Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grace in the Heights

Revitalization is a hot topic in the church these days.  It seems like, to me, that rare is the church meeting, conference or denominational meeting that does not discuss, either directly or indirectly, means of revitalizing the church in the 21st century.  Not that it is a new issue, or one exclusively present in our age.  About 6 years ago, as I was beginning seminary, I had the opportunity to meet several times with a pastor who was nearing retirement.  As he looked back on 30 years of pastoral ministry he thought that two-thirds of the churches he had served at were slowly fading during the time he was there. 

Re-vital-ization.  Without consulting a dictionary I believe that it means to take something that once was “vital,” or we might say “vibrant” or “alive,” but may not be any more, and lead it back into that vibrant state.  And revitalization is on the mind of many congregations and denominations, as many congregations are aging and their neighborhoods change. Many times those new neighbors find other places of worship, that is if connecting with a community of faith is even on their agenda in the first place.

Revitalization is a topic that is easier to discuss than to implement effectively.  Facilitating effective congregational revitalization is, I believe, the intent of Grace in the Heights: A Fable of Revitalization, by Rodger Price (New York: Reformed Church Press, 2011).  Price works for the Reformed Church in America in the area of leadership development. (Disclaimer – I participated in a leadership training session led by Price earlier this year.) 

Grace in the Heights is a fable.  It is a short piece of fiction that has a purpose or teaches a lesson.  It is the story of one church with a young pastor, a church in a changing neighbor hood that knows it needs to change but does not have a clear vision as to how that will happen or what it will look and feel like.  Price uses the story-telling method of fable to bring to life the issues and concepts that we can discuss intellectually at meetings and conferences without quite understanding how they will play out in the world of real ministry.  The pastor, the congregation and the neighborhood are all integral parts of the story.  There are moments of joy and also ones of powerful sadness.  Price shows how all of them can be used by God to breathe life into a ministry that was once perceived as failing and is now experiencing new life.

One of the strengths of Price’s book is in his story-telling and the way it enables a reader to envision similar situations in their own ministry context.  He gives several examples of people in the congregation that are resistant to change and push-back, some pushing very hard, and provides insight through the story of how the pastor and congregation can deal with those situations. 

Another strength is the way he deals with core leadership issues.  He weaves them into the story and afterwards he provides an appendix that briefly identifies and discusses each one.  An example is prayer.  As I read the story I though the young pastor provided a good example of a ministry leader grounding all of their work, i.e. their personal life and their joys and struggles in ministry, so that prayer was something that was woven into all that the pastor did.  Then in the appendix he pointed out that he did this intentionally to demonstrate the essential need for ministry leaders to have an active prayer life, also noting how in his own work with church leaders he had encountered pastors again and again whose primary practice of prayer was what they led in worship on a Sunday, rather than something that they did throughout the day, every day.

Grace in the Heights is a quick and easy read but one filled with practical lessons for congregations and their leaders who are charged with the task of “revitalizing,” or bringing new life to what God is doing in their locations.  And if you are part of a church that “has it all together” then I recommend it to you as well, for God may be on the brink of leading you in new and rich ways to build his kingdom, to his eternal glory.

Grace in the Heights can be downloaded free at

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