In February 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts for ChurchWorks Network about what has been by far the most acutely painful time of my ministry life. Though nearly two years have passed, I remember everything like it happened yesterday. See Part 1.
A few months in, it became clear what I had: a decaying facility, and ten older white people who didn’t want to change. The battle on both fronts punished me and my family for the first three years.
When I think about that building, I laugh just to keep from crying. The boarded window spaces were only accentuated by the peeling paint on the outside, and mold was growing on the walls of the nursery inside. I distinctly remember arriving one Sunday morning to find that a raccoon urine had soaked through the dropped ceiling and formed a puddle directly on top of my hymnal. We spent thousands of dollars just dealing with issues, then we put the property on the market almost on the day that the real estate bubble burst, leading to three years of tire-kicking and paying for insurance on a building we couldn’t use.
When I think about the people, I mostly just cry. Nine months into my pastorate, a group had formed, discussed my leadership style and direction, boiled down their concerns into six bullet points, and appointed a spokesman to ask me for a meeting. At that meeting, deacons’ wives made it clear that they couldn’t ask their husbands about church issues (despite the instructions of Scripture) because their husbands were too dumb to answer their questions. They made this statement with no irony, as they sat on the other side of the room from the aforementioned husbands. One gentleman interrupted my speaking at a random point to yell “We’ll never change!” five times in a row.
So I fought these battles for about three years. At the end of that period, the people had mostly moved on to other churches, having stopped giving to the church for six months prior: and, after a year of Sunday mornings in a veterans support meeting space, we found ourselves meeting in our home, three times a week.
And during this whole time, God’s mission continued to move forward.
We saw people come to Jesus from a long ways away, and the relational style of ministry that God had put in my heart was bearing some beautiful fruit. We changed the name of our church as a means of embracing a new identity and identifying with the community we were placed in. Meeting in our home meant that we were less formal almost by default, and this gave people the space to engage a gospel lifestyle at the point where they actually were. Teens and young adults learned that children aren’t nuisances by being forced into close proximity with my children and others. Sunday nights were beautiful expressions of Christian community, as we prepared and shared meals together, laughed and cried together, and wrestled with what it looked like for us to follow Jesus.
I’d been forced into something beautiful, even as I now realize it wasn’t sustainable.
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