Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let It Die - Have The Courage To Bury It

As I walked around the vestibule I had a sense that I was in an old person’s house where the occupants have lived for fifty years. When people live in one place for a long period of time, clutter is a part of the d├ęcor. Old flowers stuck in the corner of the counter, coffee cups with pens in them and table clothes that need to be washed. The brown wood paneling, the grey carpet, the round globe lights indicate that the last remodeling was circa 1970.

The bulletin board, lined with dusty plastic flowers, had notices ranging from an upcoming women’s conference in June, pictures of the last four years couples retreat and the quarterly nursery assignment. The mission board had letters dating back as far as 2005. “No wonder they don’t have a vision for missions,” I thought to myself.

The interim pastor, an honorable and godly man, was called to help this Midwest church after the sudden death of the pastor, who had been there over twenty-five years. The location of the church is in a decaying part of the city. I got the feeling that the family members of the deceased pastor as well as the loyal flock of less than 100, were committed to carry on, if not for Christ, at least to the sacred remembrance of the past.

In visiting with the interim pastor I inquired about the city of 175,000 people. Indeed, there were many very good churches in the area, with at least 1,000 congregations. And then I asked my host, “Do you think it’s okay for a church to die?” The reality is that half the churches in the community could die tomorrow and God would still have an adequate witness.

Sadly, what will happen is that the congregation will go through the process of finding a new pastor. One of two things will happen. They will secure a shepherd who will fail miserably due to the lack of will of the people and the sorry demographics of their location. I can see a resistance by the old-timers, as change will be perceived as an assault on the memory of the former pastor. It will die a slow death and in the meantime the talent and resources of a handful will go down another ecclesiastical rat hole. That’s the pessimistic view.

The optimistic view will be a leader coming in, convincing the congregation to sell the property and move to another location. Ten years from now the assembly will be viable, who knows, it may be one of the growing churches in the growing part of town. Of course the original congregation will not be a part of the new assembly, as they will be assimilated into other churches, places that are more convenient and fit more their worship experience preference.

No matter the scenario, it would be better if this local church would just die. There is no church, no matter its glorious history, that is sacred or indispensable. Whatever God is going to do in the city He can do without this congregation. I would suggest they sell the property, sell or donate the furnishings to another group and give the proceeds to several worthy ministry projects in the community and around the world. As the church disbands, may the families be directed to other congregations where they can feel a sense of welcome and belonging. May their last service be a celebration of how God used them for a short period of time.

I am not suggesting that every small congregation disband. This is not about larger churches being more valid than smaller groups. Many trendy churches waist resources at a greater scale and spirituality cannot be measured by the Sunday attendance.

There is no doubt many congregations throughout the world that are in similar situations as this little flock in the heartland. Let us have the courage to let the church die and facilitate the burial process.