steadfast or split
I spoke with a pastor who is going through a rough time. He was losing members who left nasty letters upon their departure and some influenced others to leave along with them or join them at the latest church they were attending. Uh-huh. Been there. I had lots to talk about because I'd been through the very same thing a couple of times.
We're not going through that right now in our community. But we have. It's one thing for a flock to be attacked by wolves. That's bound to happen. It will happen. That isn't seasonal but perpetual. But it's another thing for a flock to be attacked by wolves in sheep's clothing. That doesn't necessarily happen all the time. Every flock has wolves in sheep's clothing but they're not always active. They wait for the opportune moment. But when the opportune moment comes and they get busy, then it is an especially difficult season for the shepherd(s) and the flock.
It is during this season that pastors are tempted to sign off. The pain is excruciating and unrelenting. You can read it on their faces. I remember those days vividly. I still have stacks of letters written to me in the most syrupy sweet sincere spiritual vitriol you could ever read. I will keep them as a reminder of how sinful, stupid and sadistic we can be. Plus I might publish my story of a church split one day and they're a great read! I just have to figure out a way of doing it without getting sued. But I nearly lost my wife, my kids, my faith and my health... never mind the entire flock... due to the super-spiritual and super-destructive charades of our critics and, yes, even our enemies. Why stay and get eaten alive?
Granted, people leaving a church is sometimes necessary and even healthy. People are free to choose. People will vote with their feet. But I'm convinced that at the roots of the church split movement and the church-consumer drive is a deeper ill, and that is our inability and unwillingness to love and forgive-- and be reconciled to-- all people. It betrays the serious fracture not only in the church, but in all religion, all races, and all people. It exposes the fact that we love ideas more than our fellow human beings. It is necessary during these times to find a way to love the flock and be steadfast. It is important to discover a way to endure through this especially difficult season, because it will pass. Sooner or later, it will pass. Certainly, during these times of increasing and disturbing instability, stability can be the most urgent need of the church and our greatest witness as pastors of it.