So, the painful truth is out: any successful turnaround begins with you, whether you’re a pastor or layperson. Your church must see the resurrected life of Christ in you. Christ in you is the hope of the church. That is where resurrection begins. You can’t resurrect the church, but in Christ you can.
You are the curriculum
People are always asking me what I think is the best resource for turning around a church. My response often takes them aback: "You are," I tell them. "You are the curriculum for the turnaround. What you church sees you willing to do says more than all the curriculum you can buy."
So what does it mean to be the curriculum? It means at least the following: the turnaround of your church begins when the following traits guide you and your church.
Being obedient to God’s commands
"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (2 John 1:6, NIV).
"Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ" (2 Cor. 9:13).
Not much is heard about obedience in dying churches these days. Instead, a lot is heard about duty. They aren’t the same.
Obedience grows out of our growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ and fills the church with control. When people are driven by duty they do things simply because someone twists their arm even if it doesn’t bring meaning to their life. When people are driven by obedience to God’s commands, they only do those things that bring honor to God. Their obedience is to the gospel, not Robert’s Rules of Order or a church constitution.
God doesn’t honor churches riddled with guilt and duty. God honors those who are obedient to God’s commands.
In other words, God prefers to work with our weakness. God wants us to acknowledge that our source of power resides in our growing relationship with Jesus Christ. The more obedient we are to him, the more spiritual power we have. Not because we are worthy, but because God is working through us to achieve the ultimate goals—the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
Leader, submit yourself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Do what Christ did. Because Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, God exalted him. This obedience of Christ, which was so pleasing to God, must become the heart and soul of our Christian walk. Just as a servant knows to obey his or her master in all things, so our surrender to an implicit and unquestioning obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.
Leader, if you want to resurrect your church, lose control of your life to Christ. Submit to his Lordship. Don’t just play church. Get serious, if you want your church to have the future God desires for it.
Demonstrate to your church things are going to be different in your life and see what God will do. Now you are beginning to see that turnaround requires far more than mere gimmicks or new programs.
Living by faith
"But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him" (Heb. 10:38).
Church leaders are always telling me why they can’t do something. I guess they never read Philippians 4:13, which clearly says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Do you believe that? Resurrection begins the moment you truly believe that with all your heart.
If you want people to believe in the resurrection of your church, you must believe in the power of God to work through you and to give you the strength to pull it off through God’s guidance.
Turnaround is hard, messy business. So messy that most pastors who try will lose their jobs because they try to do it on their own strength. Remember, Christ in you is the hope of your church.
Living by faith means being willing to take risks, trying things you’ve never tried, and going places you’ve never been. It means stepping out beyond your comfort level and taking people with you on the journey.
But have you noticed most church leaders lead like scared rabbits, afraid to take risks, always looking for the cheapest, easiest way out of whatever mess their church is in? They are filled with fear either because they are afraid of losing the status quo, losing control of how things are done, or losing their job. All of these responses show a lack of faith. Faith is about change and spontaneous movements of the Spirit. Faith flies in the face of status quo and control. Faith isn’t afraid to take risks!
How did church leaders become so fearful? The answer is simple—when Jesus isn’t our first love we learn to reward fear. Ever notice how church boards usually acquiesce to the person who has the greatest objection to whatever is being proposed? It’s as if the person with the most fear is the one who is rewarded the most.
Living by faith takes courage—the kind of courage that only faith in Christ can produce. A lack of courage feeds on the presence of fear. So, one of the first tasks of the turnaround pastor is not to try to motivate church leaders but to take them deeper into their relationship with the one who takes away all fear—Jesus.
If you understand the problem not as a lack of interest, but rather as a lack of courage, you begin to interpret the dying church and your potential response in a whole different light.
Adapted from "A Second Resurrection" (Abingdon Press, 2007)by Bill Easum, co-founder of Easum, Bandy&Associates—one of the premier church consulting firms in North America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Web site is www.easumbandy.com.