It’s one thing to stick with a local church when everything is going well. If the church is growing, there’s a great music group, you relate well to the pastor and there are so many encouragements. What happens when the church is struggling though? What happens when there’s been falling out, the praise isn’t great and no new people seem to be coming?
Churches do go through tough times for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the problem is within the church itself and there’s a need for repentance. However, sometimes it is not that the church is necessarily at fault. It can simply be a particular period that a church is going through. It can be that the church is in a particular context where witnessing is hard going. Sometimes the tough times are caused by persecution from those hostile to the Gospel. It may even be that a church is remaining faithful to the good news whilst other churches act as though they are in competition and resort to gimmicks which for a time pull believers like consumers to them.
So how do we stick with the church through tough times? Remember that this is really all about applying what God’s Word says about faithfulness (picking up on what we’ve learnt from 1 Corinthians and Proverbs). Remember as well that what we learn here about faithfulness to the local church can be applied by analogy to work, family, community and relationships.
So here are some suggestions.
1. Prayer is essential. There’s two aspects to this. First of all, when the going gets tough then we should be praying that God will be with us and give us the strength and courage to persevere through tough times. Pray for the church and its leaders. Pray that they will be encouraged, strengthened and see fruit. I have always been struck by the testimony of the past of the church where I grew up in Bradford. Douglas Evans was pastor at Sunbridge Road Mission for over 20 years. One elderly lady asked him what she could do. She felt that she couldn’t do much. He encouraged her to pray for the preaching. She did this faithfully for years. Prayer may also mean repentance where there is sin and an acknowledgement of failure. This should be corporate but sometimes we have to take the lead in our personal prayer. A good model for this is Nehemiah’s prayer when he hears about the desperate state of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4-10). He intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel. However, he also takes time to acknowledge his own sin and that of his family. When the problem is outside persecution, pray for those who oppose and persecute. Learn to love and pray for other churches. Don’t see them as competition. Pray for them that they will be faithful to God’s Word and fruitful in their ministry too.
2. Remind yourself of God’s promises. We’ve talked often on faithroots.net this year about God’s past, present and future grace. Take time to remind yourself of these things. Your assurance is not rooted in how the church is doing but in what Christ did for you on the Cross, through tough times we are reminded that we are not alone but have the presence of the Holy Spirit within in. We look forward knowing that present trials and testing are temporary In Revelation 2:10, Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that they are going to suffer persecution. He says it will be for ten days, in other words it is time limited. We can go through tough times looking forward to future grace and Christ’s return. The Psalms are so helpful during times of trouble. Psalm 23 is an obvious one to read to yourself. It reminds us that God is our shepherd, guiding us, providing for us and protecting us.
3. Do take time to talk with church leaders and be honest. Tell them if you are struggling. Raise concerns with them. Be careful to distinguish between “This is my preference” and “This is wrong.” Pray with them.
4. Resolve not to gossip, grumble or complain. This is hard because when we go through tough times it’s the easiest thing to do. But the last thing a local church needs is another discontented party.
5. Do seek fellowship through the normal means -continue to gather regularly, make your home group a priority. Build loyal, healthy and supportive friendships.
6. Prioritise evangelism. Nothing makes a difference like having that outward focus, nothing changes a church’s priorities like having baby believers to look after. Keep your priorities clear.
Now there may sadly be times when despite all our best efforts, the right way forward is to leave. We’ll come to that in a later post because it is possible to leave well and remain faithful in your relationship to the church family.