Soon after we came back we ran into more unexpected conflict. Bizarre, weird stuff and we wondered just what the heck was going on in this church.
I had been appointed to ‘lead’ – there was no job description other than that – and it was what I intended to do. However it seemed I wasn’t leading in the direction or the manner some of the folks wanted to go. More tension – suspicion – mistrust.
By the middle of the year we were bogged. We were up the axels and going nowhere fast. I don’t want to say too much about it all on here as it isn’t appropriate, but the reality was that we had more and more conflict and just seemed to spend more time spinning our wheels than actually going anywhere.
I had no idea it would be so hard. When I was running the ‘Re-Imagine’ stream at Forge I felt like the theory sounded reasonably straight forward for helping a church get focused on mission. But we couldn’t seem to get focused on anything. Great ideas had little currency in such a messy place. We really needed to deal with the ‘mess’ before we could move on to more positive things.
On Sundays we were preaching thru John, a book that points us straight to Jesus and his life and mission and hoping it would catch fire. But reality was that we needed to deal with some of the ugliness and evil in our own community before we were going to go anywhere. And yes I realise ‘evil’ is a harsh word, but as we prayed and discerned we felt there were evil spiritual forces at work and needing confronting.
Part of that process was accepting that what happened during the church split the previous year was just plain wrong and needed to be confessed as sin and repented of. There’s no question that there were no easy answers to the conflict the church found itself in, but the choices made and the actions taken to remove several families were not the stuff that Jesus would cheer for. That we gave assent to it was to our shame.
As a pastoral team we felt that we needed to draw a line in the sand and say that we would no longer allow control, suspicion and division to be forces that shaped us as a church. We called for a day of repentance, that turned into a month. We went and visited each of the families who had opposed us and been removed from the church and asked their forgiveness. We started to feel like maybe we were dealing with some of the demons that had been snapping at us and crippling us.
We wanted to lead with honesty, integrity and transparency. We didn’t want to shove people around or just get our own way. We didn’t want to let the loudest voices rule either. There was a significant shift that happened in that process.
One night at a monthly leader’s meeting half of our leadership team resigned unexpectedly. As far as I know none of them knew each other was going to make the decision, but 3 people who all found it hard to come to grips with the way I was leading pulled out together. It was a strange night, a bit awkward and confusing, yet also freeing. I believe they made good decisions and actually chose to step aside to allow us to pursue what we felt was important.
Shortly after those of us left began to meet weekly to eat breakfast and pray as a leadership team. We held a retreat and began to dream again – although after a year of conflict and opposition I was feeling pretty weary. We were beginning to gel a good team of leaders and holding hope for 2011. But I knew I was hanging by a thread. I felt like a bloke who had run half a marathon – weary – but with the end still a long way off.
Just as our leadership was starting to gel one key family left to become pastors at another church. That one really sucked. Another 2 key families headed off on holidays for a month and by December of 2010 we were a very small bunch, meeting on Sundays – 15-30 on a good day. Morale was low and we were genuinely considering our own viability.
Our youth pastor and I took it in turns to want to resign. On weeks when he was flat and dispirited I would have found some energy from somewhere. On weeks when I was ready to walk away he would be inspired and have a reason for hope. It was a cycle we laughed about, but it was real. We were tired and had lost a fair bit of hope.
At this point the plans for establishing and devloping a missional community that genuinely blessed and served the local community was far from my mind. I really just wanted out – and wanted a break from the shit that goes with church leadership – the draining sense of responsibility that accompanies leading a church that has lost its way. It wasn’t hard to run a Sunday gig, but it was hard to feel any kind of hope and energy in the middle of it.
But – and this is the nub of it – God wouldn’t give us a green light to resign. I was ready to be a full time retic bloke and live a quiet life away from church politics, but nothing in my being felt right about the decision. Framed more positively we felt God wanted us to lead the church thru the difficult time and to begin the process of establishing a new culture.
So we pressed on… and prayed. We prayed especially for some people to come and join us and share the load. We prayed that some like minds would come along and that we would have some friends in the church – real friends who we could hang with and have fun with… people who would like us and who would resonate with our hearts and hopes.
Then shortly after there was that Sunday in January 2011 when I thought it would be inspiring for our small crew of people to hear again the story of Gideon…
I chuckle now, but that was a tough day.