Seven Steps to Restoring your Church

Seven Steps to Restoring your Church

The challenge in ministry is not only church planting but church restoring

Stephen L. Bishop is senior pastor of the multinational, interdenominational Union Church of Bogota, Colombia.

Planting new churches has become the emphasis in ministry and evangelism. The hidden implication of this approach is that God is not at work in old established, sick, or struggling churches, and that therefore it is time for such churches simply to concentrate on planting new congregations.

I disagree. The challenge in ministry is not only church planting but church restoring. Church planting is the "wave" of the present, but when the wave has passed, we may well see many churches lying in the lee, hardly growing and filled with people in need. What they will need is a dynamic ministry that will value their positive characteristics and minister to their special needs. I suggest the following seven characteristics of a "restoration pastor."

Be certain of your call. This is true for all pastors, but the frustrations may be greater, and the temptation to "pack it in" are stronger in a restorative pastorate than in a new work. New work brings with it a fresh dynamic; in restoration that dynamic will not be so obvious, and the pas tor who doubts the call may fail not only in that church but possibly in his or her entire ministry.

Be patient. New churches, like young seedlings, will exhibit changes growth or withering quickly. An established church is like a mature tree; positive or negative change will be slower. What may become a trend within weeks in a new church may not be noticeable in an established church, except in year-to-year review. The pastor would be wise to keep statistical records, for this may be the only way growth trends will be observable, particularly in the earlier years of a restorative process. A restoration pastor will probably be dealing, especially at first, with established Christians. This can be very positive, as there may well be a solid core of mature believers. However, it also means that any negative traits will probably be difficult to eradicate, except over a long period of time. For these reasons, patience is an important pastoral characteristic.

Have a sense of history. Every church has its own history, and pastors need to know that history. Adlai Stevenson once remarked, "We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present." A sense of history will lead to a critical evaluation of both successes and failures in the church's past. The restoration pastor can use this sense of history to understand the church's present condition, how it got there, what to avoid, and what could be valuable in the future. The pastor must never forget that he or she is not the first pastor, nor the last, but one in a noble lineage that has been called to serve that church. Rejoice in its history and use it to chart the future.

Believe in your church. Others may look at the church negatively, but the pas tor cannot afford to do that. The pastor must believe in the congregation. He or she must look for signs of growth that others may not see. Whatever the community or other believers may feel, the restoration pastor knows that God is at work. Every person in the congregation is precious and is one for whom Christ died. The church in restoration is part of His precious body, and He longs to instill in that body revival and renewal.

Know God's vision for your church. Too often restorable churches fail because they attempt to imitate "successful" churches around them. No church can be all things to all people. A restoration pas tor will seek God's vision for what the church can become. He or she will seek for ways to make that church the unique, vibrant organism that God wishes it to be. We are called to be imitators of Christ and no one else.

Advance with cautious boldness. To "make haste slowly" should be the prime method of advance. Established churches often have been hurt, and in some cases boldness will only intensify the hurt and confusion. It is important to be innovative but also to move ahead only at the pace the church can follow.

Be prepared to close the doors. Some churches are not restorable. Some have reached their end and need to be quietly laid to rest, their members carefully integrated into other fellowships. A restoration pastor needs to know that his or her ministry might find itself engaged in the task of closing a church. We may know that when God closes one door, He opens an other.

It is good that church planters go forth and plant! However, let us never assume that all God's blessings are to fall on new work. If this were so, He would never have spent so much time trying to restore Israel. Christ would never have sought out Simon Peter and restored him to fellow ship, nor would Barnabas have encouraged John Mark. Every pastor may rejoice in his or her special place of ministry. Go forth and restore with confidence!

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Stephen L. Bishop is senior pastor of the multinational, interdenominational Union Church of Bogota, Colombia.

January 1999

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