There are two ways of bringing a healthy church into existence. One is to start from scratch (‘church planting’). The other is to bring renewal to an existing church.
It is the second approach that is the focus of Ian Parkinson’s book from 2015, Reignite: Seeing God rekindle life and purpose in your church. Every church that exists today was originally a new church plant, of course, and church planting is still very important. But this book is about ‘reengineering an existing church and working to see it renewed’ (17). Parkinson maintains that ‘this is a ministry close to the heart of God’:
Time and again God’s people lose their way, falling foul of the prevailing political and cultural forces, and time and again God brings them back to Himself and to an identification with His great purposes (19).
Ian Parkinson has had a long association with New Wine and with CPAS (as a leadership specialist), and is now an Associate Archdeacon/Transition Enabler in the Diocese of Sheffield.
There is much that is helpful in the book, mostly based on the author’s experience of bringing about change in the 1990s at Emmanuel Church, Saltburn, and drawing heavily on the Book of Nehemiah. Chapters cover: the kind of church we are aiming for (missional), leadership, vision, transitions, openness to the Spirit, raising up leaders (and structures that facilitate that), and ‘staying the course’. Here are seven highlights…
First, on the supreme importance of passion:
Those who are shaped by a deep relationship with God become attractive and winsome people. Their closeness to God gives them influence and authority; others long to experience what they have experienced and are keen to be led by them. Without spiritual passion, positional leadership is sterile and impotent (54).
Second, on the importance of vision (and the role of regular preaching in communicating that):
What is required [in churches that are ‘stuck’] is fresh hope that things might be different. Vision is that which engenders such hope (73).
Visionary leadership begins with the telling of God’s story in such a way that people grow in their understanding that this is a story which is still unfolding as it moves towards its fulfilment in Jesus, and that all of us are actors who have a part to play today in God’s unfolding purposes (74).
Third, on bringing about change:
Such [change-inspiring] leaders will need to recognize that their call from God involves fostering godly dissatisfaction and unease with the way things are, and being effective catalysts for kingdom change. It will be such leaders who inspire their congregations to see different ways of doing things, and energize people to see those changes come to pass, even in the face of uncertainty (58–59).
Fourth, on maintaining focus:
For most of us, the number of things we are invited (or expected) to hold far exceed our capacity to do so. … The only way we can succeed in determining what our priorities should be is to have absolute clarity about our specific calling (62).
Fifth, on the importance of investing in people as essential to growth:
[W]e can only influence those whose trust and confidence we have somehow won. For this to take place, relationships need to be built (61).
Developing people in such a way that they grow in their capacity to exercise influence for the kingdom has always seemed to be exactly what I ought to be doing (63).
Sixth, on perseverance:
Those who are able to embrace [a long-distance] mindset realize that the quality they need to prize more highly than most is that of perseverance – the ability to keep going, and to keep others going, irrespective of circumstance or situation (193).
Seventh, on humility:
Because they understand that God is the one who carries ultimate responsibility, [humble leaders] do not take upon themselves an inappropriate sense of responsibility for the success or failure of their enterprise. Their own sense of self-worth and significance is not ultimately tied up in their role. They are simply thrilled to be entrusted with the privilege of service and of working together with God for the advance of His kingdom (65).