The time has come: closing a church well
Sometimes it is right that a ministry ends: approached with a Kingdom-based perspective this is not a sign of failure, more a recognition of the seasons (and that maybe God is doing a new thing)
When Kingswood Baptist Church, Watford stepped out in faith and called Jane Robson to be its minister, few envisaged her role would be to help the church close five years later. Jane was the church’s first minister in four years, and as a minister-in-training this was her first pastorate.
“My arrival was going to be THE moment!” she said. “Things went well initially, but then plateaued.”
The church was in something of a straightjacket, “the well recognised combination of trying to support a part-time minister and fund the upkeep of the building, while also having the resources for meaningful mission to the community.” Whatever it had tried in the previous two decades had kept coming back to “a declining, aged congregation with limited finances, little energy, and meagre skills for mission.”
Weeks and months of prayer, preaching, formal and informal discussions culminated in a discernment of the Spirit at a special meeting in early 2015: a decision to close was made. Jane understood her call was to help the church close well.
It’s a process about which she has done much reflection, both before and after (she has written a paper called The Time has Come: Closing a Church Well in the Baptist Denomination.)
A number of factors helped to shape the church’s perspective. They understood that everything is for a season (Ecclesiastes 3 1-11). “At a funeral we’re quick to acknowledge that no-one lives forever (on earth),” Jane wrote in a piece for the Central Baptist Association newsletter, “so what gave us the right to expect that our church should go on forever?”
They were not operating autonomously, but were part of a wider movement: the act of closing could release both people and resources, locally and nationally. “We trusted that the willingness to die would allow God to use seeds which would never have otherwise been produced,” said Jane.
Above all, it’s not about failure, but God doing a new thing with His unchanging message. The church is not the building, but the people of God, a people called to be on the move.
“This work of bringing in the kingdom was and is God’s work; it is his mission and while the message of the gospel does not change, the way in which it is presented will,” she said.
“It will be painful. It will be hard. It will be sad. It will provoke comments of “What a shame” from the community who’ve frustratingly failed to be supportive in the past. But obedience to God, whose own son was obedient “…to death – even death on a cross…” is sometimes painful and hard and sad.
“And God? God will do a new thing with our endings. Look what he did with the ‘ending’ that was the death of Jesus Christ!”
Picture | The closing service of Kingswood Baptist Church
This article appears in the Summer 2017 edition of Baptists Together magazine.
Its theme is Beacons of Hope.