I’ve been reminded again this week of the fragility of pastoring a small church. There has rarely been a year that has gone by when I have not had some kind of reminder of the fragility of planting and then pastoring church. Initially I thought that period would last for a few years until we were more established, maybe 5 years in, maybe 7, maybe 10? Now I am wondering if it will ever go away.
I am reminded of that fragility every time a family or an individual leaves the church, every time they accept a job that means relocating, or an ageing couple wisely decides failing health means the need to relocate nearer family to ease the burden of responsibility and travel. It inevitably leads me to have a few anxious hours as I process the loss, and anxious weeks as I wonder about how the church will react to another loss. And yet more anxiety as I consider the implications for our budget and for our future plans as a church when we have already stepped out in faith. We’ve had a few years of losses, a gradual drip of saints taken hope to be with their Saviour and finishing their race well and others relocating. Every loss has been felt keenly, one less row of chairs, a smaller Sunday school, fewer actively serving amidst a wealth of needs. This summer again our church has contracted as people have moved away and we perhaps feel more fragile than we have at any time since the first year or two, who wouldn’t when you effectively lose more than a tenth of your congregation. It means that when a member texts or rings and asks for coffee I instantly find myself hoping it’s not to tell me they are moving too, and wondering what we do if it is.
But perhaps the greatest fragility it exposes is the fragility in me. I am tempted to tie my spiritual standing to the success or failure, growth or otherwise of the church. And I don’t think that is totally unhealthy. I must care about the gospel and the glory of God, I must care about the impact of loss on God’s people. I must have a concern to reach the lost and inevitably the loss of workers in a rich harvest field makes that harder.
The greatest fragility it exposes, however, is in my faith. Do I genuinely believe God is sovereign, that he is wisely working, that his plans are best? Do I honestly believe what I have preached; that it doesn’t need big and spectacular to reach the lost but faithful disciples living out the gospel on their frontlines speaking the gospel to one person at a time? Do I honestly believe that my reputation matters or will I trust God will build his kingdom for his glory? Will I learn the lesson God is teaching me and trust him or adopt a dogs of war mentality and rant against everyone else in comfortable Christendom?
I don’t welcome the fragility. I don’t particularly welcome the way it exposes me again in areas I thought I had dealt with. But I do pray that God uses it to more firmly fix my faith on him.