Posts Tagged ‘ministry philosophy’

Somebody recently asked me two similar questions: “What was your best church experience?  What was your worst church experience?”

My worst experience – by far – was the second church I served as pastor.

The church was the result of a merger between two small churches.  I was the pastor of the smaller church … my rookie pastorate.

We merged with a church five miles away whose pastor had been ill for months.

We gained property with a building … the other group gained a pastor and some money in savings.

I served as pastor of that church for 7 years.

Most people from the two churches were philosophically incompatible.

The group from my church – mostly seniors – kept looking back to the 1950s and wanted to replicate that culture in their new church.

The other group sought to be more contemporary.

Since I didn’t know the other group very well, I spent more time initially getting to know them … and found that I liked them a lot more than the group that came with me.

18 months after the merger, the whole thing blew up when 25 people from my group left the church.

For the next few years, the ministry was difficult.  I battled depression constantly … mentally resigned every other Monday … and began perusing classified ads to find another job.

In desperation, I began asking God to do something drastic.  I told Him that I saw 5 possibilities for my future:

*Stay at the church as pastor

*Move to another church as pastor

*Become a staff member at another church

*Go into secular work

*Sell the church property and start over in a new location

I told the Lord that I wasn’t smart enough to make the decision and that I would do whatever He told me to do.

In my mind, the second and third possibilities made the most sense.  The last one made the least sense.

Guess which one God chose?

The last one: sell the church property and start over in a new location.

Years later, I sat in the office of a seminary professor whom I had met for the first time.  As we were talking, he said to me, “I even read a story in a book about a pastor whose church sold their property and started over somewhere else.”

I told him, “That was me!”

And I still can’t believe we did that.

Why did we take that risk?

First, the church didn’t have a worship center.  At one time, the congregation met in their small gymnasium.  When I came to the church, they were meeting in their fellowship hall.  When 70 people were present, the place felt full … and people felt content.  Without a dedicated worship center, we looked minor league to newcomers.

Second, the church property was decaying.  There was a perpetual gas smell in the nursery.  Water flooded into a classroom when it rained.  The place looked deserted from the street because the parking lot was located in the back.  We looked at the costs of upgrading the place and it felt prohibitive for our smallish congregation.

Third, the church could not retain young families.  Young couples would come to our community for their first jobs, but because most couldn’t afford the cost of housing, they would move to Colorado or Texas where houses were more attainable.

Finally, the church lacked a vision of what it could become.  For years, we had the same ministries … Sunday School, men’s fellowship, women’s meetings, AWANA … and it just wasn’t working.

One year, we baptized just one person.

When I was in seminary, I was told, “Preach the Word and your church will grow.”  I did preach it, teaching through books like Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, Malachi, Mark, Acts, Ephesians … but we didn’t grow.

What was the problem?

In my view, it was our ministry philosophy toward spiritually lost people.

I believed that if I equipped God’s people well, they would go to their homes and workplaces, share their faith, win people to Christ, and then invite them to come to the church.

But it almost never happened that way … and yet we kept up that line of thinking for years.

We played it safe … just treading ministry water … and the people in our community responded accordingly.

Until we risked it all for Jesus.

The experience of selling our property and starting over somewhere else initially frightened me … but as I look back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made … even though it just about killed me.

The ministry that resulted was the best church experience I’ve ever had.

More next time!

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