As many who read this blog know, our church, where I’ve served as Pastor for a little over two years, is closing its doors. After 17 years of serving faithfully a “perfect storm” of things happened to bring us to a place where we could no longer pay our mortgage. Thus the bank has issued a lawsuit for foreclosure and our final service will be Easter Sunday. While the leaders have feared this outcome since about mid 2010, the reality doesn’t make it any less painful. Throughout this two years I’ve often in prayer asked: “What are you up to God?” “Why is this happening?” “Where are you leading us?” In my more brutally honest moments I’ve also asked, “God, am I doing something wrong?” It’s been difficult and so today I was thankful and confident that God had brought me some words from Mary Demuth who blogs from time to time on the site “her-meneutics” the Christianity Today blog for Christian Women. Here’s some excerpts from what she wrote (with a few of my own paraphrases thrown in):
“When a church closes, grief enters in. The statistics about church death in America are not clear-cut but it is happening. According to Fox News one of the economic fallout issues from the past three years has been churches foreclosing. According to Shiloh Place Ministries, 1,500 pastors leave the pastorate each year, and 7,000 churches close. Do all those shifts constitute failure? As church members struggle to make ends meet in a difficult economy, as folks shift and move like migrating monarchs, how do pastors feel? Do they question their calling because they can barely pay the light bill for Sunday services? Did they look on with envy at God’s extravagant provision elsewhere?
But does a closing church mean that God has not or is not in it? If that’s theologically and practically true what about the house churches in China where leaders have been taken in the night, beaten, imprisoned? What of the churches that meet under wide-limbed trees in the heart of Africa who serve God faithfully but see little material blessing? How about the struggling pastors in Haiti who adopt orphaned children and have no church buildings? Wherever we look, we see the dichotomy. Some churches flourish, others do not. Does this mean God is not in it?
I began to realize that it’s not a biblical idea that if God is in a thing, it will automatically prosper. God uses hardship and failure for our growth, to stretch us, to make us more like Jesus. True, Joseph saved a kingdom, but not before he experienced abandonment, slavery, wrongful accusation, and prison. Paul planted churches, yes, but he penned many words from prison, hardly a lofty position. Even Jesus at first sight didn’t “succeed.” He who was supposed to liberate Israel from Rome died on a cross. Yet that very defeat (one in which he clearly had followed God’s will) led to resurrection, the church, and redemption for countless people.
Perhaps we need a shift in the way we think. Instead of measuring church success by numbers or money or buildings, we measure everything in light of an upside-down kingdom. The first will be last. The least will be counted worthy. Those who serve under the radar, unnoticed, will be exalted. Those who obey, then “fail,” yet rise up again to trust God for worth and life and hope, measure that as success.
God may not call us to create large ministries. We have to remember that Paul succeeded sometimes (in the world’s eyes) as a church planter, but he also wrote a legacy from prison, hardly a heralded place of honor. Wherever we serve, we can rest in the fact that God, El Roi, (The God Who Sees all) is the God who sees the unseen, who perceives the greater worth beneath the ashes, and whose blessings often look like paradox.”
I was especially taken by the line: “Those who obey, then “fail,” yet rise up again to trust God for worth and life and hope, measure that as success.”
Thanks Mary. And thank-you Faith Christian for the lives you have touched and mostly for our Father who sees all and knows all and who is and will be forever my Lord.
For a full reading of Mary’s blog you can click HERE.