January 28, 2018
Earlier tonight we concluded our Annual Meeting. It was discouraging on a number of fronts, but one truth was painfully evident after tonight: our church has some deep, unresolved issues that surfaced in the meeting, as they did in the Annual Meeting last year, and I have no idea how to resolve them. There are a few ways in which this truth surfaced, which I will list for you. I am just reaching out to you as my DS because I feel that this congregation cannot move forward until we address these issues, and further attempts to do so would be exercises in futility.
1. We cannot even elect the minimum number of required elders
This past year, we changed our by-laws to go from a two-board system (elder and governing board) to a single governing board with an elder majority. Last year, Sam Hinson was nominated from the floor but did not receive enough votes to be elected. This year, his name was on the ballot but he, again, did not receive enough votes to serve as an elder. This left us with three non-elder board members and three elders, including myself. While some in the church see it as simply a procedural failure (we also removed nominations from the floor and required them to be submitted in writing prior to the meeting), I see it is a deep spiritual problem that surfaces its ugly head year after year. There are obviously past hurts from decades ago that have never been resolved and continue to divide this group. The lack of “new blood” from either discipleship or evangelism has left this little divided group in its current state. Efforts to bring new blood into the church fail because these hurts surface in the form of conflict, and then people inevitably leave.
2. Efforts to mobilize the church to action consistently fail due to disunity
In my Annual Report, I made a plea for unity. Yet, this group continues to be disunified and almost split down the middle along family lines. For the last four to five years, I have poured my heart and soul into mobilizing us to action in order to have kingdom impact, but you cannot mobilize a group that is not unified. I have often wondered why my efforts at mobilization continue to fail, but tonight it became obvious that the persistent disunity in the church is the reason. There seems to be some deeply rooted bitterness and, I think, unforgiveness that spiritually paralyzes us. Issues that should have been dealt with long before I arrived have not and attempts to bring those issues to the surface have only resulted in further conflict.
3. This disunity was evident in fighting during and after the Annual Meeting
During the meeting, we had several people leave early and two women were fighting in the hallway after the meeting. Come on, man! Of those who left early, two have been elders and leaders in the church for decades, and one was Bobby Phillips. The two women fighting in the hallway weren’t even fighting about anything that happened during the meeting, but about some silly personal conflict that surfaces when they see each other…at church! Additionally, one person approached me after the meeting to let me know that she had shared something with one of the elders in confidence, only to have several people approach her during the meeting to ask her about what she shared. They also told her that the elder was the one who shared it with them. So, not only is there fighting but also issues of trust and confidentiality. Again, all of this was not only an obvious symptom of disunity but also highlighted again the futility of trying to mobilize people to work together toward the mission of God.
4. The elements of ministry which are closest to the heart of God, and foundational to any church, are not embraced by our people
This was perhaps the most discouraging and enlightening aspect of tonight’s meeting. We had a magnetic whiteboard with every ministry of the church represented, and I had been encouraging people to pray for the last month or so about what God had given them a burden for. Then, at the meeting we would offer the opportunity for them to pull that ministry off the board. This would show us not only how to focus our efforts in 2018, but also reveal how God was moving amongst our people and what passions were being stirred. A few ministries which were left unclaimed by anyone were: prayer (the primary work of God’s people), missions (at the Missionary Alliance Church of the Christian & Missionary Alliance), outreach, and children’s ministry. Meanwhile, decorating, special events, and security were claimed right away! How exactly can we continue to claim to be a Christian church on mission to reach the world for Jesus when no one feels burdened enough about prayer or missions or outreach or children to lead them?
While some of this may be from discouragement following a bad meeting, I have grave questions and concerns about this congregation. When a church cannot commit to prayer, missions, or outreach can it still be considered a church at all, much less an Alliance church? When disunity has persisted for decades and people are unwilling to deal with it, can that group still be considered a church? When you can’t even elect a minimum number of elders, do you really have a church?
I am reaching out to you for wisdom and guidance not just on procedural issues (like, what do we do if we didn’t elect enough elders?) but more so on deep spiritual issues. I feel like churches have been closed for less serious grievances, and even if that is not the outcome I don’t know what to about my own future here. In some ways, I feel as though a looming deployment may be the Lord’s exit strategy, but I don’t know. Can we meet whenever you get an opportunity to walk through some of this? Thanks for everything you do.
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence