A while back, we were encouraged to begin sharing good news in an effort to balance the climate that sometimes festers with ideological disagreement. I've intended several times to tell the story of the last few years at DCN, and have shared bits and pieces, but for one reason or another have never written out the whole thing.
I'm pretty hard to not get along with, which is really what the church needed at the time I arrived. For two years, things went well. We just had church and had a good time doing it. There were some severe underlying health issues that needed to be addressed, but I avoided dealing with them as much as possible. It was easier for me to play peace keeper and absorb conflict than to actually deal with it.
Finally, in 2009 I exploded. I decided it was my job to "fix" the church. I basically cancelled the programs that were causing conflict, and remade the entire weekly schedule, eliminating everything except Sunday mornings, which I even changed the times of. I reformatted our worship style. I basically tried to make us everything we were not in order to attract young families. The result was an immediate attendance decline of about 40%. I also made some real enemies, and kept the phone lines glowing hot during the week. My days were pretty much numbered. I was having up to six panic attacks a day, not sleeping at night, and was ready to leave the ministry altogether.
Finally, on a Sunday morning in August of that year, I grabbed a stool and sat before my congregation, completely broken. In a moment of bold honesty, I told the church that what I was supposed to do at that point was either a) fight them until all those who disagreed with me left, or b) leave myself. However, I told them what I'd really rather do is just love them. I said if they would let me stay and be their pastor, that loving them would become my only job, whether the church ever added another member or not. By the time the service ended, people who I had gotten into shouting matches with were exchanging tears and hugs with me.
So, we went back to our old schedule, and I started just praying for the people in my church. Things did not turn around overnight, but coming to church started to be fun again, and I quit having panic attacks. I slept at night.
Then, in the winter of 2010, God impressed upon me that we should do a couple of things: 1) on Sunday nights, we should pray for God to do specific things for our church. We should ask God for a specific number of people to show up to sunday school. We should ask for a specific amount of tithe in the offering. And we should keep asking until God answered or released us. 2) We should begin blessing the public elementary school across the street from our church with volunteers, supplies, and prayers.
So, that is what we did. We prayed all spring, summer, and fall for 100 people in worship and 3000 in tithes each Sunday, and that we would have that for six Sundays in a row from Labor Day to Columbus Day. We prayed God would send one brand new family, and one "returning sheep" family that had become inactive. We prayed the doors would open for a partnership with Mayes Elementary.
When we started these prayers, we were doing well to have 80 in church and 2000 was an average amount of tithes. By Columbus Day, every item on our Sunday night prayer list had been met and surpassed.
Oh, and we put in over 100 man hours of volunteer service at Mayes.
This year, we have been asking God to give us six weeks in a row of 120 in Sunday school from Labor Day to Columbus Day. We have asked for 4000 a Sunday in tithes. We have asked for two new families (God has already sent three) and two households of returning sheep (God has already sent four). We have asked for one new adult sunday school class (God has already answered this one - the class has been meeting about two months now and is growing.)
120 is a God number for us. It's a faith stretcher and we haven't seen it in sunday school yet. But the numbers have been going up each week. Today, in the middle of vacation season, we had 126 in worship, and 4300 in tithes. I know it's not about the numbers. But it is about God.
Oh, and at the same time we are just going along loving and praying, lives are being radically transformed. We've seen physical and emotional healing, families restored, and miracle babies born. I will tell my own family's miracle at another time.
So, if you are fighting for change in your church, might you consider just losing and loving? When I allowed God to beat my weapons into plowshares, I found a peace in losing that passes all understanding, a love for others that healed my own heart. Plus, practically everything I forced the church to do in 2009 that failed utterly? We're doing nearly every one of those things now, or something better.