by David Sisler
Yesterday, more than 20 families joined with the body of believers where I worship. After they were introduced, and after they had made their confessions public, there was a spontaneous round of applause for our newest members.
Almost immediately my mind wandered back two decades to a small church I once served as pastor.
Bonnie and I and the JAMM Kids had traveled there on faith - the board told us they had a place where we could live, each family had a garden and they would share from their harvest, they would pay us as well as they were able, but they could not make any dollar promise. We accepted.
The work was hard at first, because even though we had been sought out and invited, we were outsiders. We were not Family (combinations of four families made up that rural congregation). Eventually we were welcomed into all of the homes of the Family, but other than the people who attended our first service, no one else came to church.
Then an unusual, or not so unusual, thing began to happen. Strangers started coming. People who had no relationship to the Family began to find the Lord and find a church home in that little white building.
And then another unusual, or not so unusual, thing began to happen. The Family began to grumble. The grumbling was directed by the Matriarch of the Family.
"Who are all these people?" she complained one morning within my hearing.
"I don't know," another member of the Family said. "I don't know a single one of them."
"These are people who have been won to the Lord through the outreach of our church," I said. "Many of them have been coming here for months."
"Well," sniffed the Matriarch, "I don't see why we need them. There is enough work to do to reach the Family."
That attitude began to work through other members of the Family and the outreach ground to a halt. People know where they are welcome. People know where they are being frozen out. The growth stopped and slid backwards.
I called a Sunday evening business meeting of the congregation. I recounted everything that had happened in the 18 months we had been together. Everything. Including the conversation with the Matriarch.
For the next two hours, they grumbled about the money we had spent in outreach - printing, postage, radio advertising, newspaper advertising. They did not grumble about the money we had spent on physical improvements to the property. They grumbled that they new people had no respect for the traditions of the founders of the church. They grumbled that all of the new children were noisy and were making a mess of their spotless facilities.
Then they started voting. When they voted to stop all outreach expenditures I told them they needed to vote for a new pastor. There was immediate silence in the building.
I told them my family and I were going away for three days and when we came back, they could tell me if they were going to be a church for the Lord God Almighty, or a church for the Family. They chose the Family. We resigned.
I was back in the area more than a dozen years later to attend a party for one of the people who had been so kind to us. Members of the Family were in attendance and there were smiles and hugs all around. Someone took me aside and said, "You were right. We were wrong. There are fewer people in attendance than the first Sunday you were with us. Our children grew up and moved away, and we old heads are all that are left. I can't remember when anyone new confessed personal faith in Jesus Christ."
"There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents," Jesus said. Sadly, at some churches, that is not the case. Joyfully, at others, it is very much the case. Sadly, some people have forgotten that a church is a hospital, not a country club. Joyfully, others have remembered.
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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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