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Closing With Grace

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What to do when your church is closing.

What to do when your church is closing.

Published in: Self Improvement, Spiritual

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  • 1. ==== ====What to do when your church is closing? Find out here.http://churchrealty.com==== ====On rare occasions, when a well-meaning Christian discovers that I prefer home churches totraditional denominational gatherings and am not affiliated with any particular group - although Imasked to minister in many - it has happened that their discovery is met with a negative response,assuming I must have been hurt and require a ministerial tourniquet.Truth is, just as it is with so many others, yes, I was hurt. But Jesus, my Redeemer and Healer,ministered to me, bound up my wounds and turned me loose on the enemy. The Father has usedcertain negative, manmade circumstances over the years to get me to recognize that what I wascalling "The Church" had no semblance to anything described within the pages of Scripture, nordoes it bare any resemblance to the Church in the third world, the persecuted corners of the Earth- the ONLY places on the planet where Christianity is actually thriving, by the way. In his multi-faceted, multi-purposeful, loving way, God also used the situations in which I had been placed tohelp me realize a few things about myself. Perhaps, as you read this message, you may realize afew of those things about yourself as well.I was once the Singles Pastor of a church with nearly 3,000 people on the role. One outdoor eventwe held had hundreds of singles attend. I baptized 16 in a river that cool October day. I left thatchurch after 5 years with a much-beloved couple who felt led to start a House Church. We grew sofast we felt compelled to find a building and establish "Church as usual," in accordance with theprescribed methods we had all been taught. We grew to 300 in no time. It lasted eight years. Iserved there as the Assistant Pastor and left after seven years when I was asked to step downfrom serving in the thriving Childrens ministry. I wont elaborate, but it was political. I had thirtyvolunteers serving with me and the kids were being trained to minister and were active in allcapacities of Church-Life from ushers to musicians. They LOVED outreaches in the poorest ofneighborhoods, manning the puppet shows, passing out groceries and praying door-to-door.Finally, I moved two hours south to be nearer to my family. Within a year after I left, the churchclosed its doors. There were less than twenty attending by then, I was told. My ministry, health,family and personal life have flourished ever since.These days, I am an avid House Churcher who, through relationships and the leading of the HolySpirit, find myself being invited to speak to Christians of many denominations in a variety ofsettings. In our House Church, we have seen miracles, deliverances, and lives changed regularly.Something I attribute to one thing: we love each other. There is unity there and it commands ablessing from on high.THE SMITING OF THE SHEPHERDWhy do pastors leave the ministry? A research paper by Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wengerreveal several main reasons:
  • 2. (1) preference for another form of ministry(2) the need to care for children or family(3) conflict in the congregation(4) conflict with denominational leaders(5) burnout or discouragement(6) sexual misconduct(7) and divorce or marital problems.Two of these factors are especially important: conflict and a preference for specialized ministry. Aclose third is the experience of burnout, discouragement, stress and overwork.Their study is part of the larger Pulpit and Pew research project on the state of pastoral ministry,based at Duke Divinity School, funded by the Lilly Endowment. The authors conducted extensiveinterviews with clergymen and women who have left Protestant church ministry, voluntarily orinvoluntarily, and with denominational leaders from five denominations including the Assemblies ofGod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, thePresbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church. Another heart-wrenching bookthat I read years ago, Shattered Vows, is an expose on Catholic priests and why they leave theircallings. The reasons are similar to their Protestant counterparts, as I recall.Hoge and Wenger learned that, in many denominations, a standard of dependence betweenclergy and leadership is set that is hard to live up to. Also, things such as greater freedom ofchoice and the tendency of a ministers spouse to choose to work outside the home have madethe desired pastoral model increasingly hard to find. The study reveals: "the more a pastorscareer is determined by his or her denomination, the more conflict that pastor will potentially feelwith denominational leaders."Conflict with church leadership looms large. The #1 conflict issues cited by pastors who leftministry were:(1) pastoral leadership style(2) church finances(3) changes in worship style(4) staff relationships and(5) building projects.Organizational and interpersonal issues, rather than doctrinal differences or hot-button issues
  • 3. such as homosexuality, were the most likely to motivate ministers to leave a congregation. Thestudy states: "Most notable about the main conflicts experienced by ministers who left parishministry is their everyday, prosaic nature." Hoge and Wenger "came to believe that the conflictsmost often experienced by our participants are ones that could probably be resolved and in theprocess offer growth experiences for both pastor and congregation."Sadly, isolation and loneliness contributed directly or indirectly to a pastors decision to ship out.Of those who left due to sexual misconduct, 75 percent indicated that they were lonely andisolated. In all five denominational groups, the top motivating factors for leaving were the same.Pastors reported:"I felt drained by demands.""I felt lonely and isolated.""I did not feel supported by denominational officials.""I felt bored and constrained."Hoge and Wenger discovered one glaring similarity regarding pastors who have left local churchministry: "These pastors ..., for whatever reason [were] not part of ministerial friendship groups oraction groups."Where intimate relationships are concerned, Ive discovered that many pastors have none. Face it,who can they open up to where they might not become an item of betraying gossip, perceived asweak, or jeopardize their own job? In my own life, I find myself repeatedly serving as a soundingboard and prayer partner for those in ministry - even online. Just who can these men and womentalk to for seeking wise counsel?BREAKING OUT IS HARD TO DOLeaving ministry is hard to do, and those who have stepped down from the pastoral role admit"there are at least parts of ministry" that they miss. According to the study: "Their accounts wereremarkably consistent: they most missed leading worship and being a meaningful part of peopleslives." Those who were forced to leave the ministry for another vocation under circumstances notof their own choosing, or who felt that they had in some way been mistreated, mourned the jobloss most intensely. The researchers mentioned that several of their interviews were interruptedwhen ministers broke down in tears. Former pastors who were content with their new vocationalsetting also told of their love for local church ministry.One issue that concerns me is the authors assumption that friendship among pastors, thoughimportant, is inherently limited because "ministers feel unavoidable competition with each other,which gets in the way of forming healthy support groups." In my own hometown, where I serve asthe Marketing guru for the local Chamber of Commerce, many of the 80+ ministries in town havejoined our ranks. Its wonderful to see these men and women serving alongside in their matching"Ambassador" blazers or serving on committees together or chatting and laughing at a mixer.Another opportunity in which many churches participate is something we call "Operation: Jesus."
  • 4. So far, pastors and people from numerous churches have co-mingled and gone out in teams tocanvas the county and pray at peoples doorsteps. To date, after three "missions," weve knockedon 30,000 doors. In my last outing, my team consisted of a Baptist preacher of a church of 300, aDisciples of Christ youth minister, a Baptist nurse, two House Churchers, and an Assemblies ofGod woman. I recall speaking with the secretary of the Lutheran church who reported that she hadthe most memorable time, along with her daughter, knocking and praying alongside the pastorswife from the Assemblies of God and her daughter. Its quite disarming when individuals fromdifferent churches knock on a door to pray. Why? Obviously, they arent recruiting.I believe such relationships may be the key to sustaining pastors over time and not simply duringcrises. The study says: "...it is the kind of collegiality that is crucial to the cultivation of self-knowledge, relational intelligence, the capacity to remain dynamically engaged with ones workand the ability to identify and negotiate conflict, all of which are relevant to preventing thedynamics that cause clergy to leave pastoral ministry." Such interaction produces unity and withunity comes power.Where there is disunity, we are essentially snake food.Hoge also authored a book on the Roman Catholic clergy, The First Five Years of the Priesthood,in which he writes that one of the most important findings of his research was that priests left theministry because they "felt lonely and unappreciated." Loneliness was the one factor alwayspresent among the various reasons priests resigned in their early years of ministry. Hoge claimsthat when loneliness "is absent, resignation from the priesthood is unlikely. Whether a priest isheterosexual or homosexual, in love or not, it will not drive him to resign unless at the same timehe feels lonely or unappreciated."This same dynamic appears to be present among Protestant clergy.A PASTORS TESTIMONYAn article by Bill Hull, Leadership Journal, Summer 2005, echoes similar sentiments. Hull pastored20 years and is the founder of T-Net International, a ministry devoted to transforming churchesinto disciple-making communities. Hes an author who, as a minister, had become frustrated by hisperceived ineffectiveness as it pertained to the Great Commission in light of the Doctrine of Jesus.Something HAD to change.He discovered that "something" was himself.He writes, "We had just commissioned 83 new members. It was a proud moment. The newlyinitiated throng made their way off the platform, while I moved closer to the congregation to beginmy sermon."This is great, isnt it?" I began. "But before we get too giddy about new members, let me ask youa question. Why should we bring 83 new people into something that isnt working?" He continued,too far along to turn back now, "Something is wrong," he said. "It has been tormenting me forseveral years. All the formulas, strategic planning, mission statements and visionary sermons arenot making disciples."
  • 5. Bill was being tormented by these truths. Where was the personal transformation after all the effortwe put into weekend services, Bible studies, small groups, and outreach events? His 52-life-changing sermons werent bearing any fruit. He was stuck in the same rut that so many pastorsfind themselves in, i.e., religious activity without real transformation. He was what youd callSuccessful and Unsatisfied.He writes, "At age 50 I found myself successful but unsatisfied. I was hooked on results, addictedto recognition, and a product of my times. I was a get-it-done leader who was ready to lead peopleinto the rarified air of religious competition. Like so many pastors, I was addicted to what othersthought of me."Nobody can share Bills testimony the way Bill can. Read on:"As I stood before the people that morning, I was prepared to pour out my soul, even mydesperation. I was nearing the end of a three-year reshaping of my person, and I had morphed insuch a way that I could never go back. Bill Hull, the Disciple Making Pastor (at least the guy whodwritten a book by that title), had been broken by God."For three years people had been steadily leaving our church. It was the most painful experienceof my pastoral life, and so many times I wanted to run away. But God spoke to me powerfully onemorning as I lay prostrate on my office floor. "Bill, I am going to break you; dont run." I wanted torun, I prayed about running, I asked others about finding a better fit (a.k.a. running), but I couldntbring myself to do it."Most of the people who left the church hadnt left because of conviction but because of feelings orthe opinions of friends. Believe it or not, people dont usually do a lot of research, and then act inaccordance with biblical truth, when choosing to leave a church. As more people departed, it feltlike a plague had descended on us, but it wasnt just poisoning our community--it was eating awayat my soul. During this time I poured my life into three younger men, and one by one they also leftthe church. I felt betrayed and wounded."Through my "dark night of the soul," I gradually realized that something was missing in my life. Itwas the same thing that my church growth generation has missed. I had forgotten that my life as aleader should be a reflection of my relationship to Christ. Leadership is not about competency andproductivity, as we have been led to believe. Our culture values action over contemplation,individualism over community, speed over endurance, fame over humility, and success over thesatisfied soul."I came to see that I was not leading the way Jesus led. His life was characterized by humility,brokenness, submission, and sacrifice. My life was characterized by pride, competence, control,and convenience. I began to understand the value of brokenness as Gods way of leading us intoa life of humility. And I became fed up with my addiction to the false values of our culture. To usePascals words, I was tired of "licking the earth." I was tired of it and so was the congregation."After three years the plague that had swept through the church began to subside. Attitudes beganto change. What happened? Well, what happened started within me, and then it spread."Through pain, meditation on Scripture, prayer, and learning from others, I chose a new life. I
  • 6. chose the life of Jesus--a new commitment to humility, submission, service, and sacrifice. I choseto finally trust Jesus way of leading. My new commitment included the determination to love thosewho had rejected me, and to live this out publicly. I chose to become more honest and intimate inmy sermons and conversations."When I began to express the truth of my inner life, it seemed like the entire community gave out asigh of relief. Once I admitted that something was wrong, that real transformation wasnthappening, the masks came off. This was the first step toward getting back on the way."In my sermon after welcoming the 83 new members, I shared what God had taught me during mythree-year journey of transformation."I told the church that the Great Commission is more about depth than strategy, and beingspiritually transformed is the primary and exclusive work of the church. I told them believing theright things is not enough - being a Christian means actually following Jesus. We dont drift intodiscipleship or amble our way half-heartedly down the path of obedience. It is a choice. I told themwe had accepted non-discipleship Christianity and we must confess this sin to the Lord."I ended my sermon by telling them that I was going to evangelize them. I was going to call themto choose the life of following Jesus, the life of spiritual formation, the life that is the answer to theweakness of the church and the boring ineffectiveness of our lives."When I changed from a strategist to a shepherd, when my teaching was filled with love ratherthan data, the congregation began to melt. They sensed that something prophetic was happening,and it changed our church."The big surprise was that the higher I set the bar, the more eager they became. I preached aboutthe nature of Jesus call on our lives, and the need for genuine community, for transformation. Icalled them to choose the life of Jesus - the life of discipleship."One Saturday, at a special training time, 120 people made that commitment. They chose the lifeof intentional discipleship, committed obedience and to the practice of spiritual disciplines, andagreed to meet with one or two others regularly over the next year to go deeper into thetransformation Christ had called them to."True, there were many in the church who did not make this commitment to a structured plan ofdiscipleship. I recognize now that discipleship is a way of life, not a program. It is about communityand relationships and an environment of grace. So those who did not "choose the life" were not tobe devalued. As their pastor I was called to love them as well. Part of the transformation in ourchurch included extending and receiving this kind of acceptance."Through brokenness and honesty, the icy barrier in our church began to melt, and the life ofspiritual transformation we had longed for began to be seen. Some of us have made significantprogress as committed disciples of Christ, others are still just beginning the journey."The experience of seeing and admitting the futility of my former efforts was a gift to me . Startingamong those wonderful people, God has reshaped my soul and given me a new message, andthis transformation would not have been possible outside that community."
  • 7. The full story of Bill Hulls transformation and the journey of his church toward spiritual formation istold in his book Choose the Life: Exploring a Faith that Embraces Discipleship (Baker, 2004).PASTOR, IS THAT YOU?In my own life, I saw no alternative but to take my Christian routine into the secular arena, a placewhere I had seen it successfully modeled years early by a Christian employer of mine at an AdAgency where we worked. I became certified as a Workplace Chaplain and Ive never lookedback. I still do weddings and baptisms, baby dedications and home (and business) blessings. Iwas asked just recently by the local newspaper editor if they could use my articles in their papersupcoming Religion section. Its God, friends, and no ones more in awe than I am.We serve a God that actually does stuff! Exciting stuff! But most of us are simply kept too busy tosee it happen. I minister more effectively these days than I EVER did while doing the "work of theministry" in an organized church setting. I actually observe lives being changed. From lawnmowing to bill-paying to vacuuming the sanctuary to painting the nursery to flipping burgers, moreoften than not, the main focus of my own pulpit ministry was a few minutes each Sunday where Igave a pep talk before the "REAL" sermon (my pastor called me the Church Cheerleader; on quitea few occasions I approached by Members who said they got more out of my 2-minute "cheer"than they did the sermon. In fairness, I got to preach while their backsides werent yet asleep).Yes, I counseled and led Bible studies and home cell groups, etc. But I was a slave to the LifelessOrganization, not a functioning Member of the Living Organism, the Body of Christ. I haveexperienced nothing in those years that compares to my current ministry in the workplace and inhomes.If you are a minister reading this today, and you need prayer, counsel, advice, get yourself aHotmail or Yahoo account and drop me a line anonymously, if you like. You cant imagine thethings Gods ministers - from all over the world - need to get off their chests. Your situations arentgenerally that different. Ill never know its you and you just might feel relieved or empowered.Nothing to lose, preacher!If youre a Church Member, Deacon, Elder, Teacher, I have three questions to ask:(1) Are you praying for the leaders in your church? REALLY praying? They have some very real,human needs. They are not perfect but they REALLY love Jesus and are serving Him as best theycan.(2) Are you helping or hindering your groups community impact? The Church service begins whenyou LEAVE the building, after all.(3) Are you rowing the boat - or ROCKING it?ABOUT THE AUTHORMichaels mission is to bring Discipleship and Encouragement to the Body of Christ. Since 1999,he has broadcast over 300 hundred inspirational articles and a dozen booklets on subjects that will
  • 8. interest the thinking Christian, all designed to accelerate the process of spiritual development inGods people.He is the founder of t.e.a.m. ministries (team1min@aol.com). An Author, Pastoral Counselor andTeacher, his eMail broadcasts, known as "Your Town for Jesus" are reaching millions around theglobe WEEKLY. Write team1min@aol.com if youd like to SUBSCRIBE.A licensed/ordained minister, a Certified Workplace Chaplain, and a Professional Member ofNIBIC, he has ministered in Methodist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Baptist, Disciples of Christ,College and Cowboy churches. He is also a Speaker on the Christian Speaker Network and maybe available to speak to your church or Christian group.Article Source:http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Michael_Tummillo==== ====What to do when your church is closing? Find out here.http://churchrealty.com==== ====

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