Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Disolving Churches

Saturday morning the Presbytery of New Covenant engaged in the latest round of a three decade debate on human sexuality and ordination. Our most recent debate was well planned with presentations and prayers bracketing the discussions from the floor of a room filled with more people than typically attend a presbytery meeting. It was obvious that a great deal of planning had gone into making it all run “decently and in order.” To that end it was a great success and for those of us who sought to retain the requirements of “fidelity and chastity” the vote was equally successful.

Saturday afternoon we took another vote. There were far fewer people in the room, many left the meeting after the “important” business was done. For the afternoon vote there were no presentations, no one speaking “for” or “against” and no carefully planned prayer to encourage mutual respect. None of that was needed because there was also no disagreement as we voted unanimously to “dissolve” the congregation of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. Dissolve is the way our polity describes closing a church that has “died.”

Westminster served the community of Beaumont for 129 years. Their history was included in the minutes of Saturday’s meeting and noted the rich ways the church at the intersection of Main and Elizabeth was a part of the Beaumont community.

I imagine the pastors and elders that lead Westminster over the last 129 years were no less passionate about their faith than we are. I suspect that they were just as gifted and committed but somewhere along the way the church began to die and either no one noticed or no one cared or no one was willing to do what was required.

Just a few years ago as Westminster celebrated a 125th anniversary the congregation wrote:

We do not know what path the future has for Westminster. We have dreams. We dream big and we pray for our dreams. Our faith and our future are in the hands of the Lord, and God’s purpose will prevail.

On May 31, 2009 those dreams will cease as Westminster Church is officially dissolved.

As I sat in our Sanctuary on Saturday, listening as we voted to close the doors on this congregation I wondered if it might have made a difference if somewhere along the way the sort of energy and passion and commitment and planning demonstrated earlier in the day had been directed toward Westminster (and so many churches facing similar futures).

It’s a cliché, but a true one, that every church is just a generation away from extinction. At times I wonder if anyone notices, if anyone cares and if anyone is willing to do what is required.

The future for every church that ceases to be relevant to the community it serves is the same as Westminster’s. Some are big enough to hold on longer but the future for a church that loses relevance is inevitable.

Our biggest challenges aren’t realizing and balancing a budget, determining optimum Sunday morning schedules, navigating diverse worship styles or improving our communications.

Our greatest challenge is continuing to be relevant to the community we serve. The questions that keep me awake at night are all around how to lead a church into the future.

(I might also suggest, as I taught to the Band of Brothers last Thursday, that our biggest problem is that we don’t really believe that God is bigger than our biggest problem).

So here’s my challenge to our leadership.

What if we spent our energy and our time and directed our passion around how to insure our relevance. What if elders were asking to make presentations at Session meetings about how churches are becoming more relevant and devoting our time and actions toward that end.

Just like those at Westminster, we have dreams. We dream big and we pray for our dreams. Our faith and our future are in the hands of the Lord, and God’s purpose will prevail.

May we also have God’s vision and the courage to follow His dreams.

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