They were quick to sacrifice us to the disgruntled members who would leave if we weren’t outed. Someone got offended, and the offense had to be revenged. If the truth is ever told, I think even that was an excuse to get rid of us because one person had a long-standing resentment toward preachers who got paid but did not work miracles; she had a very poor childhood. Personal upsets come to the surface and are acted out more often, I think, where the lines are blurred between church and community/family. Big problem in small churches in small communities. Still, I have a hard time understanding how they can condone it if they call themselves Christian. If they don’t really love us, how can they love anyone else they hope to “attract” to their church? It’s a miserable muddle; so much to sort out. But simply going around and starting over with a “new church” is a poor solution in a small town. Looks more like a God-failure than a people-disaster. And the unhappy people who leave in the next future squabble would bring their baggage around to your “new” church in the next ugliness.
People who have been in ministry any length of time have come to question whether many of their members are truly saved, but I don’t think they are all lost. I think many of them really are the Lord’s, but they are terribly short-sighted and deceived. Why the need for awakenings if not? They have fallen for so many lies. They don’t have a clue what the church is really about. And Jesus is mostly that guy back there who got them saved, you know, the little guy who fits in their hearts. That’s not sarcasm,simply the way it is.
Really, we weren’t at the head of anything. We had the chance to fill a vacuum created by the deaths of the former long-time “rulers” of the church, but my husband resisted that temptation in favor of giving the church the chance to step-up and become a body that worked together. He was badly blind-sided by two men he had trusted and an in-law who had real problems. Another danger in small churches: The last person they’ll speak to is the pastor!, if they speak to him at all.
I won’t use this space to review the discussions concerning the future of rural ministry and church-re/planting, but I’m trying to imagine what a mission-minded couple might do if they simply moved into a rural community for the duration and lived out church the way Wayne proposes. [Qualifier: I’m not suggesting that we add more method to the palette!] I know of “big names” in the church-planting field right now who are asking questions related to rural work in the US that have previously been considered only in third-world countries. For example, there is a need for micro-businesses to support home missionaries/pastors who have a hard time finding work in small towns. Even if there are local businesses hiring, they don’t like to take on outsiders who are seen as under-mining local connections. We know from experience. The locals will turn on the other locals and deny them their business because “you hired that man!” It’s crazy. And it gets very personal. They will literally cut off their noses to spite their faces.
Anyway, it’s an awful mess out there!! I’m studying the in’s and out’s of church replanting, and it leaves me feeling frustrated and uptight. Where do you draw the line between honest leadership and outright manipulation? It had come to disturb me in the last few years that we had one conversation in the parsonage about the state of the church and what needs to happen to bring it to health, but we were not able to safely include the church in that discussion. It was constantly, how do we get them from A to B for their own good? They suffered from many, many deceptions. [Curse “Christian” media!] On the other hand, I can read the Jake Story for the umpteenth time and Finding Church for the second and third time and not have those frustrations.
Small churches constantly complain that their pastors won’t stay long. They might stay long, if the churches quit running them off. Really, there just aren’t that many larger churches that pay more - as if that’s all a pastor is looking for. They never stop to think that the pastor is a new guy in town, too. Why can’t they be as nice to him as they are to other new people they want to stay in their town? They are so two-faced. But they never let you be one of them. Just tell me it’s not a spiritual battle!
Can’t condense thirty years of ministry into a few paragraphs, but maybe that gives you a little insight into what we are facing and how I wound up here. Even my husband and I aren’t on the same page right now. Just adds to the dilemma. We don’t have a home - not anyplace. Have no clue what’s next. Beginning to feel like even the people who like us are anxious for the dust to settle. They have family and homes and lives to get on with. That’s the way it is. Not nice and neat.