Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor and 20 years of pastoring one church

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By God’s good grace and because of his love for the local church and his gospel, God has chosen to give our church a 20 year celebration of a pastor/church relationship. This past Sunday Grace Community Church of Yorkville, IL gave me some books – the ones stacked on the bottom. Now, to be honest, when they were given to me gift-wrapped, upon opening them I felt bummed because I had read nearly all of them and still owned several copies to boot. But, when asked to open the book to its entry page: “Wow!!” Each book has been signed by its author with a word of congratulations to me for surviving 20 years at the same church – and these guys are just a few of my heroes of the faith (of course, the one on the bottom is not signed by its author:).

But as you can see the title to this post is a play off of the top left book: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Last week, I had the privilege to spend nearly an hour on the phone with the author, Thom Rainer. I conveyed to him that he could have written his book by watching our church for the past 20 years. I expressed my appreciation for his timely book (2014) that helped our church avoid what he has observed too many times: churches are dying at an alarming rate in America and almost always due to the same diseases. One of the unfortunate consequences is a short tenure for the pastor – and that often harms, not helps the church (short pastoral tenures is a red flag for a church – it may be on its way to its own funeral). As Thom asked more questions about our history, I expressed to him that when I read his book that I thought he should write a book called, “Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor”; a couple of times I nearly gave up pastoring because of “cartel members” in the church. Yes, that’s Mark Devine’s and Darren Patrick’s description, not mine (top book on the right, “Replant: how a dying church can grow again”. But if the shoe fits, wear it!

I thank the Lord for a loving church . . .

  • that loves the gospel of God told-out in the person and work of Jesus Christ;
  • who sees a covenant made with his people in the scriptures, carried along by a single story-line that is all about Jesus Christ “saving his people from their sins”;
  • who expects expository preaching through books of the bible on Sunday morning;
  • who enjoys a blend of some of the best old and new songs with a variety of music genres, avoiding the segregation of its members by putting the old folk with the organ in one service, and the young folk with the Fender amps in another;
  • whose liturgy includes confession of sin with rejoicing in the forgiveness from Christ on Sunday morning;
  • that seeks to not idolize the past with its man-made traditions;
  • that seeks to engage and work with the community instead of enticing them to come to church or get saved before we mingle with them;
  • that seeks to put its money on the street, not in its pocket;
  • that does not allow personal preferences to become holy cows;
  • that seeks to fellowship with each other, pray with each other, encourage each other – all in a variety of venues not always held on church property;
  • seeks to share the gospel with the lost the way Jesus and the early church did – in the everyday encounters that we already have with dozens of people each day;
  • finally, though not exhaustively, that has chosen to love me and my family through thick and thin – much like a marriage, “to death do us part”. Thank you for your words, cards and gifts. I’m so blessed.

Our church continues to struggle in many ways. But the struggle is also part of what it means to follow a crucified, publicly disgraced, counter-culture risen Savior. And Jesus is worth every bit of it.

 

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