“So the brethren brought Saul down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace….” (Acts 9:30-31).
After they slipped the new disciple, Saul of Tarsus, out of the city, the Jerusalem disciples had peace. The work flourished.
Some people bless the Lord’s work more by leaving than by arriving and working.
That’s what started me thinking about this….
The church building was relieved when the last pastor resigned. It sighed with relief. The sanctuary knew quietness and peace again. Its ulcers eased and started healing. The church office grew calm and the pastor’s study went into a fast.
The conference room had more meetings than before, since more committees are required to run a program when one man is not calling all the shots. A dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, we read. But the Lord’s church was never intended as a one-person rule.
These, however, were purposeful meetings. The walls breathed easily as the voices within prayed and affirmed.
Hope filled the hallways and faith the classrooms. Church members labored for their church and loved it while interested pastors drove by to admire the plant and ask the Lord to keep them in mind. The church campus once again felt loved.
The pulpit was glad when the revival ended. The loud stranger had dented its top through constant pounding with a fist that sported a heavy class ring. Not once in the century and a half of its existence on this spot had that pulpit received such a beating.
The familiar warm grip of its regular occupant was a welcome relief. Throughout the auditorium church members looked this way again in love and not with fear.
The old Bible was delighted to be called up for active duty. The pastor had given the two newer versions to his grown sons, hoping the gesture would encourage them toward diligence and faithfulness. The old servant still had much to offer. Its pages turned more easily than those which pride themselves on thinness. The modern passion for thin has its limitations. Its message is the same as its newer counterparts, up to a point. But in the margins pencil marks written years ago tied together verses and insights which printing plants know nothing of. The pastor had forgotten the richness of many of these connections.
The old Book carries scars from its years of faithful service. The tops of three pages containing Luke 7-8-9 are missing since Toby the cat saw them flapping in the breeze of the kitchen fan and thought they were his toys. In the back is a list of people the pastor was trying to reach and praying for nine years earlier. One died, several were saved, some moved away, and eventually the pastor left for another church. The old list reminds him to pray for these whose whereabouts the Father alone knows.
The pastor could buy a new Bible. Money is not the problem. But he would have to forego these notes and insights or write them in the margin of the new Bible. Neither choice appeals to him. Too good to leave behind, these notes should stay with their old Book. New Bibles have a right to their own jottings.
The pastor got word that a certain family had left the church and he dropped to his knees and gave thanks.
For reasons known only to God, that family seemed to be of the impression that they owned the charter for that little congregation. It was their personal project, their pet, and they would be telling everyone else how things would be done. The congregation, like most church members everywhere, I expect, patiently stood by and watched, not wanting to intrude, not feeling they had the right, assuming that perhaps that little bunch was privy to information not available to the rest. And then one day–or one night in a church business meeting, rather–it came to a head.
Someone stood up in the meeting and wanted to know how the decision was made to terminate that staff member and to hire the new one. Who decided? And how was the decision made?
When they were told, “These things are better not talked about in public, but are better handled in private,” they did not let the culprits get by with that ruse. They insisted, “This is a congregationally-led church. The membership needs to know these things. And I want to know.” Someone else stood and said, “For too long, decisions have been made by a few without the rest of us knowing the first thing about it. Now, it’s time. I want to know.” Others nodded and murmured in agreement.
The self-appointed leaders, those holding the charter on the church, so to speak, grew huffy and said something like, “If you don’t trust us, then we will just leave.” One said, “Bear in mind, we are the heavy tithers in this congregation. You don’t want to lose our family.”
Most of the church would have acquiesced on that, mostly from a stew composed of trust and ignorance and fear and the desire to go along to get along. But before anyone could say anything, an older member of the church, a godly old gent who usually had little to say about things, stood and said quietly, “I think that’s a good idea.”
What is a good idea?
“For you to leave. We’ve let you run things for years, and you’ve about run this church into the ground. So, it’s time for you to leave. Since you mentioned it.”
There was silence. Then the old fellow said, “In fact, I make a motion to that effect.”
The pastor could hardly believe his ears. He was supposed to be presiding at this meeting but had become a spectator. Suddenly, he was jolted awake. Someone was making a motion.
“Mr. Goodnight, what exactly is your motion?”
“I move that our friend here be encouraged to leave the church, along with his great tithes that he brags about. I happen to have been treasurer of this church for a number of years, my friends, and I can tell you we will not miss his tithes. Not in the least.”
Someone seconded the motion, and a wave of murmuring swept across the church.
“No need to vote on it,” said the offending charter-holder. “We can take a hint.”
As he got up to leave, a half dozen members of his extended family rose also. But some didn’t. As he was about to leave, the man turned and called to his brother and sister-in-law. “Y’all coming with us?”
A smile went across the pastor’s face as the brother said, “Nah. I think we’ll stay.”
And they did stay. And a wonderful thing happened throughout the church. There was a new quietness in the heart of the congregation, a new joy in the worship, and a sweetness in the business sessions. And the pastor did something interesting.
He picked up the phone and called that search committee from the Bigville church and asked them to remove his name from consideration. The Lord was not through with him in this church yet, he told them. And he’s been there ever since.
For years, I prayed a three-fold prayer about the churches I pastored: ‘Lord, send only the members to this church you want us to have. Keep away any who do not need to be here. And Father, if there are any who need to leave, please call them away.'”
I recommend that prayer. And I wouldn’t discourage a pastor from praying it publically from time to time.