The topic? Sexual indiscretion among pastoral staff, financial ruin, division in the church body, a mass exodus of hundreds of members--all occurring at the church I have attended for the past 32 years. And, oh yes--the Harvey Flood in 2017 that almost completely destroyed the building, which still has not been fully restored. All of these things happened within a span of 5 years, bringing the average attendance on Sunday morning from 1,200 to 350.
Now, I ask you. "Would you discuss those things with your unchurched spouse--you know the one you have been praying for that he would sit in the pew beside you on Sunday morning?" Honestly, I find myself thinking, "Not now, Lord. It is not a good time for my husband to come to church with me."
To make the points I wish to make from these current church problems of my long-time church, come with me to the time my two (very nervous) teenage daughters and I entered the doors for our first Sunday after a move from across country. The service had already started when we arrived, and we quietly made our way up to the balcony.
The scene looked much like this:
• Awesome praise and worship was taking place.
• A pause in the service allowed people to run all over the church hugging one another.
• Recognition of visitors. We raised our hands, as the people applauded loudly for us.
• The sermon. Something told me as this teacher/pastor spoke, that our move across country was the one where our spiritual lives would forever be changed.
• The sermon ended and the last prayer was prayed. As we opened our eyes, there was a man standing beside my two girls. “Hi, I am the youth pastor; I saw you raise your hand as a visitor. Come with me and let me introduce to our youth group.” That was when my teenage girls’ nerves vanished.
And so it was, we settled in, and as time went on, my girls got involved with the youth, went on many mission trips, and were later married by the two pastors they met the first Sunday morning as teenagers. A firm believer in training his members in their spiritual gifts, the senior pastor opened the doors for me to start teaching Bible study classes.
Unfortunately, things changed after he retired. In just a couple of short years, our church switched from being the lighthouse in our local community to being the gossip of the whole town. It was as if right before our eyes, we were seeing a nursery rhyme unfold.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Shocked, discouraged, lost, confused, and angry were just a few of the emotions the remainder of the flock began experiencing. Nobody seemed to know what to do, or even if the church like Humpty Dumpty, could be put back together again.
My dear SUMite friends, as my own emotions have begun to settle down, my purpose in sharing this situation with you is, not to exploit my own church, but to tell you about lessons I have learned from this experience that might be of help to you should you experience troubled times in your own church body.
1. I was not alone. Just because my unchurched husband was not there for me to deal with church problems, I was not alone. My own SUMITE group rallied around each other during this time. The pastor of The Church Without Doors, Lynn Donovan, prayed for me and our church; Lori and my SUMite Sisters also prayed.
2. Forgive Leaders involved in the downfall.
3. Ask questions. In the future, I will ask questions, and not assume business matters are being taken care of in a Christ-like manner among the board members, etc.
4. Don’t judge those who leave the church during a time of trouble. I confess that I held a lot of resentment toward members who “Jumped Ship,” as I called it, when they believed the ship was sinking, rather than staying and helping rebuild. I could hear the Lord whisper to me: “If you love me, you do what I tell you to do; never mind what others are doing.”
5. Ask the Lord to forgive me and forgive myself for lack of intercession.
6. Shake off discouragement with the words of Jesus: "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)
That says it all.
Perhaps you have been hurt by your pastor, church board, or members. If you feel you want to share your thoughts, do so, and let’s all work together to help you move forward, so we can do Kingdom work.