Over the last few years, our particular church and our association have had some rough times. We’ve faced factures, splits, and a loss of membership. Some of this is normal, some due to impassibility, some due to our stance on the 1689, and some due to the common sinfulness of man.
All of these leavings, for any of the above reasons, are hard on those who stay. They are left battered, weary, and lonely as people they love just leave. Or worse, a trail of nasty words and unfair gossip follows behind the leavers inflicting deep wounds. I have battled with a fear of getting to know new attenders, felt sick anytime someone wasn’t in their pew, and struggled with an unfair and unkind level of anger towards those who left. (Pastor Jarrett’s most recent sermon on anxiety comes to mind here. I am constantly engaged in a war with the lie of peace at any price.)
Our two most recent departures raised up a new set of thoughts and feelings. Yes, anger was there, but it was mixed more strongly with pity and sadness. The anger was followed by a great amount of prayer for those who left and those of us still here. My anger burned away. I am far more concerned for those who left than I am for the pain they caused me and us.
It did strike me this time how surprised I was at the lack of success in my church and association. Christ was, well, Christ. He was God come down to us. God as a man. He had twelve men. Twelve. Less people than one of our family day get-togethers followed Christ, and I’m surprised when we’re not more successful than our Lord and Husband? Why am I always surprised that our Church looks like a failure when I’m looking at it with earthly eyes? Christ was a complete failure from a human perspective: thousands of followers at the start. None at the end. If Christ had this type of ‘success’ why do we expect to have more?
A big part of the struggle with those who left is my sense of betrayal. I hate betrayal. I esteem loyalty. (Thank you Sam Gamgee.) People I trusted, loved, prayed for, and helped when I could left, and left in an ugly manner. They betrayed us. Overwhelmed with the deep pain that caused, I saw Christ. He faced death on a cross and even his twelve, who knew who he was, left him. Betrayed him.
Struggling with my own sense of loss, betrayal, hurt, and loneliness mixed with the bitterness of worldly failure made the moment the twelve left more historically alive, and Christ’s humanity more real. I wept to think of my Savior betrayed because I know what betrayal and being abandoned feels like. Christ is 100% man. He knows what it is to be left by those who claimed to love him.
I found the connection helpful and comforting.
And! Eleven of his friends came back.
But for the grace and care of God, any of us might start listening to the lies in our heart and from the Devil. Any of us might stop listening to the preaching of the Word, and start arguing with the preaching of the Word.
I’ve been there.
We left our church before for bad reasons.
God showed my husband and me far more mercy than we deserved. He used that rescue from sin to develop in us a great love for our particular church.
So I pray. I pray Christ would tend to those who have left, and tend to us who have stayed. I pray He would grant us all the grace to endure. We’re weak, feeble, sad sinners. We need His strength to fight the battles every day. To come to church, be there, and listen. I pray for our pastors, teachers, and deacons. I pray they would stay the course and not give in, or break. That they would follow Christ, and not the desire to please men. That they would have courage! I pray that by God’s grace we would all earnestly endeavor to endure.
To the world, our church and our association will look like a failure. We are not mighty. We aren’t growing into a huge conglomeration with hundreds of members. In fact, we’re struggling. Always struggling. But that kind of growth isn’t our goal. Our goal is the truth of the Word. Our goal is sound doctrine so that we may worship God and know God. Our goal is the means of grace honored and practiced correctly. Our goal isn’t hundreds added with false security, but the steady sanctification of the saints, and the saving of the elect. May we, by and only in God’s grace, continue even if the world tells us we’ve failed.