Posts Tagged ‘closing’

The one thing that has been highlighted to me the most about our church closing is the 5th principle of emotionally healthy churches: Receiving the Gift of Limits.

I believe our whole society is in need of embracing this principle. We have been
saturated with the ideals of “bigger is better”. From supersized value meals to
huge expensive SUV’s we have been overwhelmed with the message that more is
always the right thing. We have been raised to believe like the US Army that we
can be an “Army of One” or have been serenaded by R. Kelly into believing that
we can fly. I have not been immune to this pervasive spirit of the age and only
now have come to a point in my life where I have begun to question, critique,
and ultimately reject it.

All of us as individuals have a God given capacity. This changes according to our life stage and situation and we must adjust to where God has placed us and the gifts and abilities that he has given us. It is up to us to discern our limitations and for me personally after seeing our church get evicted, over half of our leadership team operate in burn out mode, and experience numerous financial setbacks I had to face up to my limitations. For our church to continue would have meant that I dug in my heels and persevered for at least five more years. It would basically mean that we would have to start all over again. Not only was I not up to that task but the rest of our team was not up to that task. Many think the decision is not spiritual and we should have persevered but I think that to look at these things with a blind
eye and continue on is not only unspiritual but just plain stupid!

But receiving the gift of limits is not only for the times
of loss and defeat it is something that we must embrace throughout our
lives-especially in the times of success and abundance. These are the times
when we are most tempted to take on more than we can and to bite off more than
we can chew. This is the Achilles heel that I see for many in church
leadership. It all looks good on the outside but inside all of the duties and
responsibilities, the speaking engagements, and the limelight can be too much
and cause you to die on the inside.

I for one have realized that the senior pastor role has caused me to die on the inside. I have been in ministry for close to 10 years now and it finally hit me that I have spent most of that time feeling tied down with responsibility. When you are pastoring your main responsibility is to show up. When nobody else shows up you are supposed to show up. The problem is I have not always wanted to show up and it has worn me down. Sometimes I just want to take the weekend and go to Yosemite or go to a Les Nubians or Mos Def  concert. Sometimes I want to go to somebody else’s church. Sometimes I just want to divert my creativity to poetry and music. I have felt tied down for too long and I need some freedom. Some people do not need this much freedom and they have been blessed by God to stick with their congregation through thick and thin. This is not my gift. I actually like being around a variety of different people and speaking to different audiences. That’s why one of my future goals is to be a seminary or university teacher. You get a new batch every quarter or semester and they give you time to write and be creative.  It is just how I am wired and if I receive it as a gift it can probably lead to greater blessing than trying to fit the mold of others.

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In our time of winding down as a church we have been going through the principles outlined in the Emotionally Healthy Church in order to process and interpret what God is doing and has been doing in our lives in relation to our decision to close. The first principle of Looking Beneath the Surface unearthed the painful reality of our condition as a church. The second principle, Breaking the Power of the Past focused on our history as a local church and how that has affected us up to now and how to break free from the negative effects of that in the future. Now we turn to the third principle…Living in brokeness and vulnerability. This one is going to hurt.

Why does it hurt? Because closing hurts. Because honesty hurts. Because alot of times it hurts even more to admit that you are hurt. One of the things that closing brings up is the fact that we could not do it. We failed. We are broken and we do not have what it takes. This is the truth. The other side of that is God did not fail. He is not broken. He has what it takes.

During the time after we shared the decision to close with the rest of the church I began to read Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved and he divides the spiritual life into four movements: taken, blessed, broken, and given. This is all based on Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper and our participation in the eucharist. One of the things that stood out to me is that Jesus broke the bread which he called his body. As part of the body of Christ I can expect to be broken. The good thing is that the body of Christ does not consist of only me as an individual or one local church. The body of Christ is all of the church in every place throughout the ages. It means that my brokenness does not stop the purposes of God. My brokenness is designed to lead me and to lead the entire church into the next movement of spiritual life-being given to the world. I believe that this close is a good thing. It hurts and it is painful but God has a plan that is much bigger than the maintenance of one local church or one pastor’s ego.

Last spring I took a class called the Making of Global Christianity. What stood out to me about that class is that the church has not always been the church triumphant. The church has also been the church persecuted. One thing people do not realize which Philip Jenkins has so insightfully pointed out in the Lost History of Christianity is that the church is not a solely European phenomenon. The church was a major force from Syria to China. What happened? Persecution, failure, brokeness. It was a brutal reminder that no church is meant to last forever and that every church whether it is declining or closing or bursting out at the seams is in need of God

It has been a long and rocky road but we as a church have decided to close. VX has been my home for about eight years now and I have grown so much as pastor, as a man, and as a Christian through it. This has been the case right down to the wire. I have grown even during the process of myself and the leadership team deciding to close. So many emotions and thoughts have come up during that time:

If I do this then everyone will think I am a failure

What right do I have to make this decision?

People will think that being a multiethnic church is not a good idea

Will I ever do ministry again?

I need to find a job and this is a really bad economy

In the midst of it all I have realized that many of these thoughts and emotions were unfounded and some just made no sense at all.

If I do this then everyone will think I am a failure. This is so not true. Some people may think I am a failure but not “everyone” and in the end if I believe the Bible I may fail but I am not a failure and ultimately it does not matter what people think.

What right do I have to make this decision? I did not make the decision alone. I trusted that we as a leadership team with the help of the Holy Spirit would decide what is best for our local body. We had a right and a responsibility to make this decision.

People will think that being a multiethnic church is a bad idea. The truth is the people who will think that being a multiethnic church is a bad idea will always think it was a bad idea. The truth is that it is not an idea but a calling from God based on what we believe the scripture says.

Will I ever do ministry again? I probably will. This is one chapter of ministry that is closing. How will the next chapter unfold? That is up to God to decide.

I will need to find a job and this is a really bad economy. The truth is there are other folks out there just like me who have found jobs in this really bad economy. It is better to trust God and the decision he has led us to make than to trust in self.

So there it is. I truly believe that God ends things so other things can begin. A big part of maturity is dealing with losing and dealing with failure. It frees you up to be humble, to risk more, and to not take everything so seriously. I believe that now I am not as attached as I am to anything including the ministry that God has given me on this earth. Why? Because in this present age the “now” of ministry will always have to yield to the “not yet”. That’s something that we all must grow into.