From Crash and Disaster to Long Term Listening and Hope
I have recently been reading a lengthy account of the fall of a mega church pastor, the consequent impact on the church and the subsequent recovery of that same church. It was written by someone who had been a staff member, and therefore an insider, who left during the time of trouble and who returned to witness the start of recovery.
It’s a fascinating piece, and for me the most interesting element is the recovery and the subsequent impact of renewal on the re-evaluation of the mission of the church. The particular church and the actual pastor does not really matter. The effect of the “fall from grace” and a few other tragedies that impacted that church are highly predictable and hardly newsworthy. There is little public interest involved although, as always, the public are interested in the detail.
Suffice it to say that attendance dropped by half with the result that many staff were made redundant with all the consequent feelings of betrayal, anguish, mistrust and accusation. But the remarkable story lies in the recovery element.
The mother church had begun to church plant using a multiple campus model and at one of these locations the pastor and his associate had begun to introduce ancient forms to this very contemporary congregation. Older liturgical patterns of worship, including weekly communion, a rhythm of spiritual practices, and a more contemplative approach to the Christian life brought a stability and new hope to a group of Christians who had felt crushed by all that had happened previously. Those same practices spread to the mother campus and began to have a similar impact there.
Gradually, the church began to revisit their mission activities, especially those conducted in nearby, needy areas. As they began to listen more carefully to the communities they sought to impact, they soon discovered that their previous spectacular initiatives, so creative and so high profile, had not actually been welcomed.
In fact the residents told them plainly that if they only wanted to do more of what they had been doing they would rather they did not come at all. They realized that their mission activities had been perceived as “bottle rockets” – plenty of impactful noise and explosive sparkle but no ongoing compassion and involvement.
It was as if the shift in their spiritual rhythm and pattern had caused them to listen to God more carefully and in turn to listen to others more attentively. That simple yet profound shift enabled them to see what God might already be doing in a needy neighourhood and how they might be able to co-operate with him. A shift in spiritual practices tends to produce unexpected and possibly unintended consequences. This shift in orientation had not begun at the centre of the church but at the margins of their church life. That is not an accident.