In our efforts to plant new churches, we must not let the ones we have die.  Let’s strive to strengthen our existing churches while we plant new ones.

Matthew 16:18
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

A local church is a divine organism.  It is sparked to life by Christ for His people.  It was His idea.  He founded the local church, paid for it with His blood, and made Himself the Head of it.

Furthermore, He gives each local church His divine protection.

Every faithful assembly of believers has “Divine Perpetuity.”  That’s a fancy way of saying that each church has God’s supernatural protection and can continue until Christ returns.  

A local Church cannot be murdered, but it can commit suicide. Click To Tweet

Don’t miss this powerful truth!  A Church cannot be destroyed from outside forces.  Satan cannot destroy a church from the outside.  Persecution may hurt it, but it will survive.  A government may outlaw it, but it will continue.  An enemy may bulldoze the building, but the believers will remain.  Members may be jailed or killed, but the work of God marches on.  

History reveals that while outside pressure can hinder the external ministry of a church, it causes the believers to grow more committed to God and one another.  This is Divine Perpetuity in action.  

But wait a minute.  We know that churches die.  How can this happen?

New England is littered with dilapidated church buildings.  Each one of these buildings has a story.  At one time there was a group of people that spent time and money to build the structure and care for the grounds.  Once excited people were gathering on the Lord’s Day to sing, fellowship, and learn the Bible.  In these long-dead buildings, the Gospel was preached, and Christians went forth as a spiritual army carrying God’s message of love and hope to a needy community. 

Those who have been saved for decades could tell of churches they have personally known that are dead now. Influential churches that made a significant impact for God that now are dead and buried, forgotten from memory except for those that mourn over its demise.

How does this happen?  If a Church can’t be destroyed by the Devil, why do they cease to exist?  The answer is as sad as it is simple.  

A local Church cannot be murdered, but it can commit suicide.

Let those terrifying words resonate in your heart for a moment. God protects the church from outside destruction, yet a church can destroy itself!  It can shoot itself in the head, as members defy a godly pastor and the vision God gave him.  It can hang itself from the rafters of worldliness as they choke out the influence of the Holy Spirit.  It can poison itself with carnality as the members bite and devour one another.  It can drown in debt from bad decisions or lack of giving.  It can jump from the pinnacle of pride to splatter on the rocks of reality. 

Israel had the same problem.  They were God’s holy people divinely protected from other nations.  Yet they destroyed themselves.

Decide today that with God’s help, you will not let your church die.  

There are four groups of people that can hurt a church.  I’ll say a word about each, but first, understand my heart.  I believe you will find the best people on the planet in Christ’s churches.  I’m not going to take the space under each group to list the many good people I’ve known and the wonderful servants of God who often fill these positions.  Allow me to speak to the negatives for the purposes of this article. 

PASTORS

The pastor is a gift of God to the local church.  

He is the under-shepherd serving in Christ’s stead.  The way Christ organized His church, the pastor has incredible influence in the direction, operation, and vision of the assembly.   This is wonderful when the pastor does his job.  But what if he doesn’t? 

How can a pastor hurt a church?

By not having a vision.

It’s the vision from God that drives a pastor to work, study, preach and pray.  It wakes him up in the morning and keeps him up at night.  It forces him to service and sacrifice.

If the pastor doesn’t have a vision, the church members won’t either.  A church that stays in “survival mode” for too long is a dying church.  If you’ve lost your drive, then get a fresh vision from God.  Pray and fast until it comes.  Tell God that you don’t want to go through the motions; You need His vision and power!

Don’t just survive, but thrive!  Go after sinners.  Preach with passion.  Encourage the members to serve and sacrifice.  Lead by example.  Set the pace.  Cast your vision for the future.  

By not staying long enough.

Churches need a stable pastor.  The average pastor in America serves at a church from 2 – 4 years.  Let’s be honest.  It takes you two years to thoroughly learn the streets of the town, what stores have the best deals, and where are the best restaurants. Learning the details and needs of your flock takes a lot longer than that.  

In addition, New Englanders appreciate steadfastness.  It will take you some years to earn the public trust and truly begin to influence your town for Christ.  Pastor, don’t be a church hopper.  Find God’s will and do it faithfully.  If God moves you, then go.  If God is moving you every few years, make sure you aren’t getting your signals crossed.  

Stay during the tough times.  Work through the problems of the church with God’s help.  He knew of the problems you would face before He called you there.  Don’t quit when the going gets tough.  Don’t pine for a better situation.  As one wise man said, “The grass is greener on the other side because it’s being fertilized with manure.”  Just stay where God called you.  You will be glad you did after the dust settles.

By staying too long.

I approach this section with fear and trepidation.  Not because I’m afraid of what others will think, instead I fear that some dear, faithful saint of God will think I’m taking His service and sacrifice lightly.  Nevertheless, we must face the facts.  

Some pastors stay in the pastorate long after they should hand it off to a younger man.  The work of a pastor is a great work.  In quality and quantity, it is one of the most demanding positions on the planet.  It takes a mix of spiritual, physical,  mental, and emotional health not required in any other job.

Moreover, church work is becoming more difficult in these perilous times.  Foot traffic in churches is down in every area.  We must follow the mandate of Christ to go out into the highways and hedges compelling them to come in.  We must be busy about the difficult work of door-to-door canvassing, personal soul winning, and consistent follow-up.  On top of all the administrative duties and spiritual disciplines, this is a ton of work!

The lifeblood of a church is new people: new guests in the services, new souls saved, new people baptized, new converts discipled, new members being trained for service. These are what keep a church young!  To have these, you must keep up the work of the ministry.

Unfortunately, a pastor that stays too long cannot keep these things going.  The “new” stops.  The old becomes mundane.  The congregation gets older with little or no young people.  The building starts to show its age, and there is not enough laborers or money to keep it up.

The church begins to die.  The people feel it.  The pastor is discouraged.  What happens next determines the fate of the church.  A pastor with remaining health and strength can get a renewed vision, godly mentorship, and restart doing the things that God will bless.  However, if a pastor doesn’t have the health, strength, vision, or stamina for the ministry, they might ride the whole church down if they stay too long.

In my research, I found four reasons why pastors can hang on too long:

1.  They genuinely love the church.

This is understandable.  A pastor that has loved and sacrificed for the flock for so long cannot just turn that off.  He believes that no one can love them as he does, and he may be right.  But every aged minister had to start somewhere.  God can send a man to love and lead the congregation.  Sure, he may have to grow into it, but such is the way of life.  Someone gave us the chance to lead when we were younger.  We will have to do the same for the church to continue past our own lives.

2.  They can’t see themselves as anything other than a pastor.

A man that pastors a church is so given to the task that the position begins to define him.  What’s his job description? Pastor.  What do people call him when they address him?  Pastor.  What do his colleagues do?  Pastor. 

Remember pastor friend, that we must be defined by our relationship to God, not by our job description.  There is ministry after the pastorate for a faithful man.  Some churches could create a “Pastor Emeritus” position for an aged pastor.  Other men might “retire” from pastoring, but go into “evangelism.”  Translation: you get to win souls and preach helping pastors and churches without the daily burden of pastoring.  Others could become amazing Assistant Pastors.  

Richard Paasch has been a gift from God to our church and me.  He is a capable man of God with much left to give to God’s service, but a series of heart attacks made the daily burden of pastoring unwise.  He and his wife Lee-Ann have been used of God to keep me sane and productive during my family’s life and death struggle with my wife Sarah’s health.  I pray their testimony of humble service could be a model for other men of God in the future.

3.  They don’t have a way to take care of themselves in retirement.

Many good pastors have served faithfully but are physically unable to do the work of the ministry any longer.  They need to retire.  They want to retire.  Yet, they just don’t have any options.  Perhaps they live in a parsonage now, but can’t afford rent anywhere else.  Possibly, they opted out of social security without a retirement plan so the only income they have is from the church.  They feel like a failure, but don’t know what to do!

In cases like this, the church membership doesn’t know what to do either.  They feel bad for the pastor and his wife.  They love him dearly.  He has served them for many years but now struggles.  He has no options, so the church keeps taking care of him, praying for a miracle as the church spirals downward.  

My heart goes out to people in this situation.  There are no easy answers.  I’m not advocating that a church drop an aging and suffering man of God that has been faithful, but neither am I defending the church die with him.  Difficult choices will have to be made.  

God can help any church that turns to Him with all their heart in humble repentance and faithful obedience. Click To Tweet

Perhaps one option is to give the aging pastor (with no other options) a life-lease to the parsonage, but find a soul winning pastor to build up the church.  This would ensure the elderly pastor’s living situation while keeping the parsonage available for the future.  This means the new pastor would need to come into the church with a church planter’s mentality.  Perhaps he could work a secular job for a while or raise support for a few years.  Most church planters would be happy to take over a situation where there are an existing church building and a handful of people that want to grow.  May God give us wisdom for these difficult situations!

Pastor, put a retirement plan in place now.  Don’t wait.  If Jesus tarries, you and I will be old before we know it.  Start small, but start.  I’m speaking to myself as well.  I have been pastoring the same church for almost 15 years, but have no retirement plan in place.  I have thought about it many times, but…  Now, look what you made me do!  I’m getting convicted with this article.  Let’s just do it.

Church members, please help your pastor have a strategy for retirement.  It is a tough ask for most pastors.  They will very gladly spend and be spent for you without much thought of themselves.  They will give you the best of their working years with little care for retirement until it fast approaches them.  Each church will differ as to what they can do but don’t allow meager finances to paralyze you.   A difficult decision now becomes harder the longer you wait.

4.  They can’t find a trustworthy replacement.

This is a great concern to many men who need to help their church find a new pastor.  It is heartbreaking to see healthy churches choose a man who was not vetted well that takes the church a different direction after becoming the pastor.

Where do you find a man who has the right doctrine and philosophy of ministry to take a church?  Most churches call a mission board or a college hoping to find someone.  Here’s some encouraging news!  Save New England is working hard to cultivate relationships with Bible Colleges and our Pastoral Network to find capable men of God for New England.  If your church needs a pastor, give us a call.  We will begin praying with you and, with God’s enabling, help you find the right man who will lead the church on to a bright future. 

Assistant Pastors

Far too many church splits have come because of disillusioned Assistant Pastors.  Sometimes they are lifted up with pride thinking they know better and can do better.  Sometimes they are naively manipulated by disloyal church members who want to go a different direction than the Pastor’s Biblical vision.  Sometimes they want to pastor themselves, but see it more comfortable to start with a group of people they know rather than going to a different place.  Don’t be disloyal.  Don’t be a tool of Satan to hurt the church.  

Your pastor is human, but he is called of God.  Be loyal.  Follow him as he follows Christ.  Serve humbly to the best of your ability.  The Pastor carries burdens that an assistant cannot know.  Help him as he serves God.  If he ever stops following Christ, then move on.  If you want to pastor, then go start or take a church, but don’t hurt the church you are in now.  

Deacons

Deacons are God’s gift to the pastors.  They are to help the pastor serve the people so he can spend enough time in prayer, Bible study, and the ministry of the Word.

Numerous churches have a board run mentality.  They think the deacons should run the church and the pastor should just preach and take care of the spiritual “stuff.”  This is a denominational philosophy that’s not found in Scripture.

A pastor should teach the church the Bible verses on church polity and structure.  Deacons can be a fantastic help to a church or hinder their spiritual mission.  

If you are a Deacon, get behind your Pastor and help him fulfill God’s vision for your church.  A wise pastor will listen to the church membership and consider their point of view.  However, he must ultimately lead according to God Word and will.  Don’t desire a man you can control.  Desire a man of God.  

Church Members

Church members have an influential role in the effectiveness and future of their church.  The only power a Pastor has is influence.  He is there to influence the people to follow God.  Even though the Pastor leads the church, much of the decision making power is in the pew.  What if the congregation won’t be lead?  What if the membership is worldly and rebellious? 

In some cases, the pastor’s only hope is to go win enough new people Christ to outweigh the stubborn ones in the pews. 

Moses was one of the greatest leaders ever to live, yet his life is marked by the constant rebellion of the Israelites.  Even when God was working miracles, he was derided and defamed.  If he didn’t know God so well, he wouldn’t have lasted.  In the end, he didn’t step foot in the Promised Land because he got angry and reacted to their foolishness.

Many a good preacher has been run off by backslidden members.  Too often a faithful preacher has been discouraged by a congregation that won’t submit to God’s will and way.  

Don’t kill your church, Christian!  Surrender to God fully.  Decide to get behind your preacher and follow him as he follows Christ.  Step up and help with the needs of the ministry.  Tithe.  Witness.  Be faithful to services.  Ask how you can help.  Don’t just be a hearer of the Word, but be a doer also.  Nothing will encourage your preacher like humble surrender to God and a vocal desire to be a blessing.

Conclusion

Don’t let your church die.  Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it.  Let’s do the same.  May God empower us to strengthen our existing churches while we plant new ones!


Save New England Magazine

 This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of the Save New England Quarterly Magazine. Learn more about this ministry at SaveNewEngland.org.

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