By Dr. Terry Rials
March 18, 2015
Of all the necessary components of revitalization leadership, I believe that character is the most important.
For the past several years, I have worked on church revitalization with pastoral leaders in all sizes of churches and in various stages of their church life-cycles. One important observation I can share is that character, or the lack of it, is one of the prime causes of churches being in their condition. Character is also a prime indicator of whether a church can climb out the hole that it has dug for itself as well.
Above that level rests one’s education, knowledge, and experience. Finally at the top, representing the smallest component of them all – is one’s skills and abilities. I am frequently asked what skills are required, or what do revitalizers need to know as they lead their churches. More and more, my answer is less about their skills or knowledge, and more about the character that is required to lead such a venture. So, let’s talk about character from the biblical perspective, the work ethic perspective, and then the personal diligence perspective (assiduity).
Ezekiel’s oracle to the wicked shepherds ought to be considered in our understanding of the character of leaders. God declared His dissatisfaction with the shepherds of Israel. The shepherds were guilty of three grievous crimes that I see duplicated in modern ministry. First, the shepherds were providing for themselves and ignoring their flock (Ezekiel 34:1-3, 18-19). In essence, the sheep were getting what was left over after the shepherds had provided first for themselves. The shepherd exists for the flock; the flocks do not exist for the shepherd! Second, the shepherds neglected the pastoral care of their flocks (Ezekiel 34:4). They did not care for the sick, treat the sheep with broken bones, or even pursue the scattered. They had adopted the philosophy that so many pastoral leaders have adopted – it is easier to get new sheep then fix or go after old ones! The third crime was that they did not protect their sheep. The sheep were easy prey because they were scattered. Pastoral leaders rationalize it this way – some sheep fall prey because there are predators. In reality the sheep were prey because the shepherds were too busy feeding themselves to notice those preying on the sheep. Shepherds exist to deal with the predators; sheep should never have this concern.
As you know, a good work ethic is essential to a successful anything! If you do not like to work, then do not plan to go into church revitalization. It is grunt work, non-glamorous, tedious, and wonderful! Borrowing from my Oklahoma roots, revitalizers are plow horses, not show ponies. If you go into revitalization work, forget short work days, frequent golf outings, long vacations, and taking off when you want. Revitalizers need work gloves, not golf gloves. Troubled churches are in need of one thing, and a lot of it – your time. It takes time to process and cultivate the vision that God gives you. It takes time to build the necessary relationships. It takes time to develop the leaders that you will need in the future. It takes time to cast your vision and allow it to take root in the people.
It takes time for God to transform your people into usable vessels. It takes time to address the problems, conflicts, and opposition that will present themselves as you begin working on your project. We mistakenly assume that because Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in only fifty-two days that we can hurry into (and through) the revitalization process. The reality is that the whole work, of which the walls were only a tiny part, lasted thirteen years. Nehemiah heard the news from his brother in 445 BC and the book ends as he institutes the religious reforms in 432 BC. Most of those thirteen years cannot even be accounted for in the pages of scripture. What was Nehemiah doing? Working. In the same manner, we can only account for a few days in Jesus’ life. What was the Lord doing the other unaccounted days? He was working (see John 4:34; 17:4).
The third requirement for revitalization character is personal diligence. Diligence describes the attention and care required to accomplish something. A synonym for diligence is assiduity, which may be an even better way to describe what is required. Assiduity is persistent personal attention. Pastoral leaders often lack this quality. We attribute our lack of diligence to medical conditions, such as A.D.H.D., or to personality types. Some things may simply bore us. However, the fact remains that some things have to be done; as tedious as they are, they have to be done. Though well-intentioned, we tend to hop from one great idea to another, just as a frog hops from one lily pad to another. Or we are like the little kid we take fishing that cannot even sit still long enough to keep his line in the water. I was recently helping a pastor in a revitalization project with his church. He asked for some help with the first few steps, so I prescribed four simple activities that would get the project off to a great start. Each of the assigned projects would require less than one hour to complete. We spoke again two weeks later, and he informed me that he decided that he was only going to do one of the projects. As of last report, he still has not completed that one either. I believe his church is failing in part because he is not even able to do what is expected. Jesus had the same problem with His disciples when He returned and found them sleeping. “Could you not keep watch one hour?”
Leader, sit down, slow down, and hunker down. This is going to take a while. Take a deep breath and firm up your personal resolve. Develop this character quality in yourself. Make yourself start revitalization and then make yourself stick to it.
Church Revitalization will reveal your character and build your character as well. Look again at the pyramid example. Of the four categories in the pyramid, the only one that is a good predictor of effective results is CHARACTER. Your “gift of gab” will only take you so far. Your charismatic personality will wear thin in your second decade of leading the same group (believe me). Your years of experience, your numerous degrees, and your highly developed skills mean nothing if there is not passionate, persistent character to go with them.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.