My guess is that some of you reading these words today feel just like the title; you have been crying out to God to come down and rescue a church which you dearly love. I would like to be the instrument of God today to give you some hope for the healing of your church.
First of all, you need to know where I’m coming from and that, at least to a degree, I “feel your pain.” I haven’t always been a redevelopment pastor. I’ve been a Sunday school teacher (almost all ages), a children’s church helper and teacher, a youth group helper and leader, a bus-ministry worker and driver, a volunteer janitor, a worship leader, a deacon and an elder. I’ve been a church planting pastor, a solo pastor (the only pastor of a small church), an associate pastor and a senior pastor with associate pastors of my own.
I’ve been in churches that needed to be closed, a church where the pastor was asked to leave, a church where the pastor was dismissed, a church where a “vote of confidence” (which led to a church split) was taken on a pastor, a church where a pastor turned himself into an intimidating dictator and a church where a pastor became (probably) clinically depressed and was acting way out of character.
As a redevelopment interim pastor I’ve ministered to a congregation after a twenty-year beloved pastor had departed, leaving many of the folks in tears and, in another, where a pastor was persuaded to leave after eight or nine (depending on who was telling the story) stormy, miserable weeks! I hope this doesn’t sound boastful; I just want you to know that I’ve been through some “stuff” and am able to speak with some authority on the subject of how “heaven” (God, actually) wants to help your church.
This article isn’t going to be the whole “cure” by any means; I’d just like to give you a few basic truths that you can hang onto in the midst of some difficult, distressing times.
- First and foremost, be assured that, if you are a group of people who have repented and trusted Christ as your Savior from sin, God REALLY loves your church, at least in the sense of loving the people in your church. If they are born again, they are part of the glorious body of Christ for which Jesus died. (The entire Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians is my proof text for this statement, especially 5:25-33.) God’s love for the church is not just some abstract, theological truth; it is as real and emotional as the love you have for your children. This love extends to all God’s children and includes you, as well as the people on the other side of the conflict some of you are in right now.
- Second, more than likely, Christ also loves your individual congregation and wants to make it vibrant, holy, powerful, glorifying to Himself and closer to Himself than it has ever been. Jesus Himself wrote some serious and some seriously encouraging words to the seven churches of Revelation 1-3. Look at how this passage ends:
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:19-22
These words were not written to sinners in need of salvation; these words were written to real local churches with strengths and weaknesses, just like yours. Yes, there are local churches that (I believe) Christ wants disbanded because they have become a total disgrace to His name – take a look at the language of Revelation 2:5 about “remov[ing] your lampstand.” But for the most part, our Lord wants His churches revived, not removed and He who wants them revived has “all power” (Acts 1:8) available to work with you and make this happen.
- The third truth for you to hang on to is that this really does happen. There are vibrant, joyful, powerful churches in America (and I imagine in the rest of the world) which were, at one time, almost dead, and written off as hopeless by some. There are writers and leaders in America who think that most churches are pretty much worthless and ought to be put on the scrap heap within thirty years of their founding. As a redevelopment pastor I beg to differ; I believe that old, inwardly-focused, troubled, divided, churches can live again. It will not happen without some serious prayer, hard work and often, courageous confrontation of problems and problem people; but it can and does happen. I also think that God sometimes shows off His sovereignty (reminds us of who’s boss) by pouring out His blessings upon churches (the ones on the “wrong side” of the church split) which some of us think should be experiencing His curses!
- Fourth, God cares about you and your feelings even if your behavior could stand some improvement and God cares about your “opponents” and their feelings even if their behavior could stand some improvement. As His dearly loved child, God wants your heart rejoicing (Philippians 4:4), your soul resting (Matthew 11:28-30) and your life abundant (John 10:10). Your feelings are real and matter to God, even though He might be grieved by some of your behaviors – and you’re probably not as innocent as you think you are.
The same truth applies to the folks who are on the other side of the conflict you’re in. Your situation is probably not nearly as black and white as you think it is. Good people do some really bad things while certain that they’re doing really good things – see my three articles at this site on this subject. You just might be one of them. If you are, God isn’t going to kick you out of His family or refuse to ever bless you again.
On the other hand, don’t be surprised when God doesn’t kick those “on the other side” out of His family and refuse to bless them again. Fortunately, God is a more gracious Father to His foolish children than most of His children are gracious siblings to each other. The sooner you give up your black/white, good-guy/bad-guy, hero/villain thinking, the sooner God can use you to improve your situation.
Let’s go one step further: a desire to see your opponents punished – by God or men – is not of God. If your opponents are Christians, their sin has been paid for by Christ on the cross, right? God will chasten (not punish) His own as He sees fit (look at Revelation 3:19 again), but this is His job, not ours. This does not eliminate the need for church discipline, but church discipline is for wrong behavior, not for being on the “wrong side.”
- Finally, it’s so important for you to know that, whatever happens, God will give you the grace to do right, glorify Him and pillow your head at night with a clean conscience, whatever anybody else does. Pray with faith that God will give you the wisdom to know the right thing to do (as in James 1:5) and then hang on to the promises of Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” and Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
When it comes right down to it, there are not a lot of things in this life that we can control. Fortunately, our own behavior is one thing we can control. “Grace” means – among other wonderful things – that all the commands of the New Testament are promises to be claimed. By God’s grace – unmerited, Spirit-given help as well as unmerited favor – I can do right, and so can you.
Please look back at the four truths above that you can hang on to, even while crying out “Heaven help our church!” Is there a promise here which you need to cling to right now? Have you gained some understanding of some other folks in your church which can help you to face them and love them? Is there some behavior you need to repent of? Face the truth, be brave and, as Winston Churchill said, “bugger on.” “Heaven” really does want to help your church and the God of heaven wants to use you in the process.