What is the calling? To fulfill the Great Commission.
What are we calling people into? The Kingdom of God.
We as people, have a hard time seeing the big picture. Even the people who we see as not looking at the individuals but rather the situation as a whole are missing it. Whether we like to admit it or not, we often miss the point and instead we look for something to point to. Let me explain. Most people go through life looking to succeed at what they put their minds and hands to work on. Jobs, relationships, family, churches, hobbies, what we do, we typically want to do well. We take a sense of pride out of what we put our time, blood, sweat, and tears into. We are proud when we do a good job and are successful and our ego takes a gut shot when we see ourselves as having failed. The problem with this way of life is that we become like horses with blinders on, only seeing the track right in front of us instead of everything around us. We see the road but miss the Kingdom, and this has been the case for me while working in vocational ministry.
Head down and power through. That’s my motto when things get tough, and in the physical world while fighting spiritual battles it is one that has kept my faith charging on. I have served with two Churches that have closed down and each one hurt more than I knew what to do with. There comes a point in the dying of a church when you realize that it’s too late to save it. And if you ever feel like you can save it, you’ve already lost. Closing a church is hard. The relationships that have been forged through time and service are hard to let go of and the prospect of starting new relationships at a new place can be overwhelming. In my experience the best indications that God is shifting me into a new season is the relocation of others. It seems that every time God moved me into the next thing He proceeded it by removing the relationships I had grown accustomed to. I do not know why this has been the way He has worked with me, perhaps it is so I would finally listen or maybe it’s just been so I have less and less holding me where I am that it makes it easier for me to go. Maybe a little of both.
Experiencing relationships falling away is hard, painful, even like morning a death. I would suggest that is all death really is, a separation of relationship. If this body dies my soul lives on but I would no longer be in relationship with anything in the physical world. This is a basic belief of Christianity. So, when a church closes it’s doors a separation of relationships occurs and what we feel is a death. Depending on how much an individual put into the church will directly correlate with how much grief they experience. If they have put a lot of emotional stock into the body of the church it will be devastating to watch it close. If the person also put in physical work such as volunteering time, leadership, money, and labor the pain will be even greater and a sense of personal failure will arise as well. It is these people that need the most help taking the blinders off so they can see the Kingdom and not just the road coming to an end.
The American church is more than a group of believers coming together to worship. It is also a non-profit business so that we can get a tax write off for our tithes and offerings. Whether or not this is pleasing to God is another subject all together. Regardless, because we are now in a non-profit business model we have to maintain financial viability to stay open. Again, whether or not this is pleasing to God is another topic. The point is that because we function on a business model we open ourselves up to measuring our successes and failure in a worldly manner. The Kingdom of God, however, is not a corporation, local churches are not chain stores, and the Gospel is not a product. In this world, churches are like campsites. We set up camp, do Kingdom work, and then move on to the next place. That is the model set up for us by the Israelites they kept making camp and then moving on waiting for the promised land. We should look at their example as a foreshadowing of our current reality. We await the promised land, the Kingdom of God come to earth, but until that day comes we set up camp, we do Kingdom work, and then we move on. Sometimes we pick up the whole camp and travel together, sometimes we leave and join up with another camp, and sometimes, when we are too tired we shut down the camp and find a place to take a rest.
It’s hard to not look at the closing of a Church as a failure. I recently had a discussion with someone about why people were not staying at the church and all sorts of reasons went on the table. The Pastor’s message, the music, the kids program, the youth group, missions, hospitality, connections, small groups, and a combination of all these areas were discussed. It was even suggested that the individuals who left were to blame because of some internal struggle they were going through. But never did the idea that God was moving them on come into the conversation. Could it be possible that God is not having people stay because He sees His children are tired, burnt out, and in desperate need of rest? Could success not be in the thriving of a non-profit business but in the Children of God recognizing their place in the Kingdom? There is nothing we do on our own that brings growth for the Kingdom of God. Why then do we look for validation from the work of our hands? Success is seen when God’s children gain understanding of their place and their role in His Kingdom and not just in the growth of church members. When we are part of a church that closes we will undoubtedly be sad. But with that sadness comes a sense of relief because the burden of keeping it open and succeeding is no longer on our shoulders. The truth is it never should have been on our shoulders to begin with.