Church renewal is always Christian renewal.

            That should be rather obvious but I’m not sure if it is. Having served in ministry as a pastor for the last fifteen years, I’ve heard and engaged in many conversations about church renewal. Numerous books, articles, blogs and podcasts have been published, with many of them addressing the issue of church renewal as it relates to the challenges of leadership and conflict, spiritual formation and the mission of God, as well as even evangelism and reaching the next generation. Such conversations are necessary and generally helpful. If our local churches are to experience any sort of renewal, however, it will happen because the individuals of the church are experiencing renewal.

            This is why it’s so important to remember that church renewal is Christian renewal. Our local churches are us. We are the church. Yes, we organize ourselves in a manner so that we may function as a church community. And yes, sometimes the way we organize becomes a hindrance to our participation in the mission of God. However, before we can tackle the organizational  and theological challenges present in church renewal, we have to ask if we are being renewed by the Spirit in our faith as followers of Jesus.

            Several years ago I went through a series of seminars with Mission Alive, which equips people for planting new churches and leading renewal among existing churches. The seminars I attended focused on the latter and appropriately, the first seminar dealt with our own personal faith. That’s because, as Mission Alive states on their website, “The first ministry of any spiritual leader is to his or her own soul. Your leadership board, group, team or committee cannot lead others into a deeper, more vibrant relationship with God if they are running on empty.”[1]

            To speak of church renewal as Christian renewal, we must talk about the practices or disciplines that open us to the Spirit’s work of cultivating an ever deepening faith among us. Just as the proper disciplines of diet and exercise correlate to good physical health, so does proper discipline correlate to a fit faith as followers of Jesus. We are not talking about earning our salvation in any sense. We are simply talking about participating in the activities that will allow us to live as healthy followers of Jesus, exhibiting a courageous and convicting faith that is fueled by the Spirit of God at work in and among us. There are plenty of books written on  spiritual disciplines such as reading and meditating on scripture, prayer and fasting, solitude and self-examination, etc.[2]

            I’ll confess that I am neither naturally inclined to physical fitness nor to faith fitness. I’m always a few pounds overweight and I’m still struggling to live as a faithful follower of Jesus. The habits of my youth, which were unconcerned with physical fitness, much less faith fitness, are deeply ingrained within me. So I have to become intentional about watching my diet and getting exercise, which typically involves walking (and having a Saint Bernard dog helps). Walking also opens space for me to reflect, become aware of both the ways I see God working and the ways I am struggling in my faith. That open space is where I become intentional about praying, which is a struggle. I also have downloaded on my iPhone several apps for reading the Bible as a discipline, not for sermon and Bible class preparation but simply so that I might hear God speak through his word in anticipation of seeing as God sees and joining in his work as a follower of Jesus.

            I’m neither an expert on physical health nor an expert on church renewal and maintaining a fit faith. Still I am trying to live as a follower of Jesus and I happen to serve as a pastor among a church that has been experiencing renewal. Both are evidence of God’s work and nothing else. But both following Jesus and renewal suffer if I’m not intentional in engaging the exercises maintaining a fit faith.

            One key reason church renewal doesn’t come without Christian renewal is we now live in a time where churches are increasingly made up of Christian consumers. The consumer interest in participating in a local church depends on whether that church provides desired goods. The consumer mindset is not one of how can a Christian serve with their church to participate in the mission of God but instead seeks to be served by the church. Such consumerism, which is antithetical to following Jesus and a hinderance to church renewal, seems especially prevalent among younger adults and students.[3]

            Consumerism is encouraged by our culture, but it is also learned from inauthentic Christianity encountered in church. We must resist the consumer impulses ourselves by attending to our own faith, engaging in the exercises that allow us to maintain a fit faith — a faith that follows Jesus rather than consuming religious goods. Ultimately, the goal of church renewal is participation in the mission of God but that goal begins by attending to our own faith as people committed to following Jesus. Such faith is the authentic Christianity that breaks through consumerism, embodying the gospel and igniting church renewal.


            [1] See http://missionalive.org/renew/.

            [2] For example, there is the now classic book by Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 25th Anniversary Ed., New York: HarperCollins, 1978, 1988, 1998; also recommended is Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

            [3] David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019, 27-28.