Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Church Revitalization Conference Goes Online

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — With nearly 80 percent of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention plateaued or declining, church revitalization is a necessary ministry, said Kenneth Priest, interim director of the Center for Church Revitalization at The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Addressing pastors during the Church Revitalization Conference, which was held fully online April 1, Priest said that in light of the importance of such a ministry, the conference aimed to help pastors answer the question, “Are you doing all that you can do to reach the nations where God has planted you for the purpose of advancing the Gospel?”

The conference featured multiple speakers with ties to SWBTS, including president Adam W. Greenway, who began the conference with a session titled “Biblical Revitalization.” Greenway traced the story of the church of Ephesus from Acts 20 to 1 and 2 Timothy and concluding in Revelation 2. The church’s story revealed its need for revitalization over time, Greenway said, which is “a word and reminder to us about the task of revitalization: it is a perennial one.”

“It’s a perpetual ministry,” Greenway said. “A ministry of fidelity and faithfulness to the Gospel and to the Scriptures and to our Lord is a ministry of revitalization.”

Greenway asserted that, unless someone is called to plant a church, all ministers are ultimately called to church revitalization.

“The tendency [for churches] is always going to be to drift, to become distracted, dissuaded, diverted from the purpose and the plan,” Greenway explained. “That’s why you’re there, pastor. That’s why your ministry is so critical, because you’re the one who is standing in the gap, consistently and constantly calling your people back to what matters most, back to the first things, back to the Scriptures, back to the mission.”

Greenway added that revitalization is not only a biblical calling and a biblical paradigm, but it “represents the heart of what ought to characterize the pastor of the church for the long haul.”

“Our work,” he explained, “should be always that we are committed to doing what we can to help our churches, our people, those entrusted to our care, to be the kind of people who are found faithful — faithful in terms of their life and doctrine and beliefs; faithful in terms of their ministries and their work and their duties; keeping the main thing, the main thing; always centering ourselves around the Word of God and what matters most.

“That’s what I believe is a biblical paradigm for revitalization. That’s what I believe ought to characterize us.”

SWBTS graduate Matt Henslee, senior pastor at Mayhill Baptist Church in New Mexico, also spoke at the conference, covering the topic “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Church Revitalization.” He taught from 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5.

Henslee, a Doctor of Ministry student at SWBTS, noted the primary task for all church pastors: faithfully preaching the Word and faithfully reaching the lost. All of this, he explained, comes from a foundational belief that Scripture is sufficient in every aspect of the pastor’s calling and is what drives everything pastors do in the lives of their churches.

“We have to get after it,” Henslee said. “I have to get after it. Eternity is coming for all of us, and heaven and hell hang in the balance for all around us. So, before God and Christ Jesus, our righteous Judge, we are to preach the Word. We need to get it straight and give it straight. A faithful preacher or teacher will do nothing short of this.”

Next, conference attendees were asked to consider whether they should pursue doctoral studies while revitalizing a church. Speaking on this were Shane Parker, director of the Doctor of Educational Ministries program at Southwestern Seminary, and Coleman Ford, director of professional doctoral programs.

Opening their session, Parker asked the conference attendees, “Can you successfully revitalize your church without guidance and accountability?”

Parker explained that while these might be found elsewhere, one of the primary sources is a doctoral program. Reflecting on his own experiences in local church ministry, including two pastorates, he added, “Doctoral study really did provide exactly what I needed to be effective and more certain of what I was doing in revitalization.”

Ford outlined five reasons why a doctoral program at SWBTS might be beneficial for pastors revitalizing a church: “It connects you to a network of other like-minded ministry leaders; it trains you to become an expert practitioner in the area of church revitalization; church revitalization gives you a natural habitat or laboratory for your doctoral work; doctoral work is formative for you as a leader; and professional doctoral studies allow you to access mentors and coaches who have been part of revitalization efforts.”

To learn about SWBTS’ Doctor of Ministry in Church Revitalization, see here.

Following the discussion of doctoral program opportunities, Ken Hemphill, the seventh president of SWBTS who now serves as special assistant to the president at North Greenville University, spoke on practical ways that revitalization happens in the local church.

“There is an integral connection between local church health and Kingdom expansion,” Hemphill said. “There is a very real connection that if we are going to be involved in empowering Kingdom growth or expansion, then the local church health and thus revitalization is critical.”

Hemphill continued that his “absolute conviction” is that church growth is supernatural. He concluded that there are three essential steps in the process: a change of heart, a change in thinking, and ultimately a change in behavior.

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Source: Baptist Press