The aim of change for any declining local church is revival, growth, and maturity in Christlike
love for God and His people. As a pastor, nothing gives me greater joy than to see God’s people
being renewed in their desire to know God intimately, to praise Him passionately, and to love His
people without hypocrisy. But the weightiness of bringing this change about can be overwhelming at times; even debilitating. And in light of Jesus’ stern words to the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4), every pastor knows that apart from other problems a local church may have, lost love for God is the final nail to its soon-to-be-buried coffin.

So how can pastors headed into this dilemma bring about revitalization? What is the best
strategy that can warm the frozen hearts of people who profess to know God? And how can a
pastor reignite those same hearts with zeal and love for their Redeemer and His Church?

Clearly there are principles set forth in Revelation 2, particularly in verse 5, which calls the
church at Ephesus and every other declining church to “remember, repent and re-engage.”
But the next question is, how best can a pastor shepherd God’s people toward heart-
compliance to those exhortations?

Let me suggest that the often-missed answer is Christ Himself. Through His life, death, and
resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Great Commandment in our place (Matthew 5:17-18).
He is the embodiment of love—love of God, love for God, and love for His people. As the risen
Lord of the Church, He alone can mold the hearts of a dying church to His own likeness to
duplicate that very love.

Here are 3 ways a pastor privileged with the task of revitalization can cultivate a Jesus-shaped
local church.

Trust the Promise of Christ

The greatest encouragement that I come back to regularly as I labor in Christ’s Church is found in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises to build His Church. These 4 Greek words, οἰκοδομήσω
μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν are a pastor’s anchor of hope as he labors among cold hearts.

Pastor-bother, never forget that Jesus is the One who promised to build His Church. And trust
me, you cannot do a better job than Him. So, along with all your planning, strategizing, and
vision-casting, remember that you are but a tool in the hand of the Master Builder. Stay sharp,
stay ready, and plant your flag of effort on the rock-solid promise of Christ, trusting that as you align yourself with Him—His will, ways, and word—you can rest assured that your church will be blessed by Him.

Preach the Person of Christ

Brothers, Christ rules and shapes His Church through His Word. It is His kingly scepter through
which He builds, and we must Preach Him in the Word so that His voice and power are released
among His people (Colossians 1:28-29). It is His risen presence that will revitalize your fledgling congregation as you exalt Him from the Word, expound Him in the Word, and exult over Him through the Word.

Be prepared to encounter pushback. Christ’s exalted presence will be unnerving for many
(Revelation 1:17). But a regular diet of Christ-exalting sermons is the only sufficient food that will feed the starving souls of your people and make them hunger for more. And once God’s people
have “tasted and seen that Jesus is good,” they will not settle for a counterfeit. Their spiritual taste buds will awaken to the satisfying sweetness of Christ, and they will love Him.

Imitate the Pattern of Christ

Charles Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” That might be true. But in the Christian life the call for imitation isn’t for flattery’s sake, but for Christ’s sake. And as Christ’s under-shepherds imitate Him, they become vessels through which a local church sees and experiences the palpable love of God (1 Corinthians 11:1 & 1 John 2:5-6). Brother, your obedience to Jesus out of love for Jesus will be used by Jesus to form Jesus in the lives of your people.

Above all else, God desires that His Church resemble His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the
radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3a). Our churches
will do that as they reflect His character, which will be most clearly seen when a congregation is loving God and loving each other. Pastor-brother, that’s your aim. Hold Jesus up high, and watch the flood-gates of God’s love be poured out on your church to the praise of His grace and the encouragement of your soul.