Restoring health to an unhealthy church

The rationale behind the resolution on integrity in church membership is that too many of our churches are spiritually sick and ready to die. Indeed some of them may already be dead but simply haven’t bothered with having a proper funeral, yet.

Over the next two weeks or so I intend to offer some thoughts on principles of restoring health to an unhealthy church. Several people have asked me to address this topic here as questions have arisen about the serious problems that plague many of our modern evangelical churches. I have been somewhat reluctant to make such an attempt for several reasons.

First, every church situation has its own unique challenges and opportunities. This means that there is no “one-size-fits-all program” that can be recommended to pastors and church leaders. In fact, there simply is no program for church renewal. Those who suggest otherwise betray how detached they actually are from local church leadership.

Second, good people disagree on approaches to this subject and I have no desire to cast aspersion on what some are teaching on matters related to church reformation.

Third, the pursuit of ecclesiological health is never-ending. Any effort to talk about this subject in a definitive way tends to cloud that reality. Though I do think we can speak in general terms of healthy vs. unhealthy churches, it is more precise to speak of more healthy vs. less healthy ones.

With those caveats delineated, here are six questions on church reformation and renewal that I plan to address over the next two weeks.

  1. Why attempt it?
  2. What is the goal?
  3. What principles should guide you?
  4. Where do you start?
  5. What should you expect?
  6. How do you persevere?

I am in my 22nd year of pastoring Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Though we have much, much further to go in our efforts to follow Christ and grow in His grace, the Lord has lovingly taken us down a long road and through some rough patches in our pursuit of spiritual health. He has also taught us some very valuable lessons along the way. Some of those lessons might be of use to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Many others have travelled this same path in other local churches and I hope that their insights will be offered in the comments of these posts. A growing number of younger pastors and students are committed to pursuing this kind of ministry and I hope that some of them will offer their reflections and questions as we dialogue about this vitally important issue.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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