I bought a new book by pastor Gordon MacDonald today called Who Stole My Church?. Though I’ve not had a chance to start reading it yet, I have listened to two radio programs that he has been on in the last few weeks. I have to say that it has been an incredible encouragement to hear many of the things that this seasoned pastor has had to say on the subject of the changing church in America.
As the pastor of a church in transition, trying to go from a dying 50+ year old church to a renewed, mission-focused, growing church, I find myself challenged at every turn with tough decisions and often, personally, painful results.
Since we have gone from two services, one contemporary and one traditional, to a single contemporary service that incorporates both hymns and P&W songs, there have definitely been mixed feelings with some of our senior adults, unable to accept the change, have left. It’s really hard since everyone seemed to know beforehand that many difficult changes were coming if we were going to survive. It’s a very different animal, isn’t it, though, when the changes actually start happening? We are, after all, humans who have preferences and feel slighted when those preferences aren’t provided for in the way we feel they should be.
It is hard not to take it personally when people leave the church, especially when some of them lash out at you as though you were out to get them from the start. Of course, there is nothing farther from the truth. One thing a pastor doesn’t want is to see people hurt and to feel as though he was out to inflict such pain. And yet, one who seeks to honor Christ in the leadership of HIS church, can only be obedient and leave the results to God. Thus, that is where I stand.
I say all of that to say that I have been encouraged by the ministry of Gordon MacDonald as this, now senior adult, testified that unless churches that have been well established in the past do not change to meet the needs of the contemporary culture with the unchanging message of Christ, they will die. It may be today or it may be tomorrow, but people will absolutely stop coming. That’s hard to hear, but the reality must be faced.
Another interesting point he made was that, because there are always those within the church who simply will not accept change, if a pastor is doing his job, he can always expect 10-15% of the church population to leave at any given time. That is both good and bad news. The bad is that no pastor wants to always have people walk out the door. The good news for those of us pressing forward is that what we are experiencing is both normal and healthy. The result is that if you’re doing it right, many more people than those who leave will come to be a part of a growing community. That’s what we are experiencing…there is a growing excitement and sense of loving community growing with people starting to get excited about bringing their family and friends to take part of the movement of God. How exciting is that!
For those who are a part of MBC reading this, I want you to know how much I love you! It is hard to communicate that in a way that some can hear when I simply do not have the means to meet your every felt need through our worship experiences, but I do love you. My desire is to see God’s church at MBC thrive for many many more years and become the healthiest church in the area. For that to happen, many tough choices have to be made and seen through to fruition. I assure you, though, God will bless our socks off because of our obedience! We’re already seeing that with the increased number of people coming in every week to experience God with us.
For those pastors who, like myself, are trying to lead the church God has put in your charge through changes which inevitably leads to friction, be encouraged…God will carry you through, too. For me, there are two things God impressed on me at the onset of our change: first, make the change towards being a mission organism that reaches those lost in the 21st century and, secondly, leave the results and problems to Me. That’s what I’ve done and will continue to do.
Yeah, ministry is tough, but I honestly can’t imagine myself anywhere else doing anything differently. God is most certainly good.