In general, it’s better to tell the truth isn’t it? There may very well be the rare example where telling an untruth is warranted but on the whole, the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy,” is the correct way to go. Telling the truth very much includes being honest with ourselves.
In a recent text carousel I created for Instagram, I mentioned deciding to close the local church I had been leading for fifteen years. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was undoubtedly the correct one and one God affirmed through many people. We could have carried on and ignored the signs for years to come and continued to think to ourselves that things were heading in a positive direction. The truth of the situation was we’d become a church where we were struggling to attract new members and hadn’t seen a new convert to Christianity for a long time. Lacking these visible signs of growth, I believe we became disenchanted and disengaged. Sunday meetings were hitting all-time lows in terms of attendance, and being able to motivate people to attend prayer gatherings or outreach events was a real struggle. It was a church made up of amazing and generous people, but it had become a church where it seemed like 20% of the people were doing 80% of the work, and we weren’t seeing much impact in return. This is the truth of the matter, and as much as it would have been easy to look the other way and continue trying, I knew deep down, and for a long time prior, what our inevitable outcome was likely to be. When COVID arrived, and the world locked down, it seemed initially, and strangely, that things were looking up. Our online church engagement increased many-fold despite world events bringing sadness, horror and frustration. Our early pandemic online prayer gatherings were more well attended than our in-person ones had ever been. The community seemed to be strengthening even as it was forcibly at a distance. But this didn’t last. As the year or so of lockdown wore on, things began to return to the sporadic nature of church attendance and mid-week practices. We even launched what we called Mission Groups in the middle of the pandemic, and again, although these generated some initial excitement, as time went on, they became more of a chore for many (though admittedly not for all), and they dwindled. Some of this could be said to be ‘screen fatigue’, but we would have been fooling ourselves if we had thought this was the only reason. Indeed when we began to meet in person again, it was only a short while before we realised we were slowly stepping back into church as it used to be, and the truth was this simply couldn’t be allowed to happen. God spoke clearly to the leadership and me during this time of flux, and I’m sure to many in the congregation, and the joint decision was made to close the church.
And here is some further truth, this wasn’t an easy step. I had led that church (with others) for well over a decade. My wife and I (and even our children) had poured everything we were, emotionally and physically, into trying to help build a local church that God could use to advance His Kingdom in our city. As I write this post, I’m minded to confess that closing the church makes me feel like a failure and leads me to ask myself many questions: What could I have done differently? Should I have led with a stronger hand or looser? Why hadn’t I been able to make disciples and shape future leaders? Was the vision for the church unclear? Did we try too many things to motivate and move people into action? These and many other questions still bother me. If you were to read any motivational leadership blog, it would seem that I have faltered on so many things.
My truth now is that I seek to learn from my past so that in the next 10 years, I desire to help build something that continues to bear fruit long after I’ve gone. I could continue to lambast myself for seemingly past failings, or I can look at what did work and focus on the ‘wins’ even if these seem minor and of little consequence. I know that my Father in Heaven was watching, and for each ‘win’, I like to believe he raised a smile that said, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. I desire to serve Him faithfully for the rest of my days and will continue to pour out my life as an offering to Him. So despite what it might look like in the natural, despite what mistakes I make and what blind alleyways I may walk into, He knows that I’m doing my earthly best, and I can look forward to a Heavenly reward.