by Dr. Terry Rials
A person who truly walks with Christ begins as a son (or daughter), becomes a servant, and behaves like a soldier. Every pastor can appreciate the simplicity of that statement, or at least develop a sermon outline from it! The reality is, beginning as a son is fairly easy because the journey with Christ Jesus begins by simply receiving the gift of grace by faith. Becoming a servant is harder, but not an impossible task because it does not require assertiveness or overt leadership qualities. Behaving as a soldier for the gospel is much more difficult because we must be broken to operate under authority and accomplish tasks that may frighten us to our cores. Too many pastors in plateaued and declining churches forget to be soldiers. Some are beaten down, others are burned out, and still others are bewildered about what to do next in their ministry context. Just yesterday, I received an email from a frustrated pastor who said, “You would think after eleven years in the same church that I would be empowered and confident, but that is not the case.”
The task of leading a church, especially leading a church into a revitalization project is for the soldier, not for the faint of heart, and it certainly requires a special kind of boldness. Boldness is unveiling the glory of God by decisive action. Making Christ known in a world that is hostile to the message of the cross is no easy feat. It requires boldness. Allowing Christ to reign in His church, especially a church steeped in comfortable traditions, also requires boldness. Confronting sin in the camp – again requires boldness. Boldness is not just an attitude of the mind; boldness must be coupled with decisive action. One of my Revitalization Team members shared this humorous quote with me. “Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” Of course, boldness is more than the ability to make a decision; it is the ability to act while under pressure, to do what is right and necessary, regardless of the forces that oppose. The Apostle Paul has a great word to those who need boldness in his letter to the Philippians. He challenges the faithful there to a new level of bold living.
First, Paul challenges the Philippians to govern themselves in a manner only worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27a). Actually, Paul begins his charge to them with the phrase only worthily, an adverb, which is not easily translated into plain sense in English, but it describes the only acceptable manner in which believers can pursue the interests of the gospel. Peter and John demonstrated this worthy behavior as they stood boldly before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, exclaiming, “We cannot but speak of the things that we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Paul spoke boldly in Damascus after his conversion (Acts 9:27), in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), in Perga (Acts 13:46), in Iconium (Acts 14:3), in Corinth (Acts 18:26), and others. Nearly every reference of Paul to boldness in the New Testament is related to his communication – boldly speaking and boldly writing. A leader cannot be considered worthy of the gospel if he or she is silent or selective about the message of God. Only worthily means that we, as revitalizers, are saying what needs to be said. We may be the only ones who can or will.
Second, revitalizers can be bold because we are not in this alone. Paul reminded the Philippians to stand firm together in one spirit, in one mind, striving together for the faith (Phil 1:27b). With more than ninety-percent of churches that are plateaued or declining, it is safe to say that there are a lot of pastors who are in the same situation. Put another way, the overwhelming majority of pastors are leading plateaued and declining churches. However, one of the greatest lies of the enemy is this: “You’re the only one with this problem,” and we believe it over and over again. Elijah believed that he alone was left to be the prophet of God to his generation (1 Kings 18:22; 19:10,14), but then another prophet shows up to confront King Ahab (1 Kings 20:13). One of the great outcomes of the Church Revitalization Movement has been the development of networks of like-hearted pastors and leaders who can encourage, support each other, and offer ideas and help to each other. It is much easier to stand firm, declare with boldness, and be “in no way alarmed by your opponents” (Phil 1:28), when we realize that we are not alone. How wonderful it is to know that others are standing with us and fighting alongside us!
Third, we can find boldness for the battle by recognizing that we are on the winning side. Our refusal to be intimidated by our enemies is evidence that the power of God is real in us. In fact, Paul’s encouragement is quite vivid. When he commands the Philippians to be in no way alarmed by your opponents, he used a present, passive participle (pturomenoi) that describes being run over by a stampede of animals. Paul is saying that the very fact that you are able to stand in such circumstances, instead of fleeing in panic, is a sign of salvation and victory! Pastor, you are not stuck in your church or circumstances. You are where you are today because you serve at the pleasure of the King. You are where you are because Jesus has a plan that includes you, one that you do not fully understand today. If you are in the will of God, then you are on the winning side.
Finally, and though this seems wrong to the western mind, it is a privilege to suffer for Christ (Phil 1:29-30). Christians are given two great gifts – 1) the free gift of salvation, and 2) the gift of suffering for Jesus’ sake. Too often we see suffering as a sign that something is wrong, but in reality, suffering can be an indicator that we are doing something very right. Paul tells the Philippians that their suffering is actually fellowship with Christ (Phil 3:10). As mentioned before, Peter and John walked out the trial before the Sanhedrin with a good flogging and also rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:40-41). We, as revitalizers, can be bold in the face of opposition because we know that our suffering actually furthers the gospel. It is the double blessing – we identify ourselves with Christ Jesus when we suffer for His name, and we further the progress of the gospel when we suffer boldly for our trust in Him.
In revitalization, boldness is required. If we are timid, silent, absent, and tolerant, we will never experience revitalization! What happened to the prophet in you? Someone has to be the one who declares that there is something terribly wrong and this is what we must do to be right with our God once again. The time has come in the life of the church for great men and women to stand up and speak up in boldness.