“Come, Holy Spirit!”: Prayer for the Spirit of God as Vital to Renewal

Below is an unconventional blog post insofar as it is an essay I wrote for a class I took last year. It’s longer, includes end notes and references, and is less casual in style than most posts. That said, I do hope and pray that some of you would take the time to give it a look and perhaps let me know what you think. Congregational renewal is something all Christians should be concerned about and all churches will one day face similar questions.

I.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down

So that the mountains would quake at your presence . . .

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect.

Isaiah 64:1, 3

            At more than one point in its history the nation of Israel found itself in need of spiritual renewal. Prayers like the one above from the prophet Isaiah express repentance for idolatry which had as its consequence exile into foreign territory. It also expresses the conviction that apart from divine action no renewal is possible. Understood biblically, spiritual vitality is a result of the work of the person of the Holy Spirit.[1] In the same way that the Spirit is the principle of life in all of creation, he is also the one who breathes life into God’s new creatures in Christ.[2] Whether we are speaking of each breath we take as human beings or each step we take as disciples of Jesus, the ability to do so depends upon the gracious provision of the Holy Spirit. Receiving such spiritual strength is also not a one-time-only experience. If it were, Paul’s exhortation to “be filled with the Spirit” would lack coherence, as would Jesus’ own teaching on prayer.[3] Certainly the experience of the early church also attests to the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit.[4]        

            There is an important distinction between the indwelling of the Spirit and the infilling of the Spirit; the former happens once at conversion while the latter can occur at several times in the life of a believer. To put it another way, the indwelling of the Spirit is to justification as the infilling of the Spirit is to sanctification. And while the infilling of the Spirit is necessary for ongoing vitality, it is possible to be indwelt by the Spirit but not be filled with the Spirit. It is through the infilling of the Spirit that the resurrected Christ exercises his Lordship in the midst of his people. In Galatians Paul admonishes believers to “live by the Spirit” and to “be guided by the Spirit.”[5] Christian obedience, therefore, is tantamount to cooperating with the work of the Spirit in one’s life. There is a Scriptural tension between the Christian life being the result of the Spirit’s work and the believer’s obedience. It is a “both/and” relationship. Disobedience in these terms means grieving the Spirit.[6] All this underscores the fact that the Spirit is the ultimate source of spiritual life and vitality, and therefore renewal; and to suggest also that the cooperation of believers is necessary for renewal to take place.

            One of the important connections between the work of the Spirit and the obedience of the believer is prayer. On occasions of prayer, believers demonstrate obedience to and reliance upon the work of the Holy Spirit.[7] Not only is believing prayer itself a fruit of the Spirit; believing prayer results in the filling of the Spirit. We see this in Acts 4:31. The disciples were gathered for prayer after the release of Peter and John, and the passage tells us that “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” Richard Lovelace also notes the correlation between prayer and the moving of the Spirit in connection with revival, both in the New Testament and in subsequent church history.[8] In fact, he notes that for Evangelicals “the most essential condition of revival is . . . prayer.”[9]

Renewal suggests a return to something that was and is no longer. In the case of spiritual renewal, it indicates a return to a specific spiritual condition only God makes possible.[10] Inasmuch as prayer signifies a dependence upon God, renewal means returning to a position of reliance upon the activity of God both in our individual lives and also in our believing communities. Put simply, dependence on God for spiritual vitality takes concrete form in believing prayer; and more simply still as prayer for the Holy Spirit. It is the contention of this paper that prior to making practical decisions or structural changes that churches in need of renewal must reach the point where they see their need for the new life only God by his Spirit can bring—and that such congregations may need even to become desperate enough to pray for this new life.

II.

            As central as the work of the Spirit is in renewal, a congregation’s ability to recognize their need for renewal and willingness to act in accordance with this recognition is by no means a given. Spiritual decline in a congregation typically happens slowly, without fanfare or conscious intent, so that the shift in thinking is gradual enough to be understood as the way things have always been done. Not everyone will see a need for renewal and not everyone will see a need for more than moving around the furniture, whether this means beginning another program, making attempts at relevance by “contemporizing” Sunday morning worship, or even changing pastors.

            In a conversation once with an Anglican Pastor about church growth, I was told, “You know what grows fast in the country? Weeds! Everything else is slow growth.” So as much as one might want to see spiritual transformation yesterday, the reality is that leaders working toward such renewal in their congregations have to have extraordinary patience.[11] Without patience, they may make decisions hastily, guaranteeing that the majority of the congregation will not own the decisions and therefore will revert to old ways sooner than later, certainly if leadership changes. It is understandable to want the spiritual life of a church to be better now, because no one wants to be in an arid spiritual environment for any length of time. Even here, however, there is a need for the Spirit of God given that patience is one of the fruits he looks to grow in the human heart. Difficult though it may be, submitting to God’s timing often means a willingness to put up with the timetables of a variety of congregants, as they slowly and perhaps stubbornly inch along toward new ways of thinking. God works with them because God is patient too.

            Preparing for and working toward renewal takes time precisely because such renewal means new ways of thinking. It means working on altering the present church culture or the established patterns of behaviour and values of a given congregation. Smith and Sellon put it this way: “By culture we mean your congregation’s norms, the way of living and thinking that the congregation accepts as normal.”[12] Certainly part of the reason such a process could be a slow one is that through it leaders are looking to change the thinking of a large number of people, all of whom are likely not on the same page in the first place. People are complicated and messy individually; this increases exponentially in a larger setting. Patience with the process means having patience with particular people in the congregation as they themselves work through what is going on around them and what leaders are asking of them. This is not a task for the timid.

            One of the signs that a congregation might very well be in the midst of a spiritual decline is that prayer has become perfunctory. A business meeting may begin and end with prayer but there may be nothing prayerful about the meeting itself. Given this, it is obviously important that prayer continue to play a vital role in the renewal process, even if such a process lasts for years.[13] The danger would be that prayer might become perfunctory in this process too, especially as time goes on and discouragement and weariness threaten to set in. The truth is that the shift in thinking in a congregation is also the result of the Holy Spirit being at work. In Romans 12:2 Paul admonishes his readers to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.” Such words apply both to the congregation at large but also the leadership seeking to lead the people toward renewal. The transformation of which Paul speaks involves both reflection on the word of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Believers seeking restoration to spiritual vitality need to persist in prayer, and specifically need to be seeking God’s direction and will. It means having a desire for deep transformation rather than being satisfied with easy answers. It also means seeing value in the process itself and not only in the end goal. None of this is remotely possible apart from the inner working of the Holy Spirit. God’s people should constantly be asking God that his Spirit be at work in this way.

            Alongside renewal in a congregation’s relationship with God is renewal in the members’ relationships with one another. How individual members respond to the notion of renewal depends in part upon the interpersonal dynamics of a given church. Movement toward spiritual vitality will in all likelihood elicit different reactions from different members. In some churches, this could result in an “us vs. them” or clique mentality. Leaders who are trying to bring renewal have to realize that an important—perhaps even crucial—part of the process is that of helping members be sensitive and loving toward one another. Indeed, in some congregations long-held grudges or other relational dysfunctions between members may be part of why the church stands in need of renewal. Thus, there may even be occasions where reconciliation is a part of the process.  Prayer and relying on the work of the Spirit in such a situation means “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[14] It is after all people that God wants to renew. If God can reconcile us to himself through Christ, surely he can reconcile believers to one another where necessary.

Renewal always begins with God. Even if the awareness for the need of renewal begins with one person or a handful of people, they had to be made aware of it. Of course, someone could suggest that the need for renewal might be relatively obvious: declining attendance, focus on finances, a lack of prayer, zero concern for outreach. The question, however, is whether or not people see these factors as signs of such need or not. Are they aware that things should be different? Are they concerned? God had to bring this need to someone’s awareness. He needs to prompt God’s people toward having such concern. That God needs to prompt his people toward renewal suggests two further considerations. First, God primarily works through people in the process of bringing new life to a body of believers. Rarely does he bypass human agency in this process. Second, when there are spiritually sensitive people concerned about the vitality of their church, this might very well be an indication that God is already afoot, preparing people for revival. To that end and always, prayer is our participation in what God is already doing.

III.

If renewal is a process, where is it supposed to lead? Various writers, when speaking of renewal in churches, also speak of goals and of vision—notions that point people forward to a specific destination. And, indeed, this is true. Renewal is about the future. It is about wanting a different tomorrow than yesterday. But here is where the importance of renewal as a process comes into play. As Smith and Sellon write, “We can dream about the future. But we can think and act and live only in the present moment.”[15] They continue: “Renewal happens as you make a habit of living that new life, now. Don’t ever underestimate your power to effect change. Congregations shift member by member. Live renewal. Live it each and every day. That’s what makes the difference.”[16] Unless the lives of Christians in the present—their actions, decisions, and attitudes—are in some measure already beginning to embody the future for which they hope, it is actually questionable whether or not they will reach their destination.

Making renewal as much about the present as about the future also acts as a guard against putting off the personal change that is needful for renewal to be a possibility. There is no hope of renewal among people who continue to procrastinate about their level of commitment. While in any congregation there will be great variety of opinion as to a church’s direction, each member does have to take responsibility for their own faith. Consider church members who lay blame at the feet of their leaders for not being inspiring or challenging enough. It may be true that church leaders have not taken sufficient responsibility for the spiritual vitality of the congregation, but if a given member is able to see the need for renewal enough to know that their leaders are not being more effective in leading the process, then they should also see their need to take personal responsibility for their part in the process. If you’re discerning enough to be critical, you are aware enough to commit; critique is unhelpful if it is mere deflection. Meanwhile, leaders have the responsibility of guiding the process so that members do see that the very nature of the process involves willingness to change and shift in the present as preparation for whatever renewal lay ahead in the future.

Seeing renewal as a present reality as much as a future one also challenges believers to question and examine their motives and expectations. What do churches hope will be the result of this process? Why are they seeking renewal? What expectations are giving shape to the process? “When leaders don’t reject the current path of the congregation, they never give themselves fully to a new vision. Instead, they subtly but surely bend any vision to fit within the boundaries of current patterns.”[17] Think of the apocryphal story of the church that decided to build a new facility—and built it in the same location using all the materials from the previous building. What Smith and Sellon say here about leaders applies also to each member of a given church. If individual members are not willing to change, clearly the church never will. Francis Chan, talking about believers’ desire for more of the Spirit’s power in their lives, says this about motivation: “I honestly believe that most of us—while we might say we want to be led by the Spirit—are actually scared of this reality. I know I am. What would it mean? What if He asks you to give up something you’re not ready to give up? What if he leads you where you don’t want to go?” Chan puts it simply, “Are you willing to surrender to Him, no matter where He wants to lead you?”[18]

Finding ways to make renewal a present reality also gives a congregation opportunity to bring fears of change to the surface and to work through them, to make them the subject of prayer also. Sometimes the fear is fear of the Holy Spirit specifically. Talking about the work of the Spirit—without careful biblical definition—will probably elicit a large variety of reactions because of associations with more extreme manifestations from the charismatic fringe. Helping God’s people understand the person of the Spirit in the context of both God’s redemptive mission and the personal reality of sanctification would no doubt alleviate many of these fears. Leaders here would play a more direct role with respect to providing the congregation with a biblically-informed, theologically-sound perspective on not only the doctrine of the Spirit but on other aspects of renewal through sermons and other avenues of teaching. A firmer grasp on the actual working of the Spirit in the process of renewal could very well instill a greater willingness on behalf of members to pray in accordance with Jesus’ own teaching in Luke 11:13. Not only might the church talk about the Spirit without fear; they may actually pray for the Spirit with boldness.[19]

Ultimately, the goal of any renewal process is not another church culture per se. That is, a church should not look to replace existing norms, routines, and traditions with new ones that will be just as difficult to change years down the road. Dr. Robert Wilson, professor of Church History at Acadia Divinity College, once made the comment: “The church always institutionalizes the way the Holy Spirit moved last.” Some degree of institutionalization will always occur and is probably always necessary, if for no other reason than the stability it can provide. On the whole, however, the goal of renewal ought to be an ongoing openness to the Spirit of God so that a church will be free to abandon and adopt whatever it must in order to live the gospel faithfully. Some, like Reggie McNeal, argue that the church ought to be more like a movement than an institution. He writes: “North American Christians think in terms of its institutional expression, as opposed to thinking about Christianity in terms of a movement.”[20] More, McNeal argues quite adamantly that Christianity as an institution is on life-support and that attempts to revive it as it has been is both futile and misguided. Certainly, as he points out, people in our culture have little to no interest in the institution of church.

Similarly, using the language of wine and wineskins, Howard Snyder talks about what is essential and what people ought to discard. Wineskins are secondary insofar as they are the means to communicate and embody the wine of the good news of Jesus. Here is how Snyder puts it: “There is that which is new, potent, essential—the gospel of Jesus Christ. And there is that which is secondary, subsidiary, made by human hands. These are the wineskins—traditions, structures and patterns of doing things that have grown up around the gospel.”[21] Snyder’s description of wineskins is not unlike Smith and Sellon’s description of church culture and McNeal’s view of the church as institution. Essentially, the point is this: to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus and to move toward renewal congregations have to be willing to jettison present aspects of church life—everything from certain traditions, institutional structures, and, more deeply, ways of thinking about church. Jettisoning such things, while not renewal itself, certainly helps a congregation be rid of potential barriers to renewal.

One of the misconceptions congregations may initially have about renewal is that it means replacing one way of doing the church with another, more culturally relevant way of doing the church. For example, one style of music replaces another. Renewal is much more radical and transformative. It means learning to accept that change is the new normal. It means learning to distinguish between the wine and the wineskins, to borrow Snyder’s (or should I say Jesus’?) language, and never getting attached to the latter. Therefore, renewal has little to do with seeking cultural relevance; instead, it has everything to do with ongoing prayerful discernment about where the Spirit is leading.[22]

In some important respects, revival or renewal is never ending. The goal is not the church of some unknown future; rather, the goal is always to be ready for the future by living as God’s people in the present. This is why prayer—and specifically prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit—is so central to the process of renewal. Prayer, all things being equal, keeps believers alert and attentive to the reality of God, ready to act when his prompting arrives.

The church was borne of the Spirit of God. Pentecost is the church’s birthday. In obedience to Jesus, his disciples gathered in Jerusalem to wait for the promised Spirit. They were praying when the Holy Spirit “filled the entire house where they were sitting.”[23] The posture of prayerful, patient waiting upon God to send his Spirit is challenging to adopt. Underlying such a posture is a deepening trust in the God upon whom people wait, a growing recognition that life—spiritual vitality and fruit—are not the product of human planning and effort. Jesus himself said it simply in the parable of the vine and branches: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”[24] When churches find themselves in need of renewal it may very well be because they have forgotten that the branches need to remain in the vine. They have forgotten the Spirit. As Bevins writes, “Without the Spirit, it is impossible to experience spiritual renewal in your life or church.”[25] Prayer for the Spirit—prayer that God would graciously intervene to bring new life—is at the heart of such abiding for communities of faith experiencing decline.

Conclusion

There is one further point and a couple of caveats.

Little has been said about the role of leadership throughout this paper. The underlying assumption, however, is that leaders are in fact leading the process of renewal. The leaders of renewal, those who prompt initial discussion surrounding it, may not be the official leaders of the congregation. Quite often it is other members of the congregation that provide leadership and direction for renewal. This could be because they have lived in the area and have been with the congregation for a longer period of time, and therefore they have knowledge and experience the pastor does not. In such instances, pastors and other official leaders need to discern whether such lay instincts are actually Spirit-led and, if so, then humbly come alongside these members in a process of renewal.

Pastors, for their part, ought always to be cultivating a desire for spiritual vitality, whether or not the need is obvious. In the case of our congregation, an important step was taken a couple of years ago when someone in the church suggested we have a prayer meeting for direction and renewal. This was not an initiative of the pastor—namely, myself—but I had absolutely no problem in supporting the idea. This Sunday evening prayer meeting has been going for a couple of years, and while attendance has almost always been very low, the people coming have largely been those who see the need for renewal and are learning more and more how much we need to depend upon God for it. Helpful in this process has been a number of curricula, including Tim Keller’s The Gospel in Life, Jim Cymbala’s When God’s Spirit Moves, and Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God.

Beyond this pastors need to grow continually in their understanding of the surrounding culture in which their congregation lives. Ongoing education of this kind—through various Bible College and Seminary courses—helps pastors both put their own circumstances in perspective and provides them with tools to lead their congregations more effectively.

Ultimately, leaders should model the life they long to see in the congregation. Pastors are an example to the rest of the people. Whatever model of leadership we have, congregations do look to their pastors for cues and directions. Those who are leaders should never expect more of others than they expect for themselves. At the same time, since a need for renewal can also include a level of discouragement, congregations should recognize that even their pastors are subject to potential spiritual valleys. They, too, need encouragement. Perhaps leadership in this regard involves taking initiative in talking honestly about the spiritual temperature in a congregation. With appropriate pastoral self-disclosure, a congregation can be freed to discuss more openly the need for renewal.

The real challenge in pastoral leadership with respect to renewal is in coming to terms with the factors that are within a pastor’s control and those which are not. There are plenty of pastors who are wracked with guilt and anxiety over the lack of growth in their congregations. They may feel inept in being able to alter the situation and fearful of their standing as the leader because of this. Being in the position of pastor inevitably comes with its own unique set of challenges and those who do have this role require perspective and encouragement.[26] Ideally, the relationship between pastor and congregation is mutually encouraging and complimentary, particularly throughout the process of renewal.

Now for a couple of caveats; first, a caveat concerning the church; much can be and needs to be said about the complicated reality of entering into and continuing on a process of renewal with any group of believers. Particularly since if people are talking of the need for renewal, it likely means congregational life has declined significantly enough that discussion around change will rouse the ire of some, cause conflict among others, and elicit passionate, even heated, conversation between the rest. Moving from the few people who are on the same page to the remainder of the people takes a great deal of discernment and sensitivity concerning the specific personalities and relationships that presently shape congregational life. No matter how well leaders communicate the core of what it means to be church or how they ground this core in the gospel or how clearly they propose certain shifts in church culture, some may very well be inflexible and able to detach what is essential from what is not. All of this to say that only the Spirit of God can bring unity to the people of God. Leaders and congregants can pray for it, but they cannot enforce it.

Second, God has revealed himself as a God of action, a personal God who is fulfilling his plan of redemption throughout all of creation. God has had this agenda since before the foundation of the world.[27] God has revealed himself fully and uniquely in the person of Jesus Christ. God will fulfill his purposes. Strictly speaking, God can do this with or without human beings. Whether or not specific people participate in what God is doing is a mystery of both his sovereign will and their response to his grace. There is a larger picture, a glorious picture, above and beyond whether or not a particular congregation is spiritually vital.

Whatever God has revealed, God remains mystery. Even in what God has revealed, he is mystery. That God is Father, Son, and Spirit is mystery. That Christ is the image of the invisible God and is fully human and fully divine is mystery.[28] God’s will, too, is sometimes a mystery. What he is at work doing in one congregation will not be the same as in another congregation. That all of this is so is important to bear in mind because whatever effort or measures a congregation takes toward renewal of their spiritual life as the people of God, they can never presume upon God’s response to these efforts. God offers no guarantees, including about the spiritual life of any given congregation. But he does make promises. And one of his promises is that he will protect his church, that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.[29] God in Christ promises to be with his followers until the end of the present age.[30]

Believers’ trust must remain in God—despite of and in some regards because of the mystery—and not in their hopes of renewal or their efforts towards it or the results they anticipate. Churches make mistakes. Leaders are not infallible. Plans may go awry. There will be errors of judgment, despite the best of intentions and the most earnest of prayers. So whatever hopes and prayers and expectations a congregation has, the outcome of the process of renewal is not predictable. This is necessary counsel because if a congregation does not experience the renewal for which it was hoping, the tendency might be to doubt God or to question the value of the process. Believers might wonder whether or not they have failed one another or God. A steady focus on the gospel is a preventative measure against such conclusions insofar as it serves as a reminder that God does not determine his relationship to anyone on the basis of their attempts at faithfulness; Christ alone is the basis of a person’s relationship to God.[31]

Spiritual renewal—or the kind of individual and community life that is the result of it—should not be an anomalous experience. Only the depth of human sin and the tendency of the human heart to prefer idols over the living God make it so.[32] Isaiah’s prayer with which this paper began—“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence . . . When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect”—should also be ours. The prophet Isaiah and the inhabitants of the southern kingdom of Judah had already witnessed the conquering of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian war machine in 722 BC.[33] And while that same power was turned back by divine intervention in a similar attempt against Jerusalem in 701 BC, Isaiah prophetically foretold of the time “when Babylon would rise in power and accomplish the destruction of Judah Assyria had only threatened.”[34] The eventual destruction of Judah and the temple was God’s judgment on the sin of his people. But God graciously answered Isaiah’s prayer in Christ. Speaking of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, Mark’s Gospel says that “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”[35] By divine initiative the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit came down. No doubt Pentecost is the ecclesiastical equivalent of Jesus’ baptism. Surely, despite all of the prophecies about the coming Messiah, this act of God was unexpected: that he would come himself to redeem his people. Given what God has already done to redeem and to restore his people, believers longing for such spiritual vitality in their communities can do no better than to turn this longing into trusting prayer. Theologian Karl Barth once wrote that “Prayer is the most intimate and effective form of Christian action.”[36] If believers do pray, God by the power of Spirit may just do the unexpected once again, which, as believers should know, is always “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”[37]


[1] Snyder, Howard A., “The Energies of Church Renewal,” Journal of Theology, United Theological Seminary (1989), 1. 

[2] See Romans 8:11, Genesis 2:7, and Psalm 104:30. See also Coleman, Robert E., “The Changing Pattern of Revival in the Apostolic Church,” Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, vol. 23 (2007—2008), 34.

[3] Ephesians 5:18b and Luke 11:13.

[4] Acts 4:8, 31.

[5] Galatians 5:25.

[6] Ephesians 4:30.

[7] Writer and Pastor Francis Chan shows a deep concern that the church recognize its need for the power of the Holy Spirit when he says, “The Holy Spirit is absolutely vital to our situation today. Of course, He is always vital, but perhaps especially now. After all, if the Holy Spirit moves, nothing can stop Him. If He doesn’t move, we will not produce genuine fruit—no matter how much effort or money we expend. The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes merely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.” See Chan. The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 18. In manner that reflects Chan’s concerns, Winfield Bevins writes: “We need the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life, yet somewhere along the way, the church has forgotten about the Holy Spirit.” See Bevins, Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2011), 51.

[8] Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downer’s Grove: IVP Press, 1979), 152—153.

[9] Ibid., 153.

[10] To this extent, then, it is important to note the distinction between spiritual renewal and church growth. A congregation could very well experience a time of renewal without experiencing at the same time numerical growth. One is inward and one is outward. Church growth can occur apart from spiritual renewal for a variety of reasons and is not always a sign of spiritual vitality. Indeed, if renewal occurs, some members of a congregation may actually leave.

[11] The significance of the need for patience is that leaders therefore have to have more concern for the spiritual well-being of their congregation than with their own (appearance of?) success. Thanks to the access we have to numerous churches over the internet North American evangelical church culture sometimes appears rife with mega-churches, superstar pastors, and an underlying attitude that “bigger is better.” This can provide a real challenge even to the most sincere clergy. While in Atlantic Canada there are no mega-churches as such, the internet creates a world where pastors may feel the need to compete with or are compared to churches as much as a continent away. Since various books, DVD curricula, and church resources often emerge from the pastors of these churches, the impression is that leaders of mega-churches are the ones to whom we should be listening. How many pastors think privately, “I wish I were more like Tim Keller, or Rick Warren, or Mark Driscoll (fill in the mega-church pastor of choice)”?

[12] Smith, Daniel P. and Mary K. Sellon, Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2008), 32.

[13] Ibid., 32. Smith and Sellon comment that they have “never seen a congregation shift its culture in a lasting way in less than seven years.” So much for “40 days of purpose”! That said, God is sovereign; he may bring renewal whenever he sees fit, and in some cases it might be sooner than later.

[14] Ephesians 4:3.

[15] Smith and Sellon, 51.

[16] Ibid., 51.

[17] Ibid., 53.

[18] Chan, 90.

[19] Romans 8:14—16.

[20] McNeal, Reggie. The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 11.

[21] Snyder, Howard A. Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1996), 13—14.

[22] John 3:8. Though certainly the recognition of cultural irrelevance can lead to a longing for renewal.

[23] Acts 2:2.

[24] John 15:5.

[25] Bevins, 52.

[26] George, Denise. What Pastors Wish Their Church Members Knew: Helping People Understand and Appreciate Their Leaders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 2009. See especially chapters 7 and 8. See also Viola, Frank and George Barna. Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (BarnaBooks), 2002. See especially chapter 5 entitled, “The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning.” No doubt Viola and Barna would argue that problems pastors face today when leading churches in decline are rooted in unbiblical notions of leadership.

[27] Ephesians 1:3.

[28] John 1:1, 14; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:1—3.

[29] Matthew 16:18.

[30] Matthew 28:19—20.

[31] Admittedly, this paper does not discuss the gospel in any depth (the depth of human sin, the cross, and the resurrection). This level of treatment is not indicative of its foundational importance so much as the limits of this paper. Part of the process of renewal, and of any congregation’s determining a definition and purpose of church, would by necessity have to include the sound teaching and the application of the gospel in the process. A great resource for this aspect of renewal and ministry is Timothy Keller’s Center Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), especially section one, “Gospel,” pp. 29—83. Rightly, Keller argues that any revival is gospel renewal. Putting his finger on the ‘heart’ of the problem, Keller writes: “If it were natural or even possible for our hearts to operate consistently from the truth and in the life-giving power of the gospel, we wouldn’t need to have it beat into our heads continually. We wouldn’t need a persistent, balanced, revivalist ministry of gospel renewal. But of course it isn’t possible; and so we do” (p. 60, 61). It would not be a surprise if Keller’s book becomes required reading in seminary courses on evangelism, mission, and renewal.

[32] Two recent books that effectively unpack the realities of contemporary idolatry are Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power—and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton, 2009) and Trevin Wax’s Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals (Crossway, 2010).

[33] Isaiah 36—37.

[34] Williams, Michael. How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 91.

[35] Mark 1:10.

[36] Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, III.3, The Doctrine of Creation. trans G.W. Bromiley and R.J. Erhlich (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 264

[37] Ephesians 3:20

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