Hope Church (not its real name) was a rural church yoked with another rural church for many years. When it’s sister church decided to close its doors, Hope Church was threatened. They received a call from their judicatory leader suggesting it was time for them to close also.
Pastor Henry was brought in by a judicatory leader, who asked him to work with this church for a year preparing them for the closure.
The only problem was: Hope Church didn’t want to close. And although Pastor Henry agreed to accept the unusual call, in his heart, he had his doubts about the judicatory leader’s plan.
After surmising the situation at Hope, Henry decided there were some long-standing systemic problems in the congregation that needed to be addressed with tough conversation. He called all the members and asked them, one at a time, to come down to the church and talk with him and a judicatory representative. Interestingly, he started with fringe members and moved inward, interviewing the church’s key leaders last. He asked each person if they wanted to close the church or not. Since everyone wanted to stay open, he went on to ask what commitment they might make to keep the ministry viable. Would they start coming twice a month? Would they increase their pledge? Would they put aside old grudges between members (of which there were many) and agree to work together?
In the same way, he made commitments to them about the kind of leadership he would strive for. The judicatory representative affirmed by his presence that both Pastor Henry and the members would be held accountable for their commitments. And the church was given some time to prove that it could continue a vital ministry on its own.
When I visited Hope Church this past summer, I found a church so geographically isolated, it was literally hidden by cornfields. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could even find the place without a GPS. Yet the congregation has sustained faithful ministry with Henry as their part time pastor for 12 years since that first set of conversations took place.
Hope Church is only one church, and Pastor Henry had his own unique way of dealing with their situation. But it is worth considering how carefully we listen, and to whom, when discerning God’s will for a church.