A few years ago our church struggled through a complicated and difficult split. The reasons for the division were many, and there’s no need to rehash them on the internet. It suffices to say there was a time when I feared we’d never function well again. The loss was keen, the anxiety deep.
Yet this morning in worship service I sat in the back of the room and watched people streaming in until the sanctuary was comfortably full. I realized that if I had been able to foresee this in the middle of the split, I would have felt a lot better. Even though it’s too late to go back and reassure the old pitiful, anxious, and cranky me that everything would turn out all right, it’s not too late to encourage others who might be going through the same thing.
Here is what I’d tell myself (and anyone else going through this):
Right now all you can see is loss. You see empty pews, empty classrooms, and a parking lot that is ridiculously large for so few cars. You don’t know what you fear more– losing the building to the bank or having to manage that enormous mortgage with half a congregation. You will get very, very angry at everyone who voted for the enormous mortgage and then walked out the door a few years later. You will resent the changes forced upon you, you will miss the sound of happy children chasing balls in the gym, and you will grow weary of trying to explain to your children why their friends are suddenly missing on Sunday morning.
You will, quite frankly, block a few people on social media simply to save your own sanity. I’m sure Jesus understands taking a little break from someone, yes?
Give it all some time. It might feel like the end of the church as you know it, but the Church will not be stopped by a few arguments or bad decisions. Our Foundation is secure.
In the near future, you will look around at a sanctuary that’s nearly full again. You’ll see new families who come with new strengths and weaknesses, new resources and needs. You’ll snuggle new babies. New staff will come and find a space in your heart. The music will be joyful again.
You won’t lose the building, but even if you do– so what? The Church is made up of people, of disciples. The pile of lumber we paint and heat can go back to the bank and we’ll find a different pile of lumber. Buildings are everywhere, so let the anxiety go.
One day you’ll look around at the brothers and sisters who stayed, who put their heads down against the storm and picked up the load with you. You’ll remember how they suddenly filled empty elder positions, started singing on the worship team, and filled the pulpit. You’ll be so overcome with affection for them you might be tempted to burst into tears as they hand you a cup of coffee between services. They will move from acquaintance to family. You will never regret staying with these people.
Because this is a relatively small town and a very small world, you will keep bumping into the friends who left. You will suddenly find them in hospital corridors, in the book store, and at the beauty salon. The weirdness will fade. You will be truly glad to see them. You will see the fruit in their lives and realize it’s good fruit, because they may be worshipping in a new location but they have not been severed from the Vine. This realization will bring you peace and warmth.
Yet none of this healing will be possible without the Holy Spirit’s help. The bitterness and anger will grow and destroy you if you let it. Keep praying and reading the Word so you will be able to move past the brokenness into the peace that passes understanding. Take your focus off the anger, and put it where it belongs, on Christ. Pray for your church, your staff, and those who left. Pray everyone keeps their focus on Christ and his commission.
Today was the annual Thanksgiving meal our church celebrates together. As we ate together I was truly thankful for the family around me. I still miss my friends who now worship elsewhere, but the grief is over. I ate too much turkey and cake and I celebrated what the Lord has provided. He is good, all the time. I pray you’ll find this in your own situation.