I wrestled with God throughout seminary with my calling. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had called me to the pastoral ministry, yet I wasn’t sure the context. Before me laid two similar, but very different callings—church planting or church revitalization. I was enchanted by church planting. After all, church planters appeared larger than life, innovative risk-takers setting sail for adventure. The thought of going back into the traditional, stuck-in-their-ways, and often lifeless Southern Baptist church I watched my father pastor seemed like a quick way to lose any hair I had left.
Yet, the Lord’s call overpowered my will. Through his providential hand, he led me to the glorious, but often frustrating work of church revitalization. Though many millennial Christians, have given up on established, declining churches, we need more called young men to shepherd these stagnant congregations. The work is grueling, and above all requires the patience of Job. In our microwavable culture, patience in ministry does not come easy. After a few years into this work of pastoring, I’ve found myself often frustrated with God’s slowness. I’ve quoted the recurrent phrase in the psalter more times than I can count—how long oh Lord?
During seasons of profound frustration, the pragmatism bug begins to seep into my heart. I scavenge the church-self-help books on Amazon or roam the web for the latest curriculum that will finally deliver its promised result to bring spiritual life. I look for the latest trends, methods, or man-made strategies to do what only God can do. My sinful tendency looks to the means of man rather than the means of grace. The enemy creates doubt in my heart about the efficacy of those God-ordained means of grace, namely the word and prayer.
Discouragement unexpectedly slaps us in the face. You labor hours in your study—you exegete passages, craft sermons, and prepare specific applications for your people. Above all else, you toil in prayer, begging the Spirit to convert the unregenerate and spur on the redeemed. Yet, Sunday comes, and you preach your heart out, only to descend from the pulpit and find no one responds. Apathy swallows the heart of your sheep, and on Monday morning you lament again that you must preach over a valley of dry bones.
May we never doubt that God brings revitalization through prayer and preaching, the conduits through which God’s grace flow. We tend to neglect these means when we don’t work fast enough for us. In our haste, we swap out the seemingly “ineffective” way God has prescribed and throw in some man-made, innovative fabrication. Despite what others say, you cannot manufacture revival. May God bring swift judgement on those who abandon Paul’s charge to “preach the word” in order to tickle ears (2 Tim 4:2). May God remove us from ministry we we no longer believe that God’s word is “living and active” (Heb 1:12). The word of God has been and always will be the divine sword that pierces into the souls of men and cuts them to the heart. Let us not cast aside the double-edge sword to settle for a flimsy, plastic knife of human ingenuity.
Though God might not always work in an immediate, drastic, and unexpected way, the word of God does not return void, but bears fruit according to God’s sovereign plan. For church revitalizers, we must let the word of God do its work in our people. In season and out season, proclaim the Gospel of Christ to your congregation. Preach with fiery boldness and admonish with tears, trusting in the Spirit to bring life. Perhaps it will take months, years, or decades. Perhaps we may never see the tangible fruit of our ministry within our own lifetimes. Yet, may the message of the Gospel ever be on our lips, and may we ascend to our pulpits each week anew, believing with all of our hearts that this could be the week where the Spirit brings those dry bones to life.