A Beginner's Guide to Church Revitalization - What Makes a Church Need Revitalizing (Part II)

As I mentioned in my last post in this series, I think it's worth thinking about some of the marks of a church that needs revitalizing. Those marks are often continuums, i.e. they can be present to a lesser or greater degree. It's also true that churches needing revitalizing may manifest any number of these marks and in varying degrees.

Holiness

Last time, I talked about doctrinal failure. This time, I want to consider holiness. A church that has let standards slip with respect to holiness is on the verge of free-fall. That's why Paul deals so urgently with the Corinthians, why Jesus deals so firmly with the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira (Revelation 2:12-28) and why Paul so firmly emphasizes the need for holiness on Crete to Titus.

I think that holiness problems can strike in two areas, both of which are significant. First, there's the holiness of church leaders. We find a particular emphasis on the need for holiness in church leaders in the lists of qualifications in the pastorals (1 Timothy 3:1-3; Titus 1:5-9). This can be contrasted against the unholiness of the false teachers (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:2; Titus 1:10-11) and we see the destruction caused by the teachers in Pergamum and the "Jezebel" at Thyatira (Revelation 2:14, 20-22).

We hear plenty of the sensational moral failure stuff in the news - pastors who have affairs, treasurers who walk off with half the finances and so on. However, I suspect there is plenty that doesn't make the news. Leaders who have anger problems and ego problems. Ministers who manipulate. Elders who may not be acting out in any particular way but are complicit and happy with congregation members who are ("so long as they're coming to church, I don't mind too much if..."). Pastors who are one person at church and another with their wife and children. Leaders who stimulate and encourage factions and gossip. The list could go on...

The second area holiness problems strike is in the congregation. So the leadership may be completely orthodox in its views of Christian holiness, but that doesn't stop problems in the congregation. We might think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 and note that Peter was the leader. We might recognise that Timothy and Titus, as godly leaders, had to deal with ungodly congregations. It's interesting to read the very positive letters to the Philippians and Thessalonians and yet see the problems (e.g. Philippians 4:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11).

Moreover, both Jesus and Paul seem to recognise and expect these kind of problems when they indicate the need for what is often called church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:9-11).

Often coming into a church, perhaps especially after a time without a pastor, all kinds of things have crept in. In our age we often face relationship issues - unmarried couples, affairs etc. Often there are more subtle things. The "way things are done" can be terribly ungodly - maybe privileging a clique, or ostracising an individual. Often there are individuals or groups who the rest of the congregation has "put up with" for years, but who exhibit a real lack of love expressed in anger and manipulation. Again the list could go on...

There are a few comments to make here. First, this is not what a church should be. For example think of Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). We must recognize that this is a real problem in a church.

Second, the church that has lost its way with respect to holiness has also lost its way in mission, which must undermine the idea that we relax holiness to get numbers (e.g. Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:11-12).

Third, the holiness of the leaders is often related to the holiness of the congregation (2 Timothy 3:2-7; Revelation 2:20-23). There's a reason why holiness is required of leaders - they are to set an example (Titus 2:7).

Fourth, doctrine and holiness are related, i.e. the truth of the gospel should lead to transformed lives (Romans 12:1-2; Titus 2:11-12). We can't be surprised that false teaching leads to false living (Titus 1:15-16).

That's my second mark. I think the next thing to look at is mission and evangelism, so that'll be the topic of my next post in this series.

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