I have a passion for restoring churches. No, that doesn't mean the "Extreme Makeover" or "Decorating on a Dime" types of restoration. Rather I mean working with a church that has experienced severe stress or stagnation that now threatens its survival. Christ-centered churches, when they are working right, can be a powerful force for God-energized good in our society as well as God's Kingdom.
I am always on the lookout for biblical accounts of restoration to see what they can teach me.
One of the Big Ideas of restoring a church to health and vitality is that the church's leaders need to be restored. In my studies, I came across a real interesting mini-biography that helped me understand this a little bit more. I'm indebted to Dr. Carl Laney for some of these insights.
The Biblical book of 2Kings is pretty depressing. The book records the rise of Solomon as the king over Israel. He is very smart, has a clear mandate to rule, and prospers as is fitting for a great man and a great nation. However, as the rest of the book reveals, even Solomon falls into idolatry and begins to forget Yahweh. From there, it is mostly downhill. Solomon's son takes bad advice, most of the tribes of the kingdom succeed, and thus begins the inevitable downward spiral that will lead to captivity, exile, and dispersion.
It has been pointed out that in the Northern Kingdom (commonly referred to as "Israel"), there is not a single good King to be found. All of them forget God of the Exodus. They are conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed, never to return en-mass to the Promised Land.
Among the Southern Kingdom (commonly referred to as "Judah"), there are occasional good Kings. However, there are more evil ones. A good King was Hezekiah. He got rid of the terrible and gruesome religious cults that had insiuated themselves into the people. BTW, there was nothing "earth friendly" or "noble" about these religions - they were wicked, murderous, oppressive, filled with hate and fear. Hezekiah got rid of their various "high places," phallic monuments, and other icons of creatures that were being worshipped rather than the Creator. Hezekiah was a good guy, a reformer, and he brought prosperity and success in his efforts because "he clung to the Lord" - like I said, a good guy.
However, his son was a different matter. Hezekiah died in battle due to an unwise action and his son, Manasseh, took the throne. He did evil - for reasons that escape me, after watching all that his father had been able to accomplish, Manasseh decides to go in exactly the opposite direction. He deliberately undoes all of the obvious progress that his father had worked to achieve and - is this predictable or what? - he suffers. I can't imagine the pain that must go through a person to reject the good, the faithful, the prosperous, the pragmatic, and embrace hopelessness, fear, death, and worthless sacrifice. I can't blame it on his dad - there's no indication that Hezekiah was anything but a good guy.
Manasseh continues down this road and "misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom" God had already punished! Manasseh is captured by the forces of Assyria and taken away in "hooks, bound in bronze chains" to exile. This wasn't a nice exile being kept in comfort - he was "in distress." 2Chron.33.
Yet, only then did Manasseh come to his senses. He finally did business with God and humbled himself "greatly." Manasseh had earned the reputation of being one of the most evil Kings in his country's history and after a lifetime of intentional wickedness comes to God - maybe for the first time - and repents. It is recorded that God heard Manasseh's prayer and then was moved to rescue Manasseh from captivity. Manasseh returned to his old Kingdom, his old capitol, and instituted several reforms that renounced his former ways.
So what this shows me is that God is very sensitive to a repentant heart.
What is sad is that while God allowed Manasseh to come back and try to put things back right, there were still consequences to Manasseh's former life. Manasseh apparently couldn't get through to his son, Ammon. Ammon turned out to be another evil king, carrying on in the ways of his dad's early career. Sadly, Ammon ruled for only two years and was assassinated when he was only 24 years old (2Chron. 33:21-24).
The happy ending to Manasseh's story is that while his son Ammon was a loss, it looks as though Manasseh got to his little grandson, Josiah. Josiah was only six when Manasseh died and Ammon became king, but the impressions that little Josiah got from listening to the stories from his grandpa must have been very powerful. For it was Josiah who became one of the most powerful reformers of the Northern Kingdom.
The lesson I learned from Manasseh was that while there may be painful consequences to a life poorly led, yet God can redeem and restore based merely on repentance. Churches and church leaders willing to repent can see restoration as God works through them.