by Lynn Hardaway:
It takes active faith to gain God’s favor in a congregation (Hebrews 11:6). Declining churches can easily let their faith slip away from them by letting what they see with their eyes determine what they believe in their hearts. As the numbers decrease and the buildings slowly fall into disrepair and ruin through age or neglect, young people depart and friends either leave or pass away, the spiritual life of members often mirror the fallen state of the congregation.
The pastor/shepherd/revitalizer must make it his objective to reengage faith among the people and reconnect their hearts to the God Who reveals Himself and His abilities in the Scriptures. We must not assume that a mental assent to biblical truth assures actual and vital faith; it does not.
Biblical faith is always bold in believing God’s promises! That boldness does much more than make us “good people;” it moves mountains, crosses boundaries, revitalizes congregations, advances His kingdom, interrupts the culture, challenges the status quo, wakes up sleeping Christians, seeks out lost sinners, meets daily with the only One Who can raise the dead back to life.
If a congregation, by their actions, has grown content to merely minister to the redeemed, God seems to begin to withdraw the gift of faith from them (Ephesians 2:8). Comfortable Bible classes start to shrink in size as they grow in familiarity. Visionaries leave, seeking a place for their gifts. Classrooms are turned into storage closets, filled with decaying curriculum, faded artificial plants, items that are reminders of a past glory long gone. Ask the members if they believe God and they will answer in the affirmative. But, look for the fruit of a faith-filled people, and it is difficult to find. It does not have to be this way; it should not be this way; God’s plan for the local church is much better than this!
How, then, can a pastor lead God’s people to a place of real, revitalizing faith?
Teach and preach biblical faith.
Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, so preach and teach the Scriptures. Specifically, lead the people to understand what biblical faith is and what it does. Hebrews 11 recounts a cast of characters who disrupted the norm by believing and doing everything God said. God’s instructions rarely made sense to them, and they often had to rise up from their lethargy to chase after His plans, but they did it – and He rewarded them actively for doing the oddest things. Reading through those forty verses will convince the objective reader that following God in faith will undoubtedly pull a person out of the ordinary, zombie lifestyle of the walking dead and push them to a life of extraordinary, other-worldly adventures!
Translate that truth into a congregation of people who are living by faith actually, and the stories of God’s working in the church start sounding like Hebrews 11 reignited.
Ask God to give people the gift of faith.
Saving faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8); it cannot be self-initiated or captured by enthusiasm. Active faith, faith that truly believes God and does something about it, is a gift He gives in answer to prayer. Paul prayed that the Roman Christians would be filled with “believing” (15:13) because the Holy Spirit would then lead them to “abound in hope.” He thanked God for the Thessalonians because their faith was growing “abundantly” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32). The father of the demon-possessed boy pleaded with Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
We must spend time praying for our people’s faith. If we know their trust in God has dwindled, if we perceive dynamic faith is no longer active and alive in their hearts, we must ask the Father to rekindle their faith or to give them, fresh and new, the supernatural gift of believing His Word to the point of living out destiny-changing deeds of devotion.
Ask God to send people with active faith to the church.
People who possess this kind of faith want to be where God is working wonderfully. They wither in congregations who cannot or will not trust God to do mighty things, so they will seek out pastors and churches who are determined to believe God. I am certain that it will be revealed in heaven that any successes in my own ministry were the result of the prayers and actions of these faith-filled people who interceded for us as we rose up to respond to God’s commands. Ask God to send a few of these precious individuals to the church; their faith often reengages that of other Christians who have not stewarded their beliefs well.
In my experience, as the faith of God’s people is reenergized, “great and mighty” things begin to happen and faith actually increases!
While re-establishing their faith, the revitalizer must also rebuild their hope (the subject of my next blog)!