From Embers to a Flame 4

Chapter 7: Revitalization Strategy 5: The Priority of Intercessory Prayer

child-prayingHarry Reeder reminds us that prayer is the oxygen that the flame of renewal needs to ignite the flame of renewal. He notes that the church at Jerusalem, described in Acts 2, was “conceived in a prayer meeting” and “birthed in a sermon.” Chapters 7 and 8 stress the importance of prayer and the preaching of the Word.

The Priority of Prayer. The early church was one that was devoted to prayer. Prayer was so important to the leaders of the church that the office of deacon was instituted so that the apostles could focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6.1-4). Reeder suggests that a lack of prayer is why many churches decline and die:

They may have charismatic leaders or slick programs, but they have become ineffective because the church has stopped praying. On the other hand, any church that commits itself to prayer, no matter how bad things may have become, can be renewed and rebuilt by the power of the Spirit (98).

Trouble in the Early Church. Reeder identifies the prayer of the believers in Acts 4:23-31 as especially applicable to revitalizing the church. The believers had gone from enjoying the favor of the people (Acts 2:47) to being persecuted. And it was in prayer that they found the energy and encouragement to continue with God’s mission, despite opposition.

The Priority of Praise. The believers’ prayer in Acts 4 does not begin with a laundry list of requests. No, it begins, as proper prayers do, by praising the Sovereign Lord. Reeder observes: “By orienting our minds to the greatness of our God, we are then better able to pray according to his will and to have the confidence that this great God can indeed grant our requests” (100). Reeder also observes that this prayer is “permeated by  scripture,” phrases drawn from the Hebrew Bible. Reeder suggests identifying specific scriptures that relate to church revitalization and employing them in prayers, both public and private.

Prayer and Predestination. Reeder, coming from the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition that we share, lingers over verses 27-28, which state that the authorities and the people who rejected and crucified Jesus were doing what God had predestined to take place. (Here the NRSV translation is clearer than the NIV). Often this precipitates the question: Why pray if God has already decided what is going to happen? But the early church found comfort in God’s sovereignty, in the fact that he is Lord, and not the authorities or even the Emperor himself. Reeder correctly observes that these first believers “knew that the same God predestines has also chosen to accomplish his sovereign will through prayer, not apart from it. Put another way, the purpose of prayer is not for us to change the plan of God, but for us to participate in that plan” (101).

Pleading and Petitions. Reeder encourages us to be specific and bold in our requests to God. He suggests that you make a list that “contains all the great things that God could do in and through your church as it is revitalized by the power of the Spirit. Begin praying diligently about every blessing that you can possibly imagine, and then watch as God does more than you can even imagine!”

Prayer Works? Reeder next makes an important point about who works in prayer. Prayer is not a technique, as in the theologically suspect Prayer of Jabez that was popular some years back. Prayer is not a way of manipulating God. Instead of saying “prayer works,” it’s better to say “God works through prayer.” The focus is not on our prayers, as if it’s all up to us, but on the power of God who answers our prayers. Reeder: “God is the change agent, and he has ordained to change things through praying people” (105).

Chapter 8: Revitalization Strategy 6: The Primacy of Preaching

The Ministry of the Word.

“The church in Jerusalem was conceived in a prayer ministry (Acts 1) and birthed in a sermon (Acts 2).” And as mentioned above, the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The word of God in scripture was the foundation of the early church, as the first believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Reeder points out that the latter three activities have their foundation in the ministry of the word: “The apostles’ teaching is the Word proclaimed…their fellowship was the ministry of the Word shared…the breaking of the bread was the ministry of the Word visualized, and…prayer was the ministry of the Word returned” (108). So the whole ministry was rooted in scripture.

Reeder suggests that the letter of 1 Timothy “can be considered and studied as a textbook on this topic [of church revitalization]” and thus it is important to note the Apostle’s emphasis on the ministry of the word in this letter. Reeder’s analysis of the letter is interesting, but definitely slanted toward a certain interpretation. He says that in 1:3-11 Paul instructs Timothy to oppose those who are teaching false doctrines, and that in 2:11-12 “Paul addresses the importance of women’s receiving instruction, rather than giving it to the men in the church” (108). But as I am demonstrating in another series of posts, Paul’s warning is better understood as specific instructions for the women in the Ephesian church who have fallen prey to the very false doctrine Paul mentions at the beginning of the letter and throughout his instructions to Timothy. Ensuring that only men, and not women, teach in the church is not a principle of renewal and revitalization; in fact, one could argue that interpreting I Tim. 2:11-12 as a timeless, universal principle could be a hindrance to renewal and revival. In any case, a reliance on the scriptures resounds through both of Paul’s letters to Timothy.

The Message Preached. Paul places the scripture at the center of the gospel ministry in his instructions to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14–17, NIV)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Reeder analyzes this text and identifies seven aspects of the biblical message that is to be preached in order to revitalize the church:

  1. We must preach a gospel message. Timothy was taught the scriptures from childhood–but this was before there was such a thing as the New Testament, so the scriptures here are the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This means that the good news is all though the Bible, and that even when we preach from the Old Testament, we preach the good news of God’s grace, which he demonstrates in the fullness of time by sending his Son, Jesus Christ.
  2. We must preach a Christ-Centered message. (See above).
  3. We must preach a God-Given message. The message we preach should not just be our opinions; rather, we must faithfully study and wrestle with scripture in order to convey what God is saying through his word. In the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, we insist on expository preaching, that is, sticking very close to scripture, explaining it, and applying it.
  4. We must preach a profitable message. Reeder here argues that as long as one is faithfully expositing scripture, it will be profitable. He could say a lot more here. Also about the responsibilities of the listeners to profit from preaching.
  5. We must preach a life-transforming message. The scriptures are useful or profitable for “rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In other words, preaching must apply the teachings of scripture to everyday life. The gospel is not just preaching about something God has done, but also about the “So now what?” What does this mean for me? How should I seek change in my life? How is God challenging me?
  6. We must preach an equipping message. Here Reeder makes an interesting point that is also controversial: “Our services should be primarily focused on encouraging, strengthening, and training Christians, so that they can then take the gospel to those who need to hear it” (116). The church should “gather to worship and scatter to evangelize,” Reeder says. The risk of focusing on non-believers in worship is that believers become undernourished. They are not being sufficiently discipled, nourished by the meat of the word, when only the most basic message of the gospel (what the Apostle calls “milk,” 1 Cor. 3:2) is being preached. Reeder’s experience in several different congregations led him to the conclusion that “it is not necessary to be seeker-centered to experience numerical growth.” That is different from being seeker-sensitive, that is, being considerate of the presence non-believers in the service.
  7. We must preach a sufficient message. It is the scriptures that will make Timothy “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Not his rhetorical skill, or his knowledge of the social sciences, or anything else. The Bible is sufficient; God’s word in itself has power to change people’s hearts, when the Holy Spirit softens their hardened defenses.

The Person Preaching. Reeder then expounds on the qualities and habits of a faithful preacher.

  • The person of God lives and speaks in the presence of God. When one steps into the pulpit, one should be very aware of being in the presence of God. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I wear the Geneva gown in the pulpit, because it is a reminder to me that the office is a holy one, not to be taken lightly, and because it is a form of dress taken from the university, it reminds me of the Reformed emphasis on teaching the word to God’s people).
  • The person of God lives and speaks in light of the return of Christ. In other words, preachers have the task of calling people to remember that the judgment day is coming, and they will have to give account of themselves, and to whom they belong, to their Creator.
  • The person of God is diligent in preparation. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul says: “Preach the word; be prepared [ἐφίστημι–stand ready] in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” The preacher must spend a great deal of time, throughout one’s career and not just in seminary, in the study of the Bible, learning more and more the context of the whole Bible, so as to better bring out and apply the meaning of individual passages.
  • The person of God is determined and patient. Well, I have one of those. Reeder says “many times we have to tell people what they do not want to hear. We must commit ourselves to speaking the words of God, regardless of how we think the people might respond” (122).
  • The person of God is serious about their work. Here Reeder, in my opinion, misses the boat completely, and goes off on a tangent about avoiding too much humor. But when Paul tells Timothy to be “sober minded” (2 Tim. 4:5, ESV), he means mentally disciplined and self-controlled. This is why I don’t use the English Standard Version (ESV), by the way. Where the NIV is often too loose, the ESV too often is wooden and overly literal. This is why pastors also need to learn Greek and Hebrew continue to use those languages in their diligent study of the word.
  • The person of God is focused and purposeful in ministry. Reeder says that pastors need to be more focused on fulfilling God’s purpose in ministry than in being personally fulfilled in ministry. However, Reeder fails to emphasize how those things actually go together and contribute to each other, or how when things go badly, both can be affected.

The Role of Church Officers in the Ministry of the Word. Reeder here emphasizes how office-bearers, and particularly pastors, need time to devote to prayer and the diligent study of the word. Reeder here emphasizes that “elders, deacons, and other leaders in the church must step up to the plate and fulfill their ministry so that the pastor can fulfill his.” He says that most pastors “spend about fifteen hours in preparation for a good sermon, and ten more if they preach a second time that week” (125). I would say at least that much. He concludes by saying: “If you are an elder or a deacon, prayerfully consider how you and your church can make more time available for your pastor to pray and study.”

For part five click here.


From Embers to a Flame 3

Chapter 5: Revitalization Strategy 3: Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered Ministry

The First of the First Things. Harry Reeder’s pattern for revitalization is: remember, repent, and recover the first things. And the first thing to be recovered is the gospel itself. The Church at Ephesus is an example of a congregation that needed to practice this recovery. Jesus says to them: “…You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first….” (from Revelation 2:4-5).

Back to the Basics. What the church needs, Reeder argues, is not some complex or totally new strategy, but to get back to what the church is about, the basics of making disciples.

Putting “First Things” First. The first thing that we need to recover is the gospel of grace itself. When Reeder became pastor of a dying church that was close to being shut down, he preached on the importance of personal faith. He found that many of the remaining members needed to make a public commitment to Christ, and he tells the story of two members, a deacon and an organist, who actually made a commitment to Christ, even though they were already integral members of the church.

A Closer Look at the First of the First Things. The basic gospel message must be at the center of any church renewal process. I like Reeder’s emphasis on the fact that we need to be evangelized throughout our lives. Reeder says “we can go deeper into the gospel, but we can never go beyond it.” Believing and unbelieving sinners need to hear the same gospel.

Understanding the Gospel of Grace. Reeder explains: “The gospel is sin-conquering, sin-canceling, and life-transforming.” The gospel includes these elements:

  • Salvation from the Persuasion of Sin–Effectual Calling. This refers to when you not only understand the Christian message about Jesus in your mind, but you are convicted that it applies to you personally: that Jesus died for you, that you need forgiveness, etc.
  • Salvation from the Power of Sin–Regeneration. This is when God gives us rebirth, or birth from above (John 3:3). Christianity is not a crutch to get through life, Reeder says, it is an entire life support system!
  • Salvation from the Penalty of Sin–Justification. God declares us not guilty of our sins, even though we are in fact sinners and commit sins. But because Jesus Christ has stood in our place, and because we are united with him, God credits his perfect obedience to us.
  • Salvation from the Position of Sin–Adoption. Sin separates us from God, but the good news is that God, through faith in Jesus Christ and the work of his Holy Spirit, brings us into his family, making us the children of God rather than the children of wrath, and he adopts us as his own, making us heirs of his coming Kingdom.
  • Salvation from the Practice of Sin–Sanctification. Sanctification means: the process of being made holy. In one sense we are saved when we believe; but we are also being saved throughout our lives, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Jesus accepts you as you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. This is the process of following Jesus Christ in your daily life, putting off our old self, and putting on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24).
  • Salvation from  the Presence of Sin–Glorification. In one sense, our salvation is still future, because we struggle with sin and brokenness in this life. In the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be no more trace of sin to mar God’s good creation and his creatures.

Applying the Gospel of Grace in your Church. Reeder notes that focusing on the gospel of grace does not mean that we can only talk about “milk,” and never proceed to the “solid food” of the gospel (see Hebrews 5:12-14). And he emphasizes that “we must avoid at all costs the kind of preaching and teaching that is mere moralism.” That is, we cannot preach as if the gospel is nothing more than a list of rules and restrictions, as if it is all about one’s behavior. That is the error of the Pharisees.

Avoid Errors that Distort the Gospel. Some of the misunderstandings that warp the true meaning of the gospel are two opposite errors: one Reeder calls “passivism,” the attitude that we just have to sit back and let God work in us, without making any effort. The other is “activism” or “moralism,” namely, the idea that says that my sanctification and spiritual growth is all up to me and my efforts, and minimizes the power of the Holy Spirit. Or another set of errors: a view of the Christian life that is legalistic and all about rules, or one that says there are no rules, and ignores obedience and holiness. Reeder observes that Scripture calls us “not to work for our salvation but to work out our salvation,” because it is God who is at work within us (Philippians 2:12-13).

Focus on Jesus Christ. “A gospel-driven church is a Christ-centered church because he is the embodiment of the good news.” In the process of church renewal, we must remind ourselves and each other that it is not my church or our church; it is not the denomination’s church; it is Christ’s church. It is Christ who builds the church and he promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).

Chapter 6: Revitalization Strategy 4: Personal Gospel Formation

The Discipline of Grace. The gospel of Luke tells us that the young boy Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

  1. Wisdom–Intellectual Discipline
  2. Stature–Physical Discipline
  3. Favor with God–Spiritual Discipline
  4. Favor with Man–Social/Relational Discipline

Here again, Reeder emphasizes the importance of getting the gospel right:

“The Christian life is not lived in order to be saved; it is lived because we are saved. The Christian life is not the foundation of our salvation, but it is a necessary evidence of salvation. James does not say that you are saved by your works; he claims that saving faith works” (84-85).

Reeder talks about these four areas of discipline, but he provides barely four lines on the first, intellectual discipline. This is an unfortunate choice, especially in our Christian Reformed tradition, in which loving God with all our mind is very important (even though sometimes we have tended to make it excessively important). He spends more time on physical discipline, though the Bible speaks more about training in doctrine than training in the gym (though Paul often uses athletic imagery precisely to speak of spiritual discipline).

Reeder gets into more detail on spiritual discipline(s). He divides them into two categories:

  1. Disciplines of Denial and Abstention. He puts these disciplines in the context of putting off the old self, the sinful nature, and putting on the new self. He identifies six virtues or disciplines here:
  • Simplicity in Life. Live an uncluttered life. Very hard for hoarders.
  • Frugality in Life. “Frugality in life is living within our means while giving beyond our means.”
  • Silence in Life. Here Reeder points out that the Christian life is not only intentional but also contemplative.
  • Sacrifice in Life. Reeder could say more here.
  • Chastity in Life. And here. Especially as the church becomes more responsive to single persons and deals with radically changing views of sexuality.
  • Fasting in Life. Here Reeder argues that fasting is never about repentance but always about helping us focus. Personally, I doubt it. Fasting is very often associated with repentance in the Bible (for example, when the Ninevites hear Jonah’s call to repentance, 3:5). But despite the fact that fasting makes me think only about food, I suppose that helping one’s focus could also be a use of fasting (e.g. Jesus fasted in the desert and had no need for repentance; on the other hand, he represents Israel and so may also be embodying the True Israel who needs to repent, as he becomes sin in a sense (Romans 8:3f.) Fasting, more likely, enables us to feel in our body a hunger for God that may find a parallel in the soul.

2. Disciplines of Devotion and Development. Here Reeder lists the following:

  • The study of God’s Word.
  • Intercessory and Contemplative Prayer.
  • Meditation and Memorization.
  • Reflection.
  • Confession.
  • Consecration. (Dedicating ourselves to God’s mission).

Here I would have liked Reeder to offer some reflection on Christian virtue. In addition, he seems at times to paint these disciplines in a very individualistic and private shades. But true Christian discipline and growth almost always happens in community, in fellowship (koinonia / κοινωνία) with other believers. I would like to see more emphasis on this communal element of spiritual discipline, particularly in our self-absorbed North American context.

Disciplined Christians are Found in Discipling Churches. Reeder points to the early church (Acts 2:42) to illustrate that a vital, growing church is one that practices spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Reeder emphasizes The Necessity of Church Discipline, that is, formal church discipline. To be a disciplined and discipling church, “you will have to teach and practice church discipline.” He rightly points out that this is some of the most difficult work of the ministry, and yet it is clearly commanded by the Lord Jesus himself (Matt. 18:15-17) and the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 5:12-13).

For part four click here.

From Embers to a Flame 2

Remember and Repent

The first two revitalization strategies are remember and repent.

Chapter 3: Revitalization Strategy 1: Connect to the Past

Harry Reeder encourages churches to learn from the past without living in the past. Congregations benefit from being connected to their local church’s history, as from an awareness of the great tradition of the Christian faith. Reeder writes: “A revitalization pastor will learn from the past in order to live in the present so that the church can change the future” (38).

Original fcv church
Original building of the Cutlerville Christian Reformed Church

The History of the Local Church. Reeder emphasizes the importance of working to understand a congregation’s history. He tells the story of a pastor who followed two very successful predecessors. Someone said to the new pastor: “You sure have some big shoes to fill.” And the new pastor replied: “I brought my own shoes, thank you.” Reeder emphasizes that we must avoid being trapped or dominated by the past. New pastors, he says, should neither demean the former ministry nor try to duplicate it.


The History of the Universal Church. Reeder laments that American Christians often know little about international Christianity and the history of Christianity. Our creeds and confessions, when used in worship, connect us with the great tradition of our faith, as do classic hymns. Reeder argues for beginning with “the great classical worship that at one time was contemporary and has now become tried and true, and then build on it, being ready to absorb that which is excellent in the present” (42). Good worship, he contends, avoids both “the arrogance of modernity, which disconnects from the past” and “the idolatry of traditionalism, which lives in the past.” Instead, it “is connected to the past without living in the past, contextualized in the present without accommodating the present, and setting a pattern to shape the future instead of becoming dated in the future” (42). Reeder also recommends incorporating illustrations from church history into sermons. –Who am I to argue with that?! Another suggestion is to teach people about the Old Testament.

In order not to be a maintenance ministry, but rather, a movement ministry, Reeder suggests three courses of action: Investigate, Contemplate, Celebrate.

  1. Investigate past blessings.
  2. Contemplate the lessons and principles that the Lord blessed in the past.
  3. Celebrate them and continue to implement them in ways that fit the gifts and resources that you currently have in your church and use the celebrations to set up new initiatives in the ministry vision that the Lord is laying out to take the church to the next level in serving Christ and expanding the kingdom.

Here at First Cutlerville, we just celebrated 20 years in our current building, on June 12, 2016. As I was preparing my sermon, I read the commemorative booklets from the 50th, 75th, and 100th anniversaries of the congregation. I learned much about our history, but perhaps also about our present character. I think it could be valuable to scan these documents and make them available online for our leaders and members. In the Church Renewal Lab, we heard that most churches work forward from their past, but we should really work backward from our future. That is: envision where God wants to lead us tomorrow, and then discern what that means for what we do today in order to get to that place.

Chapter 4: Revitalization Strategy 2: A Call to Repentance

Reeder’s second strategy, a communal, corporate repenting from past wrongs, is not a downer, he argues, but an opportunity for God to do a new thing.2 Chronicles 714 [mobile-1262x1262].png But before you can encourage a community of people to truly repent and confess sin, one must first cultivate an atmosphere of grace. We don’t repent to feel bad about ourselves; we repent joyfully because we are sure of God’s loving forgiveness earned at the high cost of Christ’s blood. Secondly, Reeder says we must also emphasize personal responsibility. We should not be making excuses for ourselves or for others. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the Serpent. Third, we then have to expect the fruits of repentance. Reeder summarizes these fruits in three words: restitution, restoration, and reconciliation. His summary is helpful: “Restitution is paying back what is owed, restoration is setting things right again, and reconciliation is the renewing of relationships that have been broken by sin” (50).

Repentance in the Leaders. Reeder tells the story of a church that had gone through a process of renewal. The council of this church came to a place where they felt led to confess to the congregation the sin of acting as a board of directors rather than as shepherds of the flock. They read a letter to the congregation asking for forgiveness. “As a show of unity they all brought stones marked with their names and Bible verses and piled them up together to mark the day of a new beginning rooted in the forgiveness and reconciling power of the gospel” (51).

Repentance in the Church. The Bible contains stories of how “sin in the camp” can have a negative impact on the whole community of God’s people. The story of Achan who stole booty from Jericho, is an example (Joshua 7). Reeder observes that sometimes there is “a need for corporate confession because the body as a whole has not faithfully followed God’s Word” (53). Reeder’s church ended up asking forgiveness, in a very general way, from four hundred (!) families that had left the church over 13 years. One of the results was that it put an end to a lot of negative talk in the community about the congregation. In addition, Reeder notes that very specific sins may also need to be confessed by the church.

For part three click here.

From Embers to a Flame 1

etaf_coverAlong with several other congregations, First Cutlerville Christian Reformed Church is beginning a season of intentional renewal through the Church Renewal Lab. One of the books that we will be reading to help guide us through this process is Harry L. Reeder III’s From Embers to a Flame: How God can Revitalize your Church. I will be providing some highlights from each of the chapters here on this blog. Reeder is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).

Chapter 1: The Need for Church Revitalization

Reeder begins with some sobering statistics. He says that “over 80% of established American churches are either on a plateau or in decline,” and that every year “3,500-4,000 churches die in this country” (7).

Reeder’s Diagnosis

Reeder diagnoses several “symptoms of a sick church“:

A Focus on Programs. His book, he says, is not about a program, but about “principles that the Lord has designed and will use to bring more life to the body as he chooses to do in his sovereign plan” (9). You can tell that Reeder comes from the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition!

Nostalgia and Tradition. “Dying churches are often living in the past” (10). True dat! Reeder clarifies, helpfully: “The past is important and should be celebrated” but “we need to realize that the pleasant river of nostalgia can swell into a sweeping current that takes the church backward and downward to destruction” (11).

Personality Dependence. Dying churches presume that they need pastoral leader with a very specific kind of personality to experience growth. Often they presume that they need a charismatic extrovert. But Reeder provides several examples of unassuming, introverted pastors who nonetheless pastored growing and vibrant congregations.

A Maintenance Mentality. Dying churches just want to stay alive and pay the bills; but this mentality contributes to the death of a church.

Excuses and a Victim Mindset. Unhealthy churches say “That will never work here because ______” Or: “We already tried that,” and other excuses. These churches assume that external factors keep it from growing, and that the church is a powerless victim in the face of these factors. Reeder emphasizes that “even our weaknesses provide an opportunity for God to work in and through us” (13-14). Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh! (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

A Bad Reputation in the Community. “The longer a church follows a pattern of decline, the worse its public image and reputation become. The community at large and the neighboring churches form opinions about the church’s condition. The people who do the most damage in this regard are often the ones who have left the church and gone elsewhere” (16). Reeder suggests that leaders regularly ask questions about how their congregation is perceived by other churches and in the community.

Distraction from the Gospel. The worst symptom of an unhealthy, dying church is when “something else has become  more important than living according to the gospel and sharing it with people who need to be saved.”

The Privileges of Church Revitalization

Reeder argues that church revitalization is an important ministry, and that it should not be dismissed in favor of just starting over with a new church plant (though there are times when that is appropriate). He asserts that in most cases a ministry of church revitalization is closer to the heart of our Lord,” the Heart of the Shepherd (18). In addition, The Heart of the Apostle, Paul, was dedicated to the health of churches. Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41, cf. Acts 18:23). And Reeder claims that church revitalization can be much more rewarding than church planting, and that established churches have numerous advantages and resources that are not available in a new church plant.

Chapter 2: The Biblical Paradigm for Revitalization

Here Reeder talks about inappropriate models of the church growth, for example, the Hollywood model that assumes the church needs to entertain people, or the Wall Street model that assumes the church needs to market itself and adopt business principles, or the therapeutic model that assumes the church exists to meet people’s emotional needs.

Health and Growth

On the contrary, Reeder argues that if a church is healthy, it will grow–though Reeder says that while growth in numbers will usually accompany church health, that is not always the case. The size of a congregation is not a reliable indicator of health.

Ephesus as a Case Study

The church at Ephesus is an important example of how growth follows health. It was, as Reeder says, one of the four “epicenter” churches along with Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome (30). Paul founded it along with Silas, and Priscilla and her husband Aquila. It was in Ephesus that Priscilla and Aquila discipled Apollos, who became a leading evangelist (Acts 18:24-28). The believers at Ephesus also had a transforming emphasis on the pagan culture around them, when their evangelistic efforts threatened the local cult of the Greek goddess Artemis and the local economy that was dependent upon that cult. When Paul moved on to continue his evangelistic work, he addressed the elders and Ephesus and warned them: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). And that is what happened. By the time Timothy is pastoring the church, Paul has to tell him to “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer” (I Tim. 1:3). The younger widows in particular were being deceived by false teachers and promoting these false teachings themselves (I Tim. 5:11-15). The church at Ephesus continued to struggle, as we discover from the book of Revelation; there the Lord Jesus rebukes the church because “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (see Rev. 2:1-5).

The Plan

Reeder’s paradigm for a strategic fitness plan, for revitalization, includes ten strategies, organized under the headings Remember, Repent, and Recover the First Things. The remaining chapters of the book will cover these strategies for revitalization:


  • Revitalization Strategy 1: Connect to the Past


  • Revitalization Strategy 2: A Call to Repentance

Recover the First Things

  • Revitalization Strategy 3: Gospel-Driven and Christ-Centered Ministry
  • Revitalization Strategy 4: Personal Gospel Formation
  • Revitalization Strategy 5: The Priority of Intercessory Prayer
  • Revitalization Strategy 6: The Primacy of Preaching
  • Revitalization Strategy 7: Staying on Mission with a Vision
  • Revitalization Strategy 8: Servant Leadership Multiplication
  • Revitalization Strategy 9: Small-Group Discipleship
  • Revitalization Strategy 10: A Great Commitment to the Great Commission

Click here for part two.