Our ministry has been holding services as part of a mainline denominational Church ( I won't name names) and for the last couple years I had been pastoring there.
I was informed a few weeks ago that the church would be shutting down and closing the church. About a week later I was informed that February 9th 2020 would be the last service held there.
For myself and the congregation this was a hard pill to swallow and seemed to be somewhat a surreal reality.
There were a number of reasons the state leadership teams decided on this I suppose, but it seemed to me the common denominator in all this came down to a money issue among other things.
We didn't have a large number count as what I would call it on the membership role. I would say about twenty five or so but the ones that attended are an extremely dedicated in the church, in their faith, and in their role within the church, but I would have to be the first to admit that the closing of the church would be in the "business aspect" a sound business decision.
The tithing that was given weekly was more than adequate in keeping the local assembly functions on tract. What I mean by this is that we were able to keep lights on, the furnace working, telephone and internet functioning, water and other utilities operational.
Where we fell short was in the denominational mission field. We have about a dozen missionary teams out in the world spreading the gospel that our church was suppose to be responsible for, but since we couldn't meet those needs adequately, the state leadership had to pick up the tab to keep these blessed missionaries in the field.
As a pastor, I believe we have to be able to look objectively at lifes hard truths. When informed of the news I had to ask if I have myself to blame. Could I've done something different or better? Or maybe did I do something to offend Jesus so that He decided to shut the church down? I had poured my heart and soul and finances into the church so the news of the closing was quite a blow. I wondered what I would do next as my passion to preach the gospel burns pretty strong.
But even more than my personal feelings was my empathy to the congregations. Many of them were dedicated to the church since they were young and having multi-generations attend. In fact more than one family, three generations attended. Many of them, like me, had poured their heart and soul and finances into the church only to see it come crashing down. Both the congregation and myself had the feeling we were family, each standing for the other, especially in times of personal life crisis, let downs and even the triumphs and the glory in each of our lives.
I was tasked to make the closing announcement three weeks before the closing. So I offered to write each member a letter of good standing for new membership reasons to whatever or wherever each of them may be going for their spiritual care.
That was on a Sunday, then on Tuesday following, one of the elders and one of our outreach leaders held a small group recovery meeting at the church as they did each Tuesday night. I happened to go to the church that night after work to start packing my stuff from what was going to be my former pastor office. The elder came into my office and said to me "You need to hear this". After the recent events my first thought was "Good Lord, what now?"
I went out to where they were about to start the group meeting and attending that night was the lead elder of another church in town and they had been informed of our plight and offered to bring the subject up at their annual meeting at the end of February to offer us use of their church as a place to hold our services. As it turned out the lead elder of the other church called an emergency meeting at their church with the main topic of us using their facilities and it was unanimously approved with such reasonable stipulations such as our functions , whether services or small group or Bible studies or whatever, didn't interfere with their functions, we take care of our own trash and clean-up and pay them a small percentage of our weekly tithes for the use.
My heart leaped for joy and said a quick prayer telling Jesus.."When you do it, you do it big time..and you pull it together in ways that just amaze me and blow my mind..."
So last Sunday I gave a sermon calling it "When one door closes another door opens" using parts of Isaiah 43 and Revelation 3 as the main scripture points. After the service, I made the announcement to everyone and suggest they take a vote on if this is what they should want to do and how to find a new pastor to lead them.
They took a vote and overwhelmingly (100%) decided to stay together as a congregation and they took a couple more votes on top of that. One was to keep me as the senior pastor and to pay me a percentage of the tithing as a token salary. (In the three years pastoring the current church I was never paid a single cent)
About three years ago the former pastor of this church felt called to change direction in his life and resigned. As an unofficial associate pastor under him I took the lead with the understanding that the state level denomination was looking for a pastor to take over on a permanent basis, but due to the fact it would be a bi-vocational ministry, they could only sporadically have one of their denominational ordained pastors fill in once in a while. Officially within the denomination on the state level I was considered the Lay Leader
My calling wasn't so much for being here long term but rather to plant a church. So for a number of years before this and while I ministered there I was planning and setting up a church plant and for the last six months or so that pull has been very strong, but I didn't want to leave this congregation hanging until they at least found someone to lead them.
This is another thing I find just mind blowing amazing. True to the fact I believe I was called to plant a new church, Jesus has made that happened . The different facets of what it would take to pull this all together is way beyond whatever I could imagine the perfect situation to make it happen. A place to have a service, a ready made congregation with some really good outreach ideas we can now make happen due to the restrictions that were set on us prior.
So as this coming Sunday we celebrate our last service with this church and have a potluck meal catered in, each of us as part of a unified local assembly know we are cared for, but also realize we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a number of fronts to make this work.
Tonight I got home from work, I was emotionally drained from recent events so I laid down to take a nap. I had a dream of driving down the road in the dark and my headlights didn't light the way but also knew if I stayed on the road without crashing my destination would be reached.