How Can a Church Close?

That's what happened on 16th April 2000, my church had its final meeting and closed its doors forever. That season is a bit foggy in my mind, perhaps it's better that way, but I will do my best to recount someone of what happened but please keep in mind it is my view point, many others would share their version of things a little differently.

Hindsight is interesting, looking back all the signs were there, well hidden most of the time but occasionally they did pop up. Being the pastor's PA and church secretary meant that I got to see a lot more than many and I quickly learned that what happens behind the scenes is very different to what you mostly see at church on Sunday. I learned how churches can run out of money and struggle to pay bills at times, a sad but very real  circumstance. Bills need to be paid and if people don't give generously and faithfully then where does the money come from? I saw how incredibly generous some of the church were and how about eighty percent of the people didn't give at all of their time or money. But that's not why my church closed.

To be perfectly honest, I can't really rattle off a whole list of all the things I saw wrong behind the scenes, everything that I saw was still mostly right and I witnesses very little drama, politics or unpleasantness at all. One or two things surprised me like for example, I regularly visited a lady in church who seemed to be ill a lot. I was chatting to my pastor about her and at some point in the conversation he said, "Well she's just a hypochondriac".  This lack of compassion surprised me and I thought it odd. I now realise that it was not a lack of compassion but merely the reality that he was aware of. I was very naive in those days and often didn't see things that I should have. But that's not why my church closed.

Our churches merged with another church, that was the official story. For some reason when I was invited to transfer my PA job to the new church still working for my pastor's wife I declined. Looking back I have no idea why I declined as I loved my pastor's wife and my job very much. Something inside of me said no, it wasn't even a conscious decision I don't think. It just happened. Looking back I know now that it must have been God protecting me from what was to come. Having our church close was hard enough. It left many confused and hurt. Our happy family was breaking up and it felt strange and wrong. It has never been clear to me why the church merged in the first place or what went wrong behind the scenes. All I know is that it was horrible and I didn't like it one bit but got on with finding a new church right away and got involved immediately. It was a lovely Vineyard Church in Port Elizabeth and I have nothing but fond memories of my short season with them.  I remember the first time I saw the pastor I thought he just like Jesus must have looked. His eyes were so soft and full of love and compassion. When he preached I hung onto every wise word and loved church and all the beautiful people that I got to meet every Sunday.

Thank God for that church as what I had to go to next has scared me for life! You see the pastor's wife who I worked for was like a mother to me. At the time I didn't have a very close relationship with my family and church really was my family. She influenced me more than any other person to this day. My husband can vouch for how much I still speak about her and how highly I speak of her. In my eyes she had no faults, she was just plain wonderful and such an inspiration to me! As I mentioned previously I don't have all the details I only have my perspective and how it impacted me. Church hurt when it closed, it felt a little like the time when my parents got divorced. But what happened next really did feel like my parents got divorced all over again. I felt abandoned, alone, confused and like my whole life's foundation was cracked.

I remember that day in detail. I went to see her as I heard a rumour that an announcement had been made at the new church that morning which devastated me. I needed to see her so went to where she was living. As I walked into the living room I burst out crying. I was a mess and can't remember what I said but I remember what she said after I was urged to leave, "I'll call you."

That call never did come and I had to deal with my pain alone. What happened was the she and her husband had announced their divorce that morning. It hurt like hell for some reason. More than my parents' divorce hurt me. Looking back I know it was unreasonable to expect her to comfort me, she had her own stuff to deal with. I felt betrayed! I didn't know that they had marriage problems and I felt so weird that she never even spoke to me about any of it, or prepared me in any way. After being so close to her for almost 7 years I suddenly realised that we were never close at all. I was an employee, a team member and ten years her junior. I needed closure and not having that 'call' make it really difficult. Everything felt strange and although on the outside I just got on with life, inside I was hurting and had a lot to process. Within six months after that my then husband, two children and I left town for a job he was offered. We joined another Vineyard in Johannesburg but the job didn't work out and so within another six months we left South Africa and moved to England.

Even though church had hurt A LOT I never once considered not going to church. I didn't blame church as a whole for hurting me, just that isolated season of my church life and so quickly found a church within weeks of landing in the UK. Sadly I know quite a few families who did stop going to church as a result and some even strayed from the faith. I don't think church leaders really understand how much their life impacts those whom they lead. Pastors truly are the mommy and daddy of the church. I grew up a lot from that experience when I had to face the facts just like I did when I realised that my dad was the tooth fairy and Father Christmas wasn't real. Pastors are just people who make mistakes, give up on their church and get divorced. Well not all pastors but some sadly do.

From my position now, after years of many more experiences, I can look back at that time and to those people whom I loved and hold no bitterness and cannot judge them at all.  I did learn that harsh, painful reality that churches can close and that pastors are just normal people not demigods like I originally thought.


What is Church Really?

Before we we pick up with the story from my previous post, let's pause and take a look at the church. What is it really? It's easy to say that you are hurt by the church but what is the church? How can "it" hurt us?  the dictionary defines church as 'a building used for public Christian worship'. If we speak of church in this context then we cannot be hurt by it - after all a building simply cannot hurt you! This must mean that this is not what we are talking about when we speak of church. The dictionary also describes church as  'the hierarchy of clergy within a particular Christian Church'. Hierarchy is a system which once again cannot hurt you. These explanations of church are partly true in that the church does meet in a building and does have a hierarchy but it does not describe The Church that Jesus died for. Jesus didn't die for bricks and mortar or for a particular system or hierarchy. Jesus died for people! Yes he clearly says in the Bible that he died for the church.

"... just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her " - Ephesians 5:25

Church comes from the Greek word ekkl├ęsia which is defined as “an assembly” or “congregation”. If you really want to dig into the meaning, it also means "out from and to" and "to call" which translated means that the church is a people called out from the world and to God. It is the worldwide body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom. The apostle Paul says in Romans 16:5, "Greet also the church in their house" clearly showing that the people who were meeting were the church and the house was the building that they met in. And so, whenever we refer to the church, this is what we are talking about.

Sadly this is what can hurt us, the church. It can hurt because it is made up of people - imperfect, saved by grace, on a journey, clothed in His righteousness people. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. People make mistakes and need forgiveness. Even leaders mess up and need grace both from God and from the church. Often the people that hurt us had the best intentions but still they end up hurting people. At times though, there is pure evil, manipulation, control and other such nonsense in our church too. It's not just those who hurt us that are responsible either, we too carry a responsibility as we can be hurt simply by misunderstanding, being overly sensitive, insecure and a whole range of other possibilities. So, can you see how this is a recipe for disaster in many ways. Without Jesus forgiveness and grace and the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit, no church would stay together.

"We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other." - Romans 12:5

I LOVE CHURCH! I love what I believe Jesus died for and the vision he gave us for building a church. In an idea world it would be prefect. We can't have perfection here on earth but what not get as close as possible? I will continue sharing my story and you will see why I am so passionate about church and how I still dream of one day building a church that comes very close to how it could be.


... continuing the journey

Picking up from my recent post, let's get back to my church story.  Oh and before we go there, what do you think of the new King's Daughters lilac logo? We are trying to keep the 'K' across all three areas just have a slightly different feel.

Ok, let's go back to the church I was first saved at, The King's Lighthouse in Brits South Africa. It was a wonderful season where I was totally loved up by  my church family despite all my 'stuff'. I loved being saved and forgiven, I felt clean despite the many things I still had to work out with God.  I was baptised, filled with the Holy Spirit and passionately on fire for Jesus. I only listened to Christian music, burned anything that was even slightly unchristian (seriously!) and even wore Jesus t-shirts to make sure it was clear I was a Jesus girl!  About a year or so later we had to move towns for my then husband's job and so we were transplanted into a church recommended by our pastors. It was amazing to experience how we were all one family even though we had changed houses. I felt at home in my new church and got busy with Bible studies and getting to know people. That season was a very short one and then we moved back to the town I grew up in and quickly settled into a new church there which was recommended by an old friend who had also recently got saved.

I don't know how deep and detailed God would have me go in this church story of mine, I hope a recap is fine.  I guess the key part is to look at the times when church hurt and how I have processed it. As a baby Christian it was inconceivable that church could hurt. Everything else in life hurt but church was my safe place. In my eye my pastors were perfect and I could trust them with every fiber of my being. I also naively believed that all Christians were good and they too could be trusted. Just like Father Christmas was very real to me as a child, so was a perfect church.  But then you grow up and stop believing in fairy stories and have to face the truth. I hope plan that one day I will come full circle and get back to believing in the good in everyone but not from nativity, purely by choice to seeing good knowing full well that the bad exists too.

Keeping private things private

My first and second church didn't hurt. I was oblivious to any church politics, leadership team issues, gossip or anything that may or may not have existed. This is good for a baby Christian and to this day I don't know if these two churches has any behind the scenes stuff. Knowing what I know now about the reality of church, I image that there was a lot of stuff but they did a brilliant job of keeping it from affecting a young Christian such as myself. If ever I am in a leadership position again I play to remember this and make sure that I deal with private things privately to protect the people.

"Love covers a multitude of sins" - 1 Peter 4:8

My third church was the church that helped shape and mould me, it uncovered the real me and all the beautiful gifts and talents that God had placed inside of me. Through the love, support and prayer of many I went from a terribly shy introverted teen into a glowing, confident young woman. I was lovingly trained in God's ways, taught the Bible, delivered from evil spirits and given many opportunities to grow in my faith and as a person. This church, which sadly no longer exists so I can't link to the webpage but we will get to that part later, was the making of me. It did what church should do. It (the people who are the church) cared lovingly and practically, it taught the Bible and flowed in the Holy Spirit. I never felt unloved or unimportant in my church. Opportunities to grow were plentiful and after many years I ended up becoming the leader of the children's ministries. I LOVED my role in church, you could not have found anymore more passionate and committed to serving the children and reaching out to the unsaved little ones and their parents. The years went by and I worked closely alongside my pastor's wife helping to build an international women's ministry and ended up being employed as her PA. Later I even took up the role of church secretary in addition to my PA role.  I absolutely loved being in and around church most of my days and nights. Life did have it's challenges and I had a lot of growing up to do but church was a huge part of my growth and development as a Christian and as a person. Most of all I loved raising my daughters in church. They went where I went, they served alongside me and when I traveled they often came with too. I loved sharing as much as possible with them. This was my reality for about 7 years.

It all changed on 16th April 2000


GUEST POST: Battles, Whispers and Hidden Messages: Discovering Song Secrets I Never Knew I Knew

We are thrilled to share April Shipton's latest post with you. It's a must read! She says,
"As a 24-year-old worship leader and Christian songwriter, my passion for real, godly music and lyrics is a pretty massive part of my life. So when my very purpose for song-writing was thrown into question recently, I found myself struggling to defend lyrics I once fervently believed. As I prayed and opened the Bible to try and reignite the vision I had been driven to express in music three years ago, what I discovered absolutely stunned me."

Read more on April's blog at www.aprilshipton.co.uk and see her song below.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqYmrnU7xt8]

April Shipton has been singing and writing Christian music for over 6 years. She lives in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire with her husband, an engineer. She is currently working on producing her first EP with Christian producer FFG Audio, scheduled to be completed later this year. 


Girl's Nights and The Wilderness

I will continue with my early church journey in my next post but I need to interject with this letter to all the lovely ladies who are a part of our Girl's Nights over at King's Coffee House in Cheltenham.

To all you wonderful women who have been on the Girl's Night journey with me for the past years. I write to you with a heavy heart but also with much love in my heart for you. We have grown to know each other and love each other and this new season in my life takes me away from you, which is not easy at all. I would like to say that it's all positive and that you should be happy for me but it's not such a simple story. For various reasons our family have left our church that we have called home for the past 18 months. Eric has accepted a job at another church and felt that he needed to do this to provide for his family, as being a full time student this past year has made life rather difficult. He had to leave his studies and cannot finish his degree to take this job. I have not joined the church he is working at and seemed to have gone into the wilderness. I found the change very sudden and unexpected and it has thrown me into a place of heartache and confusion. You see, I have learned to love each and every person in our church and feel like my heart has been ripped out. Girl's Night has been a place where I have been able to connect with you lovely ladies on a deeper level.  We have worshipped together, challenged each other, laughed together and cried together.

I want what is best for you all and I don't feel that I can continue leading you in my current circumstances. As I find myself lost in this wilderness place I realise that this is nowhere to lead people from or to. You must move on as I pass the baton onto someone who is better able to lead you more positively. So please know that I love you all very much and will be thinking of you and praying for you as you meet tomorrow night for Girl's Night. Please keep me in your prayers too as I keep you in mine.


In the beginning...

It seems God is doing a deep work in me during this season and as with many deep works, He takes us back to childhood. So I find myself reflecting and going back to my earliest memories of church. I have always loved church. I don't recall my first visit but I imagine I was very young. My mother attended church from time to time when I was little and my father was an atheist. If it weren't for my mother I would not have the wonderful memories I have to treasure now. I recall how much I loved Sunday school, learning about the Bible stories, colouring in the pictures, felt board stories and just the way church made me feel. Church was always good and I don't recall ever being dragged to along, I was keen and willing. As I grew older I took myself to church when my mom didn't go, even though it was far away, as I really did love it!

My earliest memory of loving Jesus was when I was school age and the wonderful Christian teachers at school did a brilliant job of encouraging our faith. We prayed before the school day began, enjoyed Bible stories during school and grew up well educated in the knowledge of Jesus and the Bible. It breaks my heart that even though we are a Christian nation we don't encourage prayer and Christianity in our schools. My children are fortunate to go to a Christian School but even so it is very diluted with other Gods.

From as early as I can remember I prayed to my God in heaven and read my Bible as often as possible, even though I didn't understand it. I particularly loved what my mom and I did on Monday night's at church! We helped teach the black ladies in our community sewing, reading, writing, maths, etc. My job was just to listen to the lovely ladies read and help them when needed. I loved helping and making a difference, even such a small one, in another person's life. I grew up during the apartheid era in South Africa and hated that people treated each other so poorly. Even at a very young age I remember making every effort to treat everyone the same no matter what their skin colour. I wasn't taught this but just knew deep down inside that it was the right way to live. I knew Jesus loved everyone the same. Monday nights was one of the privileges that I had to practice what I believed and to love whomever walked through our church doors and needed help. I miss church being that simple. Perhaps it was because I saw through the eyes of a child that it seemed that simple.

As I grew older and entered my teens church became a thing of the past. Deep down inside I always loved Jesus and occasionally talked to Him and read my Bible. Sadly rebellion became a lifestyle - I was a terrible teenager! I saw the Christians at school as weak and boring. They didn't inspire me at all. The only time the Christian Union event ever had a great turnout was when they invited an ex-witch as a guest speaker. I don't recall any of what she said but do remember that the school hall was packed that particular lunch time.

After a few dark years of teenage rebellion I manage to find my way back to church. Marriage was the reason! I was pregnant and the father of my baby and I had to meet the minister to plan our wedding. Our baby wasn't an accident, even though I was only 17 and he 19, we knew we wanted to be married and getting pregnant was the only way that our parents would consent. I go into this story in detail in my book Hope's Journey but for now let's just say that the 1st March 1991 was and always will be the most beautiful day of my life. This is the day that I allowed Jesus into my heart as Lord and saviour of my life. Jesus went from head knowledge to a heart relationship. Everything changed that day.

I immediately started attending church every single Sunday and loved it. At first we found ways to skip the worship and turn up late to hear the preaching only. I felt very uncomfortable with singing out loud as I was extremely shy. I also felt strange during the part where they all started to spontaneously speak in tongues. It freaked me out a little so for at least 6 months we tried to avoid that part of church. In time I settled and became ravenously hungry for preaching and teaching. I also joined in the tongues and loved it!  I attended Bible school, ladies Bible study, cell group, church twice on a Sunday, devoured every book I could get my hand on and my Bible. I LOVED church, Jesus, Christianity and who I was becoming as a result.

I will continue my story in the next post as I need to get to work now! It would be great to hear your stories too so I don't feel so alone on this journey. How did you first find church and where are you at in your journey now? In the meantime, enjoy this video of one of my favourite songs from my childhood.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ2Mcd7pX20]


Stuck going in the wrong direction

I remember one particular trip back from London to Cheltenham. It had been a long day of hard work, conducting interviews for our Women's Business Magazine, driving from one side of London to the other and back again. Lorah and I were travelling back late at night and were desperate to get home. My back hurt so much from sitting in the car for so long that I had to lean forward over the steering wheel in a funny position to relieve the pain. I was exhausted and the drive home felt like an eternity.  THEN IT HAPPENED! I accidentally  took a wrong turn on the motorway. I can't tell you how my heart sank! The worst part was that it was a long drive to the nearest roundabout to get back in the right direction. There was a metal barrier between the two sections of the motorway and no way to turn around and get back on track. I was stuck going in the wrong direction and there was nothing I could do about it except keep going IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!  I can't tell you how horrible it felt to be driving away from my way home.

That is how I feel right now in my church journey. I feel like I took a wrong turn and am heading in the wrong direction but there is no way to fix it, I simply have to keep going in the wrong direction until I reach the next opportunity to turn around. Then I can turn and start heading back towards the original intersection that I should have taken, to get towards my/God's goal.

The metaphor is clear, I have made a mistake, it is out of my control, I cannot do anything about it and I must keep going until the opportunity to correct it presents itself. The practical outworking is not quite so clear. What mistake did I make and when did I make it and how will know when I have come to my 'roundabout' to turn around. I guess this is where my previous post comes in. There is nothing I can do, so I simply have to stay snuggled in Jesus arms and He will carry me. Oh the theory and metaphors are great but it's another thing knowing how to put all this into practice. All I can do is keep close to Him and trust that He will not let me go astray.

The verse He gave me today was a mystery at first when I read Psalm 68:19 in my NKJV  Bible: "Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation! Selah"

But when I went to looked it up on the internet to copy and paste it here in this post I burst into tears, have a look at this version, the NIV: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."

And if that wasn't enough to make it clear that God is speaking, see what the NLT says: "Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms."

Oh my goodness I cannot tell you how special this is to me, to know that I am not imagining all this - that He really and truly is with me and saying what I believe He is saying. Out of all the 31,102 verses in the Bible, what are the odds that I would turn to this one verse this morning? It is not coincidence, it is God confirming His word to me and perhaps somehow by reading this He is trying to tell you something too.

May God bless you today as you snuggle into His arms and accept the things that you simply cannot change. Keep driving and trust that He will show you the way. He is still God even when you are driving in the wrong direction! Let's end with a powerful prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Meditate on how close God is to you today with this beautiful song from Hillsong Empires.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHBd-V167Mg]