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How to Revitalize an Old Church (and Live to Tell the Tale)

4. The pastor is going to need to be patient with them, but not give in to their fears.

We kept the drums in the sanctuary even when some protested. The leadership must listen to the fears of the people, assure them that all is well and stay the course.

I said to the young minister, “You can visit in the neighborhood all week and have a lot of newcomers on Sunday. But the old-timers can freeze them out and they’ll not be back.” So, he will have to constantly lay the burden for hospitality on the members of the church.

They can still stop the effort to revitalize in its tracks by their attitudes.

This young pastor is going to feel caught in a vise at times. The congregation may be balking and resisting the change, yet the mother church (the large church taking ownership of the process) is looking for progress.

The pastor must not wait on the members to take the lead. He must lead them, not follow them. If he falls into the trap of waiting until every member is on board with a change he is proposing, nothing will ever get done.

Pastors must be people of strength and courage, qualities that come from within and from the Lord. (See Joshua 1:6,7,9,18.)

5. If the pastor has ever been a man of prayer, this is the time.

Major change does not happen automatically, easily, naturally or in the flesh. God will do it or it will not happen.

People do not change easily. Jesus said, “No one after drinking old wine prefers the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough’” (Luke 5:39). Good enough will become the mantra of a lot of your people. The pastor must not let their fears dictate his actions.

I told my friend of the time in the 1970s when my church was transitioning to accepting minority members for the first time. Churches in the deep south had been torn apart by such issues and I was determined not to let this happen.

So, when a young African college student (no, she was not African-American, but from Kenya; led to Christ by our missionaries, even!) indicated God wanted her to join the church, I agreed with her, then stalled for a little time. Over the next couple of weeks, I phoned church leaders asking them to pray that God would do this in His way and for His glory. When the Lord gave us the go-ahead, it was a beautiful and harmonious thing.

You never go wrong waiting on the Lord.

6. The young pastor should keep his network of counselors and turn them into prayer supporters.

Once in a while, he may need to phone one to say, “Here is what’s happening. Tell me what you think.”

He’ll still do what he decides God wants, but receiving the counsel of godly friends is always a good thing.

7. This is all about work. If you are looking for a leisurely existence, you are making a serious mistake.

“The people had a mind to work,” we’re told in Nehemiah 4:6.

Super. That’s the plan.

I pray for my young friend. He and I are not close buddies. I am not his mentor, but merely a neighbor and a veteran servant of God. But my heart goes out to him and I rejoice at his faith to revitalize his church.

“Father, bless this son of yours. Go before him, go with him, overshadow him and undergird him and be his rear guard. Do a wonderful thing for the glory of the Lord Jesus through him, I pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.