I remember his faithfulness in leading out in the ministry of the church. I remember he was one of the most familiar faces from my childhood. What I will never forget about him is the Sunday evening he stood in a business meeting at our church to discuss some changes and he proclaimed "the church is gone."
He was actually quoting from a business meeting in that same church that had happened 12 years earlier when the church had split. For me, it was the first time I had ever imagined that a church could or would die. It shook me because this was the church I had grown up in, and the thought of it being gone really got to me.
After that meeting I went to my pastor and I asked him, "Is the church gone? Is this pending relocation really going to kill us? What do we do now?"
I was 17 years old and this was really bothering me. My pastor, who had been there five years at that point, and who I found out later was under tremendous pressure, assured me that the church was not gone, and that though things were changing, we were going to be just fine. He believed and reminded us often of the promise of Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen."
That business meeting was 20 years ago. And just this past May, my oldest daughter graduated from this church's preschool program with a strong educational and spiritual foundation, in that same church that was supposed to be gone. This church has tripled in average attendance, and thousands have come to know Christ because of it. Pastor Mike Simmons will celebrate 25 years of ministry with Hillcrest Baptist Church this year.
Here are two important lessons I learned from that experience:
1. Believe and speak what Scripture says, not what others say.
As much I respected this gentleman, the reality is, he was probably speaking from anger, sadness, confusion or some other emotion. He was not speaking the fact of Scripture which clearly states nothing, including hell and death itself will ever be able to stand against the church (Matthew 16:18).
As a church leader, ask yourself: Am I speaking the words of Scripture? Or, am I speaking out of my own opinion or emotion? Am I encouraging to my pastor and others in the church? Am I realistic, yet optimistic, about the hopes of the church?
One of the most deadly times in any church is the town hall or business meeting. The reason is because people can say all sorts of negative things. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are a key leader in your church, and you must be careful to choose your words in meetings like this and in other settings. People will listen to what you say, remember it (even 20 years later) and it will either help the moral and momentum of the church or it will hurt it.
2. As a church leader or pastor, have a calm assurance that comes from a deep relationship with the Lord.
I reflect back on that moment after the business meeting when I asked my pastor if the church was gone. I do not remember the conversation verbatim, but I do remember walking away assured. After doing the hard work of pastoring, I can now imagine a little better what it must have been like for a 17-year-old boy to walk up and ask that question. I might have gotten a little more upset than my pastor did, yet his deep relationship with the Lord allowed him to speak calmness into a difficult situation. Be sure you have that deep relationship, not only as a pastor or church leader, but also as a member so you too can speak calmness into tough situations.