Feature

Healing the Wounded

Restoring an Alliance church to the heart of God

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It is interesting how God prepares us for His journey. Mine started when I left a church I was pastoring in Pennsylvania. I was so wounded that I gave away 60 percent of my library when I left, intending to leave the ministry. I didn’t go to church for months because all I did was weep. But after a year, it was very evident to me that my real passion was pastoring, and I started the process of healing and restoration.

Last year, I accepted the call to go to Reidsville Alliance Church. The church had been deeply conflicted and divided and was under district direction. Four consecutive pastors had left or been asked to resign. “I began to look for an interventionist who would help them discover the root cause for this track record and to begin to deal with it,” says South Atlantic District Superintendent Ferrell Towns. “I felt confident that I knew the reason but needed someone to do the necessary work to accomplish a higher purpose.”

Tom Bowden, director of Church Planting for the South Atlantic District, gave me a book entitled Healing the Heart of Your Church by Dr. Kenneth Quick. I had studied and been a part of ministries that dealt with restoring the church to the heart of God, but none were as practical as this book in showing how to help heal the historic, corporate dysfunction of the church. We started out by understanding two thoughts:

  1. God would not allow much good to happen to our church unless we dealt with its historical wounds.
  2. We needed to grasp the meaning of corporate sin. To do this, we studied the seven churches in Revelation. We noticed God never addressed individuals in the church but the whole body. All are responsible for the actions of the church. When one person sins in the church, it affects us all.

Quick’s program teaches from 2 Samuel 21:1–14, where David asked God why there had been famine in the land for three successive years. The Lord said, “It is on the account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” Joshua had made a covenant with the Gibeonites that Saul had broken—30 years before the famine. We learned that it does not work to sweep things under the carpet and move on; we need to deal with our wounds. We realized that there was no sense getting involved in any kind of material on growing a healthy church until we had dealt with our past sins.

The leadership scheduled a weekend retreat to retrace the history of our church. We invited Rev. Mark Barnard, C&MA minister and president of Blessing Point Ministries, to be our facilitator as we studied the recurring pain in our church. Just as physical pain in our body alerts us to a problem, God allows pain in the church for the same reason. Our church members had never tried to discern the root cause but thought they could deal with the pain through new pastors or more programs. We discovered that from 1990 until the present, Reidsville had seen four pastors come and go. Two left the church severely wounded. One left the ministry altogether, and his wife was so hurt she could not even drive past the church building. During that time, attendance plummeted from 175 to a low of 45 on the Sunday the previous pastor had left.

I had asked some of the former pastors to write me a letter detailing their frustrations and hurts. One wrote that leadership had given him a raise, but only on the condition that he start mowing the church lawn. Another pastor had asked the leaders to come and pray over the church after a satanic-like incident, but none showed up. The leaders had held secret meetings without the pastors and would not support some outreach events in the community. They told one pastor that many people were unhappy with him but would not say who they were or what the problem was.

Also, the church put very high expectations on the pastors’ wives. One was told by an elder that she should teach Sunday school even though she was already involved in youth ministry, living the role of the pastor’s wife and caring for her family.

Most of the people presently attending the church had no idea that some of the pastors left because of friction with the leadership. Because of my past wounds from ministry, I wanted to get serious about reconciling relationships with the former pastors. I knew that, considering the damage we had caused, sending a general letter to the families was not sufficient. Many times we don’t realize that children are wounded when they see their parents being hurt. When I left my last church, I was finally able to understand the pain of divorce. I had left part of my heart at the church, and I knew some of the former pastors of Reidsville had as well.

The congregation was determined to do everything necessary to reconcile, no matter the financial cost. The first pastor we brought back had been at Reidsville for about a decade. He was loved by members of the congregation, who had no idea how leadership had treated him. We held a Saturday night banquet, which everyone in the church was encouraged to attend; he preached for us on Sunday morning, and we collected a love offering for him.

“When Norm Davis asked me to return to my former pastorate to go through the process of reconciliation, I was reluctant,” he admits. “I had 10 good years at Reidsville, and I didn’t feel a need for the restoration process. But as I prayed about the matter, I felt God asking me to do what Pastor Norm requested.

“We set a date, and even though I have visited many times, this was different. We shared stories of years past, and then one of the church leaders read a statement asking my forgiveness of wrongs that had taken place during my tenure. Some were very small issues; others were more significant. My wife and I accepted their request for forgiveness.

“We both felt that the church was doing what Scripture had required of them, and therefore we all were the beneficiaries of God’s blessing.”

The next pastor on our list was also here about 10 years. His wife had done a wonderful job of reaching out to people and developing the children’s ministry. Attendance had climbed. They came back for a church dinner, and then we read a letter of apology centered on the board not cooperating with him and expecting him to do the pastoral care ministry alone. After the letter, we again had a time of positive reminiscing, and the couple came to church on Sunday morning.

As we reviewed the history of Reidsville Alliance at the retreat, I had noticed that every time a minister resigned, there was more of a divisive spirit, and the wounds inflicted on the pastor got deeper. This was the case with one of our ministers and his wife. They were severely hurt when they left the church, thinking that most of the congregation disliked them. We read a letter of apology to his wife for unrealistic expectations that were put on her, as well as for a critical spirit from some members because she had homeschooled the children. We then read a letter of apology to the pastor and had a wonderful time recalling all of the couple’s strengths as well as the good times the church had when they were there. We ended the evening by having a baby shower for their daughter and her husband. It was great!

On May 23, 2010, we had a Solemn Assembly service to repent for the church’s past sins. We invited the last pastor and read a letter of apology to him. We offered the Lord prayers of confession for the sins of the congregation, the sins of the present and former leadership and the sins of the pastors.

After the weekend retreat, church leaders had written a corporate covenant to ensure that we don’t fall into similar sins again. At the Solemn Assembly, we asked the church family to come forward and sign the covenant. We ended the service with Communion. Afterward, we enjoyed a beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner and sweet fellowship.

Our church administrator, Faith Billingsley, said: “Last year, when Pastor Norm came along, the leadership team prayerfully considered whether Reidsville should go through the restoration process. I thought, Why should we be involved in this? We’re not a ‘bad’ church. Then I talked to someone from another Alliance church that had done it. It was like a light bulb went on in my mind and heart. If we wanted God’s blessings in the future, we needed to handle the sins of the past. I am not saying it has been easy, but I am so thankful that Reidsville Alliance has gone through this.”

Ezekiel 34:26–27 says: “I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees of the field will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops.” We pray our church will no longer be parched and dry, unable to produce fruit. We pray God will bless us and allow us to have a great harvest.

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