On June 1st, 2009 Fritz Henderson, CEO of General Motors Corporation, stood before a room full of reporters and the American people via television and announced that one of America’s largest corporations was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In order to accomplish this turnaround, General Motor’s new business plan presented to the bankruptcy judge involved selling off four lines of automobiles, closing at least nine manufacturing plants, and cutting 40,000 hourly and 23,000 salaried employees. These drastic measures were necessary in order to turn General Motors into a profitable corporation again.
But perhaps the most famous turnaround in corporate America was led by Lee Iacocca who was instrumental in turning around the Chrysler Corporation in the 1980’s.
Today, about 85 percent of the churches in America have either plateaued or are declining in attendance. These churches are desperately in need of turnaround. But is turnaround ministry biblical? Or is turnaround simply a concept borrowed from corporate America?
The specific term, turnaround, is not found in Scripture but the turnaround concept is prevalent throughout the Bible. Biblical writers wrote of repentance rather than turnaround. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word for repentance used in the Old Testament (shuv) is to turn or to return. It is used both negatively and positively, referring either to turning away from God or turning back to God. In II Chronicles 7:14 we are instructed, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn (shuv) from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Clearly God restores those who repent or turn back to Him. But repentance and subsequent restoration is not just a personal matter; it is also a corporate issue. Turnaround applies to both individuals and churches today.
A brief survey of the Old Testament also illustrates the biblical concept of turnaround as evidenced in the history of Israel. Consider the following three examples.
Judges – After Israel completed the conquest of Palestine, Joshua divided the land among the twelve tribes of Israel with specific directions to finish the task of driving the enemy out. Rather than completing the conquest as instructed, the Israelites settled in the land and made peace with their enemies – the Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, etc. It was not long before Israel began to compromise its faith by turning to idolatry and doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 3:7; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6, 13:1, etc.) So God judged Israel’s rebellion by using its enemies to oppress the nation until they turned back to the Lord in repentance. Once Israel repented God raised up a judge to deliver the nation form the hands of its enemies and restore Israel. This cycle of rebellion, repression, repentance, rescue, and restoration is repeated several times in the book of Judges. God used several turnaround leaders known as judges – Othniel, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and others – to lead the nation in their turnaround.
The book of Judges serves as a good picture of turnaround ministry in the church today. In order for true turnaround to take place God’s people must repent of sinful attitudes and behaviors. God will then raise up a turnaround leader to lead the church to victory over the enemies that have prevented growth (i.e. loss of vision, traditionalism, legalism, divisiveness, etc.). Deliverance from these enemies leads to restoration and subsequent growth.
Prophets – Future generations tended to follow the same pattern as their forefathers. During the Kingdom era, the common cry of the prophets was one of repentance. The Hebrew word, “shuv,” is used throughout the prophetic writings. For instance, it appears ten times in Isaiah, twenty-eight times in Jeremiah, twenty times in Ezekiel, seven times in Hosea, five times in Amos, and three times in Zechariah and Malachi. Walter C. Kaiser summed up the prophet’s emphasis on repentance in his book, Quest for Revival:
…In every one of the 118 instances where the word, shuv, occurs with a religious significance, God was trying to give His people a shove in the right direction…. All the prophets, both in word and deed, referred to it and to the activity of repentance as the quintessence of their ministry. Therefore, it is probably the one expression that summarizes the whole prophetic ministry. (Walter Kaiser, Quest for Revival, p. 83)
One of the most popular stories in the Bible is a story of revival or turnaround in a nation other than Israel. Jonah reluctantly prophesied against Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). But Nineveh’s repentance led to one of the most dramatic revivals recorded in Scripture and God spared the city from His judgment at that time. Nineveh is a spectacular story of national revival or turnaround.
Chronicles –Israel also experienced occasional revivals in its history as recorded in the books of First and Second Chronicles. As Ezra chronicled Israel’s history in these two books, he did so from a priestly perspective with an emphasis on national revivals under various kings (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah). II Chronicles 7:14 serves as the paradigm of the book in which Ezra identified four prerequisites to revival: humility, prayer, seeking God, and repentance. Each revival recorded in II Chronicles highlights one of these four prerequisites. Commenting on these revivals, Kaiser summarizes, “There must be a turning around. That turning around is twofold: it is a turning from sin, the first ninety degree turn, and a turning toward God, the second ninety degree turn, to make a complete about-face.” (Kaiser, p. 102) Repentance clearly encompasses the concept of turnaround.
While there are many turnaround strategies available for churches today, ultimately turnaround is a spiritual issue. Many churches today would experience revival, turnaround, and subsequent growth if they simply met the four prerequisites of (1) humility, (2) prayer, (3) seeking God, and (4) repentance.
Does the New Testament also teach the concept of turnaround? Stay tuned for part 2 of “A Theology of Turnaround.” In fact, this is the first in a series of articles on the subject of turnaround. And remember: turnaround is ultimately a spiritual issue!