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Sad, But True:
A Letter To A Leader In The 
Aftermath Of A Split

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 110

Pastor,

Sad but true this really happened. I am interested to hear what your thoughts and feelings are.

There was a small Lutheran church in a community comprised of mostly other denominations and a few churches that were not Christian at all: Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, and Unitarian. The church's pastor retired and a new, younger pastor took the call to lead this church. 

It wasn't long after he started that people realized he was a man truly gifted by God. His sermons were interesting and engaging, his personality uplifting and caring. He could preach to the rafters and still sit down with some of his new found friends in the congregation to watch a football game. In short, he was everyman's man.

The style of his preaching was so engaging that the parishioners started to invite people to hear him on Sunday mornings. The pastor, wanting to be sure all Glory was given to God, would each and every Sunday pray that the service might minister to the souls in the congregation, and that the Holy Spirit would work through the service to reach the people. He was very humble and grateful that God had laid this call on his life, and he did not take it lightly.

After a little time, the church began to grow. More and more people were coming that were either un-churched, or came from a different denomination all together. This even included some of the people who were Jehovah's Witnesses: a family started coming and listening to the Word of God and were being fed.

But you know how it seems that for every 1 "good guy" there are always at least 3 "bad guys" that want to take the good guy down? For some reason a few of the "old guard" in the church developed a dislike for the Pastor, and began to make his life hard. 

Rumors were started of loose living and improper conduct. When those starting the trouble found that a family of Jehovah's Witnesses were coming to church, they used that to there advantage. The goal was simple: to get the Pastor out.

They began by meeting with others in the church and talking negatively about the Pastor, and where he was taking them. They lifted up the Lutheran church so high, that they had many of the people they talked to convinced that only Lutherans would be in Heaven. 

Having gained enough "home crowd" support, they moved on to the district level and began to lodge complaints against the Pastor. The biggest and most potent one was that he allowed Jehovah's Witnesses to worship with them. They ignored the facts and went straight for the jugular, and this family of visitors was the rallying point.

They convinced people that the Pastor was not following the teachings of the Lutheran church and was watering down the Word of God so he and his "Jehovah's Witnesses friends" could commune together. In short, they sidestepped all his work and made it sound as though he was allowing different religions to worship on Sunday mornings in "their" church.

Needless to say, when the family of visitors heard about this they were crushed. By that time the ground swell had grown so much that there was little they could do, and instead of finding themselves loved and ministered to, they found they were being ignored and even shunned.

The church itself began to split and factions developed. It wasn't long before this little Lutheran church that started to really reach into the community was in so much trouble people talked of even closing the doors. 

The Pastor was distraught. He knew he had done nothing wrong, and despite all that was happening, he still loved his flock. Daily he prayed, but it seemed that the groundswell continued to grow. The family that had visited left and returned to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Pastor found that a number of the congregation had turned and were trying to get him out. 

The lies and rumors were so abundant that no one really knew what was true anymore, and the District was taking a hands-off approach: they didn't know what was true either, and by this time it was so far gone that few saw any hope.

What I'm interested in is not so much a response of what did go wrong, or why it went wrong, or what this pastor could have done, but more in how you feel about this. What are your thoughts and feelings? 

I don't even know why whatever happened happened (nor do I really need to), but I sense that it was something as hard as what this pastor went through. I guess that's why I'm interested in what you think and feel.

(Name Withheld)

------------------
(Response)

Dear (Name Withheld),

I'm not sure how helpful it is to visit the septic tank and grieve in the ashes, especially when much of the septic waste and ashes have been removed.

What you describe is an unfortunately all-too-common experience in the church. If a pastor leaves quickly in the beginning, it prevents things from blowing apart. However, it doesn't fix the problem, either. Sometimes, only surgery will do. Surgery is, however, painful.

From 1989-1993, our worship attendance went from around 100 each week to starting to hit 170 on a regular basis. SS grew from 12-15 to 45 in attendance each week, we added hours to staff and added a part time parish nurse to help with visitation of the elderly (since we had so many--up to 15-18 private communion calls per month). We also had, in 1992, 17 adults enter by adult confirmation. That year, 20% of our membership had been members for less than a year. Things were humming...I thought.

Yes, my friend, it all happened here. Attendance went from up to 170 to 35. Offerings from 110,000 annual budget to a pace of $22,000 per year. SS from 45 to 2. 70 baptized members down to 5-6. To see the ministry get devoured at the jaws of Satan is--without doubt--the most painful experience of my life--bar none. It's a testing like no one can ever believe. 

The Lord is blessing Our Savior. The momentum that is occurring now is the result of young, enthusiastic members like yourself who really love the Lord and want to serve Him "blamelessly" as we discussed in I Cor. 1 last week. 

They don't come in as perfect. But while in the church, as long as they are growing as disciples and willing to receive instruction, correction, encouragement so that they might be perfect and thoroughly furnished to every good work. (e.g.. II Tim. 3:15-17)

God is giving OSLC those kinds of people. You and your wife are just a small but very powerful example of that. I believe God's calling for people like you and others in our leadership is to develop the type of leadership that God has given you to the maximum for His glory in and outside our church. 

I also believe that, as is typical of God, He tests leaders by putting them on the "Battery Tester" to see if they have the "right stuff"--perseverance, character, hope (cf. Romans 5:1ff). 

A leader who flees at the first sign of conflict is worthless. A leader who does not persevere is like a John Mark running away naked in the Garden and fleeing from his God-ordained mission. 

A leader unwilling to go through the fire, who can't stand the heat, is a leader who will never, ever experience just how awesomely great the power of God is in his or her life. Such an individual, in fact, who is unwilling is not, de facto, a leader.

Much of last Sunday's sermon--and the current series--is a reflection of the kinds of things I learned and experienced in my growth as a Christian and as a leader. If you look at last week's outline, notice the suggestions for coping. "I shall build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it" is something that I defiantly believe. Jesus promise is to kick Satan's a___ (pardon the expression--sounds like Luther, huh!). 

If we get out of the way with our own jealousies, our own animosities, and our own agendas and let Jesus carry forth His Word among our church, He WILL build HIS Church in the way He wants at His time and in His way.

Though I almost always disagree with His way, His time, and His methodology, He's always proven faithful. Though the price to be paid can sometimes be exceedingly excruciating in soul, body and spirit, ultimately, Jesus does kick Satan's ass. He DOES build His Church. 

Every time I pass Our Savior--really, EVERY Time--it serves to me as my "Bethel" that it is the House of God which God has demonstrated in my life His greatest promise. He WILL build His Church. He SHALL Build His Church. He DOES build His Church. That's His promise. That's His Word. All I do is to rest on God in my weakness so that His strength and power can be manifest in this ministry.

Those who do greatest in God's ministry are those who experience the greatest trial. Remember Jesus' testing--He was "full of the spirit" just before the testing. Indeed, to be "full of the spirit" is the greatest indicator of readiness for testing in whatever form or manner that Jesus determined.

(Name Withheld), you really appear to be maturing in your faith. From the perspective of God, the most important thing for Him is to do everything possible to awaken, build and strengthen the character of His leaders. As He did with Abraham, Jacob, Noah, Peter, Paul, we can expect He'll do it to us too. 

That's why a biblically-based corps of spiritual leaders and a Christian fellowship which really enables Christians to grow is important. As long as we're on the earth, we're in the church militant. Satan fights against it constantly and would, if he would have his way, destroy every church.

(Name withheld), I pray for leaders like you, . I believe that God has called you to make a great difference in OSLC as you already have. But I also believe this is just the beginning. 

In the grand scheme of things, God really isn't so much concerned about what songs we sing, or how my sermon was Sunday, etc. Though these are important, His greatest concern is the character of the leaders and how Christians complete their course of faith in their lives. 

Faith is not a self-directed tour; it's a journey with many doubts, hindrances, obstacles and challenges to faith every step of the way. Every Christian--pastor, leader or parishioner--must go on that journey, give up his life to find it, and take up the cross to follow...knowing that their lives will be shaped according to the Christian values of Romans 5:1ff.

As Dorothy found out in "The Wizard of Oz," the road to Oz was full of lions, tigers and bears--Oh MY! But, nevertheless, it was a yellow-gilded road that led to where the blessings were. If they departed from that road, trouble would inevitably come. And, the way she got on that road in the first place was from a tornado and being frightened out of her wits by witches, etc. Hmmm....and to make it, I guess you have to have a heart for the Lord, a brain to understand God's ways and workings and the ability to overcome fear--courage--based in Jesus' promise, "Don't be afraid. I am with you."

(Name withheld), just follow the Lord's yellow brick road. And don't ever, ever turn back because your labor for the Lord is not--ever--in vain! (I Cor. 15:56).

Pastor

P.S. Re: For every 1 Good Guy there are three bad guys--Remember the First Song of Isaiah, "Those thousands fall about me, Near me they shall not come."

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:37 PM