Mildred is dying. Mildred’s church is also dying. She is 82 years old and has an illness that is killing her. She has attended her church for the 43 years her family has lived in the area. She is seen by many as one of the most deeply spiritual persons in the church.
Mildred is disappointed. Not about her life. She has lived a fulfilling and satisfying life. She is sad about her church. She cries about it from time to time. She prayed for months that it would not happen. Finally the day has come. A week from Sunday is their last day of worship before the building is sold to a real estate developer.
This Sunday is the last day her Sunday school class will meet because a special set of services will take place on the last Sunday. She has taught this class for more than 30 years. On this last day she prepared a lesson on the seven feelings she has about the closing of the church. These are the seven she shared:
“First, I wish we had loved our Lord more. Our church is more than 115 years old. It has a rich heritage of spiritual vitality and missional engagement. However, during the past 20 years it has acted more often on perspectives related to our church culture and heritage than on a spiritual focus. We seem to love this church more than Christ.
“Second, I wish we had loved our pastors more. In my 43 years we have run off two pastors and had one or more additional pastors leave discouraged or depressed. None of our pastors were perfect. Far from it! But they were all good people who tried to be the pastor we wanted. None rejected us.
“Third, I wish we had loved our people more deeply. We also ran off many families over the past 43 years. We did not care for them during their times of need. We turned a cold shoulder to their desire for leadership roles. We asked them too many times to come to church and give their money, and not enough times what their spiritual needs might be.
“Fourth, I wish we had loved the people in our community more. This is not the same community I moved into 43 years ago. Then the community was made up of our kind of people. Now the people who live in this community are many different kinds of people. But they are all God’s people. We rejected them because they were of a different color, nationality or social and economic standing. So, guess what? They rejected us.
“Fifth, I wish we had loved our church less. As I began this list I said we seem to love this church more than Christ. I wish we had loved Christ more and our church less. I have seen us make many decisions over the years where in spite of prayers for God’s leadership, the control people in our church rejected what many of us felt was the clear leading of God. They always claimed they were trying to save our church. It did not work. We’re gone.
“Sixth, I wish we had loved our denomination less. I have always been a member of churches of our denomination. I love our denomination. But we have been too much of a denominational church. We gave them too much money that they mismanaged or spent on earthly things rather than kingdom things. We spent time and money going to too many meetings. We did every program they told us to do. It wore me out. And to what end? They did not save us when we were dying.
“Seventh, I wish we had loved our personal lifestyles less. In the end we have all made too much money. We all moved out of this neighborhood and bought bigger, newer houses. We drove back into their neighborhood because we loved this church. But we came to it less often. We used our increased income to take more weekend trips, to attend more weekend sports events, and to go see grandchildren. Well, I hope we can excuse that last one. However, it meant we were not in church like we once were.”
Not everyone in the class liked what Mildred said. But they did not speak up because that would not be nice. Others did not speak up because they knew that everything she said was the truth.
This may not be your church now. But if your church was getting ready to close next week, how would people remember it?
The first blog post in this series — What do lay leaders say about their dying congregations? — may be read here.