With the privilege of ministering in churches around the world, these last few years have been amazing. Watching, listening, trying the grasp the prophetic moments in God's unfolding narrative, has been captivating. Besides the brand new church plants, there has been a remarkable number of churches who have experienced large numbers of folks leave them. The pain and heart ache has been overwhelming for these Jesus-people lovers. Some of my dear church planting friends have been somewhat stunned by this pain. Many of them gave up lucrative careers in commerce and industry, to love Jesus' bride, but it has cost them so much. Why? Why has there been such a leaving of churches around the world?
As always, there is not one simple reason. Here are a few matters that I have observed / experienced:
- As the God story in a new church unfolds, the next chapter reveals new roles, responsibilities, with new players being added, and not everyone can cope with the changes;
- There is a new season that God is putting the churches through - truth that he has given to the churches is now being put to the test - will we truly believe it, will we truly live it personally as well as communally;
- God is not sentimental - but we are. In our quest to build relational churches, we have placed a higher value on these relational matters - for example loyalty is a higher value than obedience, so when folks leave our churches we are devastated, but Jesus and Paul had folks leave them;
- God has applied the fire test, with mercy - looking to see if what we built would stand - as painful as what that is, rather now than later;
- Rebellion has surfaced in the hearts of some - simply raw naked 'I want to do things my way, at my time, with my captaincy';
- Leadership errors are also there. I do not know a leader in our world whose motive is anything other than loving Jesus and serving the bride - but mistakes have crept in - how these are handled have been a source of trauma;
- Some of those who helped to plant were only ever scaffolding - sent for a season to help, that is their genius, then they are to move on to help others;
- Distorted 'grace' application, surprisingly found people leave churches in a most ungracious way, often now going nowhere, connecting with no community, revealing their hearts;
- Building family rather than church-although family is one metaphor for church, there are many others - this small intimate mindset is now doing more harm than good in some contexts;
- Mission has lost its edge - pleasantville Christianity has found its way into heart - the passion to abandon ones-self for Jesus has died in the hearts of some.
- And lest we forget, we have an enemy who is committed to our demise...
As painful as these times have been, they are unfortunately necessary for this new future - lets not stop doing the future together. In spite of the pain dear friends, let us find a sweet place with Jesus and a safe place with our partners in the gospel.