If you are like me you are asked to make a lot of commitments. Most of them involve time or money. Some involve both. Sometimes we over-commit and under-deliver. Learning to set priorities is vital so that we can deliver on the commitments that count.
In July of 2019 I was a pastoral candidate at the church I now serve as senior pastor. Huffman Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama is a legacy church. A generation ago it was one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the metro area. But after a series of decisions and indecisions, the church I faced that July Sunday morning was a shadow of her previous glory.
In many ways the church was like the early church in Acts 1. They were a small band of believers huddled together, unsure of the future. Some were fearful. Some were discouraged. Others were delusional, thinking they could return to the way things used to be. They needed hope. They needed encouragement. And they needed truth. But they also needed to know that the man who stood before them was all in. Committed to them. Committed to leading them into the future that God had for them.
Making commitments that count is essential in all ministry contexts. It is especially true in the context of church revitalization. Here are the six commitments I made to them that Sunday morning in July of 2019:
1. I will pray for you every day.
Often we think of prayer as supplemental to our work. But prayer is the work. Praying for the needs of our people. Physical needs. Spiritual needs. Praying for strongholds to be broken. Attitudes to change. Praying for the sheep of our flock to be open to new ideas. New forms of ministry. I can’t change the hearts and minds of the people I am called to serve. But the Holy Spirit can. Sometimes he changes their hearts and minds. Sometimes he changes mine.
Praying for the people we shepherd is essential. My first challenge to our church was to ask them to pray for Huffman Baptist Church every morning at 7:00. Why 7:00? Because our campus is located at 700 Huffman Road. And so every morning, I get a notification on my phone at 7:00 that reminds me to pray for our church. Prayer is a commitment that counts!
2. I will love you like crazy.
One of the temptations we face in ministry, especially in the context of church revitalization, is to love the church that we wish we had instead of the church God has given us to shepherd. I had fallen to that temptation before. So when I stood before this church in July of 2019, I made the commitment to love them like crazy. Even before I knew them!
Love is not a passive commitment to make people happy. Love is an active commitment to desire what is best for the Lord’s church. And what is best for the Lord’s people. I am reminded of my friend, Tom, who told me every Sunday, “Pastor, I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” That’s the commitment every pastor should make to the church. It’s a commitment that counts!
3. I will listen to you with respect.
During my first six months at Huffman, I set aside every Thursday afternoon to listen to our members. I wanted to hear their stories. To listen to them. I wanted to know their hopes and dreams. Their anxieties and fears. And so each Thursday for the first six months, I listened to story after story. And I began to know the people I had committed to love and pray for.
Listening with respect includes listening to criticism. And frustration. Even anger. Not listening to defend a position. But listening to understand. If you are like me, you have an inner lawyer who springs into action whenever someone confronts you. I am thinking about one person in a former church who knew how to push my buttons. I didn’t listen to him with respect. In all fairness he didn’t speak to me with respect. But that shouldn’t have mattered. My experience with him compels me to remember the commitment I made in July of 2019. I will listen to you with respect.
4. I will be transparent with you.
I set the tone for this on that Sunday in July of 2019. Brutally honest. No sugar coating. No pie in the sky. Just the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. Here are some of the things I said:
Church, I want to be very clear. I am not a magic bullet. And I am certainly not here to lead you back to the future. This is going to be hard.
God is not calling me here to make you happy… He is calling me here to make him happy and to make you holy.
Church revitalization is not a quick fix. Things will likely get worse before they get better.
Transparency requires church revitalization leaders to communicate the reality of the present while pointing to the hope of the future. As I have reminded our people often, the church has the promise of Jesus’ power. The church has the promise of his presence. And the church has the promise of his protection. The church will not fail when we are doing what Jesus called us to do. That leads to the fifth commitment that counts.
5. I will seek to lead this church in Jesus’ power alone.
I know this commitment seems like a given. And it should be. Unfortunately, it’s not. If we always led in Jesus’ power alone, there would be no need for church revitalization. Leading the church in Jesus’ power alone means that we diligently seek his will and follow his way.
Jesus has given his authority and power to the church to carry out his purposes. And he has told us that the church will not be stopped. The church will accomplish what Jesus intends it to accomplish. The gates of hell will not withstand the onward movement of Christ’s church.
Our problem is that we have stopped trying to storm the gates of hell. Instead, we have retreated to the comfort of our sanctuaries. And we have started looking at our churches as fortresses to find safety from the onslaught of the world around us. We have become defensive instead of offensive. But that’s not what God intended. We have Jesus’ hand of protection when we are on the offensive. When we are being his witnesses and making disciples across the street and around the world.
6. I will be faithful to study God’s word so that I may preach and teach for your good and his glory.
I am regularly reminded of all of these commitments, but this one brings its own built-in prompt. Sunday is always coming. As soon as I wrap up one Sunday sermon, I know the next is less than a week away. Over the years I have developed a preparation process that works for me. But that’s an article for another day.
Making commitments that count is essential in all ministry contexts. It is especially true in the context of church revitalization. What other commitments would you add to this list? Let me hear from you.
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries and the work of church revitalization, visit Church Revitalization Resources.