By Phil Claycomb
“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” A mentor shared this insight with me years ago. He wanted me to look beyond my problems to see the potential. David needed only a stone (and God!) to handle Goliath. The sentiment of the statement assumes that in Christ we can do all things. We see this lived out in the stories of three churches that have been a big part of my life. They remind us that a crisis never need go to waste when Christ is king.
Blendville Christian Church, Joplin, Missouri
Nobody knew, as they finished services on Sunday, May 22, 2011, that they had just concluded the last service the church would hold in that sanctuary. A massive EF5 tornado struck Joplin that afternoon, leaving homes destroyed, cars totaled, lives lost, and families homeless. It also left Blendville without a building.
Church members emerged from their shelters and saw their community in a whole new light. Church members saw desperate people rummaging through rubble, attempting to piece their lives back together. They encountered hurting individuals who needed help. They, like Jesus, found themselves able to see people as they really are. And it filled the church members with compassion for their neighbors because they saw people who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). People needed the church’s help—and the church responded.
It’s possible for a congregation to get so caught up in “doing church” that it loses touch with its community. When believers unintentionally distance themselves from their neighbors, they become a group that happens to meet in a community without actually being a part of the community. The storm clearly showed the members of the Blendville congregation that this type of relational distance was not an option. The loss of their facilities helped them realize that they too were numbered among the victims. They could not respond to the crisis from a safe distance outside the mess; they were waist-deep in it. The crisis afforded them the unique opportunity to become the more visible body of Christ within their community, up close and personal.
Over the next several weeks, the church held services in a tent in their parking lot. People wandered in as they heard the music. Their campus became the local gathering place. A new sense of companionship developed between the church and its community. The people around them were no longer just the neighbors or “those” people; they became friends, partners, and colleagues. The congregation moved into their new buildings in August 2012. The church was not able to avoid the crisis, but they were given an opportunity to keep the crisis from going to waste. Blendville lost their buildings to the tornado—but in the process they rediscovered their community. That’s how the victorious church will respond.
Golf Course Road Church of Christ, Midland, Texas
Not every crisis arrives with the sound and fury of a tornado. Sometimes a crisis sneaks up on us quietly, in subtle ways. This is particularly true when a church finds its traditions in competition with the evangelistic mandate. This was the case with the Golf Course Road Church of Christ (GCR). GCR is a 50-year-old congregation with a strong tradition of a cappella worship and an equally strong passion for world evangelism. No one anticipated that these two commitments would find themselves straining against one another.
I became engaged with GCR in 2006 when they asked me to serve as their director of North American missions. Their desire was to apply their passion for world evangelism to our own continent. The first several GCR church plants generated no tensions. They stipulated that the new churches maintain their a cappella tradition. No one realized, however, that the daughter churches would not require that same stylistic preference of their own daughter churches (GCR’s granddaughters.) I vividly remember the day GCR’s leadership realized that their granddaughter churches were using musical instruments. As I listened to their leaders sort through this situation, I realized that when the evangelistic mandate ran up against their personal preferences and deeply cherished traditions, it would be the traditions and preferences that were the first to go! GCR’s elders announced in late 2008 that they would continue to plant traditional churches of Christ, but would not stipulate how their autonomous daughter churches were to conduct ministry or worship. As of today, GCR has directly assisted my ministry in launching 26 new congregations in Texas and surrounding states (only 3 of the congregations worship exclusively in a cappella style.)
What happens when mission is allowed to take precedence over personal preferences and tradition? The mission advances! GCR currently averages 1,000 in attendance on Sundays. But it also celebrates the more than 4,500 who gather in their new churches. More recently GCR took the further step of offering both an a cappella and instrumental service on Sunday mornings. GCR had to leave their preferences and traditions behind—and in the process they rediscovered their mission! That’s how a victorious church will respond.
Epic Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas
New churches are fragile creatures. While older churches can endure many a hard knock, a new church can fall apart quickly. Often a new church has not yet had time for the crowd to become a close community. Epic Christian Church is an example of what it looks like when a crowd is challenged to become a healthy and victorious team.
Epic launched in 2009 with 160 people. Kent and Jenni Wagner had moved there several months earlier and had gathered a small committed launch team of 15 adults. Together this team coordinated their programs and reached out to the community. The new church soon averaged close to 100 in weekly attendance. But circumstances kept them on their toes. They had to stay nimble as they repeatedly found themselves moving from one location to the next. In the first couple of years, Kent often commented on how exciting it would have been had their current leadership team been available to help lead their initial launch. Little did Kent know that he would soon be given exactly that opportunity.
In October 2012, the Wichita school board decided to deny the use of their facilities to religious organizations. Epic was given a two-week notice. They had to find a new place for worship. At that time the church was averaging 120 on Sundays. After a quick gut check, Epic’s leadership realized that this was their opportunity to launch all over again. They would become the experienced launch team they never had at the beginning. As of today the church has entered into a contract with a permanent facility on one of Wichita’s major roadways. They are holding Sunday services as a launch team, preparing themselves to start all over again on Sunday, September 8, 2013. It is a big step of faith. They are currently raising the needed funding, finding multiple ways to love their community, and readying themselves to launch with two Sunday morning services.
And how is the plan working? They celebrated Easter morning with 160 in attendance. The crisis is not going to waste in Wichita; it is bringing out the best in God’s people. Epic’s leadership had to dream again—and in the process rediscovered their original vision. That’s how a victorious church will respond.
What motivates a community of people to try to believe that no crisis need go to waste? At the core this is a matter of faith. When we truly believe that Christ has the final say on everything—that in the end he will be victorious—we can embrace any crisis as an opportunity for something great to happen! With that mind-set a church can lose its buildings, because that might prompt the people to rediscover their community. A church can move beyond its preferences and traditions, because the people will have recommitted themselves to the mission. And a church can dream again, because the people will have rediscovered their original vision. A crisis truly is a terrible thing to waste! Let’s resolve right now not to let our next crisis pass us by. Step into the crisis. Believe that the resurrected Christ truly reigns. That’s how a victorious church will respond.
Phil Claycomb is the director of Nexus: church planting leadership (www.nexus.us.). Nexus starts churches in Texas and seven neighboring states. He also serves as a visiting professor at Cincinnati Christian University, where he teaches leadership courses in the graduate school.
When Your Church Faces a Crisis
2. Value the varied strengths, weaknesses, past failures, and successes of your leaders.
3. Don’t fall into gossip or judgment.
4. Keep your collective goal in mind and think creatively.
5. Choose trusting God and others over maintaining control, and be willing to change your mind.
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