Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Warren Report (No, not that Warren Report!)

We've just returned from a weekend trip to visit our oldest son in NE Ohio. What a great time!

Friday we spent a beautiful summer evening at Jacobs, er, Progressive Field, watching the Indians beat the Twins, while eating very expensive hot dogs and observing with amusement the gaggle of eighth-grade girls in front of us as they never watched a minute of the game.

Saturday, at Matt's request, I gave him a lesson in pruning shrubs. He has a beautiful 1925 Craftsman-style home, with a mature landscape. He had been making the mistake of most new gardeners, by not pruning diligently enough. It's very hard to learn the importance of really pruning aggressively to maintain older shrubs. He had been avoiding it, or taking too little off, and now things were looking a bit wild. Fortunately, he owned the right tools, and I was able to give him the basic knowledge he needed to bring things back to their natural shape, within the the boundaries of size that he need to stick with. It was hot work, but by the end of the morning things were looking much better, and there was quite a brush pile for him to burn this fall.

This morning, we attended the church where he is the pastor. He has been there 3 1/2yrs. Since I also work Sundays, we have only been able to attend there about six times since he accepted his call there. That has given us a kind of snapshot record of the way this church has been changing.

When Matt first took this pastorate, the church had a superficial appearance of health, although the congregation was worried that they were in a slow decline. The first services we attended were okay, but there was a slightly depressive feel. The Sanctuary was a very large, dark room. People sat rather far apart, scattered widely over a room designed for a much larger group. There were subsets of folks that didn't interact with other subsets of folks. The singing was minimal. That was hard for us, because our home church people are an ardent bunch of hymn-singers!

The last two times we've been out there, though, there is a real change. People are friendlier to each other before and after the service. The worship time is livelier. The prayer is led by multiple people, and congregants are participating much more in that, as well. There are new faces, and many of those are youngster, brought by their friends. One young boy eagerly told me that he would be baptized soon. The prayer requests are not just for the sick, but for wayward children, unemployed members, deliverance from addictions. These requests are so heartfelt and so humbly and unashamedly made, and there is such a sense of faith in prayer!

At one point, Matt asked if anyone had anything to announce. Several did, and then I felt prompted to timidly raise my hand. Matt gave me the chance to speak. I told the congregation that our church has Matt and the Warren church listed to be prayed for every week in our prayer bulletin. I told them that a noon group prays for them on Monday, the staff prays for them on Tuesday, and the choir prays for them on Wednesday. Behind me, a lady said, with great conviction, "So that's why we're still here!" The congregation clapped.

You see, there aren't as many of them as there were three years ago. That's never what a pastor wants to see happen! Our American ideal of success tells us that a church should be growing numerically, if the pastor is successful.

But that is our Standard of Measurement, not the Kingdom of Heaven's. By Kingdom standards, this church has had a mustard seed revolution. After no baptisms for years, there have been many, and several more coming up. A lay man has been licenced to preach. Young people are dragging their parents to church, and the parents are meeting Christ. There have even been a few genuine miracles that have occurred. Adults are eagerly meeting to study the Bible, which, for many, is a first. The area minister has held this little church up as the first one involved in the church renewal process in his area to achieve the status of a truly missional congregation.

They just needed a good pruning, back to green wood. Now, they are ready to grow!


Michelle said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly! God is definitely moving and touching hearts, including mine.

Growing pains aren't very enjoyable, and your son has seen me cry more than I care to admit.

But we are no longer attacked to the point of wanting to disobey God and leave. (Perhaps Pastor Matt never entertained that thought, but I sure did. )

Recent tears, though, have been due to the Lord healing some serious hurts, reminding us how much we're loved.

Maybe I'm being pruned too...

By the way, you have a wonderful family! You and your husband are so friendly and approachable. Maybe next time I'll be able to hear Robin play her trumpet. :o)

It's always good to see and hug you!

God bless!

Lady Sterling said...

This is such an interesting story and one I have seen several times first-hand. One church in particular where my dad was pastor had a nice-sized congregation that dwindled down to around 50-75 people after my dad started there. The pastor's style before him was very different from my dad's. Well, long story short, the church flourished and there were many new converts, up and coming leaders, two new additions to the building because of growth and so much more. We were a leader in the state of Ohio in baptisms and giving among other things. By the time my dad left I believe the church had grown to around 300-350. It is interesting because this church has recently put up a Facebook group called the glory days of HHBC which was from that time when my dad was pastor. (I don't know that that is such a good thing, but they reminisce of those good times as they struggle today to get through the funk they are in now.)

I guess the good thing to notice is that losing numbers in exchange for quality and spiritual growth is what counts. And in time the numbers will follow, just like a gorgeous flowering rose bush after a good pruning.


Joyce said...

K-that's very interesting that you experienced the same phenomenon. I think it is very counterintutive for a pastor to accept that people may leave even when he may be doing the important things right. I'm convinced the Lord allows it sometimes, and that the process is vauable for those who are left, as they trust God to re-grow the church.

Donna said...

My church was a struggling little congregation of about 100 when a new (young & energetic) pastor came. The congregation promptly dropped to less than 50! In the next 20 years, the numbers grew to over 5000 under the same pastor! Numbers don't mean anything if the people love the Lord.

CAE said...

Here from Arduous's blog - my homework is late! I am not a religious person at all but I liked this post. It sounds like a nice community.

Joyce said...

cae, thanks for stopping by. I like Arduous' idea of checking out lots of other blogs; I'm doing it too.
You're right, the church in Warren does have a nice community feel.

Nan said...

Beautifully written. I love coming here. I always read something that makes me think and feel.