A few weeks ago I was privileged to preach at one of my former pastorates. It was surreal. The more things change the more they stay the same. I preached the same text that I preached my last Sunday there 30 years ago. It was received about like it was three decades ago. There wasn’t much visible response. Let me tell you about the church.
It was started at a Watchnight worship service on Dec. 31, 1951. Three men had a burden to plant a new church on the east side of town. One of the men was a godly preacher, L.L. Morris. He had a speech impediment but this did not stop him from heralding the gospel. He was an ardent soul-winner. Many of the people followed his example and were faithful witnesses. The church exploded in growth. They went from a core handful to a couple of hundred in a short period of time. After a few years Pastor Morris went to another church. The new church called another pastor. Although there was a dedicated nucleus, the church began to drift into complacency. A few years later the pastor moved on and the church called a man who had been trained in one of the liberal Southern Baptist seminaries. What followed was disheartening.
The church drifted into being more of a country club with a steeple on top. There were employees who did not believe in a literal hell. A deacon defending a practice of the church announced that “he didn’t care what the Bible said.” The spiritual direction of the church was the opposite of its founding. The hot heart for souls had died down to barely a flicker.
God sent me into that situation. During my almost five years as pastor, God allowed me to have my best ministry on paper. The church doubled in size. We had many people come to Christ. Records were set for attendance and baptisms. There was a remnant who wanted to experience the presence of God in a fresh way. I invited the founding pastor back several times to remind them of their heritage of honoring the Word of God. Yet there was a resistance to things of the Spirit of God. When I left to go to my final pastorate, I pled with them to obey God.
God continued to send good and godly men to pastor them and the facilities were kept immaculate, yet the church was set on a path of decline. Ministry continued, but the congregation dwindled down to less than a hundred. Just this year, God has sent them a passionate young pastor. He is hungry for the presence and power of God. He wants to see people saved. The same spiritual warfare continues. I lay part of the blame at the feet of theological liberalism. The status quo and elitist attitude has to be changed in order to reach their city.
What this church has gone through is somewhat symptomatic of a wider condition in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is why we have seen in the last decade a rise in the efforts to revitalize older congregations. Radical change in style and format is not necessarily the answer; it is a change of heart. Having a burning desire to see the Lord Jesus Christ exalted above personal preferences is the beginning of revival. Revitalization is not a systems problem. It is a spiritual problem. Churches must turn outward, not inward. It is not about us but about them and him!
I pray God will use the young pastor at my old church to be the catalyst for revival and revitalization. That was my desire 30 years ago. It still is today.