Mitch Miller, Pastor at Grigg's Memorial Baptist Church
Click here for part one.
If you've agreed to pastor a revitalizing church, and you've been at it for over a week, you've noticed that there are moments of discomfort. I know this from experience.
When I was in college here in Greenville, South Carolina, I was invited to visit a little church on the other side of town. The name of the church was Griggs Memorial Baptist Church - "Griggs" for short.
Upon arriving, I saw an awesome, old-school style auditorium. Huge, long pews made of solid Oak. Well, I don’t actually know if they’re Oak. Solid something. The Baptismal was right up front built into the stage with a mural of a river on the wall behind it.
I was greeted by the pastor, a man who, at the time, was in his late 70's. Nicest guy I’ve ever met. He introduced me to his people, about 25 folks, mostly elderly, and they were the nicest people I’ve ever met. The service consisted of some great hymns, fiery preaching, and testimonies.
I started attending on a regular basis. I brought friends with me. The pastor was glad to see the young faces and let us serve and lead in whatever way we felt gifted. My friends led the singing and, by God’s grace, I was able to teach about once a month. Sometimes more.
Eventually, my senior year came and went, I graduated, and said goodbye to Griggs. Little did I know that I would be back. For the first 5 years after graduation, I worked as a Student Pastor. I was in a very large church, had every reason to be content and to stay the course I was on.
But, late one Sunday night, I got a call from the last remaining deacon at Griggs. He shared some very difficult news with me. The pastor of Griggs (now in his early 80's) was on his deathbed, many of the members had passed or were shut in, and only 5 members were now regularly attending the church. He asked if I could come back and help out.
I walked back through the doors for the first time in 5 years. I saw the pews, saw the river mural and caught up with the 5 remaining members. I left intrigued. A few more weeks went by. Though I was still on staff as a youth pastor at another church, I found myself asking all sorts of questions about Griggs.
"What if we reach the neighborhood surrounding Griggs?"
"What if I recruit some friends to help re-start Griggs?"
"What if Jesus isn't done with Griggs yet?"
After a while, through reading the scriptures and prayer, these "what if's" became callings. I truly felt the Holy Spirit lead me back to Griggs. I quit my staff role at the large church (who has been a great help through the process), got a regular job tutoring elementary kids, and started pastoring Griggs.
Shortly after, I noticed that revitalizing a church and reaching a neighborhood like the one around our church isn’t always comfortable. But that’s ok, because those of us who follow Jesus have a Comforter. He is with us always even unto the ends of the world.
We've been at it a total of three years now. We walk a hard but simple road - hold community events once a month, knock on doors and invite the neighborhood to them, build relationships with attendees, invite them back to church, then disciple them the best we can.
We've baptized 23 people, added over 50 members, installed 4 deacons, dedicated 6 babies, had attendances of over 100, remodeled a handful of areas in our building, and preached 1 gospel.
We have a long way to go, but we've learned some things along the way.
Revitalizing bodies aren't broken, they're wounded.
When I first came in I saw everything as a problem to fix, but as time went by I realized that there are real people with real souls behind those problems. Healing souls is more important than fixing problems.
Before a cool rebrand, before remodeling the stage, counsel your people, call them to worship, and help them re-focus on Jesus' example. Be a gospel oxygen tank connected to them at all times.
Revitalization happens from the inside out.
Very early on, I tried to change the name of the church. After discussing it with the church, we came to the conclusion that changing the name of our body would do as much good as changing the name of a guy on his deathbed. That move may at some point be necessary for a revitalizing church, but it doesn't heal the wound. So we have left the pews and the river mural alone. (I've come to love both).
You have to start revitalizing from the inside - the way you word your doctrinal statement, bylaws that have long needed to change, what happens at leader meetings, the mission, the vision, the traditions, anything internal. Start there. Then you can work your way to the outside - the stage, the building, the website, the branding, the social media, the name, the murals.
Revitalizations need friends.
One of the most helpful things we've done is make friends. We hooked up with one thriving church in particular that allowed me to come on a Sunday morning, cast the vision of our church revitalization, and try to recruit up to five families to help us out. The folks we recruited have all stuck with us, implemented programs, served, given, and led.
We have a long way to go. We have a lot of people left to reach in our neighborhood. But we’re giving it all we've got every Sunday because we can’t get one thought out of our head - "What if God uses our revitalizing church to help revitalize other churches?"
That’s our dream, to build ourselves up to health, sustain ourselves, and then give everything off the top away to churches who find themselves in the same spot we were in three years ago.
Again, this plan will not always be comfortable, but we always have the Comforter.
Jonathan Clater, Community Outreach Director at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
Click here for part two.
Greenville, South Carolina is becoming a thriving city full of business, art, and academics. With our growing downtown, the buildings are becoming bigger and more beautiful. Business is booming and we are developing our own DNA that some say rival our neighbor cities such as Charleston and Atlanta. Reconstruction and building projects scattered throughout the city give us just a little sense of what is to come. The future is truly very bright for the citizens of Greenville.
Known by many as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”, Greenville also continues to be religiously affluent. College students, young married couples, and any newcomers will not find a lack of churches. We are surrounded by like-minded churches, whatever your flavor may be. Finding a church in Greenville has become a Subway Restaurant style of church hunting. We pick and choose based on our preferences. If there is a church that does not have exactly what we want, there is a good chance a “better” church across town will have what we are looking for. It has become very easy to slip into church consumerism.
Hidden from the eye of many is the side of town that people see only when driving up to the mountains for the weekend or out to the countryside to visit family. The West End of Greenville is a different story when it comes to city life. The crime is high and the number of churches is low. Greenville Mill Villages such as Welcome, Judson, San Souci, and Poe Mill are plagued with poverty, homelessness, drugs, alcoholism, and broken homes. There is a general lack of churches and many of the churches that exist are in desperate need of revitalization. They are in need of Christians ready to embrace some discomfort.
City planners and deep-pocketed businessmen are drooling at the financial opportunity before them as real estate becomes available. Many of the old mills are being turned into high-end apartments and plans are being formulated for complete demolition and reconstruction of many neighborhoods. If they get their way, the poverty may well be driven right out of the West End, but Jesus says the poor will always be with us. They will find a place to settle, and it is our place to settle with them. Let me explain what I mean by that statement. Jesus set an example of proactively seeking out the poor and needy.
I am constantly reminded of a phrase found in Luke 8. “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” The headquarters of Jesus’ ministry was Capernaum, but here we see the Savior broadening his ministry to areas that were less comfortable. He went to the impoverished villages. He healed the sick. He cleansed the demon possessed. He cared for the poor. He strengthened the weak. He embraced the discomfort.
He was exemplifying the commission he would later give his disciples that the Gospel is for all people, even the people in the villages. Jesus is the Savior of the City and He is the Savior of the village.
I believe that Jesus’ example calls for discomfort. The Great Commission is very uncomfortable. Believe it or not, you can find discomfort even in a city full of beautiful places and smiling faces. The West Side of Greenville and surrounding neighborhoods are chock-full of uncomfortable experiences (trust me). But there is great comfort in the discomfort that we are called to because “when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). The charge to bring the Gospel to all people comes with a money-back guarantee that the Holy Spirit will be with us always. The beauty in this charge is that the Commissioner becomes the Comforter and the uncomfortable becomes the conquerable.
Peter Cushman, Outreach Pastor at Inter-City Baptist Church (Allen Park, MI)
Peter continues our series on "Preparing for Ministry" by focusing on evangelism. Click here for previous posts about preparing for ministry overseas or church planting, as well as preparing for ministry as an emerging adult or when you don't know your calling.
A Way Forward
I think evangelism is one of those areas in which we all want improvement. Probably every person who will read this wants to do a better job of evangelism. So what’s holding us back, and how do we push forward? Here are a few suggestions.
Get over yourself!
When I’m not telling people about the Lord Jesus like I should, it’s because I’m selfish. I care more about myself than God and others. I value what people think about me more than love for God and neighbor.
Often, it’s the foolishness of the cross that deters me from telling others about Christ. Paul says that, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18). Spiritually dead people see the cross as a symbol of weakness, humiliation, and shame. When they consider the cross, they’re not impressed. In fact, Paul goes on to say that God intentionally designed salvation in this way so that he would receive glory (1 Cor 1:25, 31)! Through the cross God humiliated the intelligence and self-sufficiency of this world (1 Cor 1:20).
God is not impressed by what the world considers impressive. We value status, power, comfort, pleasure, sex, popularity, beauty, innovation, youth, and the list goes on. The cross is none of those things. The Roman Empire reserved crucifixion for the worst people in society. Listen to a Roman historian’s description of crucifixion, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime; to flog him is an abomination; to slay him is almost an act of murder; to crucify him is–what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed” .
There is nothing venerable or respectful about the cross. The cross is repulsive, not attractive. The cross is a symbol of abject shame (Deut 21:23). Jews believed that someone executed in this way was cursed by God. Romans believed that someone executed in this way was the worst kind of criminal. Jesus endured unimaginable shame and reproach as He hung on the cross (Phil 2:8; Heb 12:2), and He calls us to associate with Him (Heb 13:3).
I think this is part of what’s going on in the exchange between Peter and Christ in Mark 8. After Christ explained that He came to suffer and die (8:31), Peter rebuked Him. In turn Christ rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (8:33). Peter prioritized and valued the concerns of the world, status, power, comfort, etc. (This is indicated by the demand of James and John in Mark 10:37). Jesus prioritized and valued the concerns of his Father, his mission “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
When I don’t share the gospel like I should, it is because I’m setting my mind on the things of man. I want to impress people, and the cross isn’t impressive. So the first step towards sharing the gospel is to get over yourself! Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if people perceive you as strange, weird, ignorant, narrow-minded, backwards, etc. Remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 Jn 2:17). Who cares what the world thinks about you?
Move towards someone.
Think about the people whom God has put into your life. Have you ever considered that God brings people across your path so that they will hear the gospel from your lips? Acts 17 tells us that God assigns when and where people live so that they will reach out for Him (17:26–27). In evangelism, the best place to start is the people you already know, neighbors, coworkers, someone from the gym or coffee shop, someone in the same special interest group, etc. Who do you know who needs Christ?
The next question is, how are you going to spend time with that person? If I don’t schedule something, then I don’t do it. If it doesn’t get on the calendar, then it doesn’t get done. When and where are you going to connect with the person that you’re reaching out to? Make plans to attend the same workout class together at the gym. Schedule a tee time together. Show up at the same coffee shop at the same time, praying that you bump into the same person again. I did an evangelism Bible study with a guy like this for 8 months. I knew that he came to Starbucks on Wednesday mornings at 7:30, so I planned to be there at the same time, hoping he would sit down and chat with me. I have a neighbor named Mohamed who loves to hang out in his backyard. He invites me to join him every time I pass by. If I’m serious about reaching him with the gospel, then all I need to do is walk back there. I need to move towards him. Who will you move towards? Who will you intentionally spend time with for the sake of the gospel?
Talk about Christ.
This one is obvious, right? It’s almost a nonanswer. How should you evangelize? Open your mouth! In some ways I think it really is that simple.
The gospel is news which must be shared, announced, proclaimed, preached, etc. The gospel is not your lifestyle, your testimony (although that involves the gospel), or your charitable deeds. The gospel is the good news about Christ, who he is and what he has done! This news requires proclamation and explanation. No one is going to deduce the gospel from your lifestyle. No one will come to Christ by simply observing your manners, your clothing, and the fact that you go to church on Sunday. Of course these thing can adorn (or contradict!) the gospel message. People must understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ in order to be saved, and they will only acquire this understanding if we tell them! So we must speak of Jesus!
Again, I think sometimes we make this more complicated than it really is. Tell lost people what Christ has done for you. He has liberated you from sin and death! He saved you from the eternal wrath of God. He wiped out your sin debt forever. He restored you to fellowship with God, and He is the only mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5). Obviously, each conversation will be different. There is no one-size-fits-all presentation. Just move towards someone and pray for opportunities (Col 4:3).
I don’t evangelize nearly as much as I should, but I want to improve. I think you’d agree with me concerning your own life. Let’s push forward together!
 Cicero Against Verres, in the Verrine Orations, trans. L. H. G. Greenwood [London: Heinemann 1928–1935], 2.5.64, par. 165
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.