- (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)
Revitalization, as we have seen, is being recharged with the life of Jesus, ministered by the Holy Spirit.
Nature, as classical theologians said, is God's "other book." (e.g., Psalm 19; Romans 1). Biology reveals characteristics of all living things: Organized cellular structure, use of energy (metabolism), response to stimuli, regulation (homeostasis), growth, reproduction, development.
The living church is an organism consisting of rich infrastructure in a well-ordered system, functioning through the Holy Spirit's energy. It is sensitive and responds to the world around it in Christlikeness. It is guided by sound doctrine and biblically exemplified expression. It reproduces through evangelism and missions. It is always developing in spiritual maturity.
Revitalization is relational, not institutional, mechanistic or programmatic. The aim is not to create a religious robot, the "bionic church" that has an appearance of life, but the Zoe-Church, functioning with Jesus' life-energy.
As already noted, if the church is the body of Christ it ought to do what Jesus did in His incarnate body. Jesus began with relationships, calling His first followers to be "with Him." (Mark 3:14)
Jesus' style of building His church and infusing it with His Life-vitality is illustrated through the construction of a "living wheel" as Ezekiel saw in his visions. (Ezekiel 1)
The hub is the strong core from which everything else arises. The spokes carry the strength at the hub out to the rim, the place of impact. The axle places the individual wheel into connectivity with other wheels, multiplying and giving stability and balance to the wagon that carries the freight.
Revitalization, just like Jesus' ministry on earth, begins with the hub of crucial relationships – but the rim is always in view. As with Jesus, the fundamental relationship is with God. Then comes core relationships among leaders.
Revitalizing the "spokes" means renewing koinonia-fellowship in the body, and releasing the spiritual gifts God has sovereignly placed within the congregation.
The axle brings a particular local church into fellowship and working relationship with other parts of Christ's body. This entire system of relationships now enables the rim to impact the external world.
Paul is concerned that the body of Christ sees itself in its wholeness. "There are many members, but one body," he writes in 1 Corinthians 12:20. Thus, revitalization must encompass all the parts.
Jesus, in His incarnational ministry, was strategic and tactical. Revitalization therefore must not be idealized, but practical and functional. Church revitalization's aim always is to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ to – at its broadest level – reconcile the world to God.
One of the secrets of Ed Young's style at Houston's Second Baptist Church is the constant reminder of why our church exists.
• The vision is people receiving Christ's salvation and being restored to the Father.
• The mission is the Great Commission.
• The product is the Gospel.
• The marketing strategy is to take the message and ministry to Second Baptist's "Jerusalem (Houston), Judea (Texas) Samaria (the United States), and the uttermost parts of the earth (the world)."
• The profit is transformed lives.
Church revitalization without a view to ministry and mission creates only a smug, exclusive religious club. The rim of impact must always be in view in the revitalization process.
Here are important elements in Jesus' strategic and tactical approach that fulfill the vision, and accomplish the mission:
1. Attract – Jesus' focus was ministering to human need. Jesus never had to worry about how to draw a crowd. Living churches are magnetic as they understand and minister to the deepest needs of people around them.
2. Attach - Jesus attached them to relationship with Himself and the growing fellowship of His followers. His audiences understood the importance of attachment to the Law and the Temple. Jesus, however, attracted them to relationship with the Father, not a stern religious overlord or imposing institution. So a goal for revitalization is that of building a rich infrastructure ("cellular" life) of ministries that multiply relationship-building opportunities.
3. Assimilate - Jesus' first disciples "left their nets and followed Him." Thriving churches will consciously seek to nurture assimilation of people into the vision, values, and mission of the body.
4. Advance - Jesus went aside with His followers, teaching and training them as His apprentices. They grew as "disciples" (learners) of Him, His Way, and His Works. A vital church is continually advancing people in their growth as disciples of Jesus Christ and their understanding of their role in His Kingdom advance through their spiritual gifts.
5. Activate - Jesus sent out His followers-apprentices on mission. The revitalized church sees itself as an organism, not an institution. Organisms beget life, so the living church creates missional opportunities for its people to engage according to their spiritual gifts.
6. Acknowledge - Mark 6 reports that after Jesus' followers returned from mission He took them aside to a secluded place. Churches alive with the passion for reaching people also understand the importance of focus on its members. They are not taken for granted.
7. Affirm - "Well done, good and faithful servant" is the greatest affirmation we can hear at the end of our life-mission. Life-flourishing churches understand the importance of affirming its people all along the way as well.
Continuity is the greatest measure of revitalization, as the post-Pentecost church shows, according to Acts 2:42-47:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This lifestyle is continued today in living churches throughout the world. The passion is still alive in those seeking revitalization.
And they are still seeing the life-transformation of individuals and communities.