by Robby Partain
If a man is called to the ministry of the senior pastor today, he is either called to plant a church or lead a church back to health.
Study after study paints a bleak picture. I recently attended a denominational meeting on church revitalization at which numerous Texas church statistics were shared. Based on the data, two conclusions were obvious.
- 1) Overall decline in Texas has been occurring since the 1970s, but the decline has accelerated in the first decade of the 21st century. The problem of declining churches is currently getting worse, not better.
- 2) The trends are the worst among mid-sized Anglo churches in small towns. In other words, the worst news is coming from the sector we Southern Baptists have historically considered to be our strongest.
Declining churches is a huge problem that can only be solved one church at a time. There are no macro solutions. Nothing can be imposed on the local church by the denomination or anyone else. The ball rests squarely in the court of the local church. So what has to happen for church health to return in a particular congregation?
First, the church has to decide that the status quo is unacceptable. Nothing will happen until this happens. They must see the real facts about themselves and then think biblically about those facts. They must ask themselves questions like: Is this acceptable to us? Are we content with being comfortable about our situation? Does this honor the Lord?
Second, the church has to choose a new direction and figure out how to go there. They must stop blaming others and decide to be proactive. They must determine the vision, mission, and strategy of the church. They must not copy-cat someone else’s plan, but must find their own under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Third, someone has to lead this and the only person who can is the pastor. The pastor is the key to revitalization. The problem is that it is risky for the pastor. Just as in church planting, you never know how an attempt to restore church health is going to work out. I am convinced, though, that for a return to church health to be a possibility there must be a pastor with the dream for it and commitment to it.
Such a pastor loves the people of the church; he has made up his mind about this. He is a learner who seeks to build his knowledge and skill base for leading a return to church health. He is patient and understands that change happens slowly and results happen even more slowly. He is committed to stay because he knows God called him to that church and he can do no other and be right deal with the cuts without developing calluses. He has a persevering belief that “dying where you’re planted” is the key to living a fruitful life for the Lord (John 12:24).
And one more thing of which I am completely convinced. If a man is called to the ministry of the senior pastor today, he is either called to plant a church or lead a church back to health. There aren’t any other options! The very few churches that are healthy are not looking for a pastor. They have one who either planted the church or has led the return to church health, and after all he went through, he’s staying!
I pray for the pastors of Bluebonnet Baptist Association each day. Men, remember these words that I recently heard from a retired pastor with decades of church leadership experience: “All things are created twice – first in someone’s heart and mind and then in actuality.” If the Lord has put it into your heart and mind to lead a return to church health, stay the course. Be true to your call. My commitment is that the association will do everything we can to help you bring that dream to fruition.