a vital work. An “all hands on deck” kind of day.
I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.
It could be because of relationships gone bad.
A personal life — that was private — but is not anymore.
Bad decisions intentionally done or bad circumstances — out of their control.
All of that and more — failure.
One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is that I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and that was plenty of time to learn valuable life experiences by failure. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)
Here’s what you need to understand though.
I’ve had failures — but I’m not a failure.
Because I got back up every time I failed.
Along the way — through failure — I’ve gained some insight into failure.
There are some misunderstandings about failing that you don’t necessarily knowing during the failing process.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:
Not everyone is talking about you. This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels that way. As a result, sometimes you avoid people — even though you may need people in your life now more than ever. Sometimes you refuse to get back in the game — even to attend church — because you assume you’re the news on people’s mind. Yes, some people may be talking about you — for a while — but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others — I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)
Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away. That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. And, I’m not sure it should be our goal to completely lose that failure reminder. It’s a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed — and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure — how you proceed after the failure.
God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail. In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace — something God loves to extend to those who will receive it.
Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing. It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy loves to use that principle against us too. Why not? It works, right? But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely — that’s a choice too.
The best days of your life may be after the failure — not before. Wow! If only I could have understood that during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, for that I’m thankful.
Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.
What have you learned from failure?
I’m a church planter. Having planted two successful churches, my heart is to see more church plants launch and do well. I think once church planting gets “in your blood”, it’s always there.
A couple years ago, however, God called me into an established church in need of some revitalization. (Actually my first church was a revitalization church.) It’s been an incredible couple of years. God has blessed us in so many ways. It’s harder than church planting — just being honest — but its very rewarding in so many ways.
I’ve encouraged numerous young leaders to not ignore the opportunities in church revitalization. As much as we need new plants — we need to revive some existing church — a lot of existing churches.
The work of revitalization is similar to church planting. We are starting some things new. We are building momentum around a vision. We are constantly looking for new leaders. But, its also incredibly different. There are unique challenges in church revitalization. As I’m learning things, I’m trying to pass them along.
Here are 7 words of encouragement in church revitalization:
Don’t high-jack the church – You can change a church where it can experience growth again without taking away the DNA of the church. That means you may not be able to make every change you want to make. It may mean you move slower than you want to at times. But, the general culture of the church — at least the one that has lasted for generations — should not be on the table. Now here’s the if — and this is the big if — if the culture or DNA — or part of that culture — is one that is destructive to the future vitality of the church then it needs to be changed. If the church is opposed to any change, it chews up and spits out pastors, it’s structure is so archaic that it just doesn’t work anymore — change it. But, if it’s just a flavor of who the people are — it is probably best to leave it alone. For example, if it’s a church that has a history of loving big events, don’t kill all of them — find a way to make them work for Kingdom growth.
It will take longer than you think it does. To them it’s likes rocket pace and to you it feels like snail pace. In church planting, you can change in a week. That’s usually not the case in revitalization. Take time to bring people along that have invested years in building the church. Over time, when trust is developed, it will get easier, and you’ll be able to move quicker.
Celebrate the history while shaping the future. Don’t pretend that everything old is bad. It’s not. It’s what has helped the church survive as long as it has. It may not be working as well right now, and there will likely need to be changes, but some of the old things were and are good things in principle. Recognize that, acknowledge it, and people will be more likely to at least appease good changes.
Recognize the sense of loss in change. It’s the number one reason change is resisted. (I wrote a whole post on this subject.) Don’t ignore or underestimate how big of a deal change is to some people. Be humble. Considerate. Compassionate. That doesn’t mean don’t change. It does mean don’t change assuming it’s “no big deal”. It is.
Love the people even when you don’t love everything about the church. You may not like some of the structure of the church or the process you have to go through to make change. But you must love the people. And, loving the people will help you lead the transitions you need to make. Years ago, God convicted me that if I focus most on loving Him that loving people in any church, any city, or any setting will be easy for me.
Don’t let a few critics determine your self worth. You’ll have critics. Make no mistake about it. And, some aren’t very nice in how they offer it. You will have to make hard decisions. Very hard decisions. (Don’t make them without input, but make them.) But, you will be making changes that impact people (as all changes do) — people who have been at the church for years. You may know the changes are needed. They even me know the changes are needed. But there will be resistance. And there will be angry people. And when people are angry they say and do things they may not do otherwise. But, here’s what you need to know. If God called you to it you can be assured there are usually more supporters than detractors. The detractors just often have stronger vocal chords.
Rediscover more than you reinvent. You may need a lot of changes to be vibrant again. Most likely, however, in spite of where they are today, the church has some positive moments in their history. If not, maybe it’s time to close some doors and redistribute the Kingdom dollars elsewhere. (How’s that for honesty?) But, I’ve found most churches have had better days. Help the church rediscover the heartbeat of the times people loved — when things were healthy, lives were changing and Kingdom growth was occurring. Build momentum as you celebrate the emotions and the passions from the good days of their heritage. Lead people to rediscover that joy they once had for the mission.
Those are just a few things for now. I’ll share more as I learn more.
This is a guest post by my friend Thom S. Rainer.
I have a great love for local congregations. To be sure, I’ve never been in a perfect church. They just don’t exist.
But I still love local churches.
One of my greatest joys in the past several years has been to see and work with churches that have experienced significant turnaround. While that turnaround is typically evident in attendance numbers, it is much more than that.
I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches.
These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches:
The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.
Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.
The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.
Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.
Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.
These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.
The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.
Do not count me among those who have their heads in the sand about the state of congregations in North America. As many as 100,000 churches are very sick or dying. Many more also need revitalization.
I hope you can join me for a video consultation on church revitalization at RevitalizedChurches.com. It will almost be like I’m at your church offering you guidance and hope toward the future. You can CLICK HERE to sign up for the four-part overview of the series at no cost.
Yes, I remain an obnoxious optimist about local churches. I am seeing too many indicators of His work to believe otherwise. Let me hear from you. And I hope to see you in the video consultation on church revitalization.
What are your perspectives on the need for church revitalization? What do you think might be missing in many churches?