Recently, I was asked to write a BLOG post for the Center for U.S. Missions. You can visit their web site here: http://www.centerforusmissions.com
Here is the article I wrote for C4USM
I have been Pastor of my current congregation for four years. From the day I accepted this call, I have prayed for the revitalization of this Church. I recently stopped praying for revitalization.
I do think revitalization is a good thing and I don’t believe praying for revitalization is a bad prayer. I have, however, come to the conclusion that there are better prayers to be prayed on behalf of the Church.
I now pray for disciples to be made, grow, and multiply at this church. I freely admit this prayer is much harder to see answered and the process of discipleship is much messier than revitalization. I’m praying for disciples to be made, grow, and multiply here because I think that’s what God wants for His people in this place.
I have read the stories of turn around churches and I find them encouraging. I have read the books about church revitalization and I find them insightful. I have heard the conference speakers talk about the need for revitalization and I find them inspiring. I also find the process of making, growing, and multiplying disciples more aligned with God’s kingdom and I fear it is too easy to make revitalization about the earthly organization we call “the church” at the expense of lives transformed by the Gospel.
A definition of a disciple might be helpful. Christ’s first disciples followed Him and disciples of all time are called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about direction and choices in life. It’s also about connecting others to Jesus. My short, albeit tentative and somewhat incomplete, definition for being a disciple is having a life worth imitating.
The first disciples of Jesus lived with Him; they saw His life up close and personal. They also wanted to be like Jesus and were, at times sent out to do what He did (sending out the 12 in Matthew 10:5-20 and the 70/72 in Luke 10:1-12). Disciples of all time want to be like Jesus – to imitate Jesus.
As a disciple, I point to Jesus and, to the degree my life imitates Jesus, I have a life worth imitating. Obviously, I have lots of areas in my life where I do not conform to the pattern of Christ and where the world has squeezed me into its mold. There is not the space to detail where I need God’s forgiving grace and the revitalization of the Holy Spirit to truly repent of my many sins. I am a work in process. But I am convinced that I am a work in process where God is at work for me to will and do what pleases Him.
I think we can understand growing as a disciple as “personal revitalization.” It begins at baptism when we are made new creations and continues until we see Jesus face to face. My personal revitalization won’t be complete in my lifetime but, by God’s grace, it will be complete.
Church revitalization is, as I have said, a worthy objective. But, as long as a church has sinners in it, this is going to be an ongoing process the end of which we will not see in our lifetimes.
I fear that, when there is a focus on church revitalization, we are setting our sights on improving “church, Inc.” – the corporate, organizational, and flawed aspects of what we call “church.” If we can get the structure right or the music right or the programs right, the church will be right. As important as governance, worship life, and programs are, they can’t and shouldn’t take the place of individuals getting right with God.
The marks of church, Inc. being revitalized: greater generosity, more engagement in activities of the church, and caring for the community all begin at a personal, not a corporate level. Generosity is about how individuals understand their lives as grateful stewards. Engagement begins with me being daily engaged in God’s word and prayer. Caring for our community begins with me loving my neighbor.
I thank God for everyone who is praying for his or her church to be revitalized. You love your church and community and want to see it as a place where God’s word is proclaimed and His means of grace reach the hearts of people. I will be praying for disciples to be made, grown, and multiplied, starting with this disciple who was made in baptism and is growing by God’s grace.
Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski,