Danger: Implement change with care, FBC Durham pastor says

Communications Staff — April 19, 2010

It was a “traditional” Southern Baptist church, with its tradition entrenched firmly in the soil of 1955, an age that gave America the roadside luncheonette, waitresses on skates, the beehive hairstyle, “I Love Lucy” and Fortune 500 efficiency as the doctrine which served as the standing or falling of the church.

Founded in 1845, the same year as the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, this church was home of a proud traditionalism, one that preferred being “in the neighborhood, but not of it,” big on numbers, small on discipleship.

Worse, some in the congregation said they had begun to find errors in the Bible. And the church, a congregation for which the term “deacon” was a synonym for “elder,” had just elected its first female deacon.

This was the congregation Andy Davis inherited when he was elected pastor of first Baptist Church of Durham, N.C., in 1998.

In the dozen years since, Davis, who received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998, has learned many valuable lessons, but perhaps none more important than this: the church that stops changing is, like the roadside luncheonette, dead.

“The immense danger is not reforming the local church,” Davis said. “If we do not reform the local, we are out of step with Jesus Christ, who is always rebuking us, correcting us, changing us. The great threat to a local church that doesn’t constantly reform by the Spirit of God and by the Word of God is that Christ will come and remove the lamp stand from its place in judgment. … The church that stops reforming is dead.”

In his dozen years at the church, Davis has sought to shepherd the congregation patiently toward a more biblical view of church through verse-by-verse biblical exposition. Davis has watched God work to transform the congregation from a dying future corpse into a vibrant, unified and effective body.

“The greatest display of the glory of God I have ever seen in my life and in my ministry has been in the reformation of a local church – First Baptist Church of Durham, N.C.,” Davis said. “It has also been the scene of some of my lowest points as a minister of the Gospel, some of my most painful encounters and some of the most bitter struggles, as well.”

Addressing the topic of implementing biblical change in a local church at the 2008 national Founders Conference in Owasso, Okla., Davis said every pastor faces the dangers of:

1. Forgetting the centrality of God in implementing biblical change

“The church is God’s,” Davis said. “For He bought it with his own blood (Acts 20:28) … We need to keep central God’s interest in it, His power over it and His right to command it. God is zealous over His church. A pastor must keep the glory of God central in all things.”

2. Relying on self

Just as God is sovereign in the salvation of a sinner, Davis said, so does He bring about change within His church. Pastors must look to God for the strength and resources to shepherd the church – and not inside themselves – he said.

3. Failing to rely on the Word of God alone

God changes human hearts through the preached Word, Davis said. Pastors must put their confidence in the Spirit’s working through the Word and they must forsake pragmatic gimmicks and unbiblical techniques to bring about change, he warned.

“It is not about marshalling enough people in your corner to bring about reform,” he said. “Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is still true in the reformation of the local church.”

4. Marginalizing prayer

Pastors must beg God to bring reform to a body, he said, because prayer keeps man in his proper place of utter reliance on God. “Don’t focus on technique or strategy,” he said. “Get on your knees and ask God to reform His church. Prayerlessness is arrogance, unbelief and disobedience.”

5. Becoming prideful of accomplishments once reform has come

Davis pointed to the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, noting that the Pharisee had forgotten the correct answer to Paul’s question in 1 Cor. 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive?” A reforming pastor must avoid cultivating sinful pride in his heart once God has brought about change, he said, and must humble himself continually before God and others.

6. Fearing man more than God

Davis said he wrestled with the sin of cowardice throughout his early days as a pastor while the church was undergoing reform. This fear leads to a failure to trust God and pushes the pastor toward anxiousness about such factors as what people will think of him and losing his livelihood through being fired, he said.

7. Mistaking non-essentials for essentials

While all doctrines are important, not all are of equal weight, Davis said. Pastors must use wisdom to avoid cowardice on the one hand and contentiousness on the other, he said. “You need to be careful where you put the line in the sand,” Davis said. A faithful pastor must focus on essential issues.

8. Impatience

A pastor who would implement biblical change in a church must patiently teach his congregation and give God time to work through His Word, Davis said. Preaching the Word is like farming, he said: a seed does not grow into a fully-mature plant within a few hours, but takes much time.

9. Discouragement

Spiritual depression is like poison to a minister, Davis said. “Satan is on every street corner selling poison to every minister,” he said. “Satan knows that our weapons are powerful and that if we get the full Gospel array on us with the Word of God in our hands, he will lose. So, Satan keeps you on the sidelines in discouragement.”

The remedy? Martin Lloyd-Jones offered the best cure, Davis said, when the 20th century English Presbyterian said, “Stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself.”

10. Not developing men as leaders in the church

A pastor must train up godly men who will boldly stand for the truth and encourage him in implementing biblical change, Davis said, because, “reformation is led by godly men.”

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