There has been much emphasis on church planting in recent years, and rightly so. Where villages, towns or cities are without a gospel church, planting one is a vital means of discipling believers and reaching the local community for Christ.
But what of places where, though there already is a gospel church, the work is in danger of fizzling out? That is where ‘church revitalisation’ comes in. I would venture to suggest that this is an urgent priority for many British churches.
Churches may be in need of revitalisation for a number of reasons. Brian Croft’s book is directed at helping pastors turn around churches that have become dysfunctional in the way they are run. This may have resulted in them becoming spiritually stunted and inward-looking.
Croft was called to a Southern Baptist church in the USA that had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out pastor after pastor. By the grace of God, the situation was transformed and the church is now in a healthier place.
The writer does not offer a ‘silver bullet’ for breathing new life into moribund churches. He acknowledges that, ultimately, only the power of God can do that. But the Lord is pleased to use the means laid down in the Scriptures.
Pastors involved in church revitalisation need to be men who are dedicated to God-dependent prayer and the authoritative preaching of the Word. They must be willing to give loving, pastoral care to believers who may have been left bruised by involvement in difficult churches. In some situations, biblical patterns of authority and leadership may need to be recovered, such as the plurality of elders sharing in the pastoral oversight of the flock.
The book offers a healthy dose of realism. Some of the examples Croft gives of how bad things were in the early days of his pastorate are hair-raising. Plots were hatched to oust him; some church members were bitterly critical of his ministry. But, as he prayerfully persevered, things began to change.
Croft emphasises that men involved in church revitalisation don’t need to be super-pastors. The Lord is pleased to use broken people to turn around broken churches. But pastors in difficult situations are going to need spiritual resilience, grit and determination, if they are going to stay around for long enough to see the Lord turn the church around.
Aspiring pastors, considering a call to a ‘challenging’ church, will be able to do so with open eyes after reading this book. They will be encouraged to look to the Lord, whose ‘strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). That said, no book can fully prepare a man for the reality of pastoral ministry.