“Who Killed My Church?” 5 Chapters
R. James Shupp
Elk Lake Publishing
Who Killed My Church?
Copyright © 2015 by R. James Shupp
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Elk Lake Publishing, Atlanta, GA 30024
All rights reserved. No part of this publication, either text or image may be used for any purpose other than personal use. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use, except for brief quotations for reviews or articles and promotions, is strictly prohibited without prior written permission by the publisher.
Cover and graphics design: Anna O’Brien
Editing: Deb Haggerty and Kathi Macias
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To the bride of my youth,
During our evening walks, you encouraged me
to write a story of hope.
This story was imagined step by step, mile after mile.
We laughed and cried over the possibilities,
Dreaming others would too.
ENDORSEMENTSJames Shupp delivers a very compelling story with playful humor, intellectual insights, and spiritual discernment.
Dr. Gary A. Demers, CEO
As a Senior Pastor and avid reader, I digest many books about the Church, her health and growth. Rarely do I find a book that touches me as deeply as did Who Killed My Church? I cannot remember the last time I was “moved” emotionally, practically, and spiritually as much as this book did. Almost every page struck a chord (not just a note, a full chord) in my heart. I wept at its truth, rejoiced at its victories, and desire to grow from its influence. In a culture where 80 percent or more of churches are stagnant or dying, this book is a must read for every pastor, staff member, leader, and Christ-follower. Without reservation, this may well be the most practical and helpful book you read this year!
Dr. Jerry N. Watts, Senior Pastor
An absolute must read! Powerful, captivating, inspirational, but also very helpful, practical, and informational. Every pastor, church leader, church member, and anyone who desires to make an impact for the Kingdom of God should read this book. God has really given James keen insight about the current challenges every local church faces. Loved it and plan to have my entire staff read it!
Dr. Kevin Hamm, Senior Pastor
Gardendale’s First Baptist Church, Gardendale, AL
Having pastored the same church for twenty years, I’ve seen many phases of church ministry. Until now, no one has explained the process better than James Shupp in his book Who Killed My Church? Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. Way too many pastors use false sensors to determine growth or success as a pastor. This book forced me as a pastor to stop using those sensors and look deep inside at what I called “church.” I also had every pastor on my staff read the book.
The result was a launching of ministries into our community that has expanded our church like never before. We felt successful in our own eyes; however, this book opened all our eyes to what could happen if we continued doing what we had always done.
Dr. Michael D. Miles, Sr.
Senior Pastor, Azle, Texas
I loved hearing your passion in ministry come through the characters. You were always a dynamite communicator and that is proven once again through your writing. I, as a staff wife, was so encouraged as I fell in love with Monica and her heart to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow Jesus.
Through the lives of the characters, I was reminded of God’s promise for me as I walk in this church life with my husband. I was encouraged to fight for more in our current church environment, and continue to pray for a broken heart over God’s people, and a renewed spirit to be the hands and feet of Jesus! I plan to pass the book on to some other ministry wife friends!!! Thank you again, friend, for being obedient to God’s plan!
Who Killed My Church? is a delightful read that every pastor or church member will love. The author writes from his experience as a pastor, but what makes the book stand out is his storytelling ability and character development. Whether a pastor or church member, you’ll recognize the unique personalities as if Shupp attended your church. The difficulties and frustrations of the pastor are real and relevant to almost every church. The honest and oftentimes humorous ways the story unfolds keeps you turning the pages.
Few authors can get across messages that inform and teach while entertaining also, but Shupp is able to do this, addressing problems in the church in a compelling but not heavy-handed way. I’d recommend Who Killed My Church? for anyone that enjoys a great story, but especially for church leaders who deal with difficult people and issues.
John Walters, Director
The Missional Association
James has done a masterful job writing his book in story form. I found the pages educational, encouraging, and entertaining all at the same time. Many pastors will believe James is writing about their church. If you are a pastor or lay leader of a declining church, I believe this book will help you discern where your church is in its lifecycle. It will stir your imagination for what could be for your congregation and community, and help you design and develop a course of action to reverse the decline of your church. As a ministry coach, I highly recommend every pastor read this book from cover to cover. The ideas contained within will energize the future of your ministry.
Who Killed My Church? is an exceptional novel that I expect will have tremendous impact on churches, not only in America, but worldwide. Author and Pastor James Shupp does a masterful job of developing characters and storyline, interspersing humor between the characters that caused me to occasionally laugh out loud. This book is a thoroughly enjoyable read, all while presenting a brilliant way to evaluate and restructure “the way we do church.” Who Killed My Church? has the potential of revitalizing dying churches everywhere and rescuing the younger generation.
Entertaining, engaging, and highly informative, Who Killed My Church? should be required reading for the laity, giving them insight to the burdens and toll that church leaders experience, while mapping a way for laity and leadership to join in new efforts to make church relevant. If your church isn’t growing, by definition it’s dying. James Shupp offers wisdom and insight, complete with application questions. This book will reinvigorate you, your leaders, and church members to reach the lost for Christ.
Radio and TV Host, Author, Speaker
James Shupp had me with those four words: movement, monument, museum, and morgue! His description of the actions taken in the various seasons of the life of a church clearly demonstrates his familiarity with church health issues. From being missional communities marked by vision, sacrifice, flexibility, and catalytic multiplication, to the cold hard Winter marked by contempt, decay, and frozenness, and everything in between, Shupp captures the challenges faced by pastors and church leaders of declining churches who desire to see their congregations revitalized and useful in the Kingdom.
With all the material being published today on “Church Revitalization,” I urge you to consider adding Who Killed My Church? to the list.
Dr. Lonnie Wascom, Director of Missions and Ministries
Northshore Baptist Association, Hammond, LA
Who Killed My Church? by James Shupp entranced me. I was privileged to help edit the book, and as I did, I fell in love with Pete, Monica, and Marcus. I empathized with their care and concern for Green Street Baptist Church and was fascinated by the actions taken to turn the church around. Having been in churches that have reached the morgue stage in my past, I was also interested to see the techniques used. Shupp has written, very well, I might add, a wonderfully educational and entertaining book. The book should be read by all pastors—and by the laity as well. Five stars!
Author, Blogger, Freelance Editor, and Speaker
I read your book. It’s simply phenomenal. I cried. I laughed. I was lifted to the mountain tops. I was pumped up. In your first book, you spoke about your vision, but in this book your vision came alive. I lived it. I felt it. I wanted it, and even though I already believed in the concepts, it made them real, and opened my eyes to new ways for me to look at and do life in God’s kingdom. WOW!
Marketing Director, Team Hope
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“…the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4, KJV).
Monica lay on the bed, sobbing. Pete stood motionless in the open doorway of their bedroom. He wanted to comfort her somehow, but he was uncertain about what to do next. Years ago he believed he could fix any problem given a decent opportunity and enough time. Things had changed of late, so he hesitated.
She lifted her head and broke the silence. “What are we going to do? Why do you keep tolerating this situation?”
“Things are improving.”
“These people are not following you, Pete. They’re not acting like men who believe in your leadership anymore. It’s not your fault, but how much longer do we have to live like this?”
Pete listened. Not that he was a good listener. He thought about a response, but they’d discussed this too many times over the last year. There were no answers. Every attempt to move the needle out of the red zone failed. Their condition was quickly overheating.
There was one rationale, however, that made sense to Pete when the problems first manifested. On a walk through the park one Saturday afternoon, Pete stated his plan with confidence.
“You know me, Monica. I’m a competitor by nature. I hate to lose. I never quit or admit defeat. God won’t let us fail!”
Monica loved his passion and sense of fight, but she was unconvinced. She knew he was drawn to hopeless situations. He was tenacious and driven, and she liked that about him most of the time. But this was not one of those times. When they met in the cafeteria of Baylor University, his self-confidence and optimism were among the magnetic qualities that attracted her to him in the first place.
“Things will get better.”
She found his eyes. Her cheeks glistened as she spoke. “What makes you so certain?”
“Do you remember that day when we first moved here?” he said softly. “All I ever wanted to do was make a difference and leave a mark. All of this was for us. This church was supposed to be my one chance; my best opportunity to—”
“Stop, Pete. Please stop. I’m not buying these arguments anymore. That day is gone.” She buried her head in the pillow and continued to cry. For her, sleep came quickly. It always did.
Pete spent the next several hours surfing the web. Every ad posted for a new senior pastor looked like the previous. I wonder why the last guy left. What was his story?
He closed his eyes to reflect on the day. Sleep overcame him like a gentle tide. The chair groaned throughout the night.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day (Psalm 91:5, NIV).
The next day started out like any other. Pete made the three-mile journey to the office. Green Street Baptist Church in Ft. Worth was known as one of the flagship churches of the denomination. Green Street still had the reputation of being an extraordinary place where exciting things happened. Although those events occurred decades ago, lives were changed and people remembered. A few old stalwarts still attended from those days, but funerals had culled their numbers significantly over the last five years.
Five years. Pete sighed. How things have changed—but not the kind of change I dreamed about.
As Pete’s Camry turned the corner for the last mile, he could already see the hill leading up to the church. The property was prime real estate back in the day. A massive steeple touched the sky, a testament to the financial strength of those early years. Or was that strength merely the eager lenders who stood in line to loan the church money?
The thought reminded Pete that today was the day he was to meet with the finance committee. Lately they were not a happy group of people. And who could blame them? Offerings were down, which necessitated pleading for money from the pulpit more frequently. However, asking for money seemed to have the opposite effect. The more frequently he issued the plea, the more often people quietly slipped away. They left for other churches where things were going well financially, numerically, and, of course, spiritually, unlike Green Street.
As Pete drove into the parking lot, he thought about the other places he’d served as the senior pastor. Those churches grew.
Why not this one? What am I doing wrong here? I thought I was chosen by God, selected by Him to restore a great church back to its spiritual heyday.
He thought of Monica back home. She was still asleep when he left. There had been no words since the last words that still rang in his ears. She wanted him to admit defeat and move on. What keeps me here?
Pete was so lost in his thoughts that he failed to notice two things. For one, his reserved parking spot was occupied by a young mother dropping her child off for preschool. He grew agitated, not because she took his space but because almost no one who attended the preschool came on Sunday morning—a bitter pill to swallow. Can I really blame them? Green Street wouldn’t be my first choice either, and I’m the pastor. We’re an old church that doesn’t appeal to young families.
Pete’s thoughts shifted when he noticed the second thing. Frank Sanders was standing in the parking lot waiting for him to arrive. That’s odd. Frank wasn’t wearing a jacket on this cold November morning. Why didn’t he wait inside?
Pete hated surprises, and this one didn’t bode well. He turned off the ignition as a knot began forming in his stomach. The sense of apprehension was palpable. He barely had one foot on the asphalt when Frank delivered the news.
“Brother Pete, I wanted to warn you that the meeting began an hour ago.”
Pete managed his trademark stoic posture. Never let them see you sweat. He adopted this motto long ago as his mantra for ministry. The saying seemed to help even though it wasn’t biblical.
“They’re mad at me for letting you know, but I thought it was only fair. There’s been a lot of discussion about your job performance. They want a drastic change, Pete. What are you going to do?”
Pete felt a surge of adrenalin rush though his body. The same thing happened before he stood in the pulpit to preach each Sunday. Lately, the intensity of these episodes bordered on panic attacks. And this meeting was to start in five minutes, hardly enough time to gather his composure.
The truth was that Pete could hardly bear arriving at Green Street any earlier than necessary these days. Every day drained more from him than he was able to replenish. Long gone were the days of high energy, limitless enthusiasm, and unbridled courage. He felt like a mere shadow of the man he was five years ago, but he needed to think quickly. He felt like kicking himself for not arriving earlier.
Pete swallowed hard and cleared his throat before responding to Frank. “I’ll meet you there.” He bolted toward the private entrance of his office. During the course of the last year, Pete began using this secluded entry point more frequently, simply to avoid going through the main entrance of the church. Not that he was antisocial. He just felt that everyone glared at him like he was the main problem.
Maybe I am….
Then Pete remembered something. A little over two years ago he attended a church growth conference. There was one speaker who seemed to describe Pete’s church as though he’d given it birth and then watched it die. What was his name? Where did I put his business card?
He rifled through the top drawer of his desk. Within was an odd assortment of pens, paper clips, Post-it notes with brilliant but unused ideas, quaint mementoes church members had given him, and rolls of antacid tablets.
The card. Where’s that damn card?
Pete never cussed out loud—just in his head. He stopped swearing aloud when God called him into the ministry. Sheep shock, he called it. Sheep wanted a shepherd without flaws, a man they could believe, a man better than themselves. Monica didn’t count, however. Lately she’d heard him spice up his speech more often.
Found it! The card was stuck to the back of a Post-it note. Marcus Cunningham, he read. Church Consultant, Author, Speaker, Founder of Movement Strategies.
Pete grabbed his Bible and stuck the card inside. Not that he had plans to give a devotional or share anything special during the meeting. He just wanted the Bible to appear a part of him, a part of his calling, and the reason he was there today. Maybe looking the part will help.
He exited his office, rushed down a long hallway, and then ran up the stairs to Conference Room 212b. He was short of breath when he opened the door.
All eyes were on him.
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“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your
God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NIV).
“This is awkward for us, Pastor, but we needed an opportunity to discuss some things without you being present.”
Pete sat in silence, eyes focused intently on Gary Lovejoy, chairman of the finance committee, past deacon chairman, a member of the pulpit committee that invited Pete and Monica to Green Street Baptist Church—and the one who’d spoken aloud when he entered the room. Gary was one of the original twenty charter members who’d founded the church over sixty years ago. Back then he was a young man in his early twenties. The other nineteen founders were either walking on streets of gold or had disappeared over the years. As the only remaining charter member, Gary enjoyed the status, and, despite his humble objections, the attention as well. Every church member could repeat his story verbatim of how the church began in a house two blocks down the street. “The house is gone,” he’d solemnly say, “but the church still stands.”
“We’ve not conspired against you, Pete.” Gary paused for effect.
Pete’s ears were throbbing. He could feel his blood pressure rising. A year ago Pete and Monica had gone for counseling in the Ozark Mountains. The psychologist told Pete he needed to listen more as a leader. He could hear the counselor’s words echoing even now: “The CEOs of Fortune 500 companies listen more than they talk. Be a good listener, Pete, and then you will be a great leader.”
Pete snapped back to attention as Gary continued in sober tones, “All great leaders know when to take responsibility for failure and admit defeat. We’ve arrived at such an occasion. The church won’t last much longer under your leadership. We don’t have a plan for turning this ship around. You know we love you personally. Brother Pete, you’re a good man with a good heart, but we need more than that right now. Do you have anything to say in response to our evaluation of your job performance?”
Time stood still. Pete had been a pastor for twenty-five years. He never dreamed he’d be in such a position. These situations happened to other people, not Pete Blackman. He thought of all the hopes he’d had when they arrived five years earlier. “Green Street will be a great church for us, Monica,” he’d said. He remembered her sense of caution and concern that he was being overly optimistic. She always saw things he didn’t, but he never admitted she was right until he got blindsided.
He wished she were here right now. She could make this better. He tried to imagine that she was in the room sitting next to him. Despite the fact that he couldn’t comfort her last night, she always knew what to say to keep him going. How he wished he had her gift, like in this moment.
“Well, Pete, do you have anything to say?”
Pete sat motionlessly without responding. His head started swimming as the conference room began rotating around his chair. The knot that had formed in his stomach earlier released a wave of nausea. Pete closed his eyes and lowered his head. Stabs of humiliation and fear pricked his insides like blistering specks of lava. He wanted to disappear from the room like Jesus did after the crowds sought to lay their hands on Him, or even run away as the disciples had from the Garden of Gethsemane.
For the briefest of moments, Pete’s imagination carried him away to another time and place. An old childhood memory of a beach on the island of Haiti emerged from the rubble of the past. He watched the waves as they rolled over the white sand and listened to the bubbling sounds as they fell back into the ocean. He remembered jumping over funny miniature crabs that scurried beneath his feet. He heard the laughter of his missionary parents as they chased him down the shoreline. Those were happier times, but they ended badly too. We were forced out of the country.
Pete opened his eyes and concentrated on the options before him. The clearest and most obvious choice was the path of least resistance. Should I hand my resignation over to Gary and end this nightmare? And what about the hard road—the path of courage? Should I fight? He glanced at the card extending from the corner of his Bible. Markus Cunningham. Something about the name and card felt strangely familiar, like the road less travelled or a distant memory trying to find its way back home.
A strange peace descended upon Pete. Not too long ago he’d watched a show on the Nature Channel. The cameraman captured the precise moment that an African lion attacked a wildebeest. Just before the poor creature was eaten alive, it grew very calm. Pete felt like a wildebeest sitting in Room 212b. Or was this peace coming from somewhere else? Was God giving him an unusual calm and presence of mind to speak into this crisis?
“I need Your help,” Pete prayed beneath his breath. No sooner than the words had taken flight, another set of memories came rushing back like an incoming tide. Pete hadn’t thought much about Marcus Cunningham’s speech over the last two years. But that day now seemed as clear to him as yesterday. He recalled how inspiring Marcus had been. His style of speaking wasn’t what grabbed Pete during the conference. No. What stimulated his imagination that day was the content, the ideas, the brilliance with which it all came together logically, even practically.
“Pete, do you need more time to process this? Would you like to go home and discuss our comments with Monica?”
“Gentlemen,” Pete began, “let me tell you a story.”
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Look to the rock from which you were hewn
And to the quarry from which you were dug
(Isaiah 51:1, NASB).
Green Street Baptist Church was founded in the heart of what used to be one of the most affluent sections of Ft. Worth. Like so many churches built after World War II, Green Street filled up with young families giving birth to the baby-boom generation. Young men who lived through the horrors of combat found they needed stability and sanity. Churches sprang up all across America to capture this generation for Christ. Many of the strongest ministries of the last century were built upon their sense of duty, honor, and commitment.
Green Street was an innovative church in the early days. They pioneered effective strategies for growing their congregation. They were among the first to utilize radio to broadcast their services. When radio gave way to television, their Sunday morning services were shown all over the state of Texas. Ultimately, satellites allowed them to reach an even wider audience.
The satellite broadcast of the church services was first-class. Green Street’s reputation grew to the point where people drove for miles to experience firsthand the thrill of what took place on an average Sunday morning. Solo performances by some of the best vocal artists in the region inspired the members to deepen their love of God and firm up their walk with Christ.
Musicals and cantatas were presented to standing-room-only crowds during the holidays. As the choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” live animals casually moved in and out of the nativity scene. Easters were all about the passion of the Christ. Authentic costumes transported audiences back on a journey to the foot of the cross. After an ironclad centurion cried out, “Truly this was the Son of God,” he then asked the congregation a question in baritone: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
The services were all pretty amazing, but the most important part of all was the preaching of the Word of God. Early on, Green Street was blessed to have a leader whose growing success was celebrated throughout many Christian circles. His name was Jim Jake. Brother Jim founded most of the ministries and became a catalyst for spiritual renewal. He wrote popular books about practical Christianity that enabled people to understand Scripture in ways they never dreamed were possible.
Pastor Jake had a larger-than-life personality in the pulpit and a reputation that spread like wildfire across the Baptist denomination. Everyone seemed to want him to speak at their conferences, camps, and revivals. The church loved their popular pastor and benefited greatly from his reputation.
Most people would describe what happened at Green Street Baptist Church as a rare movement of God. The church was always crowded, always building new facilities, always growing, always adding first-class ministries that were envied by other churches. Everything the church touched turned to gold—that is, until it didn’t.
When the slide began was hard to say. The change didn’t happen all at once; it was a slow process. For starters, the city grew in a different direction. Old members moved to new locations to fight the urban creep. They found churches closer to their homes and invited their friends to join them. The neighborhood around Green Street began to decline slightly, but most importantly, economically.
The celebrity pastor grew older and probably stayed too long before stepping down. The world moved on, markedly faster than Green Street was willing to adapt. Churches with guitars and casual environments were attracting young families who once would have gone to Green Street. The seasoned saints didn’t see this change coming, and they were soon caught in an awful dilemma. “Shall we change who we are for what we don’t like to reach people who are not here?” they asked each other. The question was honest, but the answer was a resounding “No!”
Some of the more persnickety saints were overheard saying things like, “Those Seven-Eleven songs are driving us crazy. We stare at a screen and repeat the same seven words, eleven times.” “The people who come here want to dress their best for God and sing out of the hymn book.” “We shouldn’t have to compromise our principles.”
So they fortified their position and refused to yield. The only problem was that their time-honored traditions failed to inspire the generation that followed. The newer generations voted with their feet, and the church suffered as a result. The attendance drop wasn’t that large from one Sunday to the next, but enough people slipped away during the year that budget planning was something of a challenge. Every year there were cutbacks and reductions to ministries that once had plenty of funding. Green Street was forced to swallow a bitter pill.
Pete understood one thing for certain. When a church comes to recognize that the world is passing them by, they can respond in one of two ways. They can choose to catch up, change, and modify their methods. Or they can dig in their heels and rail against the culture that left them behind. Sadly, Green Street chose to do the later.
Unfortunately for Pete, he had a tough assignment ahead of him when the search committee invited him to become their next senior pastor. Dr. Pat Sheets, the president of the Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, recommended him over all the other candidates. During one private conversation with Pete, however, he was less than optimistic.
“Pete,” he said, “prepare yourself for the most difficult challenge of your life.”
Pete wasn’t afraid, but he was naïve. He was enamored by Green Street’s reputation and dreamed of recreating the former days of glory. In his mind, the church merely needed a fresh approach to ministry that was more culturally relevant for the times. He believed he could convince people to accept the things they didn’t like and become something with which they really didn’t agree. He’d helped churches change before. Perhaps he could succeed again.
But culture and relevance don’t mix when culture refuses to adapt. Pete had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of the church, and now he seemed to be losing the battle. The resistance to change was stronger than his ability to endure the pain the resistors could inflict upon him.
So Pete and Monica died a little each day. And now he was stuck in this room with the gatekeepers of the legacy. The scales were most definitely leaning in their favor. Perhaps they’d achieve what they really wanted most—Pete’s quiet and humble resignation, something not all that uncommon in situations like these. But what if there happened to be a different path to take—a road less travelled?
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I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed,
I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not
make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me
(1 Corinthians 4:3-4, NIV).
Sitting in Room 212b on the second floor of the three-story education building, Pete took a deep breath. He reached for his Bible and opened to where he’d placed the consultant’s card. A single verse of Scripture that he’d highlighted years ago leapt off the page. He seized the moment to reflect on Joshua 1:6: “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”
Perhaps this is a sign.
“Well,” Gary Lovejoy said in a condescending tone, “you want to tell us a story?”
Frank Sanders’ eyes shot across the table. “Gary, I’m sorry, but you need to let the man speak. He’s been our pastor for five years, and he deserves an opportunity to respond without your intimidating ways.”
Pete was surprised by this. During his tenure at Green Street, no one had ever challenged Gary Lovejoy. Gary winced a little at the remark and conjured up a more positive tone as he continued. “Yes, of course. As I said earlier, we love you, Pete. You’re a good man of God. Take all the time you need with your story. We could use some levity about now.”
Pete no longer hesitated. “A few years ago I went to a church-growth conference in Nashville. There was one man there who talked about the natural lifecycle of churches as they trend from breaking ground to being broke.”
A chuckle erupted from one of the other members of the finance team. Christian Marsh had a sense of humor but rarely said anything in these meetings. Like the others, he always agreed with Gary.
Pete acknowledged Marsh with a grin, his confidence returning. He put more enthusiasm in his next words. “His name is Markus Cunningham.”
“Are you serious?” Chad Boswell’s eyes widened. He was another member of the finance committee who hardly ever said anything. Pete couldn’t figure out if this latest interruption was positive or not.
“I met Markus.” Chad beamed enthusiastically. “He was the pastor of my sister’s church down in Birmingham many years ago. He was a young man back then, fresh out of seminary with a bunch of little ones running around in diapers, but the congregation loved him. That church turned around. My sister still talks about him.”
Everyone noticed Gary Lovejoy shifting in his chair rather uncomfortably.
“We live in a shrinking world,” Pete affirmed. “The words Marcus used to describe the various stages of a church weighed on me for a long time after he spoke. He said that churches start out as movements. Then they become monuments, next museums, and finally morgues. He says that whenever a church stops being a movement, the morgue phase is inevitable. I’ll have to admit that over the last few years, I’ve felt more like the curator of a museum than the pastor of a church.”
Pete thought there should have been a little mirth or some verbal response to his last statement, but there was none. Instead, to his surprise, the words seemed to sink in deeply. He could see the men processing what he’d just spoken. Everyone sitting in Room 212b was already convinced that the church was dying, but they really didn’t understand why. They just knew death was coming. Since Pete was the leader, he must be responsible or somehow to blame for their condition.
Monica often told Pete he was responsible as a leader. “All leaders are responsible for what they lead,” he remembered her saying once. “But you are not to blame for this. Never blame yourself for this, Pete. Blame is a more complicated issue than responsibility. There’s always enough blame to go around.”
Gary broke the silence, and Pete’s thoughts moved away from Monica and back into 212b. “So what are you saying, Pete? Are we to sit idly by and become Green Street Baptist Morgue, exchange our buses for hearses, and hope the rapture comes before the bank takes our property? We need a plan. We need—”
Pete cut Gary off, another first for the record books. “I have a plan. And yes, that is what I’m saying. I have Marcus’ card. He asked me to call him if we ever needed anything. He’s heard about our church. For that matter, everyone who’s ever been a Baptist has heard about our church. I believe an outside expert is what we need to help us reverse the trends. Let’s bring him in and fix our problems together.”
“So you’re not going to resign,” Gary said.
“You want us to spend money we don’t have to hire someone we can’t afford to tell us what we already know?”
Gary’s words had a chilling effect. Pete’s eyes drifted to the window. He didn’t know how to respond to such a forceful objection. The thing he hated about this situation was that Gary made sense most of the time, probably more so even now.
As Pete looked through the window, his mind went elsewhere. He saw Monica in their bedroom once again, himself standing in the open doorway. Her image looked so different than the previous night. No longer weeping or in anguish, her eyes glowed with confidence. He heard those same words, only now spoken softly. This time they unlocked something hidden away deep within. “These people aren’t following you, Pete. They’re not acting like men who believe in your leadership. It’s not your fault…. It’s not your fault…. It’s not your fault….”
“Stop doubting me and start following me.” Pete’s eyes snapped away from the window so suddenly to make contact with Gary that even he was startled. In fact, everyone in the room cringed momentarily.
“This is at the heart of our problem. I can’t do my job as a leader if you won’t respect my calling. You’ve been here longer than I have, but our hearts both desire the same thing in equal measure. This is really not about my job or your reputation as a church. This is about us being the body and the bride of Christ in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, till death do us part. There is more at stake here than my livelihood or whether or not we’ll be able to pay the mortgage next month. There was a day when these halls were filled with visionaries and dreamers. Let’s figure out what’s happened, start over, and be that church again.”
Immediately Frank Sanders stood up from his chair, visibly shaken. He fought back tears as he tried to speak. His voice was wavering so much that no one could understand him at first. He tried again, but his voice cracked. The third time he was successful.
“I’ll pay for Marcus Cunningham to come here out of my own pocket. The church won’t have to spend a dime from the budget. I love this place. I was saved here. I believe my pastor has spoken truth. This is the best plan I’ve heard in over a decade. I make the motion that we follow our pastor.”
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