A Present Lesson From a Past Pain

We are currently holding a series of meetings entitled, “Revival & Revitalization: Whatever You Ask.”  Our focus is to seek the Lord for revival in our lives individually and revitalization as a church collectively, to be willing to do whatever the Lord asks of us related to both of these areas.  What is “Church Revitalization?”  Church revitalization is simply being used of the Lord to take a dying, struggling or plateaued church and see it infused with new life and new effectiveness in reaching its community and world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

In thinking recently about Church Revitalization and what it takes to turn a church around and see new life breathed into it, I was reminded of a very personal story that I think sheds light on two specific essential components to any attempt at Church Revitalization.  I want to share that personal story and then point out these two necessary components from that story that relate to Church Revitalization. 
I have Crohn’s Disease.  If you don’t have any idea what that is, then you can find out here. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was in middle school. I’m approaching 40 so I can’t remember the exact age. I fought off and on battles with the disease throughout middle school with many different medication treatments etc., with not so nice side effects. In High School I was fairly fortunate because the disease went into remission and I was able to enjoy most of my High School years free from any major flare ups.  

However, that all ended shortly after I graduated from High School. The disease began slowly coming out of remission and before long I was in a full blown flare up and things began to escalate rather quickly and severely. To make a very long story short I began living in very intense pain most days. I got to the point where eating was no longer just not fun, but in some cases just not worth it. I began losing weight at a quick rate, to the tune of between 60-70 pounds over a six to eight month period.  I was malnourished and in pain most of the time.

Things were not good and getting worse. And my mother knew it better than anyone. She’s the one who took care of me.   And you can imagine what that would be like as a mother to be watching your only son wasting away from a disease that was attempting to take his life. The doctor that I had at that time was not a very aggressive doctor when it came to treating Crohn’s Disease.  He was fairly adamant about sticking to a philosophy of treatment that centered around medication. The only problem was that I had tried about every medication there was and nothing was working.  As a matter of fact my health got to the point that unbeknownst to me my mother went out and purchased a burial plot for me in the event she lost the battle of fighting for my life. 

But even though things were horrible and getting worse, thankfully I had a mother who would not give up on her son.  She took me back to the doctor who had originally diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease some six or seven years prior.  He examined me. My mom explained to him how things had progressed and the frustration we had with our current doctor.  And she explained to him that she couldn’t just watch her son die. There had to be something else that could be done. 

Thankfully there was.  The doctor explained to her that it was possible that we could go in and remove all of my large intestine along with anything else that was contaminated with the disease (and there were other things). My way of living would be altered for the rest of my life due to having to remove multiple digestive organs. But, he felt like if we did this then I could start anew and have a real chance to survive and live.  And so that’s what we did. In October of 1996, seventeen years ago (Praise the Lord!) I went into a 8+ hour surgery that did in fact alter my life permanently but spared my life. Now, I’ve had surgeries since then and probably will have surgeries at some point in the future. But the point is that I’ve lived for seventeen years. And in that seventeen years, God has saved me through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve gotten married to the most amazing woman in the world. God has given me three beautiful children. God has allowed me to be a pastor for the past twelve years and make such amazing friends in so many places and see lives changed.  And my mom has been able to watch and enjoy all of it and never used that burial plot she purchased for me seventeen years ago.

There’s one point of the story I left out, which I’ll share now and then I’ll point out the two necessary components of Church Revitalization that are connected with this personal story.  What I left out was that when we had that conversation with the doctor who originally diagnosed me with Crohns and he told us of the one option that was available to us, my mom asked him this question, “Why didn’t you tell us about this before?”  And I don’t remember the exact words of his answer (remember, I’m close to 40), but it went something along these lines, “Because Philip and you had to be ready for something so drastic. The more dire the circumstance, the more open Philip would be to do what was needed to live and that would make the entire process easier and successful.”  You see in my story in order for me to live there were two things that were needed. First, I had to have a mom who would not give up on me and who refused to sit around and watch me die. And thank the Lord, I did.  Secondly, I had to come to the point where the pain of change was actually less than the pain associated with staying the same, which in my case was dying.
What does this have to do with Church Revitalization?  Statistics tell us that as many as 80% of churches in North America are plateaued or declining, which is just a nice word for dying.   What will it take for those churches to live and not die?  It will not happen unless, by God’s grace, there are those two same needed components.   First, there must be leadership that refuses to sit around and watch the church die.  And that leadership starts, I believe, with your pastors and staff.  They must resist the temptation to just throw up their hands and say, “There’s no hope” and watch the church shut its doors.  Secondly, the church must come to the realization that the pain of change and what it will cost to see revitalization take place is actually much less painful than the pain associated with watching and experiencing the slow death of the church body.   Ed Stetzer, local church pastor and President of LifeWay Research says it this way, “People never change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.  And it’s the same with churches. Churches never change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.

And so if you are a pastor of a church that needs revitalization, don’t quit. Keep fighting for the life of Christ’s church because He is. And if you are a member of a church that needs revitalization, which pain is better? The pain of staying the same or the pain of change?