Question #2

“I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18 NIV)

The leadership of Grace Church was facing a pastoral vacancy, a recurring challenge in the life of a congregation. They were also challenged by declining worship attendance, the absence of new members (by birth or profession), insufficient resources to call a full-time pastor, and a tired but dwindling core-group of dedicated members who felt an obligation to keep the church going by calling a new pastor. So they quickly organized a pastor search team, fearing that any delay would accelerate congregational decline.

Interestingly, the leadership of Grace Church, like that of most congregations, failed to ask a very important question before forming a search team: Is it time to close our doors?

Why is that? Well, it seems as though church folk assume their congregations should continue ministry until Christ returns.

Granted, Jesus did offer this promise: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:19). But the ‘it’ in that promise is the one, holy, universal, apostolic church. The big C Church that began on Pentecost and continues throughout eternity.

We know that promise is not given to local congregations for one simple reason: nearly every congregation that has been birthed in the history of Christianity has died. Plus, those congregations that have not yet died will, unless Christ returns before they do so.

In other words, there is no biblical or rational reason to believe a local congregation will continue forever. Just the opposite. There is every reason to believe that a local congregation like yours will close its doors, perhaps even in your lifetime.

What does this mean for you and your congregation? It means that a pastoral vacancy provides an opportunity to ask tough questions:

Is it time to close our doors?

How do we know when it is time to close our doors?

Is it time to explore other options like some form of congregational merger?

These are tough questions that can only be answered through time together in God’s Word. This is why over the past ten years I have led several congregations through a discernment process, bathed in prayer and saturated with Scripture, whereby a dedicated group of congregational members meet regularly for difficult conversations about the future of their congregations.

They do so with hope founded in this promise of God: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Provides 3:5-6).

Prayer Prompt: Lord, grant us courage to ask the question that need to be asked.

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ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm operated by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.

Prayer is indeed the best place to begin a pastoral vacancy—and it will be the best place to begin after the Lord leads a new pastor to your congregation.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, the challenge before us is great, but you are greater.

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ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.

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