As with any undertaking, there are do’s and don’ts. Jim Croce wrote:
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim.
Queen’s College prepared a list of do’s and don’ts in the business world. A few of these include:
- Treat your superior with respect
- Be friendly and cooperative
- Don’t complain or be negative
- Don’t be late for work.
In church revitalization, there are also several do’s and don’ts. The list I will offer is by no means exhaustive, but I hope these will be some good conversation starters.
1. First Don’t: Don’t Go In with Both Guns Ablazin’.
When starting out in ministry, most of us are wide-eyed and extremely passionate. One of the negatives of length in ministry is that pastors lose their zeal. When a person goes through some of the trials, troubles, criticisms, and complaints of ministry, sometimes those burdens pour cold water on the fire of ones calling.
On the other hand, one of the benefits of youth and even going to a new ministry is passion. Passion is why new churches are more exciting than established churches. Yet the negative of passion is that it can be expressed unbridled. I call it both guns ablazin’. What I mean by that phrase is that we allow our emotions to go unchecked in meetings, decisions, or relationships. This passion can be the interpreted as being impulsive, pushy, and sometimes even angry.
So the answer is: be passionate but keep your emotions in check. Speak softly; don’t be impetuous. Keep the passion alive, but go in with both guns ablazin’. When you do, sometimes the innocent get hit as well as the guilty.
2. Second Don’t: Don’t Tear Down the Bear’s Tower.
After the 1982 season, Bear Bryant retired after an illustrious career coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide football team. His replacement was Ray Perkins, a Bryant prodigy who had been coaching at Georgia Tech. When Bryant was coach, one of the things for which he was known was coaching practice from a tower built on the sidelines of the practice field. One of the first things that Perkins did upon being hired, in order to establish himself as coach and perhaps remove the influence of Bryant, was to tear down Bear’s tower. That move was a fatal mistake. Perkins only coached for 4 years and resigned amid great complaint and criticism from fans and boosters.
One of the difficulties pastors face in church revitalization is following a long-tenured or beloved pastor. The temptation, in order to diminish the former pastor’s influence, is to tear down his work, ministry, or character. A new pastor never wins this battle. Regardless of how good or how bad your predecessor was or is, don’t tear down the Bear’s tower. You will rarely win. Don’t attempt to build up your significance or influence by tearing down the ones who preceded your ministry.
3. Third Don’t: Don’t Attack Friends of the Family.
In ministry and in the church, know your enemies. According to Scripture, fellow believers are not our enemies. Satan is our enemy (Eph 5:12). Sometimes in the process of church revitalization and in trying to bring about change, we face opposition from members of the church. The rudest awakening I ever had in ministry was realizing that Satan sometimes uses God’s own people to do his bidding.
In spite of that fact, even those people are not our enemies. Satan is still the enemy. Therefore, don’t attack friends of the family. Be careful in your preaching, especially when you have received that critical letter or remark. Be careful in how your respond to criticism or negative comments in meetings or private conversations. Keep your cool, even in the most difficult of situations. Feed and lead the flock; don’t beat the sheep.
4. First Do: Know Which Hills are Worth Dying On.
In other words, pick your battles carefully. Another mistake with passion is that we fight about everything. The fact is, the church should be doing the things about which we are excited and hold convictions. Change is necessary, and in most revitalization situations, great change is necessary. Not every change, however, is essential to the church’s immediate revitalization.
Therefore, know which hills are worth dying on. The passionate pastor oftentimes finds himself dying on every hill. The problem is, his nine lives eventually run out. The pastor either fades out, burns out, or gets run out. There are some battles worth fighting: the fundamentals of the faith, moral non-negotiables, or issues related to the survival of the church. Know those invariables and stick to them. Remember the words attributed to Augustine (most probably originating with 17th century Lutheran theological Rupertus Meldenius):
In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.
The task of church revitalization is an exciting undertaking. It offers challenges that test pastors of every skill set. To be successful, though, one needs to know the do’s and don’ts. Make a list of these and stick to them. To reach the world, we need to plant churches, but we also need to revitalize churches.