Closing Our Own Churches
By Jan Edmiston, DMin ’01 and 222nd General Assembly Co-moderator with T. Denise Anderson.
June 11, 2015—Yesterday someone said to me: We don’t trust you because we think you want to close our church. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that and it won’t be the last.
The truth is, though, that those churches are usually closing themselves.
That sounds really harsh and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But congregations on the cusp of closure are often there because they’ve made choices that have risked the future of the church they love. Among those poor choices:
- They chose to make their pastor the professional Christian, believing that it’s the pastor’s job (and only the pastor’s job) to do ministry.
- They chose to morph into a club, more worshipful of their building than God.
- They chose to perpetuate an institution rather than make disciples or love their neighbors.
- They chose mission that either separated them from the community they were trying to serve (“We’ll send money but we don’t really want to know those people“) or elevated them over the community they were trying to serve (“We go down and help those people because they are too uneducated/irresponsible to help themselves.“)
- They chose to become landlords (renting their property to “tenants”) over engaging in relational ministry (using their buildings as tools for ministry with partners whose names and needs they actually know.)
- They chose the wrong pastor or they chose not to listen to the right pastor.
- They chose to do ministry on the cheap even when they could afford more.
- They chose to forego basic building maintenance to the point that maintenance became impossibly expensive.
- They chose to allow ineffective volunteers and paid staff to keep their jobs too long.
- They chose to leave the praying, the Bible study, the continuing education to the person who went to seminary.
- They chose to hold their pastor to impossible standards.
- They chose to devote their congregational efforts to something less than God.
Yep, that sounds severe, but it’s sadly true. Before denominational leaders have the conversation about a church’s plans for the future (which might mean closing so that a new congregation might be resurrected in their place) it’s almost always the case that church members have unwittingly made choices that are killing their ministry.
Sometimes reboots are not possible because the culture is beyond shifting. But sometimes reboots are indeed possible. Again: another choice.
I want your church to thrive and make an impact in the name of Jesus Christ. I don’t want your church to close if you are truly and authentically ready to choose a completely different way of being the church.
Jan Edmiston, GA Co-Moderator with T. Denise Anderson, is the associate executive presbyter for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.
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Photo by Anna G. Larson from this article.