What question do seminary students get asked more than any other? I’ll bet you know even if you’ve never been to seminary or met a real-life seminarian. No, it’s not what brand of lapsarian they are, believe it or not, nor even whether they prefer the Erasmian or modern pronunciation of their Greek vocabulary. It’s much more basic. It’s “What do you want to do when you graduate?” Admittedly, the question is often asked because it’s the only form of small talk most people know how to make with seminary students—which, of course, says less about “most people” than it does about seminary students. In any case, the answer I’m hearing more frequently these days may surprise you. It will also encourage you. Alongside the traditional triumvirate of “plant a church,” “get another degree,” and “I don’t know” is a newcomer, “revitalize an established church.”
I recently asked David Crabb, a friend of mine and 2010 DBTS grad engaged in this sort of work, a few questions about all this. Here’s what he had to say.
(1) Why should seminary students seriously consider church revitalization? There are obviously immense practical benefits to revitalization as opposed, say, to planting—people are already there, a building is already there, there is a known presence in the community, etc. But when we read the Bible, there are good reasons to do the work of church revitalization apart from the purely practical considerations. Those who love the Gospel will long to see a church’s witness strengthened and restored. They will find joy in seeing hope restored in the midst of a congregation. They will be eager to see people once again energized to do the work of the ministry. They will take delight in seeing the Gospel pictured through the rebirth of a congregation.
(2) Do you have any advice for someone thinking about church revitalization? A lot! But a couple of key points: (1) Before you come, make sure you know the heart of the current (probably lay) leadership. Are they godly men? Do they long to see the gospel preached and Christ proclaimed? Are they willing to follow you as their pastor? Are they willing to make sacrifices to see things change? There simply is no substitute for a strong leadership team that is thoroughly behind you. (2) Be prepared for difficulties. The very nature of church revitalization demands change, which is often difficult and will almost always encounter resistance. If your personality or temperament is the kind that doesn’t handle criticism well or dislikes confrontation, don’t do church revitalization (and perhaps consider not being a lead pastor). (3) Be patient. Church revitalization is painstakingly slow, and often times the bigger the church, the slower the process. It will be a constant temptation to change things too quickly without gently leading your people. In short, remember that you are a shepherd.
(3) Do you have one or two key resources you’d recommend to someone thinking about all this? From a theological perspective, The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever, is full of really helpful advice for pastors seeking to implement a healthy philosophy of ministry in a church. From a practical standpoint, One Size Doesn’t Fit All by Gary McIntosh is extremely helpful in thinking through the dynamics of change in a church depending on its size, mode of operation, history, etc.