June 1, 2011

It was two years ago today that I "formally retired" from the ministry, leaving Forest Hill Baptist Church near Emporia, VA to venture where few can afford to go today, i.e. Home to wait!

I spent four and a half years in this church, a rural congregation, trying to divide my work equally between committee meetings, church functions, sermon preparation, visiting the sick and all-around socializing with the members. Trouble comes when the sick are mostly transported to a hospital 90 to 120 miles away and the vast amount of time is spent on the roads. Oh how I craved to be back in the city!

Retirement, anymore, is merely a word. Our economy is tilted so far downward today that few have never seen. It almost takes us back to 1937, the year of the Second Great Depression when FDR regulated all businesses pretty much into the ground and another 3 million people lost their jobs.

It only took four weeks for me to want to go back into the ministry. Although I launched this website two months prior to my retirement, it serves as a challenge to research and an exercise for my mind (and fingers as I do all the typing). I miss being with people on a day-to-day basis. Although I can do this each day by going to the local Starbucks and hanging out with others, it's not the same.

Why not go back into the ministry? After all, many men my age and older are doing it! I have a number of pastor friends who know I am entertaining such thoughts and they ask: "What are you doing?" My response is always: "I'm waiting on the Lord."

But waiting on the Lord is much different than say waiting on a Pastor Search Committee to make a decision.

How so? Well, times have changed -- I mean drastically. Let me explain.

There was once a time when a 55 year eligible pastor was a gem, provided he had no moral or theological scars. Today's church is not as open. The typical church seeking a lead or senior pastor has raised the bar. It is no longer whether he is mature (age-wise) and whether he is theologically sound. Many churches never ask questions about a candidate's belief system at all.

The typical church today seeks someone between the ages of 30 and 45 and has a track record for good numbers, that is, a past ministry with growing attendances and budget and has a wife and children - the kids still living in the home. Over the last twenty months I have found this to be the case 99-percent of the time.

There are the great exceptions. The country church likes the aged pastor. But the country church is limited by geography and resources are rare. Most of the work is divided between those long journeys to the hospital and visiting Ms. Lucy who wants to see you face-to-face in her kitchen so she can talk about how her flowers are doing.

Although I miss these things, there is still very little evangelism and discipleship in "the country." Young people grow up, go to college away from home, get married and stay in the city. The only church growth is "biological" where young Jimmy gets baptized, graduates high school and then,...leaves.

Discipleship? Well Granny Green and Uncle Joe have always gone to church there and always will if they live to be 100.

There is a place for those of the clergy who see this as both their calling and up to their speed. I am just young enough and energetic enough to want something else.

In today's world there are three types of churches: The growing church, the stagnate or mediocre church and the dying church. Unfortunately almost all country parishes fall into one of the last two. There are a few, though, that are growing in numbers as they have matured spiritually through good preaching and teaching. People will "come out" to an exciting church regardless of its locale.

But there are many stagnate and dying churches in suburbia as well. In fact, we cannot with all good conscience say that the city church is alive and well.

The churches that are growing all have one thing in common: More than one or two people are doing a fair share of the ministry. The churches that are stagnate or dying have one thing in common as well: Only one or two are doing most or all of the work.

The typical growing church is led by a pastor (young, middle aged or over 60) who will stay until or beyond retirement. He (or she) is loved and respected by the parishioners.

The typical dying church is served by a man (or woman) who puts in an enormous amount of time (with little or no help) and is often criticized when things don't go the way they used to back in 1948.

The bottom line is that one kind of church loves its pastor and follows his (or her) vision, trusting in God to keep him/her and them on the right path. The other kind of church only trusts its past accomplishments, its charter and the pastor long-gone or dead who was the last to have a good following.

Here is a foregone conclusion that dying churches don't want to hear: Namely, if you continue to back into the future while looking forward to the past, the next thing you'll see is a "For Sale" sign on your church lawn.

Yes, growing churches love their leadership and will march through the gates of Hell itself to protect such love. But beware: The second greatest power in the universe stands outside to say words of discontent should your pastor leave or retires.

In the last fifteen to twenty years we have seen an enormous number of churches make decisions to wait two, three, four or more years to call another leader.

One such church in North Carolina, where my niece once served eleven years on its Pastor Search Committee, has gone 13 years without a pastor. Diane (my niece) resigned from the committee in 2010, saying that most of the members want Jesus to be their pastor. Ah, but one of their qualifications is that the pastor be married - and Jesus was not (unless you believe the Da Vinci Code).

Satan surely does want a once growing church to use Jesus as the standard for calling a pastor! But they fall into the trap of the prospective minister not being able to heal the sick, walk on water, run off the Pharisees and be in four places at once. Such is that case with that church in North Carolina, located in Cary, suburbia! It is now my niece's former church, as well the the former church of over 300 who left since they decided to "wait for Jesus II" to send his resume.

In 1981, David and Ronald Hesselgrave wrote a book about the little Epistle of Jude entitled What in the World Has Gotten into the Church? The 131 pages that comprise this little commentary answers the title's query with two words: "The World."

Using today's societal standards to govern the church and its decisions forces its stagnation for a while. Then, in the next generation it comes down with cancer. Eventually it becomes terminal, will go on life support for a time, and ultimately, die.

Don't let the subtle voice of the Devil or the standards of today's world govern your congregation. You could quite possibly be locking yourself into a prison from which you will never escape and loosing something precious to you as well.

It's good to wait upon the Lord. But if you want perfection, or the perfect one to come along, then you'll have to wait until the Second Coming of Christ.

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