Would our church remain open or close? I’ll never forget the September night four years ago when that question was the only item on our church board’s agenda. I can still picture where each of us board members sat, along with our conference bishop, in the slowly darkening sanctuary to discuss and vote on the future of our church, Millersville Brethren in Christ.
After months of decline, we’d finally reached a fork in the road, and the time had come to pick a direction. On one hand, closing seemed like the natural next step; there were so few signs of life in our body. On the other hand, ending a fellowship was a sobering thought, and I’d lain awake many nights in those days, thinking about those flickering signs of life, wondering whether they—though few—were enough to fan into flame.But our God is a God who makes a way when it seems like there’s no way.
Ultimately, the vote that night was to give it one last shot, entering an interim period to see if a new path was possible or whether we needed to head toward closure.
While an initial decision had been made, I remember being keenly aware of how tenuous our church’s existence remained. But our God is a God who makes a way when it seems like there’s no way, who breathes life when there’s no air, who offers courage amid fear—and that God unmistakably showed up for our church in the last few years.
Looking back today, I see three ways that the Lord renewed hope in our church during our year-long interim period:
1. When we asked for help, the Lord brought it through community.
For me, one of the hardest aspects of being part of a church that was suffering wasn’t anything tangible; it was the feeling of being alone amid a long season of discouragement and daunting challenges. But although it might have felt like we were alone, we weren’t—and that became apparent the minute we asked for help.
In the months following that September board meeting, Millersville BIC received incredible support from dozens of people, many of whom weren’t even part of our local church. One person from another BIC church owned a technology business and gifted us the use of a projector when ours bit the dust. A person from another neighboring BIC church stopped in our parking lot to pray for our church any time they drove by. Another BIC church lent us banners to hang in our sanctuary when we couldn’t afford to print our own. Other people gave of their financial resources.
Additionally, our bishop offered a wise “outside” perspective that we really needed at the time. And with the conference’s help, we were able to bring in an interim leader to help us discern our church’s future. We felt God’s blessing and love through his people.
2. We sensed the Lord calling us to rest, not work.
When our interim pastor joined us, he invited our church to enter a season of rest. We cancelled activities that had lost their meaning and become burdensome; we offered sabbaticals to volunteers, who’d served so faithfully for so long; and we even put a pause on adding new songs to our worship team’s repertoire to ease their load.
All of this was helpful in creating room for our church to breathe.
But for our church, a major turning point was spiritual in nature. When there’s a crisis, it can be easy for people to respond like the friends in Job and ask, “Well, what’s going wrong spiritually that’s causing you to go through this?”We couldn’t save our church, and we were exhausted from trying.
We wrestled with this question. We examined ourselves closely and submitted ourselves humbly to the Lord—but it’s also true that in this world, people experience hardship, no matter the state of our soul. And at some point, questions like this can begin sow suspicion and fear and to place the onus of saving on our efforts, rather than on Christ.
Eventually, our church came to a place of realizing that we shouldn’t (and can’t!) do the work that only the Lord can do. The truth is, we couldn’t save our church, and we were exhausted from trying. God’s grace was enough, and we could rest in everything he’d already done for us.
As we participated in this holy pause, our hurting church had the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit’s comfort and peace. Our Sabbath rest didn’t mean we stopped working—we had a role to play in our church’s recovery! But being still allowed us to trust Jesus’ presence and power among us.
3. We were challenged to “walk by faith and not by sight.”
One Sunday toward the end of the interim period, our church sang a song for the first time (We’d begun to add new songs to our repertoire again—a sign of new life!) with this refrain: “We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.” For me, that line perfectly captured our church’s reality at that time. My eyes observed a number of unresolved issues—finances remained tight, attendance was still lower than it had historically been, we had building maintenance needs, and our people were still recovering. But praise God that his kingdom goes beyond the visible!
Though we didn’t have full resolution to all of our challenges, we sensed the Lord’s invitation to take one step forward. After that, he led us to another step, then another, then another. We couldn’t see the end of the road, but we could see, as writer and podcaster Emily P. Freeman would say, the “next right thing.”
Eventually, we reached the place where our “next right thing” was to hire a non-interim pastor—a step that, early on, I almost couldn’t believe we’d ever be able to take!
Again, we saw the Lord provide among our local faith community, as well as through the wider body. This included the support we received through our conference—helping us advertise the role, discern candidates who would be a good fit for our local church but also shared our denomination-wide values and convictions, and schedule candidate interviews.
(By the way, I came away from this experience with an even deeper appreciation for our conference administrative assistants—the work they do is often behind the scenes but truly is ministry and made a huge impact for our church!)
A little over a year after that memorable September board meeting, we welcomed a new pastor, officially closing our interim period and ready to follow Christ wherever He would lead us next.
One of my favorite moments in the Bible is from the book of Numbers, when the Lord speaks to his people by using Aaron’s staff. Scripture tells us that the staff, which started as nothing more than a stick of dead wood, “had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds” (Numbers 17:8). I’m so moved by how this moment shows our God’s power over death and ability to bring life—and life to the fullest!
When I reflect on my church’s path over the last few years, I can see ways that the Lord brought new life—and new hope—to us at Millersville BIC. As we look to the future, we give thanks to God and continue to put our hope in him.