Listomania #4 — Things We Can Do to “Revive” Fundamental Churches

revival.jpgWell, the waters have pretty much settled from my first “Listomania” entry wherein I discussed why many fundamental churches were growing increasingly irrelevant.  So, with some degree of trepidation, I will now offer a list of “ideas” for your consideration on what we might do to “revive” fundamental churches.  (By fundamental, I mean churches — self-identified as fundamentalist or evangelical or both, who agree on the fundamental doctrines of Scripture and Christian orthodoxy.)  As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts in the comments section.

Things We Can Do to Revive Fundamental Churches

1. Preach the WORD.

Away with preaching on hot topics and trends and get back to sound, straight-forward preaching that exegetes the Word and boldly and practically applies it.  Whether it’s stand-alone exposition or book studies or verse-by-verse series or character studies or some other form or approach of Scripture-focused preaching doesn’t matter, but focusing on the Bible will never fail.  Those who have said that “expository preaching will kill a church” are idiots and time has or will prove the fallacy of such a ludicrous statement.

2. Break out of Denominationalism

Many fundamental churches claim to be “Independent”, but they aren’t.  If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck — it’s a duck.  If it acts like a denomination, fellowships like a denomination, gives like a denomination — it’s a denomination.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who claim they are “independent” are members of fellowships — like the BBF, GARBC, FBF, Shepherds Fellowship, Southwide, IBF, WBF, IFCA, etc…, etc…  These “fellowships” have “headquarters”, publish curriculum, have missions boards, hold conferences, issue declarations, have officers, take offerings, own/recommend/start/affiliate/endorse colleges and hold elections — so someone PLEASE tell me how they are different than a denomination.  (And don’t say “control” cuz’ some “fellowships” are more controlling than denominations and some denominations have no control whatsoever over their churches.)  Denominationalism and Fellowship Loyalties (particularly exclusive participation) create camps, conflicts, control, comparison and competition — none of which are healthy for the Body of Christ.

3. Answer the Liberals

There is a difference between answering a liberal and attacking a liberal.  (This would probably be a good time to ask someone to “define” what a “liberal” is in these circles anymore.)  Many of us choose to savage the messenger rather than to rebut a wrong message.  Usually, in the end — both remain intact.  Good scholarly rebuttals to the error that regular flows from genuinely liberal colleges, seminaries, publishing houses, etc… (and those who are drifting that way) will make us part of the dialogue and conversation and will give us the opportunity to espouse Truth from a historical, Biblical perspective.

4. Lose the Attitude

An evangelical brother recently asked me what kind of Baptist church I attend and I reflexively said, “Independent”.  As soon as I said it, I saw the familiar flicker that can only be described as surprise tinged with perhaps a little fear or at least concern.  So I quickly added, “….but not the MEAN kind.”  He laughed long and loud.  I think that’s sad, but I knew it was necessary.  Many fundamentalists were born fighting — we had to fight.  There was something for which the fight was worthy — the Supremacy of Scripture and the Sufficiency of Christ.  Too often the fights we see today are not against theological liberalism, modernism, ecumenicism, humanism or whatever anti-Christ “ism” being promoted.  The fight is over secondary and tertiary matters that are often unique to Western churches in general (American churches specifically), practices, secondary associations, etc…  Too often, we have become mean, angry, bitter, hostile, intemperate, volatile and unkind as we “claimed” to be defending the faith.  But whether we are disagreeing on majors OR minors, certainly the commands to “speak the Truth in love” and “as much as lieth within you live peacably with all men” shouldn’t be ignored.  How much more influence might we have if we could Biblically and intellectually defend our positions with a smile on our face and optimism in our voices.  Or could it be, as cynics have suggested, that our fiery passion and angry rhetoric is sometimes a substitute for a scholarly response?

5. Reach the Needy with Good Works

I am NOT a proponent of the Social Gospel.  NOT at all.  I understand the dangers of “rice Christians”.  I acknowledge the failures of the welfare mentality.  But, in this commentator’s opinion, many of us have grown calloused about things happening around the globe that are gut-wrenchingly tragic.  The genocide in Darfur (much of it against professing Christians), the AIDS orphans of Africa and Asia, the vile sex trade industry, the slavery of Northern Africa at the hands of the Muslims, the imprisoned believers in China, Cuba, North Korea and elsewhere (and their families), the village pastors in India and Central America and the list goes on and on.  While we bicker over inconsequential preferences and traditions, genuine needs that would save lives and reach souls go unmet.  We make excuses and create smokescreens for why we don’t get involved, but honestly, should liberal denominations who no longer embrace the True Gospel be doing a better job of giving and sharing than those who still lay claim to Truth?  Will those who are starving or are naked or are in bondage to chemicals or are homeless be in a position to hear or understand the Gospel?  Might we address their physical needs as we address their spiritual needs as well?

6. Invade the Devil’s Turf

For too long, our belief in separatism has given birth to isolationism.  We are not “of” this world, but we are “in” this world.  We’ve created the Christian ghetto for our own comfort where we enjoy Christian radio, Christian books, Christian music, Christian TV, Christian retirement centers, Christian Entertainment Venues, Christian social circles, Christian recreation, Christian media, Christian education on our massive self-contained campuses.  We really don’t have to venture out of our “safe zone”.  So how do we fulfill the Great Commission if we never interact with unbelievers.  Are even our mature believers so vulnerable that they cannot influence for good and Truth unbelievers without succumbing to the temptation they might introduce? Are our answers so frail that we cannot argue for Truth against those who may never have heard it? Do we not believe that the antidote to poverty, crime, addictions, abuse, violence, pornography, materialism and a host of other sins the GOSPEL?  Then why do we avoid the poor sections of towns, the AIDS clinics, the treatment centers, the areas where “sinners” congregate?  Should we be surprised when non-believers act like non-believers?  Can we not show them a better way?  If so, then we should invade their areas and SHOW them the difference Christ makes.

7. Teach our Children Well

The vast majority of practicing believers today were raised by practicing believers.  Sadly, many of them have a weaker commitment to their faith than their parents because we failed to teach them well.  Teaching isn’t just lecturing, it’s living.  It’s not just explaining it, it’s modeling it.  It’s not just teaching, it’s mentoring.  Discipleship begins in the home.

8. Reach our Children Well

Research says that 80% of kids in evangelical churches do not return to the churches in which they were reared after they leave home.  Many great churches are great for only 1 or 2 generations as the founding generation(s) age and ossify, they forget to make way for those who will fill their seats next.  We’ve turn generational preferences into tests of fellowships and too often communicate to our coming generations that they are not welcome if they want to do things a bit differently than we did them.  We keep our kids isolated from the adults with separate programs, separate leadership, separate services and even separate buildings.  They feel no real connection to the heritage of the church family because they’ve been consigned to “eating in the basement” for years.  Older generations too frequently refuse to reach out to, or interact with or listen to the younger folks creating walls that are simply unnecessary.  We spiritualize traditions and preferences at the expense of teaching principles and expanding outreach.

9. Emphasize Conversions rather than Decisions

For too many years there was such an emphasis on numerical growth, numbers of baptisms, etc… that a mentality and strategy of evangelism developed that was misguided and even heretical.  “Pray the magic prayer” and get eternal life (but can be counted on a tote board) became a form of evangelism that created legions of false “salvations”.  Repentance, acknowledgment of sin, a knowledge of grace, the responsibility of Lordship were left out of evangelism and discipleship and tares filled baskets intended for wheat.  Genuine salvation is a conversion, not a decision.  We’re changed because of the Holy Spirit, not because we “will” it.  We come to Christ because He draws us, not because we had someone present a handy-dandy plan replete with a charming personality and a disarming method of explanation.  Salvation costs us everything while it cannot be purchased with anything we could possess.  Decisionism leads to a false sense of security and salvation and should be rejected.

10. Re-emphasize Discipleship

For too long churches have neglected the third step of the Great Commission — Teaching.  Discipleship sifts those who make decisions from those who simply “prayed a prayer” for quick relief.  To neglect discipleship is the spiritual equivalent of child-abuse.  It is like giving birth to a child and then leaving it on the sidewalk with hopes that someone else might come alone and take care of it.  Our failure to disciple new believers has created a generation of Christianity that knows little of the “what’s” of orthodox Christianity and even fewer of the “whys”.

So those are my thoughts.  Tell me where you think I’m wrong and fill in what I’ve missed.  Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Listomania #4 — Things We Can Do to “Revive” Fundamental Churches

  1. Greg Linscott

    Re: #2- I understand some of what you might be getting at here, but it seems to some degree that some of this is necessary in order to have continuing influence and fellowship beyond the “what (or who) is popular now” kind of mentality. Even in this post, you have targeted a particular “niche” in your introductory paragraph. Maintaining a “fierce” independence may have some advantages (and may be more feasible for large, urban type ministries in some regions), but I am not sure that there are not just as many disadvantages for those who would be “lone rangers”- both for their own church and those from whom they withhold any kind of committed, regular, ongoing fellowship.

    Reply
  2. Dan Burrell Post author

    Good point, Greg and a little clarification is in order….

    I’m not against “fellowships” per se. I spoke at one I enjoy attending from time to time just last week. I think there is a danger in being a “lone ranger”. What I’m against is the exclusiveness with which some fellowship while saying they are non-denom or “independent” when the fellowship functions every bit as strongly as a denomination. Rather than falsely claiming our independence, it might behoove some of us to “cross-pollinate” a bit with other sound brethren who may not have graduated from “our” school or whose churches may not have been started by our fellowship. I’d love to go to a meeting of pastors that included guys from the BBF, FBF and a few others just so I could gain from their experiences and fellowship.

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  3. Jim Peet

    Having Pastored in 2 churches “in fellowship” with the GARBC *(13 years total), I don’t think it is fair to call the GARBC a denomination.

    In these churches, we locally chose which missionaries to support, which camps to send our kids too (not the same every year by the way), etc. Not all of our young people attended the so-called GARBC schools (some even went to secular colleges). I personally had great relationships with independent Baptists, Bible church pastors, CBA pastors, etc.

    Otherwise I think your article is somewhat “on target”. Particularly “Invade the Devil’s Turf”.

    Reply
  4. David

    #9 and #10 pin the tail on the donkey. Having grown up in church as a pastors kid and currently in the ministry as a youth pastor, I have witnessed churches so concerned with the decision and the baptism, then neglect the growth. We will rush a “decision” in the invitation, just so we can announce it. We will have people come to church for revival “get saved” and then baptise them and never see them darken the church door again. Fundamentalism has gotten so focused on the numbers of salvations and baptisms and forgotten about the training. I remember growing up that we used to have Training Union on Sunday evenings before the service. These times were used as discipleship and spiritual growth classes. Training Union doesn’t even exist today. We wonder why we don’t have many spiritually mature christians in our church.

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  5. Mark Harrell

    As far as #5 is concerned…. would it not be a great idea for the “church” to use its income to care for the needy (in and out of the church), instead of using 70-80% on building maintenance and staff salaries. I think that is what you’ll find when you study the churches Paul established — if I’m not mistaken. In short… I agree that we (the church) need to care (in reality) for the needy.

    Mark
    markharrell.wordpress.com

    Reply
  6. LesIsmore

    Number 2 reminds me of the government. Instead of raising taxes, they will instead implement larger “user fees.” What? Just because you don’t use the word “taxes” or “denomination” doesn’t mean it does not act as if it’s the exact same thing.

    Number 5: Great point……Although, I think you could enlarge it. You only mentioned the very true, but very typical things like Africa, other 3rd world countries, etc. I come from an urban, white collar environment, but I think many times people have totally forgotten the downtrodden……here in America. Yes, in America we do have it better than many countries in our freedoms and lack of governmental persecution (so far). But we who have been more fortunate than others sometimes forget that, believe it or not, not everyone who works at Walmart is a lazy, drug addicted, alcoholic slob. Believe it or not, there are people in America who actually make less than 6 figures. And believe it or not, there are some families that struggle in this country. Not everyone who works at Walmart (or some such similar establishment) is a teenager working there for “fun” to buy DVDs and new iPods. Most of my relations with the fundamentalist church have been with people similar to me: white collar, suburban, not suffering economically, etc. I have sensed an unstated attitude that anyone who is in America and is not college educated and who might actually work at McDonald’s is that way because they are “an alcoholic, drug addict, lazy, no ambition” etc. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not always the case. Yes, sometimes it is, but not always…………(If anything, sometimes I’ve seen the fundamentalists themselves who put themselves into hardship. i.e. – “Women aren’t supposed to work, let’s have 15 kids while I the father won’t finish college and will just ‘figure something out’”, etc.)

    Yes, I agree that we have it NOTHING in America close to the suffering in other countries, but I think we sometimes completely overlook people and forget that not everyone lives in the suburbs and leads an idyllic life…………By the way, in case you misunderstand me, I am Republican. (if anyone really cares anyway)

    Reply
  7. Ted

    Dan,

    With regard to #1, is it possible that the distinction between preaching on “hot topics and trends” on the one hand and “expository preaching” on the other hand is a false dichotomy, or at least an overly-simplified one? I would think that it is very possible to “preach the word” on a hot topic or trend, and it is equally possible for a message to consist of nothing more than the pastor’s “wisdom” while nominally attached to a verse-by-verse study of Scripture. It seems that the real issue is whether the speaker is deriving principles or precepts from the Bible passage at hand, instead of reading a passage and then ranting and raving with one’s own thoughts for 40 minutes. And it may even be adbvisable to teach people what the Bible says with regard to a hot topic or trend so that they can be discerning in the culture in which they live. Perhaps the bigger issue is preaching ALL of Scripture, which would include the OT (and not just Psalms and Proverbs).

    Reply
  8. Dan Burrell Post author

    Ted,

    I really can’t find anything in your reply with which I disagree. I do believe one can (and should) see things in the culture or current events or maybe something within the church that the Pastor should address. But even in those instances, the Pastor should approach the topic using the whole counsel of Scripture and it is quite possible to do so (even if you use a single verse for the foundation) to do so expositionally. But I really don’t disagree with your premise. The offense I reference is related to years of sitting in sermons where a fraction of a verse was used out of context to provide the springboard for a personal rant. THAT, is something with which I do have a problem. I suspect you would as well.

    Dan

    Reply
  9. Brian McCrorie

    Dan,

    Nice job. Good summary! I agree. Even though I am candidating at a GARBC church, I have up front with them that I value fellowship within and without a church. Moreover, I believe that many associations like the GARBC can provide valuable resources to a church. However, no association is essential for the church to fulfill her divine mandate. Some, in fact, may be detrimental to us as they demand certain non-essentials to be tests of fellowship with other believers.

    Reply
  10. Wally

    I think you summed it all up very nicely, Dan. I especially like the part about focusing on conversions instead of decisions. A decision can be a false due to any number of reasons. A change of a person’s life in another matter entirely. That only happens by someone being saved by the Master.

    One of the failings of traditional churchianity has been the ‘let’s keep the organ playing until at least 10 people come forward’ and the ‘I see that hand’ type of evangelism. We must preach, teach, and live the Bible. God will do what only He can do and then we will realize true ‘success’.

    Thanks for challenging us.

    Reply

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