*This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 version of Enrich Magazine.
The Three “I Am’s” of Revitalizing Pastors:
Pastor, are you ready, willing and able to lead revitalization in your congregation?
I told my wife I was writing an article for Enrich magazine on the subject of church revitalization. The first words out of her mouth were “If the pastor is not leading church revitalization, nothing is going to go ahead.” A wise woman. And a courageous one.
In March 2018, Jocelyn and I were set to embark on a journey of revitalization at North Pointe Community Church. All of the strategic pieces were in place: able consultants; a willing church staff and board; invested congregants; and sincere prayer. But then our world shattered.
Forty-eight hours before the first revitalization meetings, Jocelyn received a call from her doctor. “Your tests came back. You have cancer.” A specialist later informed Jocelyn they had discovered endometrial cancer. Immediate major surgery was required. We informed only our family. We then proceeded with the discovery process for revitalization.
One month subsequently, Jocelyn had successful surgery and was later declared “cancer free.” During the same period of time, the discovery process of revitalization affirmed some very healthy qualities of North Pointe but also exposed a threat. Our church culture had all the symptoms of being “preference driven.” Ministry in general and Sunday gatherings in particular were focused on meeting our congregation’s needs and preferences. We were radically inward focused. Immediate attention was required. Surgery of a sort was called for. We dedicated ourselves to cut free our preferences and become “mission driven”—to focus discipleship on reproduction.
As lead pastor I embraced the responsibility to see to it that North Pointe would thrive as a community of people in process: where the curious, the unconvinced, the skeptical, and those who used to believe, as well as the committed, informed and sold out, would come as they are together around the conviction that Jesus is the Saviour, the Son of the living God.
In the same way Jocelyn will need examination every six months to remain cancer free, we are committed to ongoing accountability to ensure North Pointe stays preference free and on mission.
A church’s lead pastor and spouse are crucial to the process of revitalization. The descriptor “cruciality” or “cross-shaped” arises from the Latin for “ligaments of the knee,” which cross each other. Revitalization is a perfect process for a pastor to take up their cross and follow Jesus into fruitfulness.
Lead pastors are the single biggest variable as to whether revitalization happens. That’s not ego or hype—just fact. End runs around lead pastors are not effective. However, not all pastors are prepared to lead (they need help), and not all of them are willing. Sadly, some want to slide into retirement and leave it for the next pastor. Some don’t want the critique of their years of ministry that an assessment would stir up.
Revitalization rises and falls on the three “I Am’s” of a lead pastor.
1. I AM READY
If revitalization is to be a possibility, leaders of growing, as well as struggling, assemblies need to humbly invite assessment.
North Pointe’s growth record led people to wonder why we would need revitalization. Our congregation had increased in 12 years from 495 people to over 3,600, from 85 nations. We started with one Sunday service and developed into five gatherings in two auditoriums. We became known as a trusted transformational community church, paid off our debt of $3 million, gave away over $3 million to world missions, and witnessed over 700 people becoming Christ followers.
Success in the life of a church doesn’t mean there aren’t latent liabilities that would impede a congregation’s effectiveness, just as feeling well doesn’t mean there couldn’t be undiagnosed life- threatening health issues.
Be ready for a revitalization checkup.
2. I AM WILLING
Going into a revitalization process, leaders need to prepare themselves to resist being defensive and to carefully see where revitalization could take them.
As lead pastor I was ready to have the most recent 12 years of a 38- year pastoral ministry placed under the careful scrutiny of coaches, all for the outcome of defining reality.
For 38 years I had “spelled” success this way: “F-A-I-T-H-F-U-L-N-E-S-S.” I was willing to pivot on an additional reality: “F-R-U-I-T-F-U-L-N-E-S-S.”
Leader, be willing to define reality.
3. I AM ABLE
Lead pastors don’t have to know it all, but they do need to know where to find answers to all the challenges that arise from revitalization.
One thing’s for sure: without intentional planning, prioritization, decision making, and leadership—and a whole lot of course corrections along the way—a church will never experience sustained fruitfulness.
The Lord of the harvest calls leaders to be fruitful, bearing fruit that will remain (John 15:16).
Respond to the Revitalizer’s invitation, “I am ready, willing and able.”