Withdrawing from church
What happens when you're in a small church and one of your key members has to take a step back? By Michael Shaw
I was recently told that one of my church members, who is going through a major life crisis, was going to take a step back from their church activities. My immediate response was that was a bad thing because surely when you are going through a crisis, church is exactly where you should be?
However, there was another motivation in the back of my mind; we are a small congregation, with very few able people. If one of the more able people drops back then it is going to cause problems. This is the problem for small churches - you become so reliant on certain people, that you hit the panic button when you hear that they may have to withdraw a little.
But I kept at the forefront of my mind that I was objecting for their sake. They needed church in a crisis, so rather than withdrawing it is exactly the place they should be focusing on. But then as I prayed for them I realised something - they were probably doing the right thing!
The church is supposed to be the place where we can find rest, comfort and support, but the fact is that for most people it is the opposite; it is a hive of activity. It is a place where in the very few spare hours in the week you end up spending time being involved in programmes, doing things, serving and not always being served. So when people hit a crisis in their work or personal life, no wonder the last place they want to be is in church, where they will end up doing things that will just drag them further down.
But for small churches this has implications. Who will step up and do the kids' work? Who else can lead that small group? Who is going to give lifts to that couple? Who is? etc etc. When you are already stretched, it is only going to push others already stretched to the brink, and maybe see others withdraw from church. So you can see why my mind drifted to that area.
This is why small churches are hard work. You have a small, often tired work force, trying to keep things going. I start to wonder when I see new churches, with their pastors for this ministry and that ministry, if they have the same problems? They probably just have different ones.
My mind goes back to the words of Jesus: “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Matt 9:38) and I have to get on my knees, pray that God will find an answer, whilst my job is to support that person in their time of need, to allow them to see that Church is supposed to be the place that seek comfort in, and that we will cope if they need to drop one or two things in the meantime.
The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth
Picture: RGB Stock