There has been a lot of recent research into the decline of churches and there are many churches who are in positions where they are struggling to keep their doors open. These churches are simultaneously looking for the right pastor to swoop in and make everything better but they are still not willing to let go of the things that got them in that position in the first place. The reality within these churches is that they’ve lost the plot…they’ve built a life that focuses on things that bring comfort rather than focusing on being obedient to God. So the reason there are so many churches struggling to keep their doors open is because there are a lot of very sick churches in need of returning back to the thing that made them a church in the first place…a genuine relationship and pursuit of God. Thom Rainer talks about this in great detail in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, which I highly recommend.
Recently, I attended a one-day pastor’s conference. Dr. Lloyd Stilley of First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama, made a statement that mulled over in my brain until it gave birth to this blog post. He said, “You’ve got to decide if God wants you to be the David to fight these giants.”
And he’s right. But I want to take it a step further and discuss more than just being the David because David didn’t do it all himself. There were two other men, Samuel and Solomon, who had roles to play in turning Israel around. So with that in mind, I want to describe to you the three pastors sick churches need the most.
Samuel was the last judge of Israel. He came at a time of immense spiritual darkness for the people of Israel, and he came unapologetically to condemn the people of their evil, to warn them of what might happen if they didn’t turn around, to hold them to a higher spiritual accountability, and to begin the process of turning them back to God. Samuel wasn’t always popular nor was he always successful, but he accomplished the task God gave him.
Before a sick church can even begin to think about turning things around, they need their Samuel. They need a pastor with the guts to come in and unapologetically lay out all of the ugly for them to see. They need him to condemn their selfish and ungodly habits, to warn them of what might happen if they don’t wake up, to hold them to a higher spiritual accountability than they’re used to, and to begin the long and difficult process of turning the ship around and pointing the church back to God and back to the mission of a genuine church.
This pastor may never fully realize the extent of his ministry there. He may leave feeling like a failure, feeling unappreciated, with a sore forehead from beating it against an unyielding wall one too many times. But a sick church cannot begin the process of finding health unless they have a Samuel to point them in the right direction.
David was a mighty man, the man God chose to be Israel’s king, the man Samuel anointed just for that purpose. He fought many battles against unbelievable odds, slew the giant Goliath, killed a lion with his bare hands.
And he led a revolution.
David’s fight wasn’t just political, because David fought only in the name of God and only with the power of God. He used the spiritual foundation that Samuel bled to create, and he found Godly men willing to stand behind him and fight the battles in order to bring the people back into a nation that worshiped God and God alone. Everything wasn’t always perfect. But at the end of David’s life, this nation had done a complete 180 from where it was when Samuel began his ministry.
A sick church who has had their Samuel to begin the process, needs a David next. They need a pastor who is a warrior, willing to come in and fight the spiritual battles no one else is willing to tackle and to gather a remnant of Godly men and women to lead a revolution that will bring the church back into alignment with God. It may not be pretty, it may not be perfect, but unless a David comes to fight for the church, the giants that keep it oppressed will never be slain.
The peace and spiritual stability that David fought hard to bring came at a price. David struggled later in life. And though he wanted to do something great for God, he wasn’t allowed to. The harvest of David’s fight was given to Solomon.
A sick church who has had Samuel to begin the process, David to fight the giants, finally needs their Solomon to build the temple. This pastor will stand above the battle field and proclaim victory for God. He will begin to build the things that a healthy church needs in order to be a mission church. He’ll enjoy the beginnings of growth, health, and joy from rebooted outreach. And the church will finally build what it was meant to be in the beginning and what it forgot along the way…what the Samuel screamed and beat his head about and what the David bloodied his sword for….a true, Biblical church, who loves the people, seeks the lost, and points to God with everything they do.
So, pastor, are you in a sick church? Which of these has God called you to be? Embrace that roll for what it is. Be encouraged, Samuel, that your work is not for nothing. Be strong, David, and don’t give up the fight. And be humble, Solomon, because the temple you’re working to build is the result of a lot of ministerial heartache and blood. But Samuel and David, I’ve got another bombshell for you…
Be prepared for God to evolve you into the next type of pastor in the list. You may be two or all three of these men I’ve talked about while you serve that church. You may begin as Samuel and end as Solomon. Take that as good news or bad news…however you want.
And church member, if you’re reading this, if you have a Samuel, encourage him…he doesn’t get it often. If you have a David, stand with him…he needs more warriors at his side. And if you have a Solomon, build with him…he can’t raise the temple alone. But above all, don’t fall into the spiritual traps that caused the problems in the first place.