The Church Unique (Part 4 of No Cookie Cutter Way)

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, while our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12:21-31 ESV


            Remember what I said in the previous blog: this letter was partially written because this church was arguing over who got the gift of tongues. While I would love to speak a foreign language at any given time, I have only witnessed it when I saw a St. Patrick’s Day card at a store written in Irish Gael; my wife asked me what it said, and I told her verbatim, never learning Irish Gael. That was a big thing for me because I grew up with a majority of Irish and Portuguese friends. We Irish do not know the native tongue of our people because it is almost a dead language. My Portuguese friends, however, spoke it up to a third generation, and I was always jealous of this. My great-grandmother, grandmother, dad, and some of his siblings spoke Canadian French since my great-grandparents hailed from Quebec, but I know just a few sayings.

            Why is this important? Because Americans have moved away from the need or desire to learn the native languages of their ancestors. While there are movements to learn about one’s culture, it is harder to learn to speak a foreign language as an adult. Personally, I believe that the tongues in Acts were of foreign nature. Look at Acts 2

a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? – Acts 2:6b-8 CSB[1]

            The Corinthian church made a lot over this gift, and Paul, one of the Apostles, had to convince them that what they needed was what they needed. They did not need the gift of tongues because they had something greater if we read into chapter 13, where Paul famously says to them, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 CSB

            Let that settle in for a second. Churches are all unique, is what Paul is saying right here. The Corinthians did not need the gift of tongues because it was unnecessary. Now, while I know the CGM is not trying to clone churches fully, the truth is that many follow that idea. We know that churches have slight differences in how they order things in their services and ministries. My point is that we see them follow a formula. I had a friend once tell me when I was visiting one particular church that he could pretty much say how things would be in the facility, and he was right. But not all churches that follow a CGM principle are the same, some are in a traditional church building, but there are certain things that are like a stamped piece of metal for a toy line.

            It is this fact that we have to grasp. Paul told Corinth they didn’t have to be like Thessalonica or Ephesus. Each of these churches was unique, and when we study them, we learn about their regions and what made them particularly different from one another. Each one had needs and gifts that helped them in their mission to others. Look at Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians; he brags about the love of the Macedonians for the poor that the church in Jerusalem was struggling to help. He wasn’t asking them for help, but he showed how each is gifted with a need and an area.

            Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:17 CSB. Pastor, you are unique. There will never be another one like you. So, it’s a safe bet to say that you pastor a church that is not like any other church; it is unique and the only one like it out there. One thing I see a lot of pastors doing is a dangerous game of "If only" where they wish they had things another pastor has. The Bible is clear that this is wrong, and furthermore, it tells us we have exactly what we need, and if we lack, to ask the Father (2 Peter 1:3, John 14:13). 


            Let’s think of it this way, many urban churches have introduced a rap/R&B style of worship to their services. This speaks on many levels to the people they are witnessing in those areas. It shows that the church is connected or trying to connect with the people they are ministering to in that area. Would that work in the rural farming community where I am a pastor? No! In a rural farming community, like where I pastor, you usually have a mix of music, classic hymns, and modern worship songs. Not every rural town is lost on technology, but many do not use it. So, things like only a bulletin on the phone are not always a smart thing. The point is being like Paul, everything to everyone. One important principle I can take from the CGM is knowing your people and how much you can do because you do not want to alienate them.

            Several pastors I know who have taken their church plants and merged them with a dying church have expressed frustration that they feel like they went from 100MPH to a 15MPH zone. This is actually nothing new. While in a church plant, they are creating something, and the people they bring in can adapt quickly, while people from established and dying churches are used to doing it a certain way. In some cases, a pastor may resign or step down over frustration. They are not being Paul and becoming exactly what these people need. I remember when I started at my last church, the pastor had to take me aside and tell me that I had things I had to let go of from my established church setting to understand about planting. Several years later, I was doing an about-face because I went from a church plant to a revitalization.

            When we realize that churches are all unique and different, the real work of revitalization begins. Your church may have a connection with the people of your community through something that you are either unaware of or that you are turned off to. Let me explain it this way to you. If you have an urban-rooted ministry, you are more inclined to say a block party to get people around the church to come and see what is going on. But that will not work in a rural area where your neighbors are not as close, or even if there is a closeness, there are no sidewalks to walk on for safety. This is what I meant in the last blog about learning about your people and area. For many pastors, this is what Paul meant by saying he became something for those people. Rural churches may do an onsite cookout or even covered dish suppers to draw in the community, like we are, over an urban church doing a block party. Suburban churches can possibly do both, depending on the closeness of the people around them.


            For many of you, you may have just said to yourself, “That is so old school,” and it is, but I am a firm believer in Strauss and Howe’s generational theory that things loop back in an 80-90 year cycle.[2] So it becomes something of interest to see how not just fashion repeats itself, but things we do in the church also. It really depends on the area and the people. You may be thinking, “The younger people are surely not into that” let me say that they have led the charge for our church to bring back the covered dish dinners and that it's been a talk in the local high school. If I can be honest, I was not a fan of the idea. I did think it was dated and unwarranted, but as I got into the community and talked with multiple generations of townsfolk, I discovered this was something very much rooted into the fiber of the town and something previous leadership wrongly stopped and led to the church’s decline.

             Yes, our churches decline when we are not in tune with the people and community. In 2003, the pastoral leadership before me stopped doing many things within the community, leading the church to decline from 160 people to just 6 people in 2017. The church had been a part of the town's fiber, and when the pastoral staff took it away, the town felt the church did not love the community anymore. People left for other churches that were reaching out to their community. This is something that pastors need to grasp. Your church is where it is at for a purpose, but the days of people coming in with little outreach are done. Churches need to make a conscious effort to be in the community. Despite our best efforts, we have struggled with a community that views us as closed or cannot shake the image of the past.


We did the name change to try and let people know something was happening here, and even that was met with mixed feelings from the community that is all about its past and history. This is why a pastor needs to get out into his community and talk and meet people while also discipling his people from the church body. A church falls into the need for revitalization when the pastor and the people of the church close their eyes to the community around them. Many cannot name a need in their community, an area they can minister to the people of their town. Pastors today are more concerned about the tithes and getting the well-off into the church rather than those hurting who need the hope and joy of the Gospel. I’ve heard that with people, guys who forget that the church's mission is to “the least of these.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us a key element of the mission of the Church;

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

I would argue that while churches in urban, suburban, and rural settings have one thing in common, to preach and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, they will also be doing the mission a little differently. Urban and rural may have a commonality of reaching the poor, and suburban may have ties to reaching families with VBS like the urban, but they will all do it within the context of where they are to stay on mission. I know that is tough for some to read, but pastor, if you are so married to an idea that goes against what several other revitalization leaders and I say, then you have to pray if that’s where you are to be. We have to adapt, and if we can’t, well, that is why there are groups to see if you are a replanter or even a church planter. It takes a certain soul to do that.


            One of the things that helped me when I got to Sutton, MA, was announcing myself on the town’s social media page. This got a few people to introduce me to people I needed to know and meet. I had coffee with a few local pastors, talked, and got to know some influential people. It's not a quick way to rebuild your church, but it helps you understand the groundwork needed to make the most of the mission. I had two of the town history books dropped off by someone and began to scan through those. We joined a few local groups. We learned about the town’s love for Christmas and the celebration they do on the first weekend of December.

            We got involved, and the town loved it, and while I may never be seen as a Suttontonian, I am seen as a civic leader. I have been asked to give the blessing at a Veterans Day meeting, thrown out the first pitch at the little league, and have been called upon at a few meetings to say the opening prayer. I go to town meetings and learn about the area that way. I have my thoughts about where our town is headed and even had those thoughts verified by a former town board member. While our church is slow to grow, I am in the community, and I will add that for now, I like the growth we’ve had because I can focus and disciple who I have to be ready to make disciples.

            Another thing about learning your area and seeing the old become new again, you may find yourself relaunching ministries you thought were dead. Since I got here in 2017, we have tried a few times to have a midweek Bible study. In our area, getting somebody to host it in their home is hard. It's unheard of. The study would begin like gangbusters and then die off within a few months. Talking with the leadership team, we decided that three of us in the church are good teachers, and what if we started a Sunday School and each took turns. This had a huge difference in getting people in for it. So be open to things, but do not think it will be the cure. Pastor, learn your people and learn more about them to see what will and won’t work in their lives. Why did Sunday Studies, as we call them, work? Because most of our younger families work long hours or a couple of jobs to make ends meet, this was what worked for them.

            This is what becoming a missionary is and means, and this is why it is a must in revitalization to know the makeup of your people. We get frustrated because people are not always there, but we discovered that the area is expensive to live in, and we understand that they need to work more. Some will take them away from church once or twice a month; you must be ready for that. For the 74-year-old elder of my church, it is a clash of past and present. He is from a time when Sunday was not a work day, so he struggles with the few families we have that work, not realizing that their jobs may be their only opportunity to provide.

[1] CSB Bibles by Holman, CSB Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2017).

[2] Neil Howe, Generations, Reprint edition (New York: Quill, 1992).


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