Something struck me the other day as I was talking with a friend who is involved in supporting church revitalisation. His love and care for existing church members shone through. He saw them as showing evidence of being baby Christians even though they were old in years and had been in the church for a long time.
I had a very similar conversation the previous week with another Christian leader who has a love for struggling churches. We talked about how often the contemporary church planting movement talks about replants. The impression can be given that these existing churches are primarily of use to the kingdom because of the assets they have, the money and the buildings. The people who are there already have primarily been useful by keeping the doors open and the building out of the hands of secular or other religious institutions. They can be honoured for their service but primarily the image is of them being gradually shunted out of the way for the new team to come in and run a church their way.
At the same time, if you ask outsiders looking in what they think has gone wrong in such churches they will answer “a lack of good leadership.” Again, the risk is that by “good leadership” they mean people who are good at vision casting and operations management. Let’s be blunt, by that we mean people who are good at getting what they want out of a church (and if we are being honest that most of us pastors have a natural talent for that).
Now, let’s stop and think again. When we talk about leadership in Biblical terms we are talking about under shepherds. We are talking about loving pastors and elders who will provide for the flock and protect them. We are talking about men who will feed the congregation with God’s Word and be in the look-out for wolves – false teachers and abusers. And I suspect that this is in fact the type of leader that has been missing. In my time, I’ve seen churches where the leaders have allowed false teaching in, where the congregation have been subjected to harsh legalism, where there has been a lack of sound teaching and (in one case back in my late teens, early 20s ) I helped a church that had in fact been under the oversight of one of those visionary leaders who when he decided there was better pickings elsewhere took the young people and headed off leaving a dozen or less elderly people who cared about their estate.
So, what type of leaders are we if we go in and simply see buildings and money? What type of shepherds are we if our attitude is that the old people left are an obstacle. Not good ones, that’s for certain, not Biblical ones. We seem to have forgotten that the church isn’t a building and isn’t our pet project, the church is that gathering of people, however small, however feeble.
So, if you are considering church revitalisation or replanting. Start by seeing the church that is already there. Start by loving them, nurturing them, pastoring them. Be ready to be surprised at what God can do with a few ordinary, elderly people who have faith in Christ.